In the early 1800's, when wildlife roamed the vast prairie of what is now Illinois, herds of bison would cross the Kaskaskia River near the present day City of Carlyle. A natural "ford" was located here and allowed for an easier crossing. Native Americans learned to follow traces made by the bison, making it much easier to cross the tall thick prairie grasses in search of game. In later years, western settlers traveled the dusty footpaths across Illinois that eventually widened into trails by the constant turning of wagon wheels. This wagon trail soon came to be known as "the Goshen Trail"
In 1811, John Hill settled near the Carlyle ford and built a block house in which to protect his family from Native Americans. He began a small ferrying service at the ford. Seven years later, the Slade brothers, of English descent, opened a small mercantile business near the site. Charles Slade laid out the town and began to advertise Carlyle as an "up and coming" city. The spirit of speculation soon took hold and great tracts of land were sold.
At this time, the Slade brothers purchased Hill's ferry and continued this service until they built a bridge in 1824. "Slade's Bridge" was rebuilt in 1831, when the original bridge collapsed, due to increased traffic and use. Slade's second
bridge was an important link on the Vincennes-St. Louis stagecoach route.
In the early 1850's, Slade's second bridge began to show signs of decay but area residents still needed this important crossing over the Kaskaskia, and plans for a new bridge were laid.
Construction began on the new suspension bridge and it was opened for use in 1860. With a structural span of 280 feet, and four 35 foot support towers, the suspension bridge was quite an engineering feat. Much skepticism was heard through the county for its design and construction. The bridge stood for 65 years serving residents such as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, Horace Greeley, and William Jennings Bryan.
What could have been the beginning of the end for the only successful suspension bridge in Illinois began in 1925. The only thing saving the bridge was the newly construction U.S. Highway bridge drawing all but the occasional foot traffic away from the suspension bridge. After 20 years of idle decay and erosion tearing away at the bridge, the Carlyle Suspension Bridge Restoration Association was formed.
In 1951, Legislators Haage and Branson sponsored a bill to allocate $20,000 to restore the structure. Governor Adlai Stevenson II approved the bill and restoration began.
In the fall of 1953, restoration of the suspension bridge was completed and on November
11, 1953, the bridge was formally dedicated as the General William F. Dean Suspension Bridge. General Dean, a native of Carlyle, was a prisoner of war for three years during the Korean War. Honored by the United States, General Dean received a Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1973 the General William F. Dean Suspension Bridge was added to the Federal Register of National Historic Places.
In 1989, due to concerted efforts of city administrators and legislative officials the Illinois General Assembly appropriated $250,000 to undertake major renovation and rehabilitation work on the structure. Work was completed in 1991.