Americans first entered the Carlyle area approximately 10,000 years ago. Wildlife and Indians roamed the vast prairies and forested river ways and used a natural ford created by hard river bottom to cross the Kaskaskia River. The first settlers also used the ford when traveling the overland route from the Ohio River to St. Louis. The historic General Dean Bridge now sits on the former ford location. It is listed on the National Historic Registry and is the only suspension bridge of its kind in Illinois. The General Dean Bridge is named in honor of Carlyle native Maj. Gen. William F. Dean, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, hero of both World War II and the Korean Conflict. The settlement of Carlyle began at the river ford in 1812 when John Hall built a log fort and lock house as a means of protection against Indians. The settlers who followed Hill were of English births and named the town “Carlyle” after Sir Thomas Carlyle, a prominent figure in 18th-Century English literature.
With the frequent flooding of the wild Kaskaskia River, citizens of Clinton County formed an organization in 1933 to discuss the Kaskaskia River Valley Project. This group made efforts to study all of the physical, economic, and social aspects of the Kaskaskia River throughout the state of Illinois. After completing this report the possibilities of Carlyle Lake were discussed. The hard work of these citizens was rewarded in 1938, when Congress approved the Flood Control Act of June 28, 1938, which authorized a major reservoir at Carlyle, levees downstream, and a plan for the development of the Kaskaskia Basin. World War II put a temporary halt to the construction of the Carlyle reservoir. After the war, interest in the river was received in 1950’s. Shortly after settling in Carlyle, Eldon E. Hazlet became interested in the Kaskaskia River and points along the banks. Full of enthusiasm, Hazlet formed the Kaskaskia Valley Association (KVA), to sell the Kaskaskia River Project to the general public. Many supporters were found in the Shelbyville-Sullivan area, in the Vandalia area, Carlyle, Belleville, Fayetteville, New Athens and all communities in between.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a comprehensive plan for the Kaskaskia River Project in 1957. The Carlyle and Shelbyville Reservoir Projects were authorized in Congress by the Flood Control Act of July 3, 1958. Construction began October 18, 1958. The government purchased 26,000 acres for the lake, in addition to land surrounding the lake for flowage easement. Homesteads were moved, along with country roads and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Tracks containing five bridges span the water between Keyesport and Boulder, dividing the upper and lower parts of the lake. The rights to 69 oil wells were purchased and plugged to prevent pollution in the lake. Over 600 burial sites had to be moved from seven cemeteries. Other shoreline cemeteries had to be moved to higher ground. The Burnside Cemetery, the oldest known cemetery in Clinton County is now located in Eldon Hazelet State Park.
The Carlyle Lake project was completed in April of 1967 and the Carlyle Lake Dam was dedicated on June 3, 1967. The damming of the Kaskaskia River at Carlyle is 107 miles from the mouth of the river and creates the largest man-made lake in Illinois. At normal pool, Carlyle Lake is 15 miles long by 3 1/2 miles wide, covering 26,000 acres. Built for the primary purpose of flood control, Carlyle Lake has come to have four other purposes. A secondary purpose is downstream navigation on the Kaskaskia River. The Carlyle reservoir is also used for water supply for local towns and industries. Carlyle Lake is also a prime place for recreation. Recognized as one of the nation’s top-ten sailing inland sailing lakes, Carlyle Lake is host to many races and regattas. Others find plenty of good opportunity for boating camping. And Carlyle Lake is an excellent place for the sportsman to go fishing and hunting.