People who earned their living from the Illinois River and its resources harvested four main products from the river: waterfowl, fish, freshwater mussels, and natural ice. Usually a family had to participate in several or all of these enterprises to earn enough to live. These harvests grew to become viable small commercial enterprises for decades between the 1880s and the 1930s; some even produced hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The harvests, however, were dependent upon a healthy environment. This section looks back at the river harvests before this environment suffered many changes and sustained degradation in the twentieth century. River people witnessed the increased siltation and loss of wildlife habitat in the river after the agricultural levees were constructed. They also saw increased pollution of the water from upstream human and industrial waste. Their testimony helps us understand what life was like on the river in its heyday.