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It was love at first sight.
Of course, after a 47-mile day on a bicycle that included a breakfast of Hostess Cupcakes, high temperatures, headwinds and a flat tire– any air-conditioned room with a shower is an oasis.
But the Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park was so much more, and I’ll tell you about it shortly, but first some history– as provided by a pamphlet provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Throughout the 1920s, the value of farmland dropped 30 to 40 percent. In the early ‘30s, severe drought hit the Great Plains; migrating hordes of ravenous grasshoppers stripped the fields, and decades of poor farming practices caused tremendous dust storms. One million farmers lost their land to the banks.
At about the same time, technological advances made for a giant leap in productivity and profits– factory owners soared. Wages on the other hand, barely budged and 200,000 workers lost their jobs.
Unemployment topped 25%.
The typical American had no savings, while an elite one-tenth of a percent of the population held onto one-third of all money in the bank. The rich lobbied for lower taxes to stimulate the economy.
On his first day in office, March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt roughed out a plan to provide work for America’s unemployed and launched a much-needed upgrades to the country’s infrastructure.
Republicans were against it, but Roosevelt pushed his agenda through quickly. By the end of the summer 250,000 young men– many of them malnourished– were working. For good measure, 25,000 older men– WW I Veterans– were employed; as well as another 25,000 local experienced men. Workers were paid $25, of which $20 was sent home to their families. Besides the $5 at the end of each month, workers received “three hots and a flop,” slang for bed and board.
What do you suppose the Tea Party would have said if it existed back then?
Many of the large-scale projects involved the protection and reforesting of woodlands. More than 100,000 miles of fire roads were built; 3,116 lookout towers were erected and 2.5 billion trees planted. In addition, more than 7,000 dams were set, 154 million square yards of stream bank protected and 40 million acres of farmland terraced.
Among the 50 Civilian Conservation Camps in Illinois, six were designated to build lodges in state parks, including the one we rolled into after a long day of cycling.
And what a gem it is. Built with stone and timber, it boasts a spacious veranda facing the Illinois River under the shade of large hardwood trees. The great room is a clear span of about 150 by 75 feet, with a gigantic fireplace at one end. The original furniture, built by prison inmates, is still in use. An elegant restaurant serves three meals a day, and a pool was added in the 1980s. Rooms are large, clean, well-appointed and cost as little as $79 dollars a day.
The ice machine worked really well.
I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to any of my readers, but when we travel we usually carry a bottle of vodka along in case cocktails are not available after a hard day on the road. We had said spirit on this trip but no mixers. What’s an Iowa couple to do?
In the gift shop, while looking for something suitable to mix with our liquor, I noticed a large plastic cup sporting a photo of the lodge. It seemed a bit steep for $15 but I got it anyway as a souvenir. After the purchase the young women working the counter mentioned that the mug entitled me to free non-alcohol drinks forever from the restaurant.
They had tonic.
Does it get any better?