A lot of history has flowed through Fort Massac in southernmost Illinois.
GEORGE ROGERS CLARK
It was near the ruins of the abandoned French-built fort that George Rogers Clark and his small group of hand-selected frontiersmen entered Illinois for a fast overland trek through swamp and forest to an area across from St Louis during the American Revolution. There Clark's Long Knives bloodlessly snatched the settlements at Kaskaskia and Cahokia from the British and before they were done had occupied all the Northwest Territories short of British-held Fort Detroit.
LEWIS AND CLARK
And it was at the rebuilt fort, now in American hands, that Clark's younger brother, William Clark, accompanying Merriwether Lewis, landed in 1803 on their journey to Madison County, across from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi river, to pitch their winter camp, where they would gather supplies and train their men.
In the summer of 1805, at Fort Massac, former Vice President Aaron Burr met with America's top soldier, General James Wilkinson, to plot the formation of a new country on land seized from Mexico to be ruled by Burr. Burr was charged with treason and acquitted, and the treacherous Wilkinson, who among other thingsd was in the pay of the Spanish, avoided prosecution. The plot and setting inspired the Edward Everett Horton's novel, "The Man Without a Country."
Today, 1.7 million visitors a year drop in at Fort Massac State Park (1,450 acres), many to enjoy the tri-corned spectacle of the annual October rendezvous where soldiers mingle with frontiersmen, suttlers, Native Americans, and buckskinners as the sound of fifers and drummers fills the air. The rendezvous represents a broad period of habitation stretching through 1814 when it was abandoned. The fort's name is a corruption of Massiac, drawn from the Marquis de Massiac, a French colonial affairs minister in whose honor the fort was originally named. For all its historical significance, it only saw combat once, when Cherokees attacked the French fort, but then the purpose of forts is to discourage attack.
Located on the bank of the Ohio River at the edge of Metropolis, official hometown of Superman, Fort Massac has a visitors center, playgrounds, picnic area, campsites, a statue of George Rogers Clark studying the riverview, and even a reconstructed fort. The fort is a replica of the 1802 wooden fort manned by Americans boasting two barracks, three block houses, officers quarters, a well, as well as a stockade and fraise fence.
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have built a protective fort here at this location in 1540. The French built their first fort in 1756, eventually built a later replacement, and turned the site over to the British in 1763, following the British victory in the French and Indian War. A Chickasaw band burned it to the ground and the British weren't moved to rebuild. In fact, it wasn't until 1794 that President Washington ordered rebuilding.
Badly damaged by the New Madrid earthquake of the winter of 1811-12, it was eventually abandoned. Due to dire need, Fort Massac was pressed into use during the Civil War for training soldiers, but closed after an 1861-62 measles outbreak.
Comes the 20th century and the Daughters of the American Revolution bought 24 acres where the fort was located and got the lawmakers to establish its first state park there. In 1908, the park was officially opened and a statue of George Rogers Clark dedicated. It would be replaced in 1932 by a bronze figure of Clark, rifle at side. It's little enough for a major figure often overlooked by history who added an entire region to the United States without the loss of a single man while other leaders who got thousands killed got books written about them and movies made.
In 1932, there were excavations at Fort Massac, interrupted by the war years of the early 1940's, which turned up artifacts now in the Illinois State Museum.
Today, besides the October rendezvous, there is a monthly visit by the Massiac Marines, a 1750 French and Indian War reenactment group the second weekend of each month. The reenacters talk with visitors about life and customs of inhabitants of the fort. The Southern Illinois Spinners and Weavers Guild mneets at the visitor's center each month and there are various other special events, including one to mark Christmas.
For information, call 618-524-9321. There's also a website at www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/R5/frmindex.htm#Events