Visitors Guide to
Monroe County

Site of the First American Settlement
in the State of Illinois
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The French had settled in the Middle Mississippi Valley for nearly 80 years before American pioneers began settling in the region. The French population of early Illinois was concentrated in the neighboring counties of St. Clair and Randolph, but Monroe County was where the settlements of the early Americans were located. Captain James Moore, a member of George Rogers Clark’s expedition into the Illinois Country with the 'Long Knives' in 1778, had seen the advantages of the Illinois Country, and decided take advantage of the land grants offered as pay for military service in the Revolutionary War. Moore led a party of five families out of Virginia arriving in Kaskaskia in 1781. In the spring of 1782, Moore and his party moved northward on the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail and settled just south of present day Waterloo at a place the French called La Belle Fontaine because of the beautiful spring there. Moore built a fort at the spring as protection from attacks by Native Americans forming the first American settlement in the state of Illinois. Other pioneer families soon followed, stopping briefly at the Moore settlement before moving on and staking claims of their own.

By 1816 the population had grown large enough that a new county, Monroe, was formed out of portions of Randolph and St. Clair Counties. It was named in honor of James Monroe, who had just served as Secretary of War and who was elected President later that same year. The town of Columbia was surveyed and platted in 1820 and was incorporated in 1859. The settlement near Moore’s fort grew into 2 villages, Bellefontaine on the south side of Fountain Creek and Peterstown on the north. Eventually these two villages became one – Waterloo – which was incorporated in 1859. In 1848, Jacob Maeys purchased McRoberts' Meadow, about 10 miles southwest of Waterloo, because the waterpower from the large spring there would be able to run a sawmill. From this the village of Maeystown grew. In 1978 this entire village of approximately 150 people was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and has become a popular site for visitors to the area.

Monroe County is just a 30-minute drive south of downtown St. Louis. The drive along the Great River Road features the rich farmland of the American Bottom, the tree-lined streets with the century-old buildings of its towns, antique and specialty shops, unique restaurants, and a number of historic sites that preserve the strong German and French heritage of the residents.

Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Monroe County

Columbia Maeystown Waterloo

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Stone Bridges
Peterson House
Monroe County
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