When my friend, Mary Kay, came to visit last weekend from Minnesota, I thought the best place to enjoy the beautiful fall weather was in Rock Island at the Black Hawk State Historic Site, a hardwood forest in the middle of an urbanscape. As a teenager, I had spent many hours in those woods exploring with my friend, Mary, who lived in Watch Hill. We knew the trails like the back of our hand.
After a hearty breakfast and good conversation at the 54 year old City Limits Saloon and Grill on 9th Street in Rock Island, which is within blocks of the historic site, Mary Kay, Corinne, and I began our day adventure
The site which is managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is a beautifully wooded area with 4 miles of marked hiking trails of moderate difficulty on 208-acres which borders the Rock River in Rock Island, Illinois. “The Black Hawk Forest is a dedicated Nature Preserve and has been identified as one of the least-disturbed forests in Illinois.”
The hardwood forest and the Rock River provides habitat for over 175 species of birds with spring migration being a favorite time for bird watching. Bald Eagles are seen during the winter. On the southwest corner of the historic site is a native prairie area which you can walk through.
The site was originally home to prehistoric Indians and 19th century settlers but it is most famous for being the land of the Sauk nation and Black Hawk, a warrior-leader. The John Hauberg Indian Museum is located at the lodge, which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. This museum is a tribute to the culture of the Sauk and Mesquakie tribes. The exhibits include replicas of Sauk winter and summer houses as well as dioramas of activities of the people during 1750 to 1830 and artifacts. The museum also offers an audio tour.
The lodge building which is built of native limestone and timber has a central meeting room available for rent. It is equipped with a newer kitchen. There are two huge stone working fireplaces flanking each end of the interior. There are two murals depicting the activities of the Sauk and Mesquakie Indians by Works in Progress Administration (WPA) artist, Otto Hake. The central meeting hall is a perfect setting for wedding receptions and other festive events.
On the east end of the lodge is a Civilian Conservation Corps museum. My friends and I spent some time in the museum looking at the interesting photographs of the labor intensive building processes of the magnificent lodge.
On the northwest side of the site is a two-acre area called Dickson (Pioneer) Cemetery, where the area’s early settlers are buried along with murders, outlaws and paupers.
As we hiked the trail many memories of past events were exchanged. The woods are a special place to interact and immerse in nature. After taking the hiking trail on the south side of the site by the lodge, we went to the northwest side of the site. This area is accessible by a foot bridge that goes over Black Hawk Road which cuts through the site. We enjoyed seeing Singing Bird Nature Center which has been well maintained and is available for rent. It is also the location for various nature related programs during the year.
Black Hawk State Historic Site has various annual events including spring bird and wildflower walks, a September prairie program, geology and archaeology programs in October. On Valentine’s Day there is a magical event where the walking paths are lit with luminaries and there is hot cocoa, homemade doughnuts and live music in the lodge.
The 75th Annual Labor Day Weekend Pow Wow with Native American Dancing and Drumming as well as authentic Native American arts, crafts and Foods was held last Labor Day weekend at the Black Hawk Historic Site. A Free Shuttle Bus was provided to and from the Pow Wow. The 3-day event featured traditional songs and dances, Kevin Locke, world renowned Hoop Dancer, and the Native Pride Dance Troupe. Bring lawn chairs and blankets to attend future Pow Wows!
Black Hawk State Historic Site – Open year-round; Sunrise to 10pm
Museum Hours – March through October; 9am to noon and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. November through February; 9:00am to noon and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday and for holidays. Guided tours of the museum by appointment. 309-788-9536
Museum, lodge and restrooms and handicapped accessible. No camping or ground fires are allowed. Three picnic areas with tables, water and stoves are available, as well as 3 shelter houses with fireplaces.
Black Hawk State Historic Site
1510 46th Avenue, Rock Island, Illinois 61201