After Ruth and I attended her Aunt Kathleen’s 100th birthday in West Plains, MO, we went back to St. Louis. The next day we went to Fort Chartres in Illinois. The route took us through my family roots. Fort Chartres is at 1350 State Route 155 four miles west of the village of Prairie du Rocher about one hour south of St. Louis. To get there we traveled through Columbia, Waterloo, and Valmeyer, familiar towns from my youth.
Fort Chartres is now a state museum. It was opened that Sunday from 9 am to 4:30 pm. We traveled through Prairie du Rocher, an ancient village of about 500 people in Randolph County, that was established early in the 18th century to service the fort. This makes it one of the oldest communities in the United States, and it was one of the few towns along the Mississippi River during the colonial period. It was definitely French and away from the bluffs that often prevented flooding. I had relatives in Valmeyer and near it. We visited the area often when I was a child. The flooding of Valmeyer got so common that the entire town was finally moved to the top of a bluff. I enjoyed seeing it but found it lacking in the charm and railroad traffic that I vividly remember.
Fort Chartres has been around since 1720. There were actually 4 forts and today’s is about one mile from the Mississippi. We climbed the levee next to the existing fort but did not see the river. The first fort went into use in 1725. The 2nd fort was built in 1756 but its exact location is still not known. The 3rd fort became Fort Cavendish during the Revolutionary War and was occupied by the British. The only part of the original fort that remains today is the powder magazine. The rest is a clever recreation of a 17th century French fort that reminded me of rebuilt forts in Canada that I have seen like Fort Louisbourg. The current fort often floods in the spring now and is closed, so we were very lucky to see it.
Inside the fort is a small museum that I found quite interesting. It contained lots of artifacts from the original fort. I especially enjoyed seeing a list of frequently prescribed colonial medicines, a prayer book and cross used in the fort’s chapel, and pictures of the uniforms worn. Fort Chartres was French from its beginning until 1765 when it became British during the American revolution until 1776. The most interesting artifact I saw was an authentic map of the United States created in 1783.
We were very lucky. A gun club assembled at the fort for a meeting while we were there and gave a demonstration of period weapons after it. One costumed participant showed us a 1780 Fowler that came into his possession recently after being hidden in a blacksmith shop for almost 200 years. It was a common gun in the area during this long colonial era, and he was very proud to have it and enjoyed showing it off to us and demonstrating it on the shamrocks and balloons that had been assembled for the firing demo.
We returned to Highway 3 via the village of Prairie du Rocher and loved seeing it again before leaving the area.
Hank (back from a 2 month break and enjoying being on the road again)