History

Seneca and Marseilles downtown

The Illinois River area not only offers historical beauty and charm, but also gentle growth and modern business amenities.

Marseilles and Seneca are situated along the Illinois River, a natural southern boundary with a link in the inland waterway connecting the Great Lakes with both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Sandstone cliffs form a bluff to the north. The soil of the upper Illinois Valley is among the finest in the nation, and this area remains an important, rich and productive farmland. This encouraged the early settlers to locate in the area after the Indians moved on.

The river was much used by Indians, early explorers and settlers. The rapids were about three miles long and impassable for boats. It was theorized that the French, probably under the direction of Henry de Tonti, built a fort at Marseilles to protect their settlement at Starved Rock. The west end of the fort would have been located about along the river west of Main Street, extending east to the dam.

Marseilles Main StreetLovell Kimball, the founder of Marseilles (pronounced “Mar-sales”), arrived in the area long the Illinois River known as the Grand Rapids in 1933 from Watertown, NY. Kimball, aware that the Illinois-Michigan Canal Bill had passed and the canal would eventually reach the rapids, hired a surveyor to lay out a town. Kimball called the town Marseilles, under the impression that Marseilles, France, was an industrial center, the likes of which he hoped to attain in Illinois. Marseilles was officially platted on June 3, 1835.

Downtown SenecaSeneca traces its history back to the 17th Century, when Father Gabriel de la Ribourde brought his Catholic faith to Seneca in 1680. Fr. De la Ribourde, a Franciscan priest traveling with an exploratory party from Quebec, was ambushed and killed by Kickapoo Indians in 1680. A wooden cross on the grounds at Seneca’s St. Patrick’s Parish marks the area where Fr. Gabriel de la Ribourde is believed to have been martyred. He is called the first martyr of Illinois.

Incorporation was on February 16, 1865 for the “Village of Crotty” named after its founder, Jeremiah Crotty. The Village of Seneca was not legally termed such until March of 1957. Jeremiah Crotty, an Irish immigrant, contracted to build 11 miles of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which bisects the Village. In 1854, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was built and designated the Village as a station stop known as “Seneca Station”. It has never been determined why the railroad called it “Seneca”. Seneca was also well known for the Shipyard, which built Navy warships call LST’s or Landing Ship Tanks. The Shipyard was in operation from 1942-1945 with a final production of 157 LST’s built. The shipyards played an important role in World War II because they helped people by providing money and many jobs to our community.

In both communities, you will find the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal traversing through the center of the downtown areas. The I & M Canal was built from 186 to 1848 and contributed to the growth and prosperity of Marseilles and Seneca. The canal provided the first complete water route from the East Cost to the Gulf of Mexico.