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Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois
a feature of Southwestern Illinois News.
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Fort de Chartres An Eighteenth Century French Fort
Fort de Chartres State Historic Site
Fort de Chartres, an eighteenth-century fort built on the banks of the Mississippi River near Prairie du Rocher.
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Fort de Chartres State Historic Site
A plaque inside the main gateway states that the structure was restored by the National Society Daughters of America Colonists and the State of Illinois in 1936. A similar plaque on the opposite wall is written in French.
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by Betty Magrath
Photos by Bob Moore
© 1999, Southwest Illinois News

Fort de Chartres was erected as a wooden fort near the banks of the Mississippi River by France's colonial government in 1720. The fort, named in honor of Louis duc de Chartres, son of the regent of France, consisted of a palisade of squared logs surrounded by a dry moat.

In 1753 - 56, the fort was rebuilt of with massive limestone quarried from the bluffs north of Prairie du Rocher. It became one of the strongest forts in North America and the key to French defenses in what is now the United States. The fort served as seat of civil and military government in the Illinois Country for only ten years.

By the 1763 Treaty of Paris at the end of the French and Indian War, France surrendered the greater part of her North American possessions to Great Britain. British troops of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment took control of Fort de Chartres on October 10, 1765.

British military leaders soon deemed the fort, which was renamed Fort Cavendish, of little practical value and abandoned it as a military post in 1771. By 1772, the south wall and bastions had collapsed into the Mississippi River. Visitors to the fort in the 1820s noted trees growing in the walls and buildings, which began to literally disappear as local residents scavenged stone and timber to serve as material for other structures.

Fort de Chartres State Historic Site
The limestone powder magazine (right building), the only surviving structure from the third Fort de Chartres, is considered to be the oldest building in Illinois. See feature page on dedication of newly restored building.
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In 1913, the Illinois legislature authorized the purchase of the stone fort site as a state park. The crumbling powder magazine, the only surviving military structure, was restored about 1917. The gateway and two stone buildings were reconstructed in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.

Today, visitors see a stone fort that has been partially reconstructed to provide a glimpse of life in Illinois under the French regine. The north wall, complete with bastions and gatehouse, contains musket ports and embrasures for cannons.

Other structures on the fort's interior include the guard's house and the king's storehouse, home to the fort's museum, research library, and office. The east barracks and government house have been outlined by wood frames to provide a sense of their original size and form.

Fort de Chartres is the scene of several popular special events: a Kids' Day with games and various activities; an annual Spring and Winter Rendezvous featuring military competition, dancing, music and crafts; and a French and Indian War encampment. The fort is located at 1350 State Route 155, near Prairie du Rocher. The site is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and closed for major winter holidays. For more information, call (618) 284-7230.

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