Kaskaskia is located in southwestern Illinois along the
Mississippi River in Randolph County. It was the site of the first
state capital in Illinois from 1818-1820 that was started as a Native American village. Missionaries established a mission
there in 1703 in the hope of converting the population to the Catholic faith, plus the French came and set up a trading post.
Thirty years later, Fort Kaskaskia was erected, but was
destroyed at the end of the French & Indian War in
1763 by the British, who captured the site and held it
until 1778 when George Rogers Clark led colonial forces
to victory and claimed it for Virginia. The community
served as the capital of the Illinois Territory from
1809 to 1818 before statehood was granted. After the state capital moved to Vandalia
in 1820, Kaskaskia continued to thrive as a river town, but succumbed to a flood in 1844, and forced
the community to move south and away from the Mississippi River. The original location of Kaskaskia became an island at that
point, and endured annual floods. The flood of 1881 was the final straw as it completely wiped out all remnants of Kaskaskia
The Academy of the Visitation was
opened in 1833 by the Sisters of the Visitation from
Georgetown University at the request of Bishop Joseph Rosati of St. Louis, whose diocese at the time included the entire state of Illinois. The school was the first Catholic institution
for girls in the state of Illinois, as Mother Agnes Brent along with six other nuns arrived in May 1833 to open the school.
Residents such as Col. Pierre Menard (a former Lieutenant
Governor of Illinois) and merchant William Morrison had
daughters that they wanted to have an education, so they petitioned Bishop Rosati to send for the Visitadines to come on behalf
of the residents.
The school grew to 30 students within its first three months of operation, doing so in the second
floor of the Morrison home until they moved into an empty building owned by Menard as the result of large crack that might
have been caused by an 1812 earthquake of the New Madrid Fault. That building remained the school's home until 1837 when Col.
Menard built a four-story building that was ready to be moved into in 1837 at a cost of $30,000. The Visitadines were grateful
to their patron that they renamed it the Menard Academy,
and paid back the money they borrowed from him until the remaining debt was forgiven upon Col. Menard's death.
The Academy was closed following the flood of 1844 after torrential rains forced the Mississippi
River overflow its banks and forced the sisters to take shelter at the Menard home. At the same time, the community of Chicago
was named as a diocese to oversee the majority of Illinois, and both Bishops William Quarter of Chicago and
Rosati from St. Louis wanted the school as well as the nuns for their diocese. In the end, the school closed while the Visitadines
moved to St. Louis to start a new school.
Some of the brick from the school was salvaged to build a rectory (or home) for the parish priest,
although a huge hole was caused by the riverboat Indiana when the nuns enlisted the vessel in a rescue mission to retrieve
sacred items and the boat ran into the building in an attempt to get near it. The Flood of 1844 was enough to have residents
change the location of the county seat of Randolph from Kaskaskia to Chester.
The community's population has dropped significantly since 1950 when there were 112 people living
in Kaskaskia. In 1970, there were only 79 people recorded in the census, which dropped to 33 by 1980 and to its current total
of nine in 2000.