Prairie du Rocher turns 300

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Pictured are speakers during the 300th New Year’s Gala held in Prairie du Rocher on Jan. 1, from left, Randolph County Commissioner Ronnie White, Red Bud Mayor Susan Harbaugh, Prairie du Rocher Village President Mark Wilson and Prairie du Rocher Chamber of Commerce President Dawn Walker.

At the beginning of 1718, the government of France issued exclusive trading rights for trading company in its North American colony near the Mississippi River. 

Shortly thereafter, French military officer Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand built a wooden fort as a way to protect the business’ interests in the area as well as to provide military protection for French-Canadian settlers.

The structure was the original Fort de Chartres. Four years later, St. Thérèse Langlois, the officer’s nephew, founded Prairie du Rocher.

Three hundred years later, a New Year’s Gala in the village on Jan. 1 kicked off a year-long tricentennial celebration for one of the United States’ oldest French-founded communities still in existence and one of the first European settlements in what would become the state of Illinois.

The gala featured local officials who spoke about the history and uniqueness of the village. 

Letters from other elected officials and business leaders such as State Rep. David Friess and Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith commemorating the 300th anniversary were also read.

The Community Foundation of Prairie du Rocher recently wrote an article for Illinois South Magazine in which the historical significance of the village is explained.

‘The long history of Prairie du Rocher is something the residents take very seriously, and are very proud of, with the French Colonial District that it is a part of  being placed on the National Register of Historic Places many years ago.  

“In many ways, it’s difficult to understand the significance of a village surviving for 300 years, without some other historic markers to put it into perspective.  To truly understand, one must consider the fact that the United States itself was not founded until over 50 years later than Prairie du Rocher’s beginning (a lifetime measurement for that timeframe), and the state of Illinois itself did not exist until 1818, almost 100 years after the village was settled and prospering within its borders.  

“Very few communities in the United States as a whole have reached the age of 300 continuous years, regardless of their size.   This fact emphasizes that this milestone is quite an accomplishment for a tiny little French village, and a fact that makes this unique little place extremely important in its historical significance.”

The village’s significance was the topic of conversation in 2020 as new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps put most of Prairie du Rocher in a “special flood hazard area” as a result of nearby levees losing accreditation.

An effort to designate the area as a national park commenced shortly thereafter in an attempt to obtain federal funds to repair the levee systems and keep the village from losing residents and businesses.

As with many other government programs, COVID-19 has delayed any action in the push for national park status, but those who want to maintain Prairie du Rocher and its legacy continue to advocate for preservation.

The COVID pandemic also delayed celebrations of the 300th anniversary of Fort de Chartres and the 50th anniversary of Rendezvous, as well as the 2022 Twelfth Night Ball, but local leaders are hopeful that other scheduled events this year will be able to move forward.  

As part of tricentennial festivities, annual events such as Mardi Gras celebration and parade on Feb. 26 will have a 300th anniversary theme. 

Other events scheduled for 2022 in Prairie du Rocher include a “Final PDR Bingo” March 27, adult egg hunt on April 30 and a vintage baseball game and time capsule event on May 14. 

The highlight of the year will be the Prairie du Rocher 300th Birthday Celebration to be held July 9-10 in the village. 

Other events will be announced throughout the year. To keep up-to-date with happenings in 2022, visit the  Community Foundation of Prairie du Rocher and Prairie du Rocher Chamber of Commerce Facebook pages and websites.

The Republic-Times will also feature several historical articles about Prairie du Rocher throughout the year.

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