Fort de Chartres celebrating historic milestones

FEAT-magazine-oldFEAT-magazine-nowFort de Chartres, just outside of Prairie du Rocher on Route 155, will mark two anniversaries this summer. It was designated as an Illinois Historical Site a century ago, and this weekend’s annual Rendezvous will be the 45th such gala event for participants and visitors alike.

The Republic-Times visited busy site director Darrell Duensing on Friday. He took time from preparations for the fast-approaching Rendezvous to discuss the fort’s past and its current offerings for visitors.

Duensing said there is some conjecture over exactly when the fort was designated by the state as a historical site.

Concerted efforts began in 1913, with several area citizens, including Hardy C. Voris, founder and original editor of the Waterloo Republican newspaper, urging the Governor of Illinois to take action.

“I think designation was completed in about 1915,” Duensing said.  “The property was divided into two real estate holdings at the time.”

Visitors to the fort’s museum can see an old photo that shows farm sheds immediately adjacent to the ruins of the powder magazine.

“Two local gentlemen have left evidence that they started work to restore the last remaining building – the magazine building – in 1919. They were engaged in tuckpointing the stone walls in the magazine and they marked their work in the mortar with their names and the date: L.A. Boyer and P. I. Dufrenne, 1919,” Duensing showed the Republic-Times in the depths of the dark magazine.
The fort – actually the third French fort on the site – was largely built over the period from 1753 to 1756. A stone structure, it replaced earlier forts built of wood in 1718-1720 and a replacement nearby in 1725.

In 1765, the fort was occupied by the new rulers of the region, Great Britain. But the last British soldiers withdrew from there in May 1776.

Today, what appears to be the front of the fort is actually where the original back wall stood.  The other side of the fort collapsed into the Mississippi River in the 1800s. Much of the original stone work was carted away for local construction in the following years.
By 1920, foundations of original buildings and the fort’s walls had been identified, and it wasn’t until 1989 that most of what we see today was rebuilt.

Rendezvous, which celebrates frontier Native American as well as French and British colonial period culture, will be celebrated this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Thousands flock to this event each year, said to be one of the oldest and largest such observances in the nation.
It features hundreds of people who camp over the weekend in period tent structures and who must — if they are camping overnight — remain in period costume throughout. They include dozens of vendors selling a broad spectrum of crafts and other historic items.

Visitors are treated to a variety of scenes and activities, from Indian teepees to elaborate tents and barely sheltering lean-to tents.

Cooking smells from woodfires come from all directions.

Pageantry and re-enactments are featured as well, including opening and closing ceremonies conducted by authentically uniformed and performing groups, such as the 42nd Royal Highlanders Pipes, Fifes and Drums Band, and the Tippecanoe Ancient Fife and Drum Corps.

Some of the nation’s top shooters of flintlock rifles and muskets will also perform, as well as several period musical groups.

And the 18th Century Food Court will serve a broad variety of period foods and traditional strawberry shortcake as well as root beer floats.

The Rendezvous is co-sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Les Courier de Bois Fort de Chartres.

Fort de Chartres is open year round, Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the grounds being open from dawn to dusk every day.

Picnicking and handicapped accessible toilets are available, but there is no regular camping accommodation. A museum is open during the day.

For additional information, visit

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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