If you think this stretch of Central Illinois is flat, ask one of those cycling enthusiasts who pedal far out into the countryside. They’ll tell you about a subtly deceiving, gently rolling landscape interspersed with long, broad ridgelines rising as much 100 feet.

Those ridges are called end moraines and were formed during the Wisconsin glacial episode, popularly known as the last Ice Age. As the glaciers began retreating some 20,000 to 25,000 years ago the process was neither smooth nor uniform. When the receding glacier paused (“standstills” could last hundreds of years) ground-up rock and other debris carried conveyer-like by the ice to its margin were deposited, not in an even sheet as usual, but rather in a heap, creating in the process a stutter-step pattern of elongated rises amid a generally smoother landscape.

This mostly slow-motion ballet between the elemental forces of rock and ice left more than 30 end moraines in Illinois, with many tracing a broad arc from northeastern Illinois to the state’s east-central region (these arcs marked the front lobe of a glacier system poking out from the Great Lakes.)

The sweep of the Bloomington moraine, one of six that pass through McLean County, is typical, running as it does from northern Illinois to Peoria and then back east to Bloomington and onward to Saybrook. It’s one of the four largest moraines in all the Prairie State.

For a fine view of this impressive glacial formation, take a drive on U.S. 150 between Downs and LeRoy and look northward. You can’t miss it.

In today’s world of paved roads and drainage tile most of us pay little to no attention to matters involving topography and elevation. But to Native Americans and early settlers, such knowledge was indispensible to travel and the establishment and viability of communities. This was especially true given that the area’s water-retaining black clay left much of the prairie perpetually soggy.

Moraines and their slopes were drier than the wet prairie below, making them natural highways for successive Native American occupants, from Mississippians to the Illinois and finally the Kickapoo. They were also favored for the first roads made by settlers.

A semi-permanent Kickapoo site (now remembered as the Grand Village of the Kickapoo) was situated on the higher-and-drier Bloomington moraine at a site northeast of LeRoy, a natural vantage point in which one could keep an eye on a considerable swath of surrounding territory. And Bloomington itself was located on its namesake moraine for similar reasons.

Before Euro-American settlers arrived in the 1820s, about 10 percent of present-day McLean County was in timber, with much of that along the tops and slopes of moraines.

The county’s second largest forested tract, 14,000-acre Old Town Timber, covered a 12–mile strip of the Bloomington Moraine beginning north of Downs and ending northeast of LeRoy. (In fact, Old Town Timber and Old Town Township are a nod to the aforementioned Grand Village, once better known as the “old town.”)

A century ago LeRoy resident and nature lover Simeon H. West said this forest “contained one of the finest bodies of timber I ever saw in the state.” Yet the hand-drawn whipsaw and steam-powered sawmill made short work of the magnificent old-growth stands. For his part West decried the waste, noting that “the work of the ax-man has been so complete, that even the outlines of the grove, as it was, cannot in many places, now be traced.”

A 20-acre vestige of Old Town Timber’s southeast corner survives as West Park, a 1906 gift from Simeon West to McLean County. And today, not far from old West Park sits the aptly named Moraine View State Recreation Area. This 1,687-acre parkland includes logged-over acreage now reclaimed and a 158-acre lake created from the impoundment of a tributary of Salt Creek.

Still, most morainal land in McLean County is devoted to agriculture, both in row crops and pasture, though a fair amount of private acreage is set aside in timber and used for hunting, recreation and the like. The Bloomington Moraine east of Downs, offering as it does rapid commute times to Bloomington’s east side, is also home to a few sprawling country estates and “McMansions.”

Given their elevated presence on the wide-open prairie some moraines are ideal for a new type of farming — the kind involving the wind. Completed in 2008 and situated (for the most part) on the Bloomington moraine, the Twin Groves Wind Farm and its 240 turbines cover some 22,000 acres of farmland in eastern McLean County.

The Shelbyville moraine south of Atlanta in Logan County marks the furthest advance of the Wisconsin glacial episode. Perceptive motorists driving to Springfield will find the rise and dip of this epochal ridgeline impossible to miss. Beyond it is a landscape forged by an earlier ice age. That means that when one crosses the Shelbyville moraine heading south everything viewed through the windshield is older, geologically speaking, than what is seen in the rearview mirror.

Bill Kemp is the librarian at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington. He can be reached at BKemp@mchistory.org.

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(10) comments

Joe Biden's Toupee
Joe Biden's Toupee

10,000 years ago we had GLACIERS where we are now living?! This doesn't make sense compared to all the stuff we are being taught by the current Regime through the State Controlled Media.

When I was growing up I was told all the cars we drive and all the electricity we use was going to push us into the next Ice Age. Then I guess that wasn't a thing going to happen, so they traded that message in to tell us all the cars we drive and all the electricity we use was going to push us into Global Warming. Then I guess that wasn't a thing going to happen, so they traded that message in to tell us all the cars we drive and all the electricity we use was going to cause Climate Change (and then they point to the Weather as proof of their theory, despite not knowing the difference between Climate and Weather).

And now the Pantagraph is running articles about GLACIERS that melted long before humans began driving cars and using electricity?! Why, that means POLAR BEARS probably lived here and when their glaciers melted they drowned in the sea . . . or not, I guess, because there was dry land here for them to walk on.

Esc401Esc
Esc401Esc

Running your mouth isn't revealing much intelligence. Try studying science instead.

Proud Conservative
Proud Conservative

Great article as always. My grandpa used to talk about central Illinois glaciers and how they carved the landscape. Always made me wonder though.....where did the glaciers go? Were there SUVs and incandescent light bulbs back then? Did aerosol cans have CFCs in them? I mean.......Without the EPA and Al Gore and BHO and solar panels and windmills, what chance did the glaciers have to survive?

Joe Biden's Toupee
Joe Biden's Toupee

Your grandparents were likely raised in a Generation that largely had their spiritual and religious understandings intact. Though it isn't a hard requirement to have strong religious beliefs, it was common for most older generations to be raised with the knowledge that God and/or Nature was firmly in control of human existence. Humans have never had control over what the Earth does in the big picture, and will not have that control at any point in the near future.

Thus, your grandparents were not stupid enough to believe that humans have any control over what the weather or climate on Earth does. That belief was reserved for fools, or the insane.

Now we have a generation largely raised without any spiritual or religious guidance. We have a ME ME ME, MY MY MY, INSTANT GRATIFICATION, IF IT FEELS GOOD DO IT sort of belief system that is indoctrinated into our children. With that sort of ignorance we have kids with brains that are big balls of mush and they can easily be led to believe a new religion: Liberalism/Progressivism. It's a religion full of most of the standard belief systems that everybody sins and we should atone for our sins. Except the everybody sins mantra has been morphed into the dogma that merely doing the activities of daily living (having a heated/cooled house, owning a private car, watching TV or browsing the Internet) are acts of sin that contribute to destroying the Earth. And the Liberal/Progressive solution to atone for those sins is to PAY MORE TAXES that will supposedly fix the problems of your sinning. You need to downsize your house because you are SINNING by having too much square footage, or are heating it too much in winter, or are cooling it too much in summer. You need to give up your private car and bicycle to work (in Central Illinois, in the WINTER or in the SUMMER!) or at least trade your car in for a Hybrid with the badge on the back that visually demonstrates to other people that YOU CARE. Even with the hybrid car, your gasoline should cost more to pay for the damage you do, and of course we'll do that through TAXES. You need to use less electricity because we can't have those coal power plants running like they used to do for 100+ years so we're going to encourage you to use less power by CHARGING YOU MORE WITH TAXES. Absent the taxes, we'll pass laws that drive the power companies out of business so you an only buy electricity (at higher costs) from wind power or solar power, and I hope you enjoy using the Internet only when the wind is blowing or the sun in shining. Even with that, we'll do the decision making for you after we fit your house with a smart meter that can remotely tell the power company how much electricity you are using. Use too much and your bill will go up as a consumption tax. And if you're extravagantly using electricity at a time when there isn't enough to go around (hot summer days) we'll just remotely turn off your Air Conditioner so you can make your contribution to the better good by doing without power for a while.

Esc401Esc
Esc401Esc

Don't forget a course in logic.

moderndaycowboy
moderndaycowboy

Forget to take your meds this morning?

SnappingTurtle
SnappingTurtle

Interesting article. I like reading these kinds of things.

SodaBob
SodaBob

Technically, my understanding is that we are still in an ice age, but have been coming out of a glacial period for some time now.

Joe Biden's Toupee
Joe Biden's Toupee

Correct, the Earth has been slowly warming for all of recorded human history.

Crimlawyer
Crimlawyer

Where are all you religious nuts that say the planet is 6000 years old?

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