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A Town Called Kaskaskia

Kaskaskia
This photo of Kaskaskia was one of the last taken before the village succumbed to the
Mississippi River, though the flood of 1881 devastated the village, some abandoned buildings
remained until the early twentieth century, when the river finally devoured the rest.

Elizabeth Weir
Montmorency School, Rock Falls

Kaskaskia, now a tiny village in Southern Illinois' Randolph County, was Illinois' first capital. Preceding that, Kaskaskia had been the Illinois Territory's capital since 1809. At the time the capital was picked, Kaskaskia was one of the largest towns in the newly formed state, complete with a main road to most of the large settlements nearby. Easy access made it an ideal spot for the capital.

The state government also selected the territorial legislature's previous building as the first state house. It was built of limestone, had a roof of un-painted boards and shingles, and dormer windows.

The governor lived outside of Kaskaskia. Many of the senators and representatives had residences in Kaskaskia when the legislature was in session.

Two of Illinois' most prominent political figures, John Edgar and Robert Morrison, both lived in Kaskaskia. Edgar was a land speculator and owned much of the land around Kaskaskia. Robert Morrison, who had run unsuccessfully for the United States Senate, also lived in Kaskaskia. Fourteen senators and twenty-eight representatives convened at Kaskaskia, Illinois, on October 5, 1818. They comprised the new state's first legislature. Compared to the general assembly of today, which consists of 59 senators and 118 representatives, the original assembly was quite small.

The first Illinois State Constitution was negotiated and written at the statehouse. It took twenty-three days for the constitution to be completed and agreed upon by the convention, which consisted of twenty-three members.

Many important decisions had been made in the statehouse. One was the decision to remove the capital to a new location by 1820. Lawmakers decided to move the capital northward and more towards the middle of the state. They also realized that some would profit by selling blocks of land in the new capital, providing opportunity for others to prosper.

An ideal spot about eighty-two miles north of Kaskaskia was found for the capital. It was named Vandalia. The capital stayed in Vandalia for twenty years until it was moved to Springfield where it has since remained.

Kaskaskia declined physically as well as politically after it was no longer the capital. In the flood of 1881, the Mississippi River, which flowed west of the village, cut along a natural channel and separated the village from the state of Illinois. In the process the old capitol was destroyed. A state historic site, today it commemorates the original importance of the area.[From Solon J. Buck, Illinois in 1818; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men; Theodore Calvin Pease, The Frontier State, 1818-1848; Theodore Calvin Pease, The Story of Illinois; and Robert P. Sutton, The Prairie State.]

24 ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1993


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