Even though 200 years have passed, the mystery of the exact location of Fort Russell remains. Thanks to renewed enthusiasm for this enigma, the search for Fort Russell is progressing.
Embedded in Edwardsville history, Fort Russell was one of the most valuable establishments in Illinois. The fort was built shortly after the War of 1812 to protect Edwardsville citizens from Native American attacks. It did its job, as the area experienced no encounters during the war.
Oklahoma State architecture professor David Hanser, one of the key figures in researching and documenting Fort Russell, said the fort was vital to the area.
“It was the largest and best equipped fort in all of Illinois,” Hanser said. “People forget that there was not too much north of Edwardsville during this time period, so this fort was crucial.”
Retired architect Ken Hanser, David’s brother, is also involved in this attempt to find the fort’s location.
“I was looking into my family history and got interested in the history of Edwardsville,” Ken said. “Fort Russell has been a mystery for 200 years, and it would be great to know the exact location of it.”
The Hanser brothers believe the location of the fort lies on Springfield drive, which is about one mile northwest of Edwardsville off Illinois State Route 159.
SIUE anthropology professor and archeologist Greg Vogel recently came across evidence that supports this theory. An aerial photograph of the Edwardsville area from 1941 shows the outline of the site formerly known as Fort Russell. Vogel now plans to test the ground there.
“There are historical documents and that one aerial photograph that point to one particular location,” Vogel said. “We have new remote sensing technologies that allow us, in some ways, to see beneath the ground surface. Those might be able to show if the fort was in that exact location.”
This equipment, which involves next generation electrical resistivity meters, can help immensely, according to Vogel.
“We can map out what the electrical resistance properties of the soil are over a large area,” Vogel said. “If the construction of the fort altered the resistance properties of the soil, we should be able to see its outline.”
With suburban growth in the area, it is uncertain if the technology will work. New trees, houses, roadways and utility lines could make it difficult to draw a conclusion.
“Things that have happened in intervening years might have destroyed any trace of the fort,” Vogel said. “Even if the fort had been there, we might not be able to demonstrate conclusively that it was.”
Still, the technology being used is a major step forward for the future of archaeology and students are going to be some of the main beneficiaries. Next semester, Vogel will be teaching a class about these technologies and will be going out to test the grounds with students.
“It’s great that we have these technologies here because they are brand new,” Vogel said. “There are not many other universities that have these technologies, so for undergraduates to be able to learn these technologies by using them is great.”
With it being the 200-year anniversary though, there is no doubt that much more awareness has been brought out by the community of Edwardsville.
Ken said the attendance at a Nov. 4 meeting at the Madison County Archival Library concerning Fort Russell indicated increased community interest.
“It was one of the largest turnouts at the Archival Library in a long time,” Ken said.
Ken was a speaker at the event, which was free to the public. The meeting stressed the historical importance of rediscovering Fort Russell.
Assistant archivist Carol Frisse explained that they have done a lot of work preserving the history of the community and Fort Russell.
“We archive a lot of information on Fort Russell,” Frisse said. “Anything that goes on in Madison County has a good chance of ending up here. We are basically saving the past for the future.”