Welcome to yet another rebirth of the Archives Blog!
My name is Robert Kett and I have been a graduate assistant up in the penthouse suite since August. In that time, I’ve helped to arrange a number of different collections chronicling life on Western’s campus, life in Macomb and in McDonough County. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of it but the most interesting task that I have been delegated has been to digitize the oral histories, program presentations and more that the archive currently has on cassette tape.
Among the dozens of cassettes that I have digitized so far was a talk on the history of Argyle Lake State Park. Since I’ve been in Macomb, I’ve been told by many that Argyle Lake is a place that must be visited by all who have a great appreciation for nature. I felt that a brief discussion of the early history of Argyle Lake State Park would be a great way to reactivate the blog.
I decided to go through the archive’s vertical files in order to see what I could come up with.
The most striking fact that I discovered is that the lake itself did not exist seventy years ago. It was only in July 1947 that the Argyle Lake Project was given final approval by Governor Dwight Green. According to the August 28, 1947 edition of the McDonough County Times,
The Department of Conservation called upon the Illinois Federation of Sportsmen’s clubs to present to the State Department lake sight possibilities throughout the state. The clubs sent in six hundred possible sights… The engineers of the conservation department checked all sites and centered upon nine with the greatest possibilities. [The] Argyle Valley project was selected as No. 1 after a very careful testing to be sure if the site had all qualifications necessary.
About a year after the project was given its final approval, the final land was purchased for the area and within days, Governor Green released nearly half a million dollars to further the Department of Conservation’s artificial lake program.
There had been conjecture over what the new state park would be named. As an article from the September 23, 1948 edition of the Adair Weekly Beacon stated:
Most persons around Colchester that have expressed an opinion favor the name Argyle State Park, first because it is unique since there are no other parks by that name in the United States and second, because a part of the acreage set aside for the park has always been known locally as Argyle Hollow.
Work progressed to transform Argyle Hollow into Argyle Lake, with the largest cost coming from construction of the massive dam that created the man-made lake. Over one thousand acres were transformed from rough ground into public park space.
A fire that broke out in the timber and pasture on the lake-park project spread over around two hundred acres, destroying young trees and threatening one old house in the area in November 1949. This did little to stop the progress, thankfully, and the lake would be completed in the spring of 1950 and opened to the public on June 15 with its dedication following on July 4.
Shortly thereafter, Leonard Schwartz, state director of conservation, stated that the Argyle lake area was to primarily serve as a boating and fishing development and that there were no plans for full development of the area as a state park. The Illinois Federation of Sportsmen adopted “Argyle Conservation Area” as the official name for the interim.
By 1960, enough improvements were made to the area for it to officially earn state park status.
There’s an approximation of the early history of Argyle Lake through utilizing local McDonough County newspapers. I’m definitely going to check Argyle Lake State Park out in the spring. To any and all that have yet to, I hope that you’ll consider doing the same.