Members of Company 692, Granite City, circa 1935. Photo courtesy of the Getaway Guys

(An Architectural Legacy, Part 2)

This is the second of a three-part series describing some of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 until World War II in Illinois. The first, which appeared in the Oct. 13 issue, is available online at evanstonroundtable.com. The third installment will appear on Nov. 10.

The lodge-centered layouts of Giant City State Park, White Pines State Park and Starved Rock State Park are of a piece, yet different. They all consist of a central lodge for dining and leisurely gatherings and cabins for overnight accommodations. Purportedly the most elaborate lodge of the three is Giant City’s, with its attention to detail and fine craftsmanship. The hand-cut stone is remarkable and the supportive timbers mind-boggling, along with its hand-forged iron-work hinges and locks. Somewhat smaller than the lodge at Starved Rock, the Giant City lodge is designed around a two-story open space surrounded on three sides by a generous second-floor gallery. Four massive timbers support the gallery and roof. At the south end is a giant fireplace, and just beyond, a one-story extension originally designed for public bathing. This space now houses lodge restrooms. At the north end, where the bar is currently located, a small restaurant once existed. Flanking the bar area are two later additions devoted to dining. The smaller was added in the 1960s and the larger in the 1980s. Both emulate the original architecture. Close by, 12 overnight cabins were built and, although modernized, remain essentially original. With some exceptions, the stones and timbers were harvested within the park or from quarries in nearby Makanda, with most of the cutting and shaping done manually.

The larger Starved Rock lodge is a two-story structure without a second floor gallery. Differing from the reliance on stone as a primary structural element at Giant City, the prevalent building material at Starved Rock is wood with hand-hewn timbers providing support. The focal point of the main room is a very impressive massive, two-story stone fireplace. To the east the generously proportioned original restaurant continues to function, flanked on the north by a larger, later addition. Not far from the lodge, 16 original log cabins continue to provide overnight accommodations. Attached to the lodge on the west side are additional overnight accommodations housed in a two-story structure (date unspecified).

At White Pines State Park, near Oregon, Ill., the lodge design is noticeably different. Here the lodge-centered concept was altered and instead of one central structure, two are joined by a “breezeway.” One continues to serve as a restaurant/bar facility, with a large banquet/performance area (dated unspecified) attached. The other now serves as a reception/administration center and attractive gift shop. Predominantly wood and hand-hewn timber, the structural elements appear to be original. Large stone fireplaces (less grand and massive) provide a focal point in each structure. Again, a short distance from the central lodge structures, 16 log cabins (some being double units) were built for overnight stays. Each containing impressive stone fireplaces, the cabins are in pristine condition and appear to be faithful to their original C.C.C. design. The C.C.C. structures at Giant City, Starved Rock and White Pines have been modified to one degree or another to accommodate larger attendance and more contemporary amenities. Conceived in the 1930s when times were extremely tough and getting away from it all in some isolated spot to commune with nature seemed to be an antidote to bad news, today’s visitors are less willing to leave home without a wifi connection to the universe. Despite these altered values, what a bunch of 18-to-25-year-old boys accomplished between 1933 and 1941 remains astounding.

Editor’s Note: The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.