The Fort LaMotte Rangers will be sponsoring the 5th Annual Fort LaMotte Days, April 26 through 28, 2013 at the site of the reconstructed Fort at Leaverton Park in Palestine, Illinois. Friday, April 26 is for school tours from 9 am to 2 pm and we will be open to the public on Saturday, April 27 from 9 am to 5 pm and Sunday, April 28 from 9 am to 3 pm.
Prices: $5.00 adults, $2.50 for teens, and children under 6 get in free.
Watch the Fort Lamotte Days 2012 Feature on WTHI - Action 10 News.
Also see new photos of the event in our Fort Lamotte Days 2012 Photo Gallery.
The History of the Fort LaMotte Project
In 2006, the Palestine Development Association (P.D.A.) considered constructing a fort replicating "old Fort LaMotte" that had been built during the War of 1812 at Palestine. This was one of three forts that had been in the vicinity of Palestine during the war. Most of the members of the P.D.A. had grown up hearing stories of the old Indian fort and some have family members that had lived in the fort. It was hoped that constructing a period fort that might replicate old Fort LaMotte would bring more tourism to the community. The P.D.A. approached Rob Byrley, a local historian and wood dealer in Palestine and asked if such a project was possible. Many questions had to be answered. Would there be enough community support to make the project a success? Would construction materials be available? How do you even go about building a fort? And, what would such a project cost?
Rob contacted local historians Greg Parrott and Gordon Howe and it was determined that while there was great local interest for the project, for it to be a success the replica fort would have to be as historically accurate as possible. The fort would be a great asset for the community for teaching and promoting the local history of the War of 1812 and early pioneer life on the prairie, and the fort would also be a new attraction for tourism.
After checking with local timbers suppliers, it was determined that timber for the fort could be obtained. Rob reported back to the P.D.A. that the fort was possible and recommended that a construction board be formed to oversee its construction and design and its operation. The P.D.A. gave the go ahead to form the committee and move ahead with construction. The committee consisted of a diverse group with expertise in various areas. The original members were Rob Byrley, Gordon Howe, J.D. Kimberlin, Greg Parrott, Eugene Reinbold, and Lynn Stephens. The project was to be a joint effort between the Fort LaMotte Rangers muzzle loading club and the Central Wabash Archaeological Chapter (CWAC) of the Illinois Association for Advancement of Archaeology.
The Palestine Chamber of Commerce offered a tract of ground north of the Palestine Rodeo arena that adjoins Leverton Park just east of the Palestine city limits. Since setting up a new society to own and operate the fort would take time, and materials to begin construction were immediately available, the deed for the ground was transferred to the Fort LaMotte Rangers. This was a perfect location for the fort as it was adjacent to the park and camping facilities, offered the needed space for events, and overlooked one of the reported locations of the original fort.
During the winter of 2006 and spring of 2007, the committee researched period forts and combed through historical records describing War of 1812 forts and blockhouses in the territory. Aided by a few scraps of historical information on the original Fort LaMotte, a layout for the fort was developed that would consist of a durable and sturdy stockade enclosing approximately 100 ft on the side with a single blockhouse in one corner, an Ensign's cabin, two lean-to shelters, and a water well. This would complete the first phase of construction. In May of 2007, ground was broken and the foundation for the blockhouse was laid. Construction of Fort LaMotte was underway.
There is no "blue print" for constructing a frontier fort so the construction committee was constantly researching and developing methods of construction that would provide a strong, durable fortification, which would look as historically accurate as possible upon completion. Large poplar logs were chosen for the walls of the blockhouse and cabin while hickory logs provided the strength needed for the cantilevers on the blockhouse. Locust was used for the stockade walls due to its resistance to insects and rot. While every attempt was made to use species native to the area, and thus available in 1813, it was necessary in a few cases to compromise and use wood that would provide the durability and longevity needed but would not have been available for the original fort. This was kept to a minimum. While little information is available on the construction and design of these small frontier forts in Illinois and Indiana, letters from Wm. Henry Harrison, then Governor of the Indiana territory, which included Illinois, provide some insight as to their construction. Based on his orders, they appear to have been well built out of large logs and meant to be durable and to provide a strong defense for the settlers. In a letter from Governor Harrison to Captain Wm. Hargrove, it is stated
"This is a very desirable place to have a strong fort. In making the building be sure that it is strongly put together, made out of large logs and that a stockade ten feet high be built that will enclose one acre of ground. In this enclosure, can be erected a number of strong buildings that will safely protect fifty people." - W. H. Harrison, Headquarters, Indiana Territory, Vincennes, Sunday October 4, 1807.
"It is thought best that you make a personal inspection of all of the blockhouses that are now built and the several that are being constructed at the different stations in your territory and see that they are securely built and good, strong, durable stockades surrounding them that will have sufficient room for the construction of from six to ten small cabins." - W. H. Harrison to Captain Wm. Hargrove, Post Vincennes, November 4, 1807.
By the War of 1812, Wm. Hargrove had been elevated to the Rank of Lt. Colonel and placed in command of U.S. Rangers in the Indiana territory. In a set of instructions to Hargrove from John Gibson Acting Governor, Indiana Territory, Gibson wrote:
"All these stations should have a strong stockade that incloses all the ground that will be needed for the horses when inside and for barracks for the men. A strong, small house should be erected to hold the rations and ammunition." - John Gibson, Acting Governor, Vincennes, Indiana Territory, July 11, 1812.
In the spring of 2009, construction had proceeded to a point to begin thinking about the operation and management of the fort when completed. A committee was formed within the Fort LaMotte Rangers that would be an extension of the original construction committee. Bi-laws were adopted to create the Fort LaMotte Fort Facilities Committee. The committee is charged with the operation and management of the fort. Their mission is to encourage tourism and activities that foster improvement of the economic welfare of the community. Also to preserve historical information and prehistoric and historic sites and artifacts.
Working mainly on Saturdays, work has progressed over the last three years year around. One joke of the project is "the war will be over before the fort is built." In other words it will take longer to build the replica fort than the War of 1812 lasted.
The project has received considerable financial and other support from the P.D.A. Other funding has come from grants, private donations and local businesses that have helped with materials and supplies. Local landowners have donated the majority of the timber for the project.
As we move forward and see the completion of Fort Lamote, many activities are planned throughout the year. These include education programs including tours, living history events, reenactments, a large rendezvous, Fort LaMotte Days the last weekend in April and many other programs that involve the frontier history of the area. Future construction may include a barracks and one or more small cabins.
Thank you for visiting.
Join us in recreating historical events from this fascinating period of our nation's frontier!