Kankakee River State Park, located near Bourbonnais Illinois healthcare and Bourbonnais hospital, is an unspoiled natural paradise which has been treasured for hundreds of years. It was first settled by the Native Americans who inhabited the region and then later by farmers and traders and today by hikers, campers, bicyclists, anglers, hunters, and canoeists. The Kankakee River, a naturally channeled stream listed by the Federal Clean Streams Register, is the focal point of the park’s popularity.
One of the popular attractions of the 1890’s was the Custer Bowery Amusement Park, which brought visitors from Chicago. The park lasted through the First World War, but by that time the river had already become a popular place for summer cottages. The spot became more accessible for vacationers when roads were built along both banks of the river in 1928. Ten years later Chicagoan Ethel Sturges Dummer donated thirty-five acres of land to create a state park. Commonwealth Edison added almost two thousand acres more to the park in 1956 and granted further land to the park in 1989. At the present time Kankakee State River Park contains about 4,000 acres and envelopes both banks of the Kankakee River for eleven miles and is bounded by Illinois Route 113 on the south side and Illinois Route 102 on the north. Interstate highways 55 and 57 provide convenient access to the park from the local communities of Kankakee, Bradley, and Bourbonnais healthcare.
A number of prehistoric sites are found in Kankakee River State Park. The Native American inhabitants of the area at the time when the first Europeans arrived in the 1670’s were Miami and Illini Indians. The Miami were the larger group, so the Kankakee River was originally named the River of the Miami. Mascouten and Kickapoo also inhabited the region from the late 1670’s til the 1760’s and Potawatomi Indians hunted in this area by the later date. By the 1770’s the Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa nations, known as the Three Fires, were dominant in the region. The largest village was known as Rock Village, and was located in the present day park not far from the mouth of Rock Creek. The last of the great Indian Councils was held here in 1830. In 1832, after the Black Hawk War, the Potawatomi were forced to cede all of their land which lay along the Kankakee and Illinois Rivers to the U.S. government. Most of the Potawatomi abandoned the area with the exception of Chief Shaw-waw-nas-see, whose tomb is marked by a boulder which lies along Rock Creek nature trail.
In the 1820’s French fur trades including Noel Le Vasseur, Hubbard Chabare, and Francois Bourbonnais traded with the Potawatomi who lived along the Iroquois and Kankakee Rivers. When the Potawatomi abandoned the region in 1838, Le Vasseur called upon French Canadians from Quebec to emigrate to the area of Bourbonnais Township. Thus he earned the name “Father of Kankakee”. William Baker and other settlers also began farming the valley of the Kankakee River in 1831, and the log-cabin village of Rockville was founded in 1840. The Kankakee and Iroquois Navigation Co. was chartered in 1847 to provide a navigable waterway from the Illinois and Michigan Canal as far as Warner’s Landing on present day Warner Bridge Rd. This company went bankrupt when the Wabash Railroad came through in the early 1880’s. Hand-cut pillars of limestone still stand at the Chippewa Campground where a railroad bridge was to have been erected before the railroad ran out of funds.