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History of Lake Shelbyville

Historical photo of Lake Shelbyville damThere is amazing natural and human history at present day Lake Shelbyville and the surrounding area. For thousands of years prior to European-American arrival to the area, Native Americans lived in the area. The Kaskaskia River provided a good food source of fish, mussels and other aquatic creatures. They would also hunt the large and small game in the wooded areas, harvested wild plants and fruits and planted crops. They often managed the wild plants with use of fire by burning parts of the prairies and woodlands regularly. The burning in this area where not used as for rounding large animals like they did in the Western Prairie states but more of animal attraction. They knew that animals like deer were attracted to recently burnt areas when new vegetation appeared.

As you explore Lake Shelbyville you may be lucky enough to come across a Native American artifact. If you do please enjoy it and reflect on how life was when the piece was being used or think about the human that used it. Do not disturb it or take it. It is illegal to disturb or remove artifacts from federally managed property. Also, if it is removed from the place it is located valuable information is lost. Please report your find to the Lake Shelbyville project office

Post European American settlement many changes occurred. The land was use for many things ranging from farming, timber and coal mining. But the river had a mind of its own and created trouble with flooding the land that they were trying to make a living off of and/or living on. After a series of floods in the 1940’s and 50’s people organized and persuaded the US Congress to authorized and fund the building of a series of dams and lakes to help manage the water flow of the Kaskaskia river and reduce the risks of catastrophic flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with this project and build a series of three dams and still managed them today. One of the dams being to the East of Shelbyville, IL and the water backed up behind it creating Lake Shelbyville.

If you have any information or photographs please email LakeShelbyville@usace.army.mil