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1 Introduction T he dramatic landscape of Giant City State Park has always been described in recorded histories of southern Illinois as beautiful, strange, and beloved grounds. Located at the juncture of Jackson, Union, and Williamson counties, the land defied straight line demarcation by surveyors and road builders . Melting glaciers and eroding sandstone created the natural phenomena—towering cliffs, rock shelters, balancing boulders, and pathways through sheer wall “skyscrapers”— that gave the area its “Giant City” name, its unique geological renown, and its designation as a National Natural Landmark. Soaring tulip poplars and sassafras trees grow straight skyward from the narrow “street” floors. Thick green mosses and delicate ferns cover the moist vertical stone walls. Referred to as “Fern Rocks” by the famous biologist George Hazen French in 1870, the area has been for over a century and a half a favorite study and collection area for naturalists and A road leading to wonder in Giant City State Park. State of Illinois Department of Conservation, print #1212-2. 5LSSHO,QWURUHYLQGG $0 introduction 2 herb collectors. A few years apart, Professor French and scientist Stephen A. Forbes discovered previously unknown plants within one hundred feet of each other—French’s Shooting Star and the Forbes Saxifrage.1 Renowned botanist Robert Mohlenbrock, in his Giant City State Park: An Illustrated Handbook , lists more than thirty species of ferns, over eight hundred flowering plants, more than two hundred kinds of birds, and dozens of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles that make the park their home. Twenty-seven percent of the entire state’s species of ferns and flowering plants can be found in the park because it encompasses such a great diversity of habitats. Fern Rocks Nature Preserve, a 170-acre area near the park’s Makanda entrance, has been dedicated as one of Illinois’s pristine areas, unique for its large array of spring wildflowers and rare plants.2 Archaeological evidence reveals that Native Americans were well acquainted with the area for many centuries. Though they did not build any large settlements within the park boundaries , they did construct a stone enclosure and camped under rock shelters in the park. Native American hunting parties would have found the area rich in plant and animal resources, as did the first Europeans and Americans who ventured there. In the past two centuries, the rugged terrain of Giant City, like much of the land in southern Illinois’s Ozark Hills and Shawnee Hills, has been described in written accounts as an excellent place to hunt wildlife. The area long remained a hard-to-get-to, untamed place where wild animals—and certain people—could hunker down and hide. Some of the last bear and native elk seen in southern Illinois were reportedly killed there in the 1830s.3 Theodore W. Thompson wrote that prior to the 1890s, a large catamount (mountain lion) was killed with a tree limb by the fourteen-year-old son of Daniel McConnell, Makanda’s postmaster, while walking from the old Rendleman School between Giant City and Stone Fort.4 In addition , the area’s hollows and caves were rumored to have been hiding places for Civil War deserters .5 In the late 1920s, a newspaper published an article documenting the belief that famous Western writer Zane Grey chose the secluded Giant City State Park as a place to camp for a couple of weeks.6 The first recorded permanent settlers on the site of the park, the Colemans and Vancils, arrived during the years 1800 to 1806, camping first but later returning to stay because of the abundance of wildlife. The Vancils opened the Wylie farm, located in section 35, Makanda Township.7 Even though the acres of what is now the park had been privately owned since the early 1800s, there is ample evidence that it was enjoyed throughout the nineteenth century as a “commons,” a place open to visitors and neighboring locals, generation after generation. Like other unique natural areas in southern Illinois, such as Bell Smith Springs, Lusk Creek, Fern Clyffe, Fountain Bluff, and Pomona Natural Bridge, Giant City was a favorite place for holiday picnics and reunion gatherings. Even more popular than Giant City for many years was the more accessible ancient archaeological wonder Stone Fort, eastward up the hill from Makanda. In the 1880s, hundreds, perhaps thousands, climbed the hill for the annual Fourth of July celebration there.8 Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, because of their...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780809385638
Related ISBN
9780809329229
MARC Record
OCLC
649913235
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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