On the bank of the Ohio River in Metropolis, Illinois we discovered Fort Massac State Park, the oldest state park in Illinois. But Fort Massac existed long before Illinois was a state. In fact, long before there was a United States!
The history of Fort Massac dates back to 1757, when French Captain Charles Phillipe Aubry erected a fort here to guard the Ohio River. While there were no battles fought at the fort, it still was witness to a lot of history. In 1765, after the French and Indian War, the French surrendered the fort to the British under the terms of the Treaty of 1763.
The British never manned the fort, which would prove to be a mistake. On June 28, 1778, George Rogers Clark and a command of 160 men came through here unopposed, on their way to capture the British garrison at Vincennes, which proved to be a major American victory during the Revolutionary War.
Over the years the fort fell into ruins until 1794, when President George Washington ordered General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to fortify and rebuild Fort Massac. The fort was occupied off and on for several years. Lewis and Clark stopped here to get supplies and recruit men for their famous expedition. Explorer Zebulon Pike also stopped at the fort on his way west. Aaron Burr came in 1805, in an unsuccessful attempt to raise support for his scheme to establish a new and separate country west of the Alleghany Mountains. The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 spelled the end for Fort Massac, which was severely damaged and eventually abandoned in 1814. Local settlers stripped the fort of its wood and bricks. During the Civil War troops were stationed on the old fort grounds, which was used for training soldiers before they went into battle.
Today the old fort has been reconstructed, and visitors can walk through the stockade and wonder what it must have been like to be a soldier here in the days when this was still the wild frontier.
The annual Fort Massac Encampment, held every October, draws thousands of visitors who come to watch military drills, mock battles, and see costumed interpreters perform frontier crafts ranging from candle making to cooking in the fort’s old stone oven.
The campground at Fort Massac State Park has 50 RV sites with 30/50 amp electric, water, and a dump station. The campground is well maintained and will accommodate any size RV. The park is accessible from Interstate 24 by driving 2 miles west on US Highway 45. For more information on Fort Massac State Park, call (618) 524-9321