More on Big Lake

July 30, 2011

As noted earlier, from 1965 to 1975, Monte was the on-site manager of the privately owned Duck Island Hunting and Fishing Club.  This site was located in the river bottoms south of Banner, IL.  Entrance to the area could be made by water or use of a private road accessed at the end of the Banner Dike Road.  A heavy log chain pulled taut across the roadway prevented the uninvited from entering the property.  A hidden nail pounded into tree held a key to the padlock for those visitors that were welcome.

Below is the area depicted on a map.  The dot in the center represents the location of the Big Lake buildings. The time spent at this location was instrumental in influencing Monte’s further development as a wildlife artist.

Aerial image of Big Lake, center dot location of living quarters

To get to the Big Lake site by vehicle, one would have to drive down the Banner Dike Road, a gaveled, levee road bordered by farmland, woodlands, the Copperas Creek and Illinois River.  Along this area, other privately owned sportsman’s clubs also were in existence. Some still exist to this day.

Below is a photograph of the flooded bottom land depicting the hunter’s lodge at the Voorhees hunting and fishing lodge.  Part of this lodge was actually built upon a floating barge.  Fred Ellis, Monte’s uncle, can be seen in the water craft. Fred Ellis was a locally known accomplished taxidermist.

This lodge and other buildings was located along the Banner Dike Road opposite of where the Copperas Creek fed into the Illinois River.

Fred Ellis at Voorhees Hunting Lodge, Courtesy J. G. Riley

Below is a another photograph of the Voorhees’ hunter’s lodge as photographed from the Banner Dike Road during a flood.  During the 1980’s an arsonist destroyed this landmark.  No one was ever charged with the crime.

Voorhees, Hunting Lodge, Courtesy J. G. Riley

Below is a photograph of the dirt, entrance road and the view one would see when approaching the Big Lake site.  In the forefront is the clubhouse. Behind the clubhouse are other out buildings and in the rear, the main living quarters.

Front Entrance Road to Big Lake Site

Below is a photograph of a dredge, building up land for the living quarters site at Big Lake.  The waterway is a small river known as West River and branches west off of the Illinois River. West River cut out a portion of land named Senate Island and then met back up with the Illinois River.  Years later, refuse and trees, as well as an access road crossing West River would prevent boaters from traveling the entire length of West River back onto the Illinois River.

Often times, when dark, boaters on the Illinois River would mistakenly take the West River branch and lose their way.  Some times late at night, through the screened windows of the Big Lake house,  boaters could be heard cussing in confusion, especially when coming upon the log jam.

Main living quarters, adding fill, courtesy R. Logan

Living Quarters, years later

Main House time of dredging, Courtesy R. Logan

Rear of living quarters during flooding, Courtesy R. Logan

Above and below are photographs of the rear of the living quarters during flooding.  During these times, there was not too much of a yard for the Ellis children to play.

Rear of Living Quarters during flooding, 1970's,

Club House, flooding 1962, Courtesy R. Logan

Club House, flood of 1941, from West River, Courtesy R. Logan

Big Lake pick house, from West River, Courtesy R. Logan

Below is a photograph during the early times when ditches were being made for access to Big Lake.  Dynamite was used to blow mud out of the ground to form the ditch.  A large tower was also constructed in this area. In years since, Silver Maple trees have grown higher than the tower and while the tower still stands, only the metal framing exists and it is no longer safe to climb upon.

Creating ditches for boats, Courtesy R. Logan

Created Boat Ditches, Courtesy R. Logan

Created boat ditches, Courtesy R. Logan

Below is a photograph from the 1970’s of Monte and Sharyl’s son, Eric, cracking ice with a push pole at the same ditch in the above photographs.

Created boat ditches in 1970's, Monte and Sharyl's sone Eric with push poll

Boat ditch in 1970's, Monte and Sharyl's son Eric with push poll

Below is a photograph of Monte at the end of the Banner Dike Road during flood season.  In the background is the Illinois River and across the river are cabins along the river near Spring Lake.  The cabins in that area still exist to this day.

Monte, flooding near end of Banner Dike Road off of Illinois River

Below is a photograph of Kathy, Monte and Eric arriving at the living quarters at Big Lake.  In the background is West River.  Boards would have to be placed upon the mud and extended more and more as the river receded back to its banks.  To step off the boards meant to lose one’s footwear to the suction of the mud. A putrid odor would waft through the air as the mud dried during the warmer weather.

West Lake River driveway at Big Lake living quarters, Kathy, Monte, Eric

Below is a photograph of the entrance road of Big Lake during flood season.  This was north of the site complex where the road met the Illinois River.   It was preferred to use the flood water over the road during more inclement weather and before the flood water receded too much because trees lining the roadway offered shelter and safety from the rougher waters of the Illinois River.  As the waters receded, boat motors became harder to use and forced boat travel back onto the Illinois River.

Flooded Big Lake Road, 1973

Below is a photograph of Jared, Monte’s younger brother, using a push pole to propel a wooden skiff along the same area of the Big Lake access road as in the above photograph.

Big Lake entrance road, 1973, Monte's brother Jared in skiff

One attribute Monte brought to the Big Lake site was creative ways to do what he could to foster improved wild life habitat.  Monte, with the help of many others, built and assembled many wooden Wood duck houses at the Big Lake cite.  Later, because of increased construction efficiency, sheet metal was used for these structures.   Note the material below the duck house to prevent predators from climbing up and eating the eggs of the waterfowl.

Wood duck houses, Big Lake, Eric

For Monte and Sharyl, during their years at Big Lake, it was both a wonderful and tough time.  For Monte, it allowed a front row seat for him to observe wildlife in a natural setting.  During these years, this area of Fulton County was also a lively place to be for a young couple as well.  Monte and Sharyl were also filled with feelings of optimism regarding their future and promise over what Monte’s talent was predicted to bring.

But this time would also start to open their eyes to the tougher things ahead in life as well.  Near the end of their stay at Big Lake, Monte delved further into the business side of the art world and as noted earlier, entered into a very draconian and restrictive contract with an art house that would have a huge impact upon his future and his outlook upon the business aspect of the art world.

Below is a photograph of Sharyl during a river flood while sitting in a Maple tree during more playful times.

Sharyl in Maple tree, flood, 1973

During their time at Big Lake, the amount of help Monte and Sharyl received from relatives, friends and associates cannot go without reminding.  Many people were extremely generous and helpful to the young, starting out Monte Ellis family.  Without such help, the quality of life for their family would have been much, much less.

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One Response to “More on Big Lake”

  1. Jane Ward said

    Thanks for sharing these memories. The photographs take me back in time.

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