By name Kaskaskia Island belongs to Illinois, however, the only way to get to Kaskaskia Island is from Missouri. Quit odd if you ask me considering that Kaskaskia Island was once the capital of the Illinois territory, once a booming river city with a population of about 7,000 to now just a ghost town with a population of just 14 according to the 2010 census. Why is this you ask, well the Mighty Mississippi is known for its great floods, and over time it carved away at the town of Kaskaskia forming what is now known as Kaskaskia Island.
Kaskaskia Island is one of those places you hear on the morning weather update and wonder if the place really exist, or so that is what I wondered for the past 20 some years. Well last fall it was time to find the perfect place to snap our holiday family pictures, and I am not a traditionalist, I want some draw dropping background and a place that makes people scratch their head. While on my mission to find this perfect location, Ryan that husband of mine, happen to be on his way home from work and passed the sign that said Kaskaskia Island this way. My fingers hit keyboard, I begin overloading Google in my search quest, and moments later was packing our picnic basket.
While the island was once part of a booming town, today as you cross the bridge from St. Mary’s Missouri over to the island it appears you are entering a farmer’s field. Sitting on the edge of the Mississippi River the soil is just rich and has that deep dark look and being since the population of 14 there is not too many buildings left standing.
On the Island, some major historical landmarks still stand that not only hold a significant past to the folks of Illinois, but since you must enter the island from Missouri probably are very important to Missouri’s past also.
Let Freedom Ring
Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial located small building in the middle of the island; the bell was originally located at Immaculate Conception Parish and villagers rang the bell to celebrate their liberation from British on July 4, 1778. The bell rings no more, as it is very fragile, but as you arrive at the front door of the memorial, you press a button to hear the story of the great celebration and history of the bell.
The Church that Withstands the Water
Immaculate Conception Church, probably the largest building left standing on the Island. The church has been flooded numerous times including the historic Mississippi flood of 1993 when water almost reached the fifth windowpane. The Church is an ongoing restoration project, but is open for Mass services on Saturdays at 3:30 pm except special occasions. Yearly the Church holds a popular “fundraiser picnic” drawing hundreds back to one of the oldest towns in Illinois.
Other than the beautiful church and the bell memorial, you are surrounded by farmland, the remains of what once was, and the river. Being there are few islands in the Mississippi, few towns as old as Kaskaskia Island, and probably only one Illinois town that you can only visit from Missouri, Kaskaskia Island is a must see. This is not an all day adventure, I do suggest packing a picnic lunch, and spending a few hours in the unique town. Nearby towns to visit, include St Genevieve, MO, Perryville, MO, and Fort Kaskaskia, IL.
Directions to Get There
- From Illinois, cross the Chester bridge off Rt. 3. The highway becomes # 51 in Missouri. Continue south until you see signs of Highway H (abt 3 mile).
- Go right on ‘H’ (a narrow winding oil road, WATCH for farm equipment!), until you come to a ‘T’ intersection, just outside St. Marys.
- Turn RIGHT and enter St. Marys. About 2-3 blocks after making sharp left curve, a sign is on your RIGHT for the bridge leading to the island.
- This is a narrow, one Lane Bridge. Continue on this road abt. 1 mile. At ‘T’ intersection, turn left. This road leads back to the village and church, abt. 5 mile.
- From Missouri, exit I-55 at Perryville, continue straight through town, you are on Rt.51.
- Its approximately 18 miles to the Highway H sign, a short ways after you go through McBride.
- Turn left at sign, follow as above.