Beauty, History & Patriotism On This Sunday In May
29 May 2011
|From Cahokia RV Parque – Cahokia, IL
We set out early today since we had several stops to make before returning to the RV park. Our first destination was a 159 year old German settlement whose village is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places…….Maeystown, IL.
To enter the village you drive across the centerpiece of the village, a weathered one-lane arched stone bridge built in 1881 to cross Maeystown Creek……as the tourist info says “you’d expect trolls to be living underneath it”. The village has very few streets within it but on these narrow lanes 60 significant buildings still exist and today we were able to locate and see a handful of them as we walked and drove thru the village.
Amongst the mid to late 1800s buildings we found were the 1867 original stone church where services were intermittently in German until 1943, the restored 1884 hotel and saloon; now the Corner George Inn B&B and Zeitinger’s Mill built in 1859. Some other restored buildings include the general store, sweet shop and numerous residences. In our photos of these older buildings, not all were identified on the building fronts and it being Sunday, none appeared to be open so we just admired them for the architecture and the knowledge they were on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just a brief history of the village itself……it was founded in 1852 by Jacob Maeys, a German immigrant born in Oggersheim, Bavaria in 1828. He was drawn to the area because of a large spring and three streams that descended the bluff and flowed into town. He wanted to use this water power of the spring for a saw mill. Shortly after Jacob settled in Maeystown and word spread back to his country many more German immigrants came to the area and settled forming a predominately German village that remained this way for decades.
From the quaint village of Maeystown we drove to the town of Ellis Grove where two sights listed on our agenda for today would be found………..The Pierre Menard House and Fort Kaskaskia State Historical Site. In trying to reach the Pierre Menard House, GyPSy Jill’s route had us seeing one of those all too familiar “Road Closed” barricades due to the flooding. Luckily we had the phone number to the location and the staff quickly directed us on a route that was not closed until after the house could be reached.
Often referred to as “The Mt. Vernon Of The West”, the Pierre Menard Home built in 1802 is the finest example of French colonial architecture in the central Mississippi River Valley. It also is the last remaining structure of Old Kaskaskia that was the first State Capitol of Illinois.
Devastating floods that washed away and destroyed Old Kaskaskia also made a significant change in this home’s front gallery view. Originally built to overlook the Kaskaskia River the flooding also changed the channels of the rivers so that today it is the Mississippi River not the Kaskaskia River seen from the front gallery of the Menard House.
The home was built for fur trader and entrepreneur Pierre Menard who later rose to political prominence as Illinois’ first Lieutenant Governor. Among his other accomplishments he was appointed an Indian agent; also appointed Lt. Colonel of the militia and served as Judge of the County Court at Kaskaskia which then was in Indiana Territory. He also participated in as well as funded many trade expeditions, had a monopoly on the salt trade, operated a ferry and was responsible for the financing of a Catholic school for girls. He lived in the home with his first and second wife and their fourteen children and continued to live here until his death in June, 1844.
Literally around the corner and on the bluff above the Menard House is the Fort Kaskaskia State Historical Site. This site contains the remnants of an earthen-work and timber fortification constructed by the French around 1759 that was never completed. The earthen parapet barriers surrounding the dry moat are still visible today. The visitor can today see the precise outlines of the planned fort….the four corner bastions and the line of raised earthen-works where the exterior walls once stood.
The fort was built on Garrison Hill situated on a bluff overlooking the river to protect Kaskaskia from British attacks during the American Revolution. It played roles in many wars with occupation by the French; until 1763, British; 1763 – 1778, and Americans from 1778 until it was last used during the War of 1812 but by residents fearing attack by Indian allies of the British. The U.S. Army last used it to station troops until 1807.
One other significant happening at the fort was in 1803 when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived with twenty-four men but wanted to recruit twelve more for the “Corps of Discovery” expedition ordered by President Thomas Jefferson. This recruiting plan was successful as they found good men within the troops stationed here and gained the twelve additional men needed.
Also located within this state historical site is the Garrison Hill Cemetery where some 3,000 gravesites were re-interred here. The bodies of early Illinois settlers; one of which is Pierre Menard, are buried in this cemetery. It was when floods of the late 1800s began to destroy the village of Kaskaskia concerned residents acted to transfer the remains of three cemeteries to a safer place. It was reported that according to one account, 3,800 boxes, some containing entire families were moved. This cemetery was dedicated in 1891.
The last place to visit in this historical site is an overlook that offers one of the finest views of the Mississippi River. Here in “non-flood” years visitors can see the mouth of the Kaskaskia River, the Island of Kaskaskia and the original site of the village of Kaskaskia. Today floodwaters were still too high to make out any of these areas.
The 1881 flooding caused the Mississippi River to change course and pour into the Kaskaskia River. The village of Kaskaskia was not entirely flooded, but the cutting current of the new river would soon sweep it away. By 1909 the old village founded in 1703 even before St. Louis or Chicago and that served as the capital of the Illinois Territory (1809 -1818) and the first capital of the State of Illinois (1818 -1820) had disappeared and today lies at the bottom of the Mississippi.
With the day winding down and still another place to see we proceed to the small town of Prairie du Rocher and Fort de Chartres. The village of Prairie du Rocher was founded in 1722 shortly after the establishment of Fort de Chartres by Pierre Boisbriant the commandant and builder of the fort and was originally an agricultural satellite of the fort. On this day, the patriotism of this small town was very evident with flags and banners at every turn………really made you proud to see a community this small celebrate the importance of this Memorial Holiday.
Just four miles east of Prairie du Rocher are the remains of one of the strongest stone forts in North America...…..Fort de Chartres. In 1753 the third fort on this site was built from limestone quarried from the bluffs overlooking Prairie du Rocher. This and the prior forts on this location from 1720 to 1763 were the seat of government for the French colony and administration of the Illinois Country with all government business being centered here at the forts.
The French abandoned the fort in 1771. The British briefly occupied Fort de Chartres after the French and Indian War but they too soon abandoned it and the fort fell into ruins. Today what the visitor sees is the reconstruction of parts of the fort by the State of Illinois to provide a glimpse of how it would have looked in 1765.
The north wall is complete with bastions, gatehouse and musket ports. Behind this north wall remains of the East Barracks and the Government House have been outlined by wood frames to provide a sense of their original size and form. Other reconstructed structures on their original stone foundations on the fort’s interior include the guard house, a chapel, commandant’s sleeping quarters. The second stone structure; the king’s storehouse or trading post is home to the fort’s museum. The powder magazine located inside the fort is the only original building standing that has not been reconstructed and is the oldest surviving non-Indian structure in the entire Midwest.
So ends a full day of history along this “Father of Waters” we are following. Hope each of you have had a good holiday weekend but have not forgotten the reason for the holiday……….May God bless and protect our troops that defend our freedom every day.