Lewis and Clark State Historic Site
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Lewis and Clark State Historic Site Offers a Unique Perspective of the Beginning of the Expedition
A 55-foot full-scale replica of the Lewis and Clark expedition's keelboat.
by Betty Magrath
photos by Bob Moore
© 2003, Southwest Illinois News
HARTFORD, IL, (swi-news.com), January 12, 2003 - The new Lewis and Clark Visitors Center, built near the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, focuses on the often-untold story of Lewis and Clark.
The highlight of the $7 million, 14,000 square-foot Visitors Center is a magnificent 55-foot full-scale replica of the expedition's keelboat, complete with mast and sail soaring into a painted sky. The carefully constructed replica features a cutaway section so visitors may see how provisions for the journey were carried.
Although the Visitors Center has only been open for two months, nearly 9,000 visitors passed through the doors of the facility during December. This number has taken the staff quite by surprise. In an interview with Southwest Illinois News on a recent Saturday afternoon, Brad Winn, site manager, discussed the significance of the expedition and what is drawing people from around the country.
"Our goal is to talk about Lewis and Clark in Illinois," stated Winn. "A lot of people do believe that Lewis and Clark departed from the west side of the Mississippi. When in fact, in 1803, Illinois was the west coast of the United States. Lewis and Clark were not even allowed on the west side of the Mississippi until the following year even though the Louisiana Purchase had been formalized."
Winn acknowledged that it is difficult determining exactly where Camp DuBois was established because the Mississippi and Illinois rivers have changed courses since the time of Lewis and Clark. "We're not trying to claim that the Visitor's Center or the camp that we are rebuilding is the exact replica or is in the exact location because we just don't know," stated Winn.
Brad Winn, site manager, stands in a cutaway showing the cabin of the 55-foot full-scale replica of the keelboat.
The building was designed around the exhibits stated Winn. In the area which houses the replica of the keelboat, there are two sections which discuss the preparations, expectations and anticipation for the expedition. Another section depicts the preliminary information and knowledge gathered on the land west of the Mississippi River
Winn noted that forty men, collected all along the trail from the Ohio River up the Mississippi River, had to be trained as a team or a corps. "Lewis is out there with a government credit card buying and buying for the expedition. It was Clark's responsibility to get the material packed and to modify the boats to carry as much cargo as possible. All this preparation took place during the five months that they were here before they left in May 1804," stated Winn.
He commented that those who have seen the exhibit have come away with a better understanding of the difficulties that the crew encountered. "It's not your typical Hollywood adventure story. For me personally, what has been unbelievably fascinating about this expedition is the question what compelled these guys to cross over the Rocky Mountains range," said Winn.
"The expedition is not just about Lewis and Clark," said Winn. "Now we are looking at the individual stories from the expedition. It's about York and Sacagawea and the American Indian nations. It's about Illinois and the many communities who contributioned to the expedition."
The Visitors Center is Site Number One on the National Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail. It will be the location of a nationally significant "signature event" on May 14, 2004, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the expedition's departure from Illinois to begin their two-year journey.
Winn stated that the recreation of the expedition from Camp DuBois will feature one of the first large-scale public events. "The opening ceremony will be like a kick-off for the Olympics," said Winn. "We will be hosting an historical festival as part of the National Commemoration for the Bicentennial."
The 200th anniversary of the establishment of the winter camp will also be recognized with an observance on December 12, 2003.
In the Center's theater, visitors also have the opportunity to view a 12-minute film designed to evoke the emotion of the expedition. Future plans for the site include the construction of a full-scale replica of Camp River DuBois, the establishment of nearly 20 acres of prairie, hiking and biking trails, picnic facilities, and day use areas.
The Lewis and Clark Visitors Center is administered by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and is located along Illinois Route 3 at the southern edge of Hartford, just north of I-270. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 618-251-5811.
The entrance to the exhibit area highlights the importance of the beginning of the expedition at Camp DuBois.
Steve Olive, Alton, IL, takes a closer look at the illustrations of the preparations at Camp DuBois, near Hartford, IL.
(L. to R.) Kirsten and Drew Schmid listen closely as their grandparents, Rudy and Joan Schmid, read about the expedition.
(L. to R.) Addie and Joe Bolser and their grandson, Alex, examine the cutaway showing the compact storage areas of the expedition's keelboat.
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