SPOTLIGHT ON CULTURE
Misselhorn Art Gallery
Located in the old GM&O train depot, this art gallery
features the work of renowned Southern Illinois sketch artist Roscoe
Misselhorn (1902-1997) who has been called the Norman Rockwell of the
Midwest. The museum also features a permanent exhibit of movie-making
memorabilia related to the 1967 Oscar-winning Best Picture film “In the Heat
of the Night,” as Sparta was one of the locations used for the film.
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This 18th century French Creole poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill) building
was once the U.S. territorial courthouse and an important center of
political activity in the Old Northwest. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was
the courthouse to send official communications and personal correspondence
during the winter of 1803-04. The courthouse has been restored to the way it
would have been in the early 19th century and features exhibits that
illustrate French colonial life, the history of the courthouse, and Lewis
and Clark’s experience in Cahokia. Information can be obtained at the
Visitors Center about the Holy Family Log Church and other area attractions.
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The region along the Mississippi River
south of St. Louis is French Colonial Country. The region was originally
inhabited by a number of Native American cultures as far back as 11,000 B.C.
and remnants of these cultures can be found at Mastodon State Historic Site
and Washington State Park in Jefferson County, Missouri. The area was
claimed by France after an expedition led by Louis Joliet and Jacques
Marquette in 1673. Into what became known as Illinois Country came traders
and settlers from France and Canada who were attracted by the resources of
the region. The town of Cahokia was
founded in 1699 by French-Canadian missionaries, the same year as the
founding of Williamsburg, the colonial capitol of Virginia, and predating
New Orleans by nearly 20 years and St. Louis by 65 years.
The village of Kaskaskia was established by French traders and their Native
American wives in 1703 and in 1718 a contingent of soldiers, officials and
workmen from New Orleans were sent north to establish a civil government in
the region. A wooden fort, later to be rebuilt in stone, named Fort de
Chartres, was soon constructed eighteen miles north of Kaskaskia from which
the civil authority would operate and whose military presence it was hoped
would pacify the Fox Tribe.
By 1735 Ste. Genevieve was
established, becoming the first permanent European settlement in what now is
the state of Missouri. The town started as a trading outpost and was later
settled by lead miners, farmers and fur traders. The American Bottoms, a
sixty mile long strip of land on the Illinois' bank of the Mississippi River
and the le Grand Champs of Ste. Genevieve became the breadbasket of the
Louisiana Territory providing foodstuffs to European colonists as far south
as Louisiana. Although the Illinois Country flourished, France's colonial
empire didn’t and France ceded the region to Great Britain when it signed
the Treaty of Paris that ended the French & Indian War in 1763. Many of the
French settlers on the east bank of the Mississippi River, preferring to
live under Spanish rather under the British, crossed the river to live
in St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve.
the American Revolution a daring raid by George Rogers Clark and his "Long
Knives" captured Kaskaskia and Fort Gage on July 4, 1778, and proclaimed the
area to be part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The French citizens,
fearing retribution from the Americans, were overjoyed when they found
common allies against the British and rang the church bell in celebration
giving rise to the bell's reputation as " The Liberty Bell of the West"
(photo left.) Meriwether Lewis and William Clark recruited men from the
American garrison at Kaskaskia and used Cahokia as an administrative center
as they prepared for their journey of exploration.
Kaskaskia was the seat of territorial government from 1810 to 1818 when it
became the state capitol when Illinois became a state. In 1820 the capitol
was moved to Vandalia and the importance of Kaskaskia diminished. The town
was devastated by the floodwaters of the Mississippi in 1881 and another
flood in 1893 obliterated the original town. Residents moved what they had
left to the town's present site. This small community is the only Illinois
community west of the Mississippi River .
invites you to explore this exciting and interesting region. Although
English is the common language spoken in the region today, the French
heritage is not forgotten. Ste. Genevieve has more than 150 pre-1825
structures and many are open to the public giving it the largest
concentration of French Colonial architecture in the North America and its
Historic District has been designated a National Landmark. Across the
Mississippi River in Randolph County, the State of Illinois operates several
historic sites. The Pierre Menard Home is the finest example of upper class
French Colonial life in the region, Fort Kaskaskia preserves the site that
George Rogers Clark captured during the Revolutionary War, and the restored
Fort de Chartres
is the Mississippi Valley’s premier site for French Colonial reenactments.
Farther north the
Colonial Cahokia State Historic Sites complex features a number of sites
such as the Cahokia Courthouse to experience the colonial era.