O’Fallon recently recognized two areas as city landmarks, but these two areas may not exactly be recognized by the average citizen. That’s because the most important parts of them are underground.
On May 14, the O’Fallon City Council passed an ordinance naming the James Audrain Homestead site and Native American Mound site in Dames Park as historic elements. The two sites are unrelated to each other, but both are historically significant.
John Goings, chairman of the O’Fallon Historic Preservation Commission, said the age of the Dames mound had been estimated to be between 700 B.C.-3000 B.C. James Audrain, one of the very first O’Fallon settlers, is suspected to have built a home, tavern and mill in the area, where he lived and worked up until 1831.
Goings said that in its heyday, the burial mound probably would have functioned like a modern-day funeral home. A crematorium would have sat on top of the hill, and ancient leaders of important communities likely would have been on the perimeter of the mound.
Goings said the creek running through Dames Park contains a lot of Burlington Chert, making the area a prime spot for native Americans to gather materials for tools.
“It’s a type of stone that is very conducive to flint knapping and tool manufacturing,” Goings said. “So it was highly, highly prized in native cultures back then in that time period because of its workability and strength. So it makes sense that native people would be living in that area at that time.”
The Audrain homestead was settled after the War of 1812, in which James Audrain fought. Goings said Audrain’s tavern and mill were some of the first commercial enterprises in the area.
“Audrain, being one of the earliest settlers to what has become the city of O’Fallon is certainly noteworthy,” Goings said.
The O’Fallon Parks and Recreation Department had previously contracted Joe Harl, from the Archeological Research Center of St. Louis, to do exploratory digs around the Audrain homestead.
During these digs, Harl said his team unearthed foundations to an old home, though it was not clear whether the foundations belonged to Audrain’s original home, or to his son’s home.
“The Audrain site is significant because, really, it is the beginning of O’Fallon,” Harl said. He added that digging through sites like the Audrain homestead can lead to fascinating insights into the ways of life in the 1800s, such as the dishes that homesteaders used as well as their customs and stations in life.
“During the early 1800s, (people) had very decorative, very ornate plates,” Harl said. “Because it was oftentimes thought that, even for the people living in the most remote places, like the Audrains, having an English tea set was a very important thing, so you could entertain guests properly.”
Goings said initially the commission wants to create some walking trails and signage around the sites to teach passersby about each location’s history. He also said the commission would be seeking to place the two new landmarks on the national historic register, which would hopefully open the door to grants and funding for the improvements the commission is seeking to make and for more research on the Audrain site.
Getting the sites recognized at the city level is a first for the relatively young Historic Preservation Commission, according to Goings.
“These two sites are the first of what we are hoping will be many O’Fallon historic preservation sites,” Goings said.