So many small towns have histories that lie just below the surface of the cheery exteriors and tree-lined streets. Carlyle, IL, is on the shore of Lake Carlyle, but it wasn’t always that way! In fact, Lake Carlyle, which is so integral to the town, didn’t exist until 1967!
History of Carlyle
The area that is now Carlyle was originally settled around 1812. It was on the path of the Goshen Trail, which traveled from Alton, IL, to Shawneetown on the Ohio River. This part of the trail had a ford that crossed the Kaskaskia River. John Hill built a small block house as a defense against the Native Americans and began a ferry business across the river. Additional settlers followed, and in 1818, the same year that Illinois became a state, lots for the town were laid out.
Carlyle almost became the state capital in 1819; it lost out to Vandalia in 1819. In 1837, when 167 people were living in the settlement, the town was incorporated, and the spelling was changed from the original Carlisle to the current spelling. The 2020 census had the population of Carlyle at 3,253. Carlyle is the county seat.
The Suspension/Swinging/General Dean Bridge
In 1859, a suspension bridge was built to forego the use of a ferry or mud bridge supported by logs. Excessive weight on the bridge caused it to be repaired several times, with parts ultimately collapsing in 1920. A new bridge, known as the Swinging Bridge, was built and opened in 1925, 300 feet south of the site of the old bridge. The bridge was restored in 1953 and dedicated to local war hero William Dean. Over 30,000 people attended the dedication of the repaired bridge. The General Dean Bridge is the only suspension bridge in Illinois and is listed in the National Historic Registry.
Carlyle Lake was the result of studies by a local organization to resolve the frequent flooding of the Kaskaskia River. Congress approved the Flood Control Act in 1938 authorizing a reservoir, but action on it was delayed by World War 2. Eldon Hazlett settled in Carlyle, and became interested in the project, and worked to get public support. Ultimately, projects were authorized by Congress in 1958.
Work began the same year, with the federal government acquiring 25,000 acres for the lake and surrounding area. Railroad tracks and cemeteries had to be moved, and oil wells plugged to prevent pollution of the lake. The project was completed in 1967, creating the largest manmade lake in Illinois.
Carlyle Lake is now the scene for recreation–boating, fishing, and swimming. It is the home of the IHSA Bass Tournament, the Crappie Masters Tournament and the King Kat Tournament. There are campgrounds, cabins, and hotels to make lakeside leisure time perfect.
Today’s City of Carlyle
Today’s city of Carlyle has restaurants like the Old 50 Cafe or Bretz Wildlife Lodge and Winery. There are charming shops like the Ten Pin Antique Mall. Many annual events bring families downtown, like Christmas in Carlyle, the Carlyle Street Fair, the Cruz-in the Dam Car Show, the Fireworks Spectacular Dam Jam, and the Polar Plunge.
Carlyle is proud to have been the home of three major league baseball players: Mel Simons of the White Sox, Patsy McGaffigan of the Phillies, and Pat Jarvis of the Braves and Expos.
Carlyle, IL, on the shore of Lake Carlyle, is the perfect place to live or visit. The lake access sets the scene for many activities, and the friendly people and neighborhoods are consummate Americana at its best.