Kaskaskia, IL: From Illinois' First Capital to near Ghost-Town in Missouri

The City of Kaskaskia was the capital of the Illinois Territory, and first capital of the State of Illinois when it was admitted to the Union in 1818. Originally inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years, it was first settled by Europeans in 1703, when French fur traders and Jesuit missionaries began settling there.

Image: An early plan of Kaskaskia. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Note, this was before the Mississippi River changed course.

The city's peak population was roughly 7,000, before the capital was moved the year following statehood, 1819, to Vandalia. Located on the Mississippi River, the city was prone to flooding, exacerbated by deforestation. Steamboat crews cut trees in the area for wood burning. This furthered erosion, which would lead to the Mississippi River switching channels during a series of 19th century floods.

The original location of Kaskaskia became an island, surrounded by the Mississippi River. The flood of 1881 destroyed all remnants of the original town and the Mississippi shifted into the channel of the Kaskaskia River, passing east instead of west of the town.

Image: State House. John Corson Smith, History of Freemasonry in Illinois. (CHICAGO: ROGERS AND SMITH, 1905). / Southern Illinois University Press

Now located west of the Mississippi River, the town is the only populated place in the state located west of the river, and is only accessible by Missouri, making it a physical exclave. With just 14 people, it is nearly a ghost town, and still frequently floods in the spring. It is still considered part of Randolph County, Illinois, despite only being accessible on land via Missouri.

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