A local landmark known in its heyday as the place all roads led and the “Versailles of the West” is celebrating a milestone anniversary.
Fort de Chartres is set to celebrate its 100th anniversary as a state park on Saturday.
The fort itself is over 300 years old, and many people might have thought its 100th anniversary of being a state park happened in 2013.
But Dave Horne, a member of Le Amis de Fort de Chartres – a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting the fort – found otherwise.
In his research, Horne found that oft-cited 1913 date is actually when the state made appropriations to buy the property. The fort itself was bought in two parcels in 1914 and 1915.
He found a letter, however, describing when the Illinois chapter of The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America presented a plaque commemorating the fort becoming a state park.
The letter said that happened on Oct. 10, 1919, making that the first documented date of the park being open.
The NSCDA promotes appreciation for the people, place and events that led to the formation and development of America.
Horne, who for the last couple years has voluntarily led the effort to plan this celebration, said the milestone is important because the fort was one of the first state parks in Illinois.
Additionally, since 1919, Horne said the park has become important to many individuals in the area, which only makes it more important to honor the date.
“The first time I was there I just fell in love with this place,” Horne explained. “And I don’t know why that is, but there are a whole lot of people who feel the same way. I think it’s important to recognize this place has been there for 100 years.”
The celebration takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
It will include a rededication of the plaque the NSCDA chapter presented, with the chapter in attendance and the NSCDA president slated to speak.
Former park superintendent Darrell Duensing also plans to speak on the early history of the park, and an Illinois Department of Natural Resources employee will talk about the plans for the future of the site.
That all will take about an hour.
For entertainment, there will be a band playing 1920s music and a 1916 Chevrolet on display. Reenactors dressed in 20th century clothing, Horne’s collection of old photos of the fort and souvenir T-shirts will provide more fun.
Duensing will also lead a tour of the fort when the ceremony concludes.
Horne said people should attend the event as a way to show continued support for the fort, which is crucial to ensuring it is properly preserved.
“Fort de Chartres fell into ruin and languished in the overgrown forest until it rose up and once more became an impressive fortress of stone,” Horne said, referencing to how the fort fell into disrepair and was reconstructed. “It is now our responsibility to make sure it is not a phoenix, having to die and be reduced to a pile of ashes before it can be reborn again.”
For more information on the event, visit fortdechartres.us/events.