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Springfield builds a lake with no water in it

Illinois Times

June 3, 1977

A second lake to provide drinking water to the state capital might or might not ever be needed, and city officials are acutely aware that they will be blamed if a lake that isn’t needed is built or a lake that is needed isn’t built. Dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t, you could say.


Some weeks ago, the editorialist of The Spectator, a leading British journal of conservative opinion, commented on the latest in a long string of wildcat strikes that have hobbled that country’s car-making giant, the British-Leyland Co. Exactly what, he wondered, in a mixture of exasperation and outrage, do the auto workers at Leyland have against building automobiles?


1 thought again of that remark last Thursday. It was then that I, halfway into my daily ration of scrambled eggs and coffee, read in the State Journal-Register that Springfield utilities commissioner Jim Henneberry had decided that completing a preliminary study on the question of whether or not to build Lake Springfield II was “not a top priority item of this department.” Exactly what, I wondered between bites, does Mr. Henneberry have against building lakes?


Back on April 7, the commissioner summoned reporters to Room 203 of the Municipal Building for a press conference. He surprised the press (and, it turned out, the rest of the city council) by announcing that he planned to introduce an ordinance calling for a referendum to decide the future of the second lake. He noted that heavier-than-normal spring rains had eased the threats of immediate water shortages in Springfield. It was possible, he said, to “look into the question of a new water supply hopefully without panic, without passion, without demagoguery, without political rhetoric and without emotion or sensationalism.”


(A tall order, especially that part about political rhetoric; in Springfield, that’s like having a Memorial Day without speeches. But I stray from my point.)


Mr. Henneberry went on to say that it was essential that the lake issue be settled after “examining all the facts and all of the possibilities.” The commissioner concluded (in prose as murky as lake water) by promising that his engineers would “present all the facts as they are capable of developing such data known to them.”


Prudent advice, every word. Just after he took office in the spring of 1975, Mr. Henneberry had asked his people to take another look at the facts regarding the lake project. The study—actually a review by in-house staff—was essentially an update of full-scale studies done in 1965 and 1972 and which had recommended the construction of a second municipal reservoir as the best way to provide Springfield's future water needs. The study was never officially released—indeed, was almost forgotten.


Until last week. Last January circuit court judge George Coutrakon ruled that the city could not condemn any more land for the second lake—it had by then acquired some 5,500 acres—because the city had failed to demonstrate that it intended actually to build the lake. The city appealed the ruling, and in support of that appeal City Water, Light & Power submitted to the court parts of the study Mr. Henneberry had initiated more than a year and a half previously.


The report as a whole (which incidentally favors construction of the lake) remains confidential, however. Mr. Henneberry argues that it is only a preliminary draft, that it contains unverified data, that the information it contains, because it is incomplete, might be misleading. That is fair enough; if the report isn’t ready to be published, it should not be. But when asked last Wednesday when the report would be ready, the commissioner said he didn’t know. It was not “a top priority item.”


The Lake Springfield II project has been badly handled in the past, as Mr. Henneberry himself has often pointed out. So far, however, the commissioner has not improved on the record of his predecessors. The referendum proposed to decide the project's fate may not be binding, especially on future councils, and if it fails would leave the city holding 5,500 acres of land for which it had no use and to which it had little right. The commissioner, in calling for such a vote, took the curious position that he, as head of the department responsible for the construction and operation of a second lake, would take no public stand either for or against it. Now after promising to arm the voters with the facts they need to make an informed choice, he says that completion of the study that might provide those facts is not a top priority item.


In his statement of April 7, the commissioner stated, “We have to get down to the business of making a . . . decision about a future water supply.” That’s good advice. The commissioner ought to take it. □




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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