Lake Sara is an important part of Effingham County. I have many memories from there. First, let's look at why and how Lake Sara came into existence. This information is from the book "Effingham County Illinois — Past and Present" published in 1968 by Effingham Regional Historical Society (pp 384, 385 and 386).
City Planning Commission Water Authority Board
“First indication of a water shortage for Effingham County appeared during the summer of 1952 and by 1954 the situation had become acute. The announcement that Mattoon planned to construct a lake by damming the Little Wabash River at Neoga, 14 miles north of Effingham, meant that Effingham's last source of supply would be drastically reduced.
In the fall of 1952 at a membership drive meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. C.J. Moritz, an engineer, suggested that Effingham build its own lake and proved the feasibility with maps, etc. A Chamber of Commerce survey developed 11 potential sites in Effingham County. Months of research and study were engaged among many public-spirited and dedicated men in the county who had to cope with opposition to the project, alternate plans and long delays.
The City Council on Dec. 15, 1954, created a City Planning Commission which was to develop a program and make recommendations. Among the latter were the location of the lake on Blue Point Creek in Summit Township, and the limitation of the cost to $1,200,000.
Its members were J. Wm. Everhart, A.L. Anderson, George Bauer, William Best, Thomas Buell, Charles Clausius, William Dammerman, George Danks, George Dehn Sr., Noble Deball, Clarence Dust, J.G. Elmore, H.C. Feuerborn, The Rev. John Goff, T.S. Gravenhorst, Wood Loy, Homer Luttrell, Dr. Glenn Marshall, Joseph McNaughton, Charles Moritz, Dr. D.A. Niccum, E.W. Niemeyer, Paul Taylor and Eugene Wenthe.
As the next step in the building of the lake, Effingham held a special election June 21, 1955, on a proposal to create the Effingham Water Authority, which carried by a 4-1 margin. Effingham thus became the first community in Illinois — or any state in the Midwest — to authorize a water authority as a means of securing a water supply. The following month, County Judge Lawrence Brumleve appointed J. Wm. Everhart, Clarence Dust and Dr. D.A. Niccum as trustees.
It was the task of the trustees to acquire by purchase, lease or option 2,200 acres at the recommended site. Not one landowner was forced to abandon his home, nor was there a single church, school or cemetery disturbed in the entire lake area. They worked with investment bankers on the 40-year revenue bonds; secured engineers, arranged for the protection and rerouting of pipelines; rerouting and extension of telephone and public utility lines; closing, rerouting and improvement of roads; construction of bridges; relocation of the Town Hall owned by Summit Township.
The earth-moving ceremony, simple and without fanfare, took place at noon, Sept. 11, 1956. At 5 that evening, all factory and train whistles, as well as church bells, resounded in unison for five minutes to remind citizens of the historic event.
The new reservoir was dedicated Nov. 19, 1957, by Governor William G. Stratton, and named Lake Sara by Mr. F.F. McNaughton, newspaper publisher. The name is a memorial to the late Sara Everhart, whose husband, J. William served so ably as Chairman of the Effingham Water Authority.
Lake Sara is 3 1/2 miles long and over one-quarter mile wide at its widest point. It has a beautifully wooded shoreline of over 27 miles and a maximum depth of 50 feet. The 4 1/2 billion gallon water supply will be sufficient to meet present and future needs of the city and new industry for the next 50 years.
Hard-topped roads were completed in 1960 and 1961 and provide access to all areas. Fine recreational facilities included a public beach and bathing area, golf course, camping area, marina, miniature golf course and train.
Today there are at least 150 homes and cottages. Current members of the Effingham Water Authority are Carl Pearson, chairman; Russell Taflinger; and Dr. Mel Willenborg.
Lake Sara will endure as a fine example of the initiative and enterprise of the citizens of Effingham County, having come into being without federal or state aid.
I'm thankful the Effingham Regional Historical Society recorded how Lake Sara came into existence and how it was as of 1968. I was too little to remember the very early years, but from 1960 on I have many memories of Lake Sara. I have several pictures that my dad took in the 1960s. These were from slides that he took and I sat through many of dad's slide shows as a kid. Sit back and enjoy memories of Lake Sara. Maybe my memories will remind you of some of your days spent at this lake.
In the early years of Lake Sara, it was common for people to drive around the lake to look at the changing landscape. Dad took this picture from our gray Ford station wagon as we looked across the lake shortly after the lake opened. People were just starting to build cottages on the lake for summer use but most of the lake area was still empty and untouched.
The Sportsman's Club, located near the dam, is where I first swam at the lake. Dad was a member. Mom and Dad ordered a life jacket for me from Sears and I never went in without it. At the Sportsman's Club, you parked up at the top near the pavilion and walked down a long flight of stairs to reach the beach area. Sand had been brought in and there was a dock or platform near the outer perimeter. I was probably 5 when I first put on my life jacket and paddled around the beach at the Sportsman's Club as my sisters headed out to the deeper water. I only made it to the platform if my sisters pulled me out there. On weekends, dances were held at the pavilion and teens flocked out there. I always loved swimming at the Sportsman's Club. There are now homes built where the Sportsman's Club used to be.
As cottages started popping up on lots around the lake, people drove around and looked at the new developments. I remember the winter when dad took a picture of a new double A-frame in Beachcomber's subdivision. This double A-frame had been designed and built by W.G. Best Homes in Effingham. This was a design that had not been seen in Effingham before and people loved to drive by and look at it. I thought this double A-frame was the coolest looking building I'd ever seen!
Now let's move on to the beach. In 1969, shortly after my eighth-grade graduation, I was offered a job at the beach at Lake Sara. Paul Chance and Ross Phillips ran it then. I jumped at the chance to work Sundays there for 75 cents an hour. That was a quarter more an hour than I made babysitting and I didn't have to change diapers! I worked at the mini golf booth or in the concession stand. As the sound of the jukebox blared "It is the dawning of the age of Aquarius," I learned how to deal with the public and make Sno-cones too. It was the best first job ever and Mr. Chance and Mr. Phillips were great bosses!
I have loved this beach since I'd first grabbed a brass ring on the merry-go-round when I was probably 7 years old. When I worked there in 1969, the merry-go-round was gone but there was still that magical train that made the trip from the campground to the beach and back. I loved that train! When I walked down to the beach through the tunnel, I could hear the train whistle mingled with the sound of the jukebox and the voices of people enjoying the beach.
In later years, my friends and I would head to the beach for a day in the sun. After swimming to the platform and back and floating around, we'd head back to the beach and stretch out on our beach towels to work on our tans. My transistor radio blared as we greased up with baby oil and iodine and maybe we sprayed a little lemon juice or Sun-In in our hair. Life was good when you spent a day in the sun at Lake Sara.
Those were the days my friends .... those were the days.
Upcoming events at the Effingham County Museum:
• Aug. 11 (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Sunday, Aug. 12 (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) — Illinois Bicentennial (Light refreshments will be served on Sunday).
• Aug. 29 — Tex Banash Illinois Bicentennial presentation (Time TBA)
• Sept. 25 — Louisa May Alcott presentation (Time TBA)
• Sept. 29 — Old Settlers' Reunion (11 a.m.-3 p.m.)
• Oct. 13 — 1872 Ball (Presentation, 10 a.m.; Ball, doors open at 6:15 p.m.)
If you have veterans for a military write-up or Effingham County pictures contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-821-2427. All of you can help us tell the story of Effingham County one picture, one place, and one person at a time.