Cagles Mill Lake is located within the Wabash River Valley in an area of scenic beauty. Picturesque Cataract Falls, at the headwaters of the lake, provide a pleasant experience for the visitor. An early settler appropriately described the region as “a sensitive display of rolling hills surrounded by numerous streams and creeks. The hills often rise into steep rock bluffs or furnish valleys with soil as rich as the prized river bottoms.” It was this presence of fertile soil and abundance of fresh water that had for centuries attracted Native Americans to the area.
The Miami, Shawnee, and Potawatomi Native Americans were the dominant tribes which inhabited the region through the 18th Century. However, in the late 1700s the relentless western expansion of the white settlers reached the area and threatened the Native American’s claim to the land. Frequent conflicts followed, culminating at the Battles of Tippecanoe and Fallen Timbers which effectively destroyed the tribes as an organized fighting force, and forced the Native Americans to surrender their land claims in the Indiana Territory. The “Ten O’Clock Line” Treaty, signed in 1809, gave pioneers claim to the land south and west of a line established by the shadow of a tree at ten o’clock, the time when the treaty was signed. This line crossed the Lieber State Recreation Area and the Lower Cataract Falls. With the signing of the Ten O’Clock Treaty and, subsequently, The Treaty of 1818, land in the Cagles Mill Lake area was opened for settlement.
Pioneers started a great migration immediately and were eager to claim the valuable resources of the area. They cleared the dense hardwood forests and farmed the river bottoms. The plentiful water supply was used with the development of gristmill and sawmills which gave rise to the local communities of Cataract and Cunot. Cagles Mill Lake bears the name of an old gristmill which was just downstream from the lake. Cagles Mill was destroyed and rebuilt several times prior to a fire in 1975. After this fire, it was not rebuilt. The old low level dam is still in place.
Development of the region progressed rapidly with discovery of limestone rock beds, gravel deposits, and other mineral deposits near Cloverdale, Puntnamville, and Reelsville. The National Road (U.S. 40) and the onset of the railroad encouraged growth by providing employment, increased business, and eased the transportation of goods and raw materials. The Vandalia, Moon, and B&O railroads played an integral part in the diversified development of the Cagles Mill Lake area. Today, over a century later, many of these same industries provide a livelihood for area residents who take pride in their resourceful heritage. Livestock and grain farms, forest industries, and limestone quarries contribute to the local economy.