The Cahokia Courthouse, a look into French Creole frontier life


Did you know that in southern Illinois there is an area referred to as the French Creole Corridor? The area is in the Mid-Mississippi area, and is in southern Illinois and northern Missouri. The area was settled by French missionaries from Quebec and traders that blended into the Indian population and created their own culture before the Spanish arrived. The French missionaries arrived in Cahokia, Illinois in 1699.

One of the remains from this early time period is the lovely Cahokia Courthouse. I took a trip with my mom, and our friend’s Joy and Rose to check out this early French history. Our first stop on the French Creole corridor was the Cahokia Courthouse. The Courthouse is a vertical-log building originally built and used as a residence by Francois Saucier around 1744. This distinctive French architecture is also referred to as poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill foundation). The upright hewn logs are seated on a horizontal log sill; the spaces between logs are filled with stone and mortar chinking.

Site Superintendent Brad Winn took the time to show us around and tell us about the courthouse and take us back in time. “Cahokia was a French trading center. The French missionaries from Quebec came to preach to the Indians and founded Cahokia around 1699. They stayed until the Spanish won the area. The French traded metal goods and cloth with the Indians for furs.”

Beaver pelts were the main fur the traders were after according to Winn. The French unlike many other nationalities blended in with the Indians. The Cahokia Courthouse website summarizes the history of this fascinating building. “From December 1803 until the spring of 1804, Lewis and Clark used the Old Cahokia Courthouse as a headquarters for collecting information, meeting with territorial leaders, gathering supplies and corresponding with President Thomas Jefferson while the party camped at nearby Camp River Dubois. The courthouse, built as a dwelling in the 1730s, is a unique remnant of the French presence in Illinois. The building became a courthouse in 1793, and for 20 years it served as a center of political activity in the Old Northwest Territory. The building was dismantled in 1901, re-erected twice, and reconstructed on its original site in 1939.”

The building in the early 1900’s was the Courthouse Saloon then it was purchased and built to sell souveneirs at the St. Louis Wolds Fair before being brought back and re-erected. Inside today there is a small museum with displays showing exhibits about colonial life. There is a visitors center next to the courthouse and it is worthwhile to take a minute and ask for a tour of this historic site that is open year round. Call 618-332-1782 for information.

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