Uncovering Adventure in Calhoun County
A millennial embarking on a voyage without a GPS… That’s something you don’t hear about every day.
It was the morning of my trip to Kampsville, IL when I realized my GPS was broken. I was headed to the Center for American Archeology, a non-profit organization that shares the discovery and untold stories of North America’s past through research and education.
Figuring that this drive would not be my easiest, I was pretty worried for myself and my sense of direction… or lack thereof.
Luckily, I had heard it was a pretty simple route. And it is, in fact, a very scenic drive from Alton. The scene that is painted while driving on Route 100 is absolutely picturesque… the Mississippi and then Illinois Rivers on one side and the towering bluffs on the other, over the vibrantly teal Joe Page Bridge into Hardin, the unpredictable scenery of Calhoun County, which leads you under gigantic trees one second and through open fields of green the next.
It took about an hour to make the drive from Alton until I started seeing signs displaying “Kampsville” and sighed in relief because I had made it.
I saw a very large building with a red awning that stuck out like a sore thumb against the river houses on stilts. Despite the obvious grab of attention and a sign that said “Archeological Museum,” I passed it.
That’s right, I just kept driving.
Why? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because it was too clear. I thought that there was no way my destination could have possibly been right there along the path I was traveling, even though that was the exact plan. Or maybe because there was no robotic sounding voice saying, “Your destination is on your right” to give me a verbal guarantee. Either one.
It only took me another few minutes of aimless driving until I realized that it wasn’t too good to be true. I turned around and headed for the Center for American Archeology (CAA).
Although the trip itself was enough to make me feel like an explorer, the sense of adventure was even more powerful when I walked into a building that holds thousands of years of documented history.
The CAA Museum, which is open April 25 through November 19 this year and housed within the historic Kamp Store building, is full of that documentation. From the famous Koster Dig Exhibit to showcased spearheads, the Museum’s award-winning displays feature the prehistory of the lower Illinois River Valley, historical periods in Illinois and the history of the Kamp Store itself.
Joseph Kamp, the son of the founder of Kampsville, opened the Kamp Store in 1902 and provided the residents with a wide variety of goods. And when I say “a wide variety,” I really mean a WIDE variety! From small household items like toothpaste to very large and heavy farming equipment, it’s safe to say Kampsville residents went there for nearly everything.
After Kamp’s death in 1952, the store served as a grocery store until the 1970s when it became a carpet store. The CAA purchased the building in 1991 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Jason King, Executive Director of the CAA is digging deeper into the history of the Kamp Store and providing visitors with a fun and educational experience through the work of the CAA and the Museum.
“When people think of archeology, they think of ancient Egypt or Greece,” King says. “What they do not realize is that there is more than 10,000 years of history in our own back yard and we are able to document it.”
If you’re thinking, “I don’t want to just look at tools in a case; I want to get my hands dirty,” then you’re in luck! The CAA provides hands-on activities, giving people an opportunity to learn about archeology and what the Center does, such as the annual Archeology Day event.
The Archeology Day event is a free open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that is held on the third Saturday of July that allows visitors to explore the 12,000-year history of West Central Illinois through fun activities, informational exhibits and presentations about the current research being done by CAA archaeologists. This active approach allows guests to feel like an archeologist for a day. Events include spear throwing, flintknapping, pottery making, rope making and an excavation demonstrated by the field crew.
On your return trip, hit Route 108 after you take the free Kampsville Ferry across the Illinois River for a different yet equally beautiful change of scenery. Pay attention to barns, sheds and large buildings to catch sight of the area’s famous barn quilts.
No matter the route, enjoy the freshness of Calhoun County and tap into your inner explorer. Adventure awaits in the Meeting of the Great Rivers!