HISTORICAL MARKERS

ALEXANDER COUNTY/ILLINOIS GENEALOGY TRAILS

 

1. CAIRO, ILLINOIS

2. STEAMBOATS ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER

3. THY WONDROUS STORY, ILLINOIS-CAIRO

4. THY WONDROUS STORY, ILLINOIS-EAST CAPE

5. THE TIGRESS FLAGPOLE

6. WELCOME TO ILLINOIS

Source: Excerpts from an Illinois State Historical Society website at http://www.historyillinois.org


1. Cairo, Illinois

County: Alexander

Location: 1: US 60-62 near entrance to Fort Defiance State Park. 2: East side of US 51, 1.5 miles north of junction with IL . Erected: 05/06/1964 Erected by: Illinois Department of Transportation and The Illinois State Historical Society.

Pieere Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit, reported as early as 1721 that the land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers would be a strategic location for settlement and fortification. Nearly a century later, in 1818, the Illinois Territorial legislature incorporated the City and Bank of Cairo. But Cairo was then only a paper city, and plans for its development came to a standstill with the death of John Gleaves Comegys, the leading promotor of the Corporation. In the 1830's, the area's commercial potential again captured the imagination of Illinois leaders and eastern investors. New City promotors incorporated the Cairo City and Canal Company and made elaborate plans for levees, canals, factories, and warehouses. The first levees failed to hold back the rampaging rivers and financial difficulties slowed the boom. Company policy to lease, not sell, city lots also retarded expansion. With the first sale of lots in 1853 and the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago to Cairo late in 1854, the city began to prosper. When the Civil War began, both Northern and Southern strategists recognized the military importance of Cairo. On April 22, 1861, ten days after the bombardment of Fort Sumter, troops arrived to hold Cairo for the Union. They established camps on the land south of Cairo, and the city flourished as a troop and supply center for the Army of General Ulysses S. Grant. Although the city bustled with wartime activity, non-military commerce was reoriented along East-West lines.

 

2. Steamboats on the Mississippi River

County: Alexander

Location: Il 3, near Thebes

Erected: 03/11/1965 Erected by: Illinois Department of Trasportation and The Illinois State Historical Society

In 1817 the Zebulon M. Pike reached St. Louis, the northern-most steamboat port on the Mississippi River. The western steamboat of later years was a credit to the frontier American mechanic who drew upon experience to build a large craft (eventually over 300 by 40 feet) which would carry heavy cargoes in shallow water against the strong Mississippi current. Owners boasted that steamboats could run on heavy dew but in fact seasonal variations in river depth limited their use - medium sized steamboats needed at least four feet of water. The influence of the steamboat spread far and wide in the Mississippi Valley and hastened the development of the region. Snags, explosions, collisions and fires sank many steamboats. An 1867 investigation recorded 133 sunken hulks in the Mississippi between Cairo and St. Louis, a stretch rivermen called the 'Graveyard.' Even as the north-south river trade flourished in the 1850's, transportation lines running east and west developed. Railroads which followed a more direct route than winding rivers began to haul freight to and from the Mississippi Valley. Steamboats aided the north in the Civil War, but the reorientation of civilian commerce foreshadowed their decline. Although they continued to churn the Mississippi for the best of the nineteenth century, they were eventually replaced by strings of barges guided by a single steamboat or later by a diesel boat which transported the cargoes individual steamboats had once carried.

 

3. Thy Wondrous Story, Illinois

County: Alexander

Location: US 60-62 near entrance to Fort Defiance State Park

Erected: 11/13/1964 Erected by: Division of Highways and The Illinois State Historical Society

The fertile prairies in Illinois attracted the attention of French trader Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette as they explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. France claimed this region until 1763 when she surrendered it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark and his small army scored a bloodless victory when they captured Kaskaskia for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Illinois became a county of Virginia. This area was ceded to the United States in 1784, and became part of the Northwest Territory and the Indiana and Illinois Territories. On December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the twenty-first state. Many of the early settlers came from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the southeastern coastal states to live in the southern quarter of Illinois. As the better land was taken up, the line of settlement advanced northward. Within the southern portion of the state, Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River was the territorial and the first state capital, and Vandalia was the second state capital. The third Principal Meridian, which US 51 roughly parallels, was a basic line in surveying the Northwest Territory to establish definite land claims. The highway passes near Jonesboro where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas debated in 1858, and through Vandalia where Lincoln was a state legislature and cities in central Illinois where he practiced law.

 

4. Thy Wondrous Story, Illinois

County: Alexander

Location: South side of IL 146, 1500ft. east of Mississippi River bridge near McClure.

Erected: 11/13/1964 Erected by: Division of Highways and The Illinois State Historical Society

The fertile prairies in Illinois attracted the attention of French trader Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette as they explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. France claimed this region until 1763 when she surrendered it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris. During the American Revolution George Rogers Clark and his small army scored a bloodless victory when they captured Kaskaskia for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Illinois became a county of Virginia. This area was ceded to the United States in 1784, and became in turn a part of the Northwest Territory and the Indiana and Illinois Territories. On December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the twenty-first state. Many of the early settlers came from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the southeastern coastal states to live in the southern quarter of Illinois. As the better land was taken up, the line of settlement advanced northward. Within the southern portion of the state, Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River was the territorial and the first state capitol, and Vandalia was the second state capitol. Northeast of this point, in Jonesboro, Abraham Lincoln debated with Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 senatorial campaign. When the Civil War broke out in 1861 troops rushed from Chicago to Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois to control the Mississippi River traffic.

 

5. TIGRESS Flagpole, The

County: Alexander

Location: In Lansden Park. West side of Walnut St. near intersection with Charles St., Cairo.

Erected: 01/01/1961 Erected by: City of Cairo and The Illinois State Historical Society

The river packet, TIGRESS, commandeered by the Union Army, carried General U. S. Grant up the Tennessee River to the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. A year later the TIGRESS was sunk while running the shore batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The crew survived and returned her flagpole to Cairo.

 

6. Welcome to Illinois

County: Alexander

Location:

Erected: 01/01/1983 Erected by: Illinois Department of Transportation and The Illinois State Historical Society

In 1673 Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette explored the Illinois country for France. By the 1763 treaty ending the French and Indian War, this area passed to England. During the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark's men captured it for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Illinois was later governed as part of the Northwest Territory, Indiana Territory, and the Illinois Territory. In 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the twenty-first state. Permanent American settlers began arriving at the state's southwestern tip in 1805. Earthquakes rocked the Mississippi Valley in 1811, bringing refugees here in search of new home sites. After the War of 1812, another wave of settlers came, some bringing slaves. The newcomers raised cotton, flax, and tobacco. Later, they raised corn and wheat. Northeast from here, at Jonesboro, Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 Senatorial campaign. During the Civil War, Cairo served as a major staging base where men and supplies were assembled before departing for the war zones. Mound City on the Ohio River was the principal depot for the Western River Fleet. Nearby is Thebes, once a bustling river port, the town declined when railroads replaced the steamboats, but the beautiful 1848 courthouse still stands. Nowadays, tourists and hunters are drawn to 'Egypt'-- Illinois' sixteen southernmost counties -- by the beauty of the Shawnee Forest and wildlife at Horseshoe Lake.

 

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©2005 Anna Newell

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