Heartland Lodge, located in extreme south Pike County, and including land in adjacent Calhoun County, is in one of three scenic portions of the state of Illinois that geologists believe was never glaciated. It is very different from “the Prairie State” image-vast vistas of flat fields of corn and soybeans — that many people have of Illinois.

Up to 1600-Prehistoric and Aboriginal Inhabitants

Many prehistoric people lived in the Heartland area, as its location between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers provided all the essentials of life for Indians of the Stone Age. Mounds from both the Woodland (Hopewell) and Mississippian cultures dot the landscape, especially on the high bluffs.

Sauk (Sac) and Fox Indians are believed to have lived in the area, and used it for hunting forays. However, when the first French explorers ventured into the Heartland region in the late 1600’s, few Indians lived in the area. They seem to have been largely eliminated by intertribal warfare, mainly between Illinois and Fox tribes.

1673 – French Colonial Era

Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet were the first European explorers that we know of to see the regions near Heartland Lodge, as they traveled down the Mississippi in 1673, and returned north via the Illinois River, leaving “the Father of Waters” near the painting of the fierce Piasa Bird, a replica of which may still be seen on the river bluff near Alton.

1774 – George Rogers Clark & Revolutionary War Era

The French and Indian War brought British control to what is now south Pike county and northern Calhoun county. In the ill-advised Quebec Act of 1774, the British Parliament actually made the current Heartland Lodge area a part of Canada. It may well have remained Canadian territory to this day but for the efforts of Revolutionary War patriot George Rogers Clark, who wrested much of the future states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio from Britain’s George III.

1805 – Lewis and Clark & Zebulon Pike

The Louisiana Purchase brought explorers past the South Pike region. Zebulon Pike, for whom both Pike County, Missouri and Pike County, Illinois are named, traveled up the Mississippi from St. Louis in 1805 in an effort to locate the source of “the Father of Waters.” Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their famous expedition the previous year just 67 miles south, near present day Hartford, Ill.

1812-1813 – Territorial and Early State History

The Illinois Territory was first part of the Northwest Territory of the new United States of America. Five states and part of a 6th were carved from the territory, and Illinois became the 21st state of the union on December 3rd, 1818. The present Heartland area had been designated by Congress as the Military Tract, land that was to be awarded to veterans of the War of 1812. Honorably discharged veterans of that conflict could receive 160 acres of land between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

1821-1833 – Pike & Calhoun County History

In 1821 Heartland’s scenic acreage became part of Pike County. This included all of Illinois west of the Illinois River, which meant that it included land from the tip of modern day Calhoun County to the village of Chicago. (In 1822 Chicago was referred to as “a village in Pike county, containing 12 or 15 houses and about 60 or 70 inhabitants.”) The county seat was in Coles Grove, which is in present day Calhoun County. The county seat of Pike was located at Atlas from 1823 until 1833, when Pittsfield became the county seat.

In 1825 Calhoun County was formed from the extreme southern portions of Pike County. The pro-slavery residents of “the Kingdom of Calhoun” changed the name of the county seat from Coles Grove (named after an abolitionist Governor of Illinois) to Gilead (a Biblical name).

Steamboats & Mark Twain

South Pike and Calhoun County remained somewhat isolated by the rivers which formed a major barrier on the east and the west. Although, before the age of the railroads, the steamboat traffic on the rivers provided plenty of freight and travel opportunities for Pike and Calhoun. Samuel Clemens, who grew up in Hannibal, some 45 miles from Heartland Lodge, became a riverboat pilot, and went up and down the mighty Mississippi prior to the Civil War. He Describes parts of Calhoun County in his book, “Life on the Mississippi.” He took his pen name, of course, from the reassuring call of the linesman, “mark twain,” indicating two fathoms of water in the muddy river.

1830-1840 – Mormon’s

The Mormons came into Pike County in the 1830s and 1840s. Joseph Smith excavated an Indian mound on the Illinois River, and stated that it related to a leader and a battle recorded in the Book of Mormon. Brigham Young spent several weeks living in nearby Atlas. A Mormon settlement (called Mormontown) was established east of Pittsfield around 1839.

1830-1860 – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln came into Illinois as a young man in 1830, and settled in New Salem in 1831. He became a lawyer and moved to Springfield in 1837. He had many acquaintances in Pike County, and was involved in several cases in the second courthouse in Pittsfield (since replaced by the current courthouse in 1894). There are more homes with confirmed Lincoln connections in Pittsfield than in any city in the United States. In addition to having homes where Lincoln is confirmed to have dined and slept, Pittsfield has the only home anywhere that Lincoln tried to visit (in 1858) and from which he was turned away.

1870-1930 – Pike & Calhoun County History

Heartland Lodge is on the Pike/Calhoun border, with prime recreational land in each county. Calhoun remains rather isolated by the rivers on each side, with only one bridge, the Joe Page Bridge, built at Hardin in 1931, connecting it to the outside world. Four ferries operate to allow traffic over the surrounding rivers. Calhoun has the distinction of being the only one of the 102 counties of Illinois that never had a railroad.

The Bay Creek valley three miles north of Heartland became the site of an east-west railroad in 1870-71. Nebo, Strout, and Pearl were laid out as railroad towns. Those towns, along with Pleasant Hill, became important rail and commercial centers for south Pike and north Calhoun during the heyday of the railroads. Much freight is still hauled through the rail corridor by the Gateway Western Railroad.

1890-1995 – Family History

The Pruitt family came into south Pike in the late 1800’s. Thomas Pruitt and family farmed and raised livestock on the rolling hills. Thomas’s son, Georg Pruitt, and his son, Earnest Pruitt (Gary Harpole’s Grandfather) were active in the nearby Carrollton Ridge Baptist Church, which stood less than a mile northwest of the present lodge from 1906 until 1995, when a tragic fire burned the church down.

1995-Present – Heartland Lodge History

Heartland Lodge (The Original Lodge) was built by in 1995. A second lodge (Prairie Ridge Lodge) was built in 2005.  A third lodge (Sunset Valley Lodge) was purchased in 2014. Our first cabin (Heavenly View Cabin) was purchased in 2015.

The following is by Wanda Harpole (Gary’s mother):

The family farm adjoining Heartland Lodge has been in my family for over 100 years. On December 4, 1999, my son, Gary II, bought this property. When I was a child, this area was very remote and isolated; therefore, I was attracted to the bigger city. I have lived in Quincy, Illinois for over 40 years. My family includes son, Gary II; daughter Stephanie; and grandsons, Adlai, Ashtyn, Aubrey and Alden.

As my son grew, his longing was to be back on the farm where he could have dogs, horses, and the freedom found in the country. After college, he moved to the farm to help in our Pittsfield office and to live by his Grandpa Pruitt. After living there a short time, Gary II developed the Heartland idea. He said, “If Colorado can use its mountains and Florida its beaches, we can use the resources which we have in Pike County.”

Gary II picked the name Heartland. First we were called Heartland Outfitters, and then Heartland Lodge, and finally Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. The name changes were needed to separate us from other lodges with similar names. Several songs are written about the Heartland of America. I believe the lodge is a reflection of the values and the principles found in America.

The Original Lodge is a 7,500 square foot log lodge built on 1300 acres. The logs were purchased from Gastineau Log Homes. The main contractor, who made this dream a reality, was Gerald Paul Shonhart. Peters Heating & Air Conditioning, Brinkman & Wiemelt Plumbing, and Don Marold Electric put quality workmanship into the construction of the lodge. Other subcontractors worked very hard to help us meet our deadline. It is a commercial building, but everyone worked hard to make it look more like a home. Our family did all the planning, and selection of the furnishings and the decorations. Each of our personalities is reflected throughout the lodge.

We started building the lodge July 15, 1995, and we entertained our first guests on October 15, 1995. It took only three months to build. I give God all the credit. When we put all the furnishings together, everything matched. You know someone was watching over us.

It was Gary, my son’s idea to build the second lodge adjacent to our first lodge. I had a couple of reservations. The first one was will we be able to keep the land similar to how I grew up. After surveying the land we were assured only one or two pine trees might need to be removed. The second was, how can we build another lodge while we are busy running the original lodge.

Finding the time to design, to oversee the contractors and to decorate the new lodge (Prairie Ridge Lodge) would be a challenge for the next year and a half.

We worked with Poepping Stone Bach & Associates, architects who assisted us in laying out the initial plans for the 9,500 square foot lodge.

The summer of 2004 we started construction on the Prairie Ridge Lodge. The structure would have seven luxury suites with approximately 483 square feet in each room. During the building process we changed our original plans by deciding to give the lower level a large conference / wedding hall, the main floor would now have a large dining hall as well as an office for me.

The prevailing theme for this lodge would be waterfowl and upland birds. We wanted the new lodge to have its own personality and character.

Our good friends and neighbors John & Lisa Virgin had built an amazing private lodge only 1 mile down the road from Heartland Lodge.  After enjoying their lodge and property for several years they decided it was time to sell. It was a perfect fit for our operation and in 2014 we acquired their 10,180 square foot lodge and named it Sunset Valley Lodge after the amazing view this lodge provides of the sunset.

Another friend, Frank Uram, had built his dream cabin with his wife. Soon after the construction was over Frank’s wife passed. Frank’s family was from the east coast and he wanted to be reunited with his sisters.  After several years of Gary trying to help Frank sell his cabin and 52 acres that adjoined it, Frank came to Gary and asked if he would buy the property as he really wanted to move back east. Gary and Frank were able to reach an agreement an in February of 2015 the cabin become part of the Heartland family and was named Heavenly View Cabin.  Heavenly View was named after the incredible view the cabin offers of the Mississippi river bottoms as it sits on top of the river bluffs overlooking the river bottoms and Missouri hills.  But in October of 2015 Gary learned Frank also passed after only being home for 7 months. Now Heavenly View’s name has an entire new meaning.

In July of 2015 Heartland Lodge opened it’s OHV park for ATV riders. The 450 acre park connects to the existing 500 acre ATV park and is very popular with our guests.

Nebo, Illinois – History

The first white settlement made in what is now Spring Creek Township was by Silas Wilson in the year 1832 on Section eight, approximately two miles north of the present site of Nebo.  He built a log cabin and made improvements on the land and lived there many years.  Some of the other earliest settlers of the township were Benjamin Allison, David Scranton, Barnard Collins and J.P. Stark. For more information on the history of Nebo, Illinois click here.