Arrowheads and artifacts uncovered in the Fox Ridge area indicate habitation by prehistoric Native American cultures. Early historic tribes included the Piankashaw and the Illinois, both of whom were pushed out when the Kickapoo migrated into the region from Wisconsin in the late 1600s.
European settlers in the area originally were centered around the Embarras River, which provided their main source of transportation, fishing, trapping, and water. Before the development of the railroad, much of the economy of the area also depended on the river, with flat boats carrying livestock and manufacturing materials downstream to the Wabash, Ohio and Mississippi rivers and on to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
In the late 1930s, the state of Illinois acquired a small parcel of land, and residents of the Charleston area helped preserve and develop it as a state park. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a residence/workshop complex, a laboratory for the Natural History Survey, 4 miles of hiking trails, a large brick pavilion and a dam and spillway which created the 12-acre Ridge Lake.
Ridge Lake, completed in 1941 and currently administered by the Illinois Natural History Survey in Urbana, is used for researching means to improve fishing in Illinois waters. Studies at the lake (the first at which Natural History Survey technicians were able to control the water level) have included investigations of the effects on resident fish populations of lake drawdowns, supplemental feeding of bluegill and channel catfish, and introduction of supplemental predators, such as muskellunge and walleye. The ongoing research efforts constitute the most thorough and longest continuous fish studies in the United States.
To further enhance the development of the park, the Fox Ridge Foundation was founded and dedicated to the improvement and promotion of the area. The foundation has provided part-time summer student interpreters, playground equipment and the interpretive pond outside of the Visitor Center. Governed by local citizens interested in the park's future, the foundation sponsors several annual events, and organizes and administers fund drives for park improvements. Supported by the general public through membership dues and donations, the foundation is a tax-exempt charitable organization. For further information contact the park office or write to the Fox Ridge Foundation, P.O. Box 714, Charleston, IL, 61920.