Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Benton eyes TIF for Wood Building

Kudos for the Benton City Council after deciding to pursue a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the redevelopers of the historic Wood Building on the square of the Franklin County seat.

The developer's plans for the building, "include a banking facility, retail space and studio, and 2- and 3-bedroom units on the top floors."

Now if the city would consider expanding the proposed TIF for the rest of the downtown, help the county build a new courthouse, and merge with West City, the community would be set.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Historians stake claim for Fort Crevecouer

Fascinating article in the State Journal-Register today by Michael Smothers of Copley News Service. A group of outside historians is challenging the long-thought-settled location of the first French forts built in the Illinois Country in the late 17th Century.

Following the script I've seen over and over Smothers managed to find a state-employed historian who disagreed and is backing the traditional site of near Peoria.
Marty Fischer of Macomb, whose research inspired the reappraisal, believes Fort Crevecoeur, long believed to have been built in 1680 on the Illinois River in the Peoria area, actually was constructed at Beardstown.

A research team eventually is expected to travel to farm country just south of Beardstown in search of evidence - shifted dirt, rotted wood pylons, maybe iron nails three centuries old - to, perhaps, resolve that question.

So far no one has found solid proof that the Peoria or the Beardstown locations are the location of the first French fortified settlements, but Fischer's research is based on some intriguing clues.
The Fischer theory is steeped in possibly ground-breaking discoveries, thanks to satellite photography, that offer fresh clues to historians.
  • Who built a 600-foot-long earthen wall, once at least 15 feet high and at least several hundred years old, on a high rocky bluff just down and across the river from Beardstown?

  • What is a perfect rectangle of ditches, 450 feet in circumference, doing in a farm field nine miles south of Beardstown on the highest plateau in the area?

  • Why was a very old ditch apparently carved between the beds of two streams to encircle a flat, sandy knoll that once was lapped by a wide bay jutting from the river just south of town?

  • What happens when you trace the 40th degree of latitude on two dozen maps produced by early French explorers to its intersection with the Illinois?

On those old maps, you find Fort Crevecoeur, which La Salle, Henri de Tonti and about 25 men built in January 1680 before abandoning their attempt that year to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River from Canada.

On modern maps, you find Beardstown.

Just when you think that all of historical mysteries are solved someone comes around with a new answer.

Way to go Marty Fischer. Keep researching and keep digging. The answers are there somewhere.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Grant Announced for Old Slave House

The newest round of Illinois Transportation Enhancement Grants have been announced including $400,000 in federal highway funding for the Old Slave House.

The funds are to be used for engineering work and a historic structures report. Added to the $150,000 of state funding already announced for a historic structures report, this will allow the agency to likely conduct archeaological surveys and possibly engineering work on visitor services such as restrooms.

IHPA officials asked me for help on this grant last fall both in gathering letters of support as well as helping find the links to the site and transportation issue. While the main link is the site's recognized status as one of the last, if not the last, station on the Reverse Underground Railroad still standing.

Other links included John Crenshaw's role as a road supervisor for the 19th Century version of Route 13 between Shawneetown and Eldorado, as well as his role as a contractor in the first effort to build a railroad between those two towns in the late 1830s.

Overall, almost $2.9 million in grants are headed to Southern Illinois.

Other projects include the following:

  • Cairo - Confluence Tourist Welcome Center at Fort Defiance (I think this would be in the old Toll House) - $673,000.

  • Chester - Tourist Welcome Center in Segar Park near the Mississippi River bridge. This is something needed with the opening of the World Shooting Sports Center at Sparta later this year - 385,000.

  • Saline County - Engineering work for extension of the Tunnel Hill State Bike Trail from Harrisburg to Eldorado to eventually connect the city-owned bike trails in Harrisburg and Eldorado - $110,000.

  • Metrpolis - Brookport - Engineering work for the proposed George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail between Metropolis and Brookport to follow an old railroad grade between the two towns that also crosses through Fort Massac State Park - $354,000.

  • Mount Vernon - Downtown streetscape improvements - $500,000.

  • Rosiclare - Downtown streetscape improvements - $50,000.

  • West Frankfort - Downtown streetscape improvements - $427,000.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Drought Leads to Archealogists to Buffalo

The Chicago Tribune ran a interesting story Saturday on a buffalo prehistoric archealogical find on the Illinois River. It now appears that buffalo roamed the prairies long before historians thought they had moved east from the plains.

But even better, one of the buffalo was found with a broken rib along with a Woodland Indian spearpoint, suggesting a story of how prehistoric Indians from around 1,000 to 200 B.C. used a narrow cossing point on the Illinois River as a funnel to hunt bison.

Friday, June 02, 2006

New Union County Museum Opens Saturday

The former Cobden Museum has a new name and location with an opening set for Saturday.
The Union County Museum, located in downtown Cobden at 117 Appleknocker St., next to the post office, will have a grand opening at 1 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for people to view the very first display of historical items from all over the county.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fort de Chartres Ready to Host Rendezvous

PRAIRIE DU ROCHER -- The French are returning to southwestern Illinois.

The Midwest’s largest gathering of 1700s era soldiers, settlers, traders and campers, the 36th Annual Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres, will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, at Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher.

Rendezvous features 1700s military units, traditional craft demonstrations, period music and dancing, an 18th century fashion show, black powder shooting events, cannon firings and more from the time when France controlled what is now the State of Illinois. All activities are free and open to the public, and many feature public participation. The event is cosponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Les Coureur de Bois de Fort de Chartres.

Each day’s activities begin with the Opening Ceremony and Posting of Colours at 10 a.m. The Retreat Ceremony ends each day’s activities at 4:30 p.m. Reverend Albert Kreher, St. Joseph’s Church, Prairie du Rocher, will lead Mass at Fort de Chartres Chapel at 8 a.m. Sunday, June 4.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend take a drive over to Randolph County. It's well worth the trip.

For more details and the daily schedule see the IHPA news release.

Opium, Bleeding & Other Hardin Co. Cures

The Daily Register had an interesting article yesterday that goes along with the Anna Bixby/Bigsby references in the entry below.

Brian DeNeal's article focuses on four early 19th Century medical books found two decades ago during the remodeling of an Elizabethtown commercial building. They are believed to have belonged to William Warford, an early Hardin County physician.

Local Authors Needed for Event

The Anna Bixby Women's Center is hosting a two-day Seven Windows/One View event at the Saline County Fairgrounds on Friday, Aug. 18, and Saturday, Aug. 19. As part of the festivities they want to host a local author book fair on Saturday.

Each author will conduct their own sales. The women's center is asking for 10 percent of the sales in lieu of any upfront registration costs. The whole event is an outreach for the center which serves as emergency housing for domestic abuse victims in a seven county area in Southeastern Illinois. They also sponsor and conduct numerous other anti-domestic violence awareness and prevention programs.

Authors interested in participating should contact Diane Taborn at the center at 618-252-8380 and provide a 50 to 60 word description of their works and themselves as soon as possible because they are starting work on a brochure and advertising. Diane can also be reached by e-mail at abixby (at)

As a historical note the center is named for Anna Bigsby, the patron saint for battered women in southeastern Illinois. A mid-19th Century midwife who lived in Hardin County Anna was chased off of a bluff by her second husband. That husband Eson Bigsby believed Anna had buried the fortune of her first husband out in the woods. Anna apparantly survived the fall, which by my research likely took place around the time of the Civil War.

"Dr. Anna" is also remembered for "discovering" the plant that caused milk sickness in cows and humans who drank the milk from sick cows. She was supposedly shown the plant by a woman folklore only recalls as "Aunt Shawnee". For more historical information check out .