Archaeological evidence for both the Old Woodland and Paleolithic Native American cultures has been uncovered at the site. The Paleo people lived in small, temporary camps and were known as big game hunters. The Woodland culture left more evidence, since it was agricultural and known for large settlements. By the early 1800s, no Native American settlements existed in the immediate area.
When Illinois was admitted to the Union in 1818, the federal government gave Illinois three saline lands. One of them, located less than a mile southwest of the park, was leased to Dr. Conrad Will, who served in both the Illinois House and Senate in the early days of statehood. Dr. Will operated a salt works at the site, and the town of Brownsville grew up around it. The salt works closed in 1840, and all that remains of the town is the cemetery.
Although the state of Illinois did not purchase the 1,022 acres that would become Lake Murphysboro State Park until 1948, interest in the area as a public recreational park began in the 1930s. Originally developed by the state’s Division of Fisheries, Lake Murphysboro State Park was transferred to the Division of Parks and Memorials in 1955. Today, the park is maintained by the Department of Natural Resources.
Built in 1950 by the Division of Fisheries, the 145-acre lake is a tributary of Indian Creek and has a watershed of approximately 4,500 acres. The maximum water depth is 36 feet, and the lake’s 7.5 miles of shoreline are made up of rolling hills covered with a wide variety of trees. A 600-foot dam is located at the south end of the park. A smaller lake, appropriately called Little Lake, is located just north of Lake Murphysboro.
Soon after its completion, Lake Murphysboro was stocked with breeder-size and yearling-size largemouth bass. In the fall of 1951, redear sunfish were introduced, followed by bluegill the next spring. Channel catfish are frequently stocked. To maintain a healthy fish population, submerged vegetation and water draw-downs are used to keep the number of small panfish down.
Patches of native wild orchids may be found in the wooded areas of the park. Yellow lady’s slipper, showy, purple fringeless, twayblade, puttyroot, coralroot and ladies’ tresses are just some of the varieties to watch for. The variety of orchids makes it possible to find blooming plants throughout the year. The wooded hills include groves of majestic oak and hickory trees, as well as many other types of trees.