by Jessica Waytenick •

Address: 1510 46th Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois
Phone: 309-788-9536 (museum)
Web Site:
Hours: Park open dawn to dusk year-round. Museum open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Admission: By Donation
Media Contact: Beth Carvey, 309-788-9536 or
What's New:

  • Black Hawk State Historic Site was voted in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.
  • A new permanent exhibit opens in May 2009 at the Hauberg Indian Museum.  It explains how the Sauk and Meskwaki came to establish their principal cities here.  The largest piece is a scale model of Saukenuk, the capital city of the Sauk Nation.

Black Hawk State Historic Site is a wooded, steeply rolling 208-acre tract that borders the Rock River in Rock Island, Illinois. Prehistoric Indians and nineteenth-century settlers made their homes here, but the area is most closely identified with the Sauk Nation and the warrior-leader whose name it bears-Black Hawk. The site, which is also noted for its many natural features, was voted one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois for the Western Region in 2007.

The Black Hawk site was first occupied by Indians as long as 12,000 years ago, and it was continuously inhabited through the Hopewell period, c. 100 B.C. to A.D. 250. Villagers lived within the bounds of the present historic site, building their burial mounds along the bluffs above the river. Unfortunately, the mounds have been destroyed. For nearly a century beginning about 1730, the Sauk and Meskwaki (Fox) Indians made their home near the site. Saukenuk, the capital of the Sauk Nation and one of the largest Indian centers in North America, stood adjacent to the site.

The Hauberg Indian Museum, located in the historic Watch Tower Lodge, interprets the culture of the Sauk and Meskwaki. The museum features seasonal dioramas with life-size figures depicting activities of the Sauk and Meskwaki people typical of the period 1750 to 1830. Replicas of their traditional summer and winter homes are featured. Many artifacts, including authentic trade goods, jewelry, and domestic items are displayed.

“Work, Pride and Pay,” an exhibit telling the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work at Black Hawk, is located in the east wing of the Watch Tower Lodge. Along with original photographs of the actual work done at the park is a 20 minute video, enhancing the story of their work.

The Black Hawk Forest, a dedicated Nature Preserve, has been identified as one of the least-disturbed forests in Illinois.  This naturally wooded area, along with the Rock River that forms the southern boundary of the site, provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. Nearly 175 species of birds can be observed during the year including bald eagles during the winter months. The Oak-Hickory upland forest also contains over 30 species of wildflowers, as well as numerous shrubs and vines. There are over four miles of marked hiking trails in the park.

Three picnic areas, two shelter houses with fireplaces, and playground equipment are also found at the site. In the southwest corner of the site a small prairie restoration can be found.

Black Hawk Park hosts many events throughout the year, including moonlit hikes; programs on bird-watching, wildflowers, and plants; campfires, and more.

Prior to becoming the Black Hawk State Historic Site an amusement park occupied the area. From 1882 to 1927, the Watch Tower Amusement Park, owned and operated by the local streetcar company, attracted thousands of visitors annually. It was the first and largest amusement park west of Chicago. The park featured open-air concerts and theater, vaudeville troupes, fireworks, bowling, target shooting, outdoor movies, balloon ascensions, and amusement rides including the figure-eight roller coaster, and the famous Shoot the Chutes toboggan slide.

The Shoot the Chutes was invented in Rock Island in 1898. Flat-bottomed boats with side runners that slid on a greased track, carried riders down the steep bluff at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. The boats shot out into the Rock River, giving riders the thrill of a lifetime!

On top of the bluff a series of inns occupied the area where the Watch Tower Lodge stands today. Dining and dancing were popular at the old inns. After a visit to Black Hawk's Watch Tower, former Union general William Sherman remarked that in his extensive travels he had never met its equal. The park's popularity, however, waned in the 1920's, and in 1927 the State of Illinois purchased the site, renaming it Black Hawk State Park. It was designated a state historic site in 1987.

From 1933 to 1935, a camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was located at Black Hawk, developing many of the features that are enjoyed by visitors to the site today. Among many projects at the site, the CCC constructed several miles of hiking trails, picnic shelters, parking areas, and the Watch Tower Lodge. Built of native limestone and timber, the Lodge consists of three buildings connected by a covered walkway: The Hauberg Indian Museum, a Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, and a central Great Room used for receptions and parties. Featured in the Great Room are two murals painted in 1936 by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Otto Hake. The murals depict the seasonal activates of the Sauk and Meskwaki people.

2010 Events

The Quad City Natural Area Guardians and the Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Foundation will be hosting a winter series event that will be held on three successive Tuesdays in February. There will be a fee charged but it has not yet been determined. The theme for the series is native plants and Native Americans. The time is 6:30 to 8:00 pm and will be held at the Watch Tower Lodge.

Tuesday, February 2 - This session will focus on Native American's connection to the earth and how they reverence it.

Tuesday, February 9 - This session will focus on gardening with native plants and how to maintain them. There will also be a session on the cultural and ecological use of fire as a maintenance tool.

Tuesday, February 16 - This session will focus on Native American uses of native plants for healing, cooking, and ceremonial uses.

The Citizens to Preserve Black Hawk Park Foundation have several upcoming events in 2010. All programs are free.

Sunday, February 14 - The annual Valentine's Moonlight Hike. Come hike the forest under the light of the moon then come back to the lodge for freshly made donuts and hot cocoa while listening to live bluegrass music. This event will be held at the Watch Tower Lodge and runs from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, March 9 - Bob Motz will be presenting a program entitled "Muscatine: Pearl Button Capital of the World. The event will be held at the Singing Bird Nature Center and begins at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 1 - The annual Stroll through Springtime which offers bird and wildflower hikes as well as a program and refreshments, including our world famous wild violet jelly. The Bird Hike is held from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. The program and refreshments runs from 9:00 to 10:00. The wildflower hikes are held from 10:00 to noon. All events begin at the Watch Tower Lodge.

Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2 - A special Welcome Home Celebration and Pow Wow will be held at the site. Many of Black Hawk's descendents will travel up from Oklahoma and the Meskwaki from Tama, Iowa, will be here as honored guests. There will be a formal dedication of the newest exhibit in the Hauberg Museum that at last tells the whole story of the Sauk and Meskwaki and their time in the Quad City area. Times are TBA.


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