Update: The 1802 Fort is closed to the public until further notice.
the scenic splendor of southern Illinois with plenty of outdoor fun and
time-telling events at Fort Massac State Park. Overlooking the mighty Ohio
River from the southern tip of Illinois, this majestic location has been
preserved and maintained since 1908, when it became Illinois first
Today, Fort Massac
is a captivating reminder of days gone by, a fascinating excursion through
the entire course of American history, and the perfect place to relax
in soothing natural surroundings and explore the life style of our young country.
historic site is a replica of the 1802 American fort that was on site.
The historic fort area contains two barracks, three block houses, officer quarters,
well, stockade and a fraise fence. The site also has the archaeological
outline of the 1757 French Fort. Aa visitors center/office
complex with a museum complete the infrastructure.
of pioneer life of the 1700s take place during the annual Fort Massac Encampment
and several living history weekends each year to bring the past to life,
letting you experience it yourself.
With all this, and
the picnicking, camping, hiking, boating and hunting opportunities available
in the rest of the 1,450-acre Massac County park is an alluring,
complete and self-contained family vacation spot.
The rich history of
this site begins before recorded history, when native Americans undoubtedly
took advantage of its strategic location overlooking the Ohio River. Legend
has it that Europeans took this same advantage as early as 1540, when
the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto and his soldiers constructed a primitive
fortification to defend themselves from hostile native attack.
The French built Fort
De LAscension on the site in 1757, during the French and Indian
War, when France and Great Britain were fighting for ultimate control
of central North America. Rebuilt in 1759-60, the structure was renamed
Massiac in honor of the then French Minister of Colonial Affairs, and
came under fire only once, when unsuccessfully attacked by a group of
the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the French abandoned the
fort and a band of Chickasaws burned it to the ground. When Captain Thomas
Stirling, commander of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, arrived to take
possession, all he found was a charred ruin.
The British anglicized
the name to Massac but, despite the counsel of their military
advisers, they neither rebuilt nor regarrisoned the fort. This oversight
left them vulnerable and in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, Colonel
George Rogers Clark led his Long Knives regiment into Illinois
at Massac Creek. From these he was able to capture Kaskaskia, 100 miles to the north,
without firing a shot, thus taking the entire Illinois Territory for the
State of Virginia and the fledgling United States.
In 1794, President
George Washington ordered the fort rebuilt, and for the next 20 years
it protected U.S. military and commercial interests in the Ohio Valley.
U.S. Vice President
Aaron Burr and Gen. James Wilkinson, who allegedly drew up plans to personally
conquer Mexico and the American southwest, met at Fort Massac during the
summer of 1805. Edward Everett Hale later used the setting of Fort Massac
and the Burr-Wilkinson plot as basis for his classic historical novel,
The Man Without a Country.
Although ravaged by
the New Madrid earthquake in 1811-12, the fort was again rebuilt in time
to play a minor role in the War of 1812, only to be abandoned again in
1814. Local citizens dismantled the fort for timber, and by 1828 little
remained of the original construction. In 1839 the city of Metropolis
was platted about a mile west of the fort.
The site briefly served as a training camp early in the Civil War, marking the
last time U.S. troops were stationed at the site. The fort was abandoned
after a measles epidemic in 1861-62 claimed the lives of a substantial
number of soldiers of the Third Illinois Cavalry and the 131st Illinois
Infantry, who were using the fort as an encampment.
In 1903, through the
efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 24 acres surrounding
the site were purchased by the state. On Nov. 5, 1908, Fort Massacwas officially
dedicated as Illinois first state park.
and historical excavations were conducted on the site from 1939-42 and
attempted again in 1966, 1970 and during 2002. In the early 1970's a
replica based on the 1794 American fort at Fort Massac was reconstructed off the original
site of the forts. This
reconstruction was brought down in the fall of 2002, when a
replica of a 1802 American fort was constructed. The original site, where all the forts
were built, has the archeological outline of the 1757 French Fort.
The historic site
is open to the public seven days a week. Contact the site interpreter
to arrange special programs for educational, scouting, civic or tour groups.
Fort Massac is the
perfect place for a picnic lunch. Tables, grills and drinking
water are scattered throughout the grounds and children will enjoy the three playgrounds. Four covered picnic shelters are available: one is reservable,
while the others are first-come, first-serve.
Campers enjoy Fort Massac's 50 Class
A vehicular campsites, complete with electricity, a disposal station and a shower
building. Tent camping, and a separate group campground also are available. Camping reservations can be made through ReserveAmerica.
The park contains
a 1- mile loop trail through grassy woods with the trailhead near
the fort. This trail is designated as a Forest Watch Tree Identification
Trail and brochures are available in the visitors' center. The 2.5-mile Hickory Nut Ridge Trail shouldn't be missed, as it
takes hikers along the scenic Ohio River.
Boating and fishing
are permitted on and along the Ohio River. Anglers will find bullhead,
carp, catfish, crappie, drum and largemouth bass. The boat dock and launch
ramp easy river access.
Hunting is permitted
for squirrel, woodcock, dove, deer (archery only) and rabbit in some parts of the park. A windsheild card may be required to hunt. Contact the park office for specific
hunting dates and shooting hours.
The unique Fort
Massac Encampment is held for two days each October. This re-creation
of the lifestyles and atmosphere of the late 1700s attracts more than
80,000 people. Several times throughout the year the park puts on living
history weekends, where visitors can experience the past for themselves (check with the park office for specific dates). An antique car
show takes place every June, in conjunction with the nationally known Superman Days
in Metropolis. Interpretive
Take Exit 37 off Interstate
24 into Metropolis.
.Follow the signs.
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community
Affairs' Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.