The Great River Road

Fifteen miles south of Sainte Genevieve, signposted off US-61, is old Kaskaskia, the first Illinois state capital and the only Illinois town now west of the Mississippi, thanks to an 1881 flood. “Town” is a generous overstatement: Originally consisting of only a church and a handful of farmhouses, the community has been all but washed away numerous times in its 250-year history, but there’s a preserved fort and moody hilltop cemetery to make it worth a visit. Cut off from the Missouri shore by huge levees and a swampy river channel, Kaskaskia is now a ghost town with an illustrious past: It was here, during the American Revolution, that George Rogers Clark and his tiny force of Kentucky “Long Knives” launched their attack against British control of the huge formerly French territory between the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, a campaign so stunningly successful that it effectively doubled the size of the United States. After capturing Fort Kaskaskia, the victorious Americans rang the 650-pound bell that hung in the French Catholic church; this bell, now in its own Spartan iron-barred chapel, is called the Liberty Bell of the West.