Many demands were being made on legislative funds, then as now, so there were no monies available to purchase land for a state park, not even $30,000.00, nor for a necessity such as a sanitarium.
In fact, though reintroduced several times after 1903, it would notbe until June 30, 1927 that then Governor Small signed a bill to purchase the pine forest at $75,000.00. No mention was made of a sanitarium twenty-five years later! The item stated the entity would simply be called, “the Pines.”
The forest lay within Sections eight and nine, Pine Creek Township, Ogle County, citing plat book 1872.
Most of it had been claimed originally by white settler, Upton Powell and W.F. Miller. Would they have realized the forest they laid claim to was a natural relic of the glacial age? The seeds brought from the Far North to rest at that southernmost site to strike awe within the breasts of arborists and tree-lovers everywhere?
Powell, a pioneer, built his house near a spring, a milk house over the spring, doubtless described as they often were then — “an ever-flowing spring.” A watering trough as connected for the faithful horse.
As years passed and contemporary modernity arrived one step after another, the days of the railroads came to pass east-west along the north border of the forest—this the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy to drastically change the way-of-life around the environs of Pine Creek. William Dew, for one, could see the time approaching of the leisure-loving visitor or vacationer, if you will. He had bought about twenty-four acres south of the tracks on which he built four cabins and drilled a ninety-six foot well. If the camp was for his or his family’s recreation, reference doesn’t give but eventually they were taken advantage of by partying trespassers, vandals, and so forth. A bridge Dew built aided in accessibility by wagon or car. By 1915 he built a swinging bridge. It was 72 ft. in length, 14 ft. high against the bluff suspended by #9 woven wire which a state engineer assured the user was more than enough to hold eight tons.
But by 1930 it was torn down when the property came into the state’s ownership and who built the “Rustic Bridge.”
Dew’s cabins, apparently, were prelude to the tourist-y atmosphere the “Pines” were eventually to become. Interest was growing in using the white pines “forest primeval” as a get-away for its solitude, its natural glades and glens for an uncommonly beautiful place of peace and quiet.
A survey of some of the forest had been made during the short term ownership of the state. A “second growth” had been planned. Trees were anywhere from fourteen to twenty-seven inches in diameter and estimated to be about seventy-five years old.
An item related all the many things to be done there in the future—hiking, biking, picnicking, camping at several campgrounds, bird watching, fishing, wild flower search, celebrations, newer roads and entrances. The forty rooms did not materialize as notice had hinted but a lodge with dining room a kitchen, offices, gift shop did. These rooms were remodeled and changed at various times.
Construction and maintenance could not take place without a proper labor force or supervision.
The CCC was the answer: the Civilian Conservation Corps. They were work crews organized at government sponsorship to do projects and programs, construction of parks, roads, agricultural assistance. The crews were the unemployed following World War I, mostly ex-servicemen. Of the two hundred seventeen who arrived to work at the “Pines” only three were not veterans. The majority of workmen there were from forty to forty-five years of age; one thirty; another fifty.
They would work a forty hour week with wake-up call at 6:00 a.m. and routine calls throughout the day till lights out at 10:00 p.m. They were free to leave camp on weekends though permission must be asked. Small trucks were available for transport to town for movies or shopping although what was there to buy? The crew was supplied clothing for all seasons as well as bedding for the furnishings in the bunkhouse, soap (and a washing machine) was provided, personal toiletries, toothpaste, razors and so forth.
Radios were being installed. Night school classes were scheduled. Religious services, lectures, interesting or entertaining programs were part of the agenda. Movies, playing cards and other games were available.
Wage rate for carpenters, for instance, at the “Pines” would be $1.50 per hour, a forty hour week only. That rate scale was based on the nearest “union town” which was Dixon. Freeport’s on the other hand was $1.20 per hour.
We are fortunate that the CCC did a few projects that still remain from the Depression-era, examples of the fine work they put out. More later. They were one government sponsored unit to point to.
After completing their own camp, they began on the park buildings. It was emphasized that the CCC camp was only a temporary facility with very inexpensive materials used!
The Lodge was begun in late 1932. Room arrangements have changed or remodeled since then. Logs for the main building are red cedar brought by railroad flat cars from the states of Oregon and Washington. They arrived at Stratford, a railroad siding a couple miles down track, then dragged to the park site by horse teams.
Since then a kitchen was added in the 1940’s. Meals have become well-known as well as the summer dinner theatre. One hardly can beat the menu or the professionals who are examples of what the world really means! Visitors and guests from near and far appreciate the expertise that goes, has gone into the “Pines” over the many years since its “discovery,” creative “re-purposing” and appreciative preservation by staff, nature-lovers and those returning to keep it viable. My favorite spot as any kid can tell you, are the fords.