Monday, January 4, 2016

History of Red Hills State Park

Allie Deloria spoke to the Historical Society October 1993 about the history of Red Hill State Park. 

Doing research at the library and the Lawrence County Courthouse, she discovered that a number of Lawrence County residents should be given credit for establishing the park in the County.

According to Deloria the idea, originated with B. O. Sumner and J.J. Stillwell, both of Lawrenceville, after they had attended a meeting of the Issac Walton league. These two enlisted the aid of Don Morgan, community counselor of the Bureau of Community Planning of the University of Illinois.
Morgan came to Lawrenceville and made a thorough study of the Red Hills area. A proposition was the submitted to the Division of Parks and Memorials of the State of Illinois. All this preliminary work was started in 1941. B.O. Sumner and J..J Stillwell, feeling the need for others to help in the project, asked the Chamber of Commerce to appoint a committee.

Appointed chairman was B.O. Sumner. The other men were J.J. Stillwell, S.H. Easton, A. C. Stoltz, George W. Lackey, Russell Abernathy and Dr. Victor Brian.  After the proposition was underway, nine more men were added to the committee. Those being F.E. Brian, F.S. Westall, D.C. Staninger, Malcolm Lathrop, M.W. Travis, Roy R. Rucker, Flemin Thompson, Guy Rice, and John Baldwin.

In September of 1943, the park became a reality. Over 400 acres of land were purchased on both sides of Old State Road, a short distance from Sumner. The location was considered to be a prime choice because of its historic significance of the Cahokia Trace and Indian boundary lines. The hills are 630 feet above sea level and the highest spot in the County. Due to World War II, the park was put on hold until after the war.

The park acreage was increased approximately 1000 acres by 1948 when work began on establishing roads in the Park and erecting shelter houses. In 1949 the first Park Superintendent, M.J. Lewis, was appointed.

Later in the year, a committee from Lawrence County, representing civic clubs and organizations from all parts of the County, went to Springfield to ascertain what could be done toward establishing the park as a recreational center instead of just a location on the map of the state of Illinois.

Red Hills Easter Sunrise Services have been conducted by a number of various people and churches with the first service conducted in 1943 by the Rev. Gene Fox of Beulah church. The service was conducted from the highest point in the Park with the first cross being made by nailing two pieces of 2x4 lumber together. During the early years the services were changed from private ownership into part of Red Hill State Park.  In 1947 a larger cross was erected. It was 40 foot and 6 inches high and 27 foot across. It was later decided to build a rotating neon- lighted cross with this one being 48 foot high and 32 feet wide. Many people, including Marathon Oil Company employees and others, worked many hours to make this cross a reality.

The horse arena was one of the first attractions to the park. Many other activities have been a part of the park, such as July 4 events which included a horse show, games, and  a number of events for the children including fireworks.


Red Hills Lake was constructed in 1953. An airstrip was built and was used until sometime in the 1970s. Gov. W.C. Stratton and state officials dedicated the park and its Veteran’s Point in September of 1955. Campgrounds were constructed in the 1960s and during the 1970s the shower building and modern rest rooms were constructed. In 1977 Old Settler Days came to the park, presented by the State of Illinois.