Today we drove down to Kaskaskia, IL, to check out the site of the first state capital. The town has both a complicated history and geography. It was founded by French Jesuits as a mission to Native Americans, and later became the capital of Upper Louisiana. It remained an important western location in the early years of American colonization and independence, and is known as the home of the “Liberty Bell of the West,” which was a gift from King Louis XV of France (inscribed with the words “For the Church of the Illinois, by gift of the King across the water”), and which was rung after George Rogers Clark and his men liberated the town on July 4, 1778.
Kaskaskia became the capital of the new Illinois Territory, and was briefly the capital of the state of Illinois after it was admitted to the union. The area has always been prone to flooding, however, and in 1881, the Mississippi River changed course, destroying most of the town, and leaving it on the wrong side of the river from the rest of the state. While it is still part of Illinois, despite being west of the river, it is today almost a ghost town, with just about a dozen residents calling it home. There is still a church there, however, which does hold weekly services.