The French in Illinois: Prairie du Rocher

Prairie du Rocher, along with the neighboring Fort de Chartres, was perhaps the earliest French center in Illinois. It is still known for keeping the French custom of la Guignonee (ghee-OH-nay), a New Year’s Eve wassailing tradition where costumed groups (including some college professors), go door to door singing for drinks. “We would start at the priest’s house”, said one long-time participant, “so he wouldn’t see how drunk we were after visiting the other houses.” A public celebration, with costumed dancers and fiddlers, is held at the nearby fort.

You can cross over to “Rocher”  on the Ste. Genevieve ferry, or go the long way around and cross the Mississippi at the bridge at Chester.

The town boasts a church, a bar, an American Legion Hall, and the Creole House, with the long porch and post-in-ground French architecture typical of the era.

The town and nearby fort are protected from seasonal flooding by levies with gates that can be closed.

Bluffs line the sides of the Mississippi.

A short drive along the bluff road leads to the historic home of Pierre Menard, a wealthy French Canadian fur trader and the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. The earthworks marking the site of Fort Kaskaskia are above the house, and can be reached by a wooden stairway.

“Rocher” is also famous for its annual summer “rendezvous” historical reenactment at nearby Fort de Chartres.   The bicentennial was perhaps the largest; here is a newspaper with a photo of the 1976 crowd on Rocher’s main street.


4 Responses to “The French in Illinois: Prairie du Rocher”

  1. jacoby Says:

    Ayant des origine dans ce village de Prairie du rocher.
    Je vous remerci de France pour ces informations.
    A bientôt.

  2. Jan Says:

    Is there a special New Years Eve celbrations at Prairie du Rocher or the fort? If so, we would cetainly like to come.

  3. Nijma Says:

    Fort Chartres has nothing listed on their official schedule for that day. The year I was there, they had just had an unspecified unfortunate incident the year before and had closed the local festivities to anyone who had not been coming for the last 50 years or so. It’s a very, very small town, and we were there only because we were friends of a friend of someone who lives there, and had an invitation. The caroling at the fort with dancing and fiddlers was very nice and open to the public, there were probably 30 or 40 people crowded inside, but I didn’t understand it because it was in French. We met at the American Legion Hall, and there were buses to transport people to and from the fort. The American Legion is open to the public; they will probably be informed of anything going on, so that would be the first place to call. We stayed with friends, but there used to be some nice B&B’s in the area.

    Wikipedia says the historic town of St. Genevieve across the river also has revived the Guignonee tradition, but I don’t have any more information about that.

    Pere Marquette Lodge near Alton also has a New Year’s Eve event.

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