Friday, June 23, 2017

The Oldest Settlements, Villages and Towns in Illinois.

This is a short history of some of the oldest villages and towns in what is now the State of Illinois. Click on the hyperlinks for an in-depth history of the settlement.

Peoria was settled in 1680. French explorers René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur du La Salle is a title only: translating to "Lord of the Manor.") and Henri de Tonti built Fort Crevecoeur. But there is strong evidence that this area was inhabited as far back as 10,000 BC by Paleo-Indians.
Main Street, Peoria, Illinois
Considering Cahokia was bustling in the early 
9th century, this is the oldest community in Illinois. This settlement was the most sophisticated pre-Columbian civilization north of Mexico. French Cahokia, founded in 1699, was not the first French outpost, but it was the earliest settlement that survived more than a few years. At its height, Cahokia had a higher population than London, England did during the same time period.
Cahokia Mounds
The Alton area was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before the 19th-century founding by European Americans of the modern city. Historical accounts indicate the occupation of this area by the Illiniwek or Illinois Confederacy at the time of European contact. An early native settlement is demonstrated by archaeological artifacts and the now famous prehistoric Piasa bird painted on a cliff face nearby. The image was first written about in 1673 by French missionary Father Jacques Marquette who described seeing this mythical creature. Alton was developed as a river town in 1818 by Rufus Easton, who named it after his son. Easton ran a passenger ferry service across the Mississippi River to the Missouri shore. Alton is located amid the confluence of three significant navigable rivers: the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri
On July 31, 1837, the State legislature incorporated Alton as a city, with John Marshal Krum elected as Alton's first mayor. It was the site of the last Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debate in October 1858.
The Carved and Painted Piasa Bird in Alton, Illinois
Kaskaskia was a majorly important French colonial village. Its first stone church was built in 1714. It was then taken over by the Virginia militia during the Revolutionary War. Kaskaskia was designated as the capital of the Northwest Territory (1784-1800), and it even served as the capital of Illinois briefly.
Kaskaskia, Illinois - First Stone Church, Built in 1714.
The village of Shawneetown was established in 1748 by the Pekowi Shawnee. Pekowi was the name of one of the five divisions (or bands) of the Shawnee Indians. Some 60 years later, it was visited by Lewis and Clark. In 1816, the first bank chartered in Illinois was in Shawneetown. A devastating flood went through the area in the 1930s, leading to a near abandonment of "old Shawneetown."
When the State Bank of Illinois was built in 1839-1841 in a Greek Revival style, the building featured five Doric columns, which is the view as unusual as normally, buildings would have an even number. The building was built to house the offices of the Bank of Illinois at Shawneetown. When the bank opened its doors in 1841, banks had the right to print and issue their own paper money. A piece of bank-issued paper money was called a "banknote." The Bank suspended operations in 1843, but the building housed numerous financial institutions from 1854 to the 1930s. Note the water tank for public drinking.
Edwardsville holds the distinction of being the third oldest city in Illinois. In 1805, Thomas Kirkpatrick moved up to this area and named it after his good friend, Ninian Edwards, hence Edwardsville. Five Illinois governors have come from Edwardsville.
Frank Catalano stood in front of his "Hi-Way Tavern" in Edwardsville, Illinois for this photograph while Route 66 was being repaved in 1939.
More of the oldest towns in Illinois: 
  • Illinoistown; was a central Mississippi river crossing settlement to the west.
  • Prairie du RocherAccording to Jesuit history, Prairie du Rocher was incorporated into a village in the year 1722. 
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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