Written history of the region began in 1673 with the French explorations of Marquette and Joliet. The Jesuits followed close behind the explorers. The first permanent European settlement within the Central Mississippi Valley area occurred at Cahokia, Illinois, in 1699. In that year, the Holy Family Parish was established at the Illini Indian village in that location. The settlement of Kaskaskia followed in 1702 and this village soon became the dominant commercial center for the area. Construction of Fort de Chartres, Randolph County, Illinois (completed in 1720) coincided with an increase in mining activities within the region. These activities continued into the first quarter of the 19th Century. The French influence in the area officially ended in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, at which time the British received all the land east of the Mississippi River except for some small areas owned by the Canadians. To insure trade monopoly for the British, settlement in the area was forbidden and the land was only given out by grants from an Illinois Administrator by the name of Colonel Wilkins.
This arrangement did not last much longer than earlier attempts, because in 1775, the War for Independence started. Most of the British troops in the area left, leaving only the militia behind and the Indians were once again set against the Colonists. By 1778, most of the strength was one from the King's forces and a small colonial force led by George Rogers Clark debarked from flatboats on the Ohio River, crossed Southern Illinois from Fort Massac via Crab Orchard Creek and the Big Muddy River and took Fort Kaskaskia without a fight. The following winter Clark's capture of Vincenes secured the West for the United States.
Until the Revolution, Illinois had been a part of the State of Virginia, but it was ceded along with the rest of the land north of the Ohio River to the Federal Government. By 1798 Illinois had a population of 5,000 white males which allowed it to become a territory under the Northwest Ordinance.
After the War of 1812, a migration of people from East populated the area and new roads and riverboats allowed trade to build in Southern Illinois. Farming was the main industry in the early statehood of Southern Illinois, and until the railroads were built in the 1850's, coal mining was located along the rivers and operated on a small scale. In 1861 the Civil War began, calling upon Southern Illinois for men and resources which taxed the struggling area once again.
After the war there was a brief farming boom and the coal mining continued to grow with the network of railroads supplying inexpensive transportation needed for growth. Franklin and Jefferson Counties produced 221,954 tons of coal between 1890 and 1900. Between 1911 and 1920, these two counties produced 80,666,484 tons of coal. Coal production had expanded rapidly; however, the demand was seasonal and by the 1920's, after World War I, the demand for coal declined. The area was almost entirely dependent on the mining and farming industries and with coal production dropping, many found it necessary to move elsewhere in order to maintain employment. This trend continued until the early 1960's when Southern Illinois University and the Federal redevelopment programs began to stimulate economic growth in the area and the area experienced it's first net in-migration, regaining approximately 41,346 people.
For decades the land surrounding Rend Lake was plagued by lack of water - despite plentiful rainfall, and its location between two of the nation's great rivers, the Mississippi and Ohio. Although the region flourished as a coal mining area in the early 1920's, with coal miners such as Colonel Rend, establishing towns like Rend City. (From whom Rend Lake takes it's name). The land's impermeable clays were incapable of soaking in rain, making ground water scarce. By the 1950's the onset of an economically devastating three-year drought, took its toll on the region. As a result, plans to construct a large water supply lake began to take form, one that would be the solution to the area's problems, and evolve into the project that would become Rend Lake.
With the support of the Rend Lake Conservancy District, Congress authorized the building of Rend Lake, near Benton, Illinois with the Flood Control Act of 23 October, 1962, Public Law 87-874, 87th Congress, HR No. 13273, in accordance with the Chief of Engineers' recommendation, contained in House Document No. 541, 87th congress, Second Session. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers accepted the responsibility for the lake's development. The 60- million dollar project was completed ahead of schedule and the impoundment reached normal pool in March of 1973, months prior to the anticipated date.
The authorized purposes of the Rend Lake project include flood control on the Big Muddy and Mississippi Rivers, water supply, water quality control, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation and area redevelopment. Today, Rend Lake is a multi-purpose project designed to enhance the region's quality of life. It supplies over 15 million gallons of water per day to 300,000 persons in over 60 communities.