Several reminders of America's Industrial Age can be seen at Illini State Park. The area is part of an old glacial feature called the Marseilles Moraine. A mine one mile south of the park supplied coal to Marseilles industries until World War II. The Illinois Traction System, an interurban electric transit system that ran from Chicago to Princeton, was one of those industries. Less than a mile north of the park is the historic Illinois-Michigan Canal, completed in 1848 when the section from Marseilles to Morris opened.
In the mid-1920s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a barge canal, and visitors can watch as large barges pass and through the Marseilles Locks.
The prestigious Marsatawa Country Club once graced the east end of the park. Organized by Ottawa resident W.D. Boyce, who also founded the Boy Scouts of America, the club boasted one of the premier golf courses of its day. In the 1930s, two companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps converted the golf course to a park and constructed buildings still in use today.
The CCC camp at the west end of the park was converted into a semi-correctional boys' camp that provided maintenance in the park until it was closed in the late 1960s.
Illini entered the state park system in 1934 and was dedicated in 1935.