Visitors Guide to
Randolph County

Where Illinois Began

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The history of Randolph County begins as far back as 8000 B.C. with Native Americans using the limestone bluff overhangs of the area as shelter. European influence on the area began when Joliet and Marquette passed through the area in 1673. Traveling up the Mississippi River nine years later La Salle gave the name Louisiana to the entire mid-American region. Once the area was claimed by France, French fur traders began immigrating to the area. In 1703 Kaskaskia was the first village to be founded and in 1718 the French authorities established Fort de Chartres to provide military protection and become the center of civil authority for the region. Settlers were attracted to the region because of the fertile land. The sixty mile long strip of land on the Illinois' bank of the Mississippi River between the river and the bluffs is now known as the American Bottom. Along with the town of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, the region became the breadbasket of France's Louisiana Territory.

At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, France ceded all French territory east of the Mississippi River to the British and Fort de Chartres was the last French Fort to fly the French flag east of the Mississippi. Randolph County played a part in the American Revolution. On July 4, 1778, George Rogers Clark and his "Long Knives" captured the town of Kaskaskia and Fort Gage from the British without firing a shot as part of his campaign to secure what was then the Northwest Territory for the budding American Republic. The Americans established Fort Kaskaskia which supplied Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery with men, supplies, and information when it passed through the area in 1803. Kaskaskia was chosen as the seat of government when Illinois became a territory in 1809 . A rented house in Kaskaskia became the capitol when Illinois became a state in 1818 but relinquished this role when the seat of government was relocated to Vandalia in 1820. The original Kaskaskia has vanished, becoming victim to the Mississippi floods, which eventually destroyed the town in 1881. This flood created a new channel that flowed east of where Kaskaskia was relocated making it the only Illinois town located west of the Mississippi River.

Visitors to the Great River Road region of Randolph County will find a variety of historical and entertaining things to do and experience the early French, British and American influences on the region. Events occur throughout the year at Fort de Chartres including the Annual Rendezvous in early June, one of the largest events of it's type in the Midwest, and the town of Chester holds a popular Popeye celebration in September.

Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Randolph County

Chester Kaskaskia Prairie du Rocher
Red Bud Sparta

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Misselhorn Art Gallery
Sparta, Illinois
Liberty Bell of the West
Kaskaskia, IL
Popeye Statue
Chester, Illinois
Randolph County
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