All about Pere Marquette State Park, the Lodge & Grafton, IL
The history of Pere Marquette State Park and Lodge centers on the Illinois River. The forces that formed the river can be traced to glaciers that pushed their way down over most of Illinois, but stopped just short of the park land. In the path of the glaciers and their melt waters, a rich network of streams and rivers were formed.
Archaeologists describe six Native American cultures common to this region. Evidence of their presence has been found in the form of fragments of pottery, spear points and planting tools. Burial mounds also are distributed throughout the park, including one atop McAdams Peak. At one time, an Indian village was located where the Lodge now stands.
When Europeans began to explore the Illinois country, most of the Native Americans they met were members of the Illini tribe.
The first of these explorers, in 1673, was a group led by Louis Joliet, a cartographer, and Pere (Father) Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary. Marquette and Joliet, accompanied by French voyageurs, paddled down the Mississippi River in search of a passage to the Pacific Ocean.
Learning from the Native Americans that the Mississippi River emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, Marquette and Joliet turned back, returning by way of the Illinois River and stopping near what is now Pere Marquette State Park. A large stone cross east of the park entrance commemorates their historic landing here.
Legend of the Piasa Bird
On the Mississippi Bluffs, Marquette and Joliet encountered something which has become a local legend: “we saw…two painted monsters which at first made us afraid and upon which the boldest…dare not long rest their eyes.”
They learned that the creature was part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer, and a long black tail. The creature was called Piasa. A representation of the Piasa Bird is still maintained in paint on the bluffs about twenty miles from the park towards Alton, IL.
Pere Marquette Park
Generations later, local civic groups sought to preserve this land as a state park. They raised money and were successful in persuading the state to match their funds for the purchase of the land in 1931. The state park was to be called Piasa Bluffs. By popular demand, it was soon renamed Pere Marquette State Park in honor of the adventurous French missionary.
Pere Marquette Lodge
Pere Marquette Lodge was opened for business in 1940 at a cost $352,912.00. The massive poles, as much as 3 feet in diameter, are douglas fir, western and pecky cypress.
Limestone, which was taken from the Grafton rock quarry, was used in the construction of the cabins, the floor in the lodge, and the 700-ton stone fireplace, which dominates the Great Room and Restaurant. Illinois inmates constructed the furniture in the Lodge.
Pere Marquette Lodge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933-1939. In addition to the Lodge and the Park construction, the CCC did all of the metal work, such as the chandeliers, door handles and window locks.
Grafton became a booming business community and important river port in the late 1800’s. It reached its peak in the early 1900’s and the population began to decline by the 1920’s. Today, Grafton retains its charm and is steaming steadily ahead.