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Lake Sara - a refreshing oasis in central Illinois! What does a community like Effingham Illinois do when they run out of water? They build a reservoir like Lake Sara. Located in the Central Region of Illinois, Effingham County, like much of the Midwestern prairie has limited surface water. In 1949, the local Saint Anthony's Hospital caught fire and burned, partially due to a shortage of water to fight the fire. The resultant loss of 70 lives helped bring about fire codes nationwide.
When the drought of 1952-1955 hit, their small reservoir quickly proved to be unequal to the task of keeping the area supplied with water. Something would have to be done. Community leaders faced the fact that other water sources must be found to ensure community growth and prevent future fires and crop failures. The Effingham Water Authority was formed and a location secured to impound the soon-to-be-born Lake Sara. A dam was constructed across Blue Point Creek, a tributary eventually emptying into the Little Wabash River. When completed in 1957, the new Lake Sara covered 840 acres with 27 miles of shoreline. Effingham now had water - and the community a great recreational opportunity which they quickly took advantage of.
The area around Lake Sara was historically one of the areas of Illinois to be settled early. In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson laid the plans and signed the legislation for the first and only federally funded interstate highway. Begun in 1811 in Cumberland, Md, the Cumberland Road as it was often called stretched through Illinois as far as Vandalia. Also known as National Road, the future US 40 facilitated settlement into Illinois and by 1814, the first settlers arrived to put down roots along the nearby Little Wabash River. With the National Road leading to Illinois' first capitol at Vandalia forty miles to the west, and a railroad crossroads at the site, the Effingham area quickly attracted many small businessmen and the makings of a fine small city. Now straddling the junction of two major interstate highways - I-70 and I-57 - Effingham has proven to be an excellent spot to grow a business and raise a family. All that was missing was water recreation; Lake Sara filled that need.
Residential development on leased land began around Lake Sara almost immediately. Located just west of town, Lake Sara was soon the site of marinas, year-round residences, small resorts and campgrounds. A golf course was developed along the lakeshore. Years of scientifically-planned fish stocking has resulted in an excellent fishery: the lake contains black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, longear sunfish, redear sunfish and walleye along with the common bottom dwellers and feeder varieties such as bullhead, warmouth, carp, gizzard shad, golden shiner and grass carp. Fishing tournaments are held here regularly and draw anglers from all over the Midwest. There are no motor restrictions on Lake Sara except for jet skis, making it a favorite of watersport enthusiasts with sailboats, pontoons and powerboats. The lake welcomes those who come for water skiing and tubing as well as those who enjoy canoeing and kayaking the coves of the multi-armed reservoir. A public beach with boat launch area and picnic pavilions is available near the dam. The Girl Scouts maintain a camp along the shore, as do several private campgrounds. There are hiking trails provided for nature-lovers to enjoy birding and plant life. An active lake users group has provided improvements such as bank stabilization projects and shoreline improvements in recent years. Clearly this is a much-loved lake, and with good reason.
A visit to Lake Sara need not be limited to water-focused activities: the City of Effingham has plenty to keep the visitor busy. Three city parks provide a skate park, including ramps and fun box, picnic areas with pavilion, lighted ball diamonds and tennis courts, playgrounds, gymnasiums, an outdoor swimming complex, a tree walk, a miniature golf course and more. The entire area is a popular antiquing destination and most types of shopping are available in the several malls and national chain stores. The area is well-supplied with restaurants from fast-food to pizza to elegant dining. The annual Sculpture on the Avenues project brings an array of artwork to Downtown Effingham and features some of the Midwest's best known and unknown sculptors. Nearby Teutopolis contains the Monastery Museum, the preserved history of the Franciscan priests who ministered to this German Catholic community founded in 1838. The MY Garage Corvette Museum contains one-of-a-kind and vintage Corvettes and thousands of pieces of Corvette history and memorabilia. Anyone with a farm background or interest in steam-powered machinery is sure to enjoy Ben Winter's Steam Engine Museum in nearby Altamont. Those with an interest in early American history will enjoy a visit to the Vandalia State House, 40 miles away in Vandalia. Serving as the Illinois Capitol fro 1820 to 1839, Abraham Lincoln served in the legislature here after the State House was built in 1836.
Ballard Nature Center a few minutes west of Effingham holds miles of wooded trails and dozens of species of birds in their natural setting. Alwerdt's All-American Selection Display Garden just south of Altamont will delight gardening enthusiasts with it's six acres of display plants and shrubs. And, the spectacular Cross at the Crossroads stands nineteen stories tall along side Interstates 70 and 57.
Visitors to Lake Sara will find vacation rentals plentiful in the area. Often, private homes are available as vacation lodgings on a weekly basis. Some commercial lodgings are available along the lakefront. Bed-and-breakfast facilities are located in several nearby communities, often along the historic National Road. The City of Effingham boasts over 1000 hotel rooms along the interstates. Little vacant land for development still exists along the lakefront, but there is often real estate available in the form of existing homes. Only 100 miles east of St Louis, the Effingham area is convenient to travelers heading west or south to St Louis or Memphis or those heading north to Chicago. Lake Sara is convenient for a Midwestern vacation and a great place to locate a summer cottage. Enjoy the family atmosphere at Lake Sara - Effingham will welcome you!
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