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For more information, contact Randolph County Tourism Committee, (618) 826-5000, ex. 221
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, (618) 332-1782; 1-800-2CONNECT (800-226-6632) or visit online at

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A natural side trip

For a break from history, consider a side trip to Horseshoe Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area.

From Cahokia, take Route 3 north for five miles to Interstate 55-70. Travel east for about 10 miles on I-55 to the exit for state Route 111 and follow the signs for Horseshoe Lake State Park.

The park is used for fishing, boating, camping, hiking, and hunting and is an excellent birding site. For birding, drive the paved road that skirts the eastern and northern boundaries of the lake or you can drive a short distance across the causeway to Walker’s Island. A three-mile hiking trail around the edge of the island offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. –Donald Chamberlain

Highways to history
Illinois roads lead to sites from Lewis and Clark’s era

Published: Mar/Apr 2003
By Donald Chamberlain

A flutist performs in a courtyard at Fort de Chartres Rendezvous (left) near Prairie du Rocher in Illinois. /Don Chamberlain photo.
With the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition, many Americans will revisit this period of history as they travel on vacation this year.

But one doesn’t have to travel far from St. Louis to find history that predates that great period of discovery. Along state Route 3 (The Great River Road) in southwestern Illinois, find stories about 17th-century missionary explorer Father Jacques Marquette, plus impressive examples of Colonial architecture. Nuggets of Lewis and Clark history also can be found. This, plus small-town hospitality and flavors, are waiting for your discovery.

Colonial Cahokia

From downtown St. Louis, cross the Mississippi River via the Poplar Street Bridge to Route 3 South and follow that to Cahokia. Founded in 1699 by French-Canadian missionaries, Cahokia predates New Orleans and St. Louis. There are four historic sites that are of interest to Lewis and Clark buffs and are worth seeing as the nation prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of the great expedition.

As an outfitting and supply center, Cahokia in 1803 held great interest to Lewis and Clark. The explorers arrived in December 1803 and recruited men, gathered supplies and collected information for the trek west.

The Cahokia Courthouse State Historic Site, built around 1740, is a wonderful example of poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill) construction. This vertical placement of logs is typical of French-inspired architecture from that era. Lewis and Clark spent time in the courthouse while conducting business with Cahokia residents on their historic journey.

This courthouse is reconstructed as it was in the late 1700s. The original four rooms have been restored. Three of the rooms contain displays portraying the history of Cahokia and of the courthouse building. One room is arranged as a courtroom typical of the Lewis-and-Clark era.

The Jarrot Mansion State Historic Site is located a few blocks from the courthouse. The house, which dates from 1810, is believed to be the oldest brick building in Illinois.

Nicholas Jarrot was a judge and merchant in the Cahokia area when Lewis and Clark began their journey. Lewis bought some provisions from Jarrot and spent time in his home. Jarrot became Lewis’ Spanish interpreter during his trips to St. Louis. It is believed that the land for Camp Dubois, the Corps of Discovery’s winter encampment, belonged to Jarrot.

While this home was constructed after Lewis and Clark’s visit, it gives visitors a vision of the affluent lifestyle during the early 1800s. The interior of the house is not open for touring, but the home can be viewed from the outside.

Located next to the Jarrot Mansion is the Holy Family Parish Log Church that dates to 1799. It is believed that Lewis and Clark visited this old church during their time in Cahokia. A Latin Mass, open to the public, is celebrated every Sunday morning and the church is open to the public for tours during summer months.

Located about three miles from these sites is the Martin-Boismenue House State Historic Site. This house is an excellent example of the French Creole house style typical of homes of that time period. The site offers an impression of how average citizens lived and worked in Lewis and Clark’s era.

Prairie du Rocher and Fort de Chartres

Rejoin Route 3 and travel south past Red Bud and Ruma to Prairie du Rocher and Fort de Chartres State Historic Site.

Red Bud, which bursts in pink blossoms in the spring, has a quaint, historic downtown that offers visitors a few shops in which to browse, plus eateries and two bed-and-breakfast inns. In Ruma, the Convent of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ is the burial place for five nuns killed in Liberia, Africa, in 1992. A sculpture honoring the women is on the grounds. St. Patrick’s Parish in Ruma holds a strawberry festival the third Sunday in May.

Route 3 intersects with state Route 155 at Ruma. Head west on Route 155 for 11 miles. Prairie du Rocher is at the intersection of county Highway 7 (Bluff Road) and Route 155. Follow Route 155 about three miles through town to reach the fort.

The present fort is a replica of the third Fort de Chartres. The first two forts were wooden structures built in 1718 and 1725. The frequent flooding greatly limited their longevity. In 1751, work on the third fort began using limestone quarried nearby as the primary construction material. It took over nine years to complete the construction.

Following the French and Indian War, control of the stone fort was taken over by the English. They used the fort sparingly and in 1771 the fort was abandoned and quickly deteriorated. In 1803, Lewis and Clark observed and mentioned the remains of the old fort in their journals.

In the 1930s construction of the present-day replica of the stone fort began.

The ammunition magazine is the only surviving structure that comes from the original stone fort. This ammunition magazine is cited as being the oldest surviving building in Illinois.

In June and October, Fort de Chartres becomes home to hundreds of re-enactors dressed in uniforms and finery from the French and Indian war era. Black powder musket contests are held and mock battles are fought. Thousands annually attend these festivals.

Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site

From the fort, retrace the path on Route 155 to Prairie du Rocher and Pierre Menard Home State Historic Site. Travel southeast on the county Highway 7 to Route 3 south and watch for signs alerting drivers for the Menard home site. Turn right on county Highway 6 (Kaskaskia-Shawneetown Road), which takes you to the home.

Pierre Menard, a wealthy fur trader and entrepreneur, was one of the most prominent men in Illinois Territory in the early 19th century. He was the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, and may have hosted Lewis and Clark during their visit to Kaskaskia in 1803. While visiting the home site, take time to watch the 15-minute video describing life in Kaskaskia in the late 1700s followed by a tour of the home.

A short distance up the hill from the Menard home is the Fort Kaskaskia State Historic Site. Walk through Garrison Hill Cemetery, where you’ll see Menard’s gravesite. The headstones here date back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. The original cemetery was located near Kaskaskia, but flooding threatened the site and the human remains were moved to this site high on the bluffs overlooking the river.

Old Kaskaskia, Illinois’ first capital, no longer exists. It was originally located at the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers, but annual flooding resulted in its destruction.

Observe the present confluence of the two rivers and view the area where Old Kaskaskia once thrived as the busiest population center in the area.

Kaskaskia Island is a 14,000-acre piece of Illinois that’s a bit of an adventure to get to, but the traveler who makes an effort will see the Kaskaskia Bell Shrine and Immaculate Conception Church.

The “Liberty Bell of the West” enshrined on the island dates to 1778, when Father Pierre Gibault rung the bell after Col. George Rogers Clark and his troops captured Kaskaskia from the British. The church, open for tours, has artifacts, including a chalice used by Father Pierre Marquette.

From Prairie du Rocher, travelers can cross over to the island via the Modoc-Ste. Genevieve ferry–called the French Connection–or travel farther south on the Great River Road to Chester, Ill., and use the Chester Bridge.

Southwestern Illinois offers excellent opportunities for travelers interested in history. Remember as you plan your historical tour of southwestern Illinois that many State of Illinois Historic Sites are closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Donald Chamberlain is a new contributor from Decatur, Ill.

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