Awhile ago I posted about my visit home and a trip to the History Museum of Monroe County. The Museum shares grounds with the historic Bellefontaine House and Moore’s Cabin. These sites commemorate the first Europeans (note: indigenous peoples were living here as far back as 12,000 B.C.E., or “before common era,”) to settle Illinois.
But back to the point…the French were the first Europeans to settle southern Illinois in the early 18th century, strategically choosing the location based on its proximity to the Mississippi River, an important transportation waterway. They named the area Bellefontaine, or “beautiful spring” in homage to a nearby natural spring. Eventually the French would abandon the area when it was ceded to the British after the Seven Years War (we know this better as the French and Indian War). During the American Revolution, Colonel George Rogers Clark claimed Illinois as a territory belonging to the colony of Virginia, and later it became part of the Northwest Territory, to be administered by the new United States federal government. And that is where our story begins.Captain James Moore was born in Maryland and served as an officer for the Virginia militia during the Revolution. He accompanied Clark during the 1778 expedition, and later established the first permanent American settlement in Illinois in 1782. While the French were long gone by then, the name “Bellefoxntaine” stuck. What is believed to be Moore’s original cabin still stands (albeit with a bit of restoration work, as the occupants of the Bellefontaine house used the building as a kitchen) at the Bellefontaine site, and originally was surrounded by a fort. Moore and his wife lived in this cabin with their eight (yes, eight) children, although today the only occupant was a squirrel keeping watch from the loft.Beyond the cabin stands the historic Bellefontaine House, built much later in the late 19th century. The house sits along the Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail, and I would imagine it was an oft used rest stop for weary travelers. Today it is the home of the Monroe County Historical Society. The house was not open the day I visited, but I was still able to walk the grounds and remember days gone by when the city hosted Easter Egg hunts here. One year I specifically recall finding a special egg that entitled me to a prize. It was a make-your-own sticker kit. But I digress…Nearby is the kettle shed, which as you can read was used for butchering, smoking meats, and washing. As I mentioned before, the tenants at some point also starting using Moore’s Cabin as a kitchen. And just beyond that grassy knoll still runs the “beautiful spring” that is Bellefontaine’s namesake. Admittedly I know little about who built the Bellefontaine House or its history prior to being used by the Historical Society. Supposedly Meriwether Lewis stayed here at some point in his life, but I have not fact-checked that!The final installment of this little trip back in time will cover the nearby Bellefontaine Bridge and the Kaskaskia-Cahokia trail. Coming soon!