A visit to Swan Lake Club
When the chance arises to spend a night in a place like the Swan Lake Club, you’ve got to make time.
Even if that means skipping your son’s baseball practice, packing too much into an already-crazy week and missing out on some prime crappie fishing. So it was Tuesday evening, when I attended a writer’s workshop with Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Nature Conservancy. There was plenty to discuss. But mostly, there was plenty to see and soak in. The Swan Lake Club north of Henry is one of the state’s oldest duck clubs. The Senachwine Club and Princeton Fish and Game Club are two of the other contenders for title of oldest duck club in Illinois.
Swan Lake’s clubhouse is also one of the oldest and was built in 1901 according to caretaker Tim Miller (shown below by the fireplace in the club’s main lounging area). Miller is a third-generation caretaker at the club, following in the footsteps of his father, Bill, and grandfather, Walter. Tim’s son Luke said he’s interested in becoming the fourth generation of Millers to run the club.
That fireplace came in handy after we got soaked while touring DU’s Wightman Lake wetland restoration during a rainstorm. I’ll have more about Wightman Lake on Sunday. More about the reason for the writer’s conference at that time, too. But for now, I’m sitting back and savoring the visit to Swan Lake. Like many clubs, the hunting grounds are not located directly adjacent to the clubhouse. The 19 members at Swan Lake must boat across the Illinois River to their blinds on the east side. They’ve also got another smaller, less historic clubhouse over there.
There they set up in about 600 acres of moist soil plants and corn. The corn is a relatively recent addition Miller said. Prior to about 1990 members had hunted almost strictly in moist-soil units. An additional land purchase and some levee work has allowed them to manage flooded corn fields, as well. Swan Lake Club also has about 400 acres in Lake Senachwine they still own after donating 1,200 acres in the lake to The Nature Conservancy.
The place oozes history. There are pictures of old members all over the walls, as well as taxidermy of all types and plenty of hunting pictures and prints. Over the fireplace sits a chalkboard on which Tim Miller writes the blinds available to members during the season. On the back of that chalkboard is the list of blinds for a Nov. 21, 1948 hunt with an OK by then-president John Serale. Miller has never erased that writing. Thankfully, he has an appreciation for history.