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When Peoria was French Volume 55 Number 2, March/April 2002
by Eric. A. Powell

[image] Traces of a French cabin in Peoria where an eighteenth-century wine-bottle fragment was found. (Courtesy University of Illinois) [LARGER IMAGE]

Peoria has been known as the quintessential American town since at least the Nixon administration, when aide John Erlichmann is said to have put policy through the famous "Will it play in Peoria?" test. But probably few outside of Illinois know that the town actually had its beginnings in the late 1700s as a humble French agricultural outpost. Though documents clearly point to a French village on the site of present-day Peoria, archaeological clues to the settlement have been mysteriously absent, despite intensive searches since the 1960s.

Now University of Illinois archaeologists working with the Illinois Department of Transportation have uncovered the first evidence for the French village. "People had been looking for a long time, it was getting a little spooky that nothing was found," says historical archaeologist David Nolan. He and his colleagues discovered the outlines of a traditional 13-by-20 foot French cabin on property that documents indicate belonged to one Louis Chatellereau, a French farmer and fur trapper. The cabin likely housed his field hands. One of the few artifacts found at the site was a wine-bottle fragment that seems to date to about the time of the American Revolution.

According to Nolan, local residents are excited by the recent discoveries. But then, archaeology always plays well in Peoria.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America