To Cahokia, 3.8 miles south of East St. Louis on Ill. 3.
Eighth St., Ill. 3, an excellent four-lane highway, originates at the city limits. At the village of Monsanto (pop. 304), is the huge CAHOKIA POWER PLANT. (Permits to inspect the interior of the plant must be obtained at Room 702, Union Electric Light & Power Building, 315 North 12th Blvd., St. Louis, Mo.
The Cahokia station is the first power plant expressly designed for the use of low-grade Illinois coal in pulverized form. A coal preparation in the east bay of the building converts lump coal into a powder that is blown by compressed air beneath boilers which supply steam to drive the massive turbines. More than 1,000,000 tons of coal are used annually.
The Cahokia plant has a gargantuan appetite. On one side it devours a ton of coal each 30 seconds and on the river side it gulps down 616,000,000 gallons of water daily.
The first unit of the Cahokia station was completed in 1923. When completed, as designed, the plant will be capable of producing 500,000 kilowatts, or 700,000 horsepower. At present, the Cahokia station is the largest power plant in the Mississippi Valley. In 1931, the plant had a capacity of 235,000 kilowatts, or 100,000 more than the great hydroelectric development at Keokuk. Twenty-nine submarine cable carry the bulk of the stations electricity to St. Louis.
Beyond the village of Monsanto the highway intersecs what were once the "ancient lands" or the COMMON FIELDS of early French inhabitants of Cahokia. In pioneer days the French colonists, instead of cultivating the customary square plots of land, plowed narrow strips that extended from the river to the distant bluffs. Thus they were able to work side-by-side and to band together at the first sign of an Indian attack.
CAHOKIA (pop. 286) was originally a summer camp of the Tamaroa and Cahokia Indians. Led by Father Jolliet de Montigny, a party of missionaries arrived at the camp in late winter of 1689. Father St. Cosmé was left among the Indians while the rest of the missionaries journeyed to Arkansas, and by the spring of 1699, aided by three Jesuits, he constructed a church.
The Indians were subsequently displaced by French colonists and Cahokia rapidly grew to be one of the most important trading centers on the Illinois frontier. According to legend, Pontiac, the renowned chief of the Ottawa tribe was murdered near the village in 1769 by a renegade Indian and buried in what is now downtown St. Louis.
Following the Fench and Indian War, Cahokia became a British post until 1788, when the village militia peacefully yielded to George Rogers Clark. The first election for chief magistrates to be held in Illinois took place at Cahokia on October 29, 1778. Modeled after the county courts of Virginia, the Cahokia court presided with a dignity and precision that is lauded by historians. While the rest of the Illinois frontier was torn by lawlessness, Cahokia went its way in peace and order.
At the formation of St. Clair County in 1795, Cahokia was designated the county seat. Known throughout the northwest for its social gaieties during the era, Cahokia superceded Kaskaskia as a trading center, outranked St. Louis, and at the close of the eighteenth century had 3,000 inhabitants.
For geographical and political reasons the county seat was removed to Belleville in 1814, and the importance of Cahokia began to wane. Subsequently the fur trade was centered at St. Louis, and this, together with the floods that inudated the village regularly, hastened its decline.
The OLD CHURCH OF THE HOLY FAMILY, oldest church west of the Allegheny mountains, is at the intersection of Ill. 3 and Ill. 157 in the center of the village. Built in 1769 and blessed in September of that year by Father Rivet, pastor of Vincennes, the church replaced an earlier ediface that had been built in 1700 by Father Pinet. A fire in 1783 destroyed the original church, but a missal printed in 1668 and a monstrance made in 1717 were saved from the flames and are now in the possession of the Holy Family parish.
Under the direction of Father Gabriel Richard, later elected to Congress from Michigan, the second church was constructed by the Voudris brothers, who were paid for the most part in hides and grain that was shipped to New Orleans and sold. The church was built of hand-hewn walnut logs set upright and chinked with mortar. The floor was of split cottonwood, and the roof of cypress clapboards. In 1889 the rock building hust east of the old church was completed and the old structure fell into disuse and decay. Various organizations, however, recognized the structures historical significance and in 1913 preservative measures were undertaken. The church was strengthened throughout and the walnut logs encased in clapboard sheathing.
Immediately behind the church are several tombstones with French inscriptions, marking the graves of long-dead pioneers and priests. The field south of the church is the site of the OLD CAHOKIA CEMETERY where for more than a century Indians, Negro slaves, and French colonists were interred one upon the other. The headstones and markers have been removed.
Fifty yards west of the old church, across a narrow dirt road, stands the OLD PARISH HOUSE, built by Father Loisel in 1833. Considered a house of some pretension for the period, the one-story brick structure of colonial design served as a girls school from 1845 to 1848. The house is at present a private residence.
Originally the interior consisted of a reception hall 16 feet wide, and occupied the center of the ground floor, extending the length of the house. On the other side of the hall were four bedrooms and a kitchen at the rear. The reception hall served as a dining room on occasions and it is related that slaves were stationed at each end of the room to fan flies away from the diners.
A stairway at the rear of the hall led up to the second floor and to a large ballroom that extended across the front of the house. Behind the ballroom were the family chambers.
The mansion was the scene of frequent balls which were attended by such notables as Gov. John Reynolds, Gov. Ninian Edwards, and Pierre Menard of Kaskaskia. According to a popular legend the Marquis de Lafayette, during his visit to the Midwest, was entertained at the Jarrot mansion because no home in St. Louis was sufficiently pretentious.
Vingt-et-un was a favorite game at the Jarrot home. It was the custom to remain seated at the table for 30 consecutive games without refreshment other than coffee or clovet. When luck ran against Major Jarrot, or when one of his guests ran short of money, he would give the key of a little red trunk to a slave and command him to bring so many "scoops of the little yellow fellows." The key and the small red trunk may be seen in Memorial Hall, Washington, D.C.
Testifying to excellent workmanship, the Jarrot mansion today serves as the parish schoolhouse. The jagged crack at the rear of the building was caused by an earthquake that rocked Cahokia on November 11, 1811. The mansion was flooded several times, especially during the high waters of 1844, but today it stands as stout as the earth upon which it rests. Permission to inspect the interior may be obtained from the Sisters who conduct the school.
Besides the Jarrot mansion, the old church, and parish house, little remains of the glory that was once Cahokia. A few descendants of the original colonists reside in the vicinity, but the old houses have been replaced by modern structures.
For more information and historical background on Cahokia and this portion of the tour, click here to read The Romantic Story of Cahokia, Illinois
The PARKS AIRPORT, (8 to 4:30 daily), is a scant 100 yards away from the old church. Seldom are the ox-cart era and the Machine Age so well contrasted. Founded in August 1927, Parks College has become one of the ranking aeronautical schools in the country. Students from all parts of the United States and Latin America are enrolled in the institution which, since 1929, has been approved by the Department of Commerce. The school offers instruction in all classes of flying. The formal curriculum consists of the executive transport pilots course, aeronautical engineering course, and master mechanics flight course.