Backstory and Context
Forests like the Rayburn-Purnell Woods originally covered 40% of Illinois, while the other 60% was open prairie. Providing shelter from the wind and sun of the open prairie, these forests were important to the early pioneers who traveled through Illinois. These forests were important to Native Americans and settlers because they provided shelter from the wind and sun of the prairie, as well as food, wood, and other resources. Some of the trees in Rayburn-Purnell Woods are believed to be over 175 years old!
The land was designated as a “woodlot” in the early 1900s for the purpose of providing lumber and fuel for woodstoves. Because it was set aside, it has never been farmed, and so many of the original wildflower species still grow here.
The Rayburn-Purnell Woods is an excellent example of an old-growth oak-hickory upland forest. This woodland was acquired by the Forest Preserve District from the Purnell and Rayburn families of Mahomet in 1969, and after being acquired by the Forest Preserve, it was named after those families of Mahomet, who previously owned the land.