Harvesting the River
Harvest Transport History

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  The Illinois River Basin

In 1838, Captain Howard Stansbury described the Illinois River Valley as "one to five miles wide, deeply overflowed in every freshet, filled with bayous, ponds, and swamps, and infested with wild beasts." (Mulvill and Cornish, 1929:27)

The Illinois River stretches from northeast Illinois, where the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers come together, to Alton in southwest Illinois, where it empties into the Mississippi River. The Illinois River basin covers more than 32,000 square miles. The river itself is 272.4 miles long, with such a gradual slope that the river moves quite slowly, too slowly to remove much of the silt entering it from the higher-sloping headwaters. The silt builds up along the shores, forming barriers after the annual flooding. Human interactions with the river have taxed the resources and physical makeup of the river.

The Central Section of the Illinois River
The focus of Harvesting the River is the portion of the Illinois River between Liverpool, Illinois, (about fifty miles south of Peoria) and Meredosia, Illinois in the south--a stretch of sixty miles. Between those two points are the towns of Chautauqua Park, Havana, Matanzas (locally pronounced Ma-tan-za) Beach, Bath, Snicarte (locally pronounced sny-car-tee), Browning, Beardstown, and LaGrange.

In her Summer Journey in the West, easterner Eliza Steele, who made a trip in 1830, described the "stately trees, steep bluffs, and flowering prairies along the Illinois River and its tributaries like the Spoon and the Sangamon." Other travelers compared the views in the area of the Illinois River to that of landscaped parks of England or of the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers in the eastern United States.

Economic Lifeblood
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the residents of these towns were deeply involved in harvesting the river's fish, waterfowl, mussels, and ice. They were economically and culturally dependent on the river, building up industries such as tourism related to duck hunting and sport fishing, commercial fishing, musseling for the button factories, and ice cutting for early attempts at refrigeration for domestic and commercial use.

In Harvesting the River online, museum collections, oral interviews, film and video, archival materials, and research reports combine as resources to create a snapshot of human interaction on the Illinois River.

Images Videos Audio clips

    (-)The River
        River Story
        River Flood Levels
        Human Interaction
        Flood Chart
    (-)Towns and Settlement

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