Illinois River History

Early Settlers of the Illinois River

European settlers and a majority of the pioneers arrived by boat, traveling up the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Many of the new settlers became farmers, while others made a living off of the river while forming settlements in a number of small towns along the Illinois River.

The Illinois River was and is a main artery of the transportation system of the central Illinois River valley. Most people arrived in boats, and used a large variety of boats for commerce, trade, and even for housing. A large system of waterway transport was developed.

However, it was discovered by early settlers that road and rail transport would become vital to their survival and continued growth. As St. Louis and Chicago became great hubs of commerce, people on the river wanted to be a part of the traffic and trade between them.

The Artery of Illinois:

The river area became the focus of early railroad building, and through their own efforts, local citizens funded the early plank roads. Artifacts, survey reports, and photographs document the development of water, rail, and road transport.


The Illinois River served as the main 'road' for importing supplies and exporting products.

Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing was a major industry for the many towns along the Illinois River. Each town had fish markets that processed and shipped fish.

Button Making

Ice Harvesting
The Illinois River and Smith Lake north of the Naples cemetery provided the ice for many ice houses in the Bluffs and Naples area. This industry though smaller than others, was still very important. The ice harvesting supported other industries such as the commercial fishing, hunting, brewing, and dairy. The ten to 12 inch thick ice was sawed into chunks and hauled to the ice house by teams of wagons.