Knowing that the Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, IL, was on the actual island in the Des Plaines River where French voyageurs and trappers stopped and “cached” or hid supplies in the 1700s made it a fairly irresistible destination. Though it is close to a fairly built-up area, the island, which is owned and operated by the Forest Preserve District of Will County, seems surprisingly remote. Romeo Road leaves town and enters a wooded area as it crosses the river, and suddenly you’re at the entrance of the museum parking lot.
While I would later take the time to enjoy the walkways, gardens, and forest preserve, my goal was the museum, and I headed there first.
This is not a big museum. You probably only need to allow yourself an hour—unless you get talking to the people who work there, who are enthusiastic about history. But it is no less worthwhile for not being huge.
In the 1600s-1700s, what is now the Midwest was still part of the sprawling region known as New France. Trapping and trade where the cornerstones of life—but not just for the voyageurs. Native Americans had always been active traders, with everything from food traditions to raw materials crossing the continent, from one end to the other. So when the French showed up, the Native Americans in this area—the Potawatomi—happily traded with these newcomers. The French got beaver pelts, and the Potawatomi got metal knives and pots, woven fabrics, and much more, and both sides were happy.
The museum offers both informative signs that explain what lives were like and displays that clearly illustrate what is being discussed. As one follows the story around the museum, life transforms from Native American to intertwined Native American and French to increasingly French.
On display are Native American tools for preparing an animal pelt, along with a pelt.
Information signs, like this one on what a trader’s life was like, give more details on what the displays illustrate.
Just as Native Americans happily adopted goods from the French, so the French happily adopted elements of Native American society, from foods to clothing to building canoes of birch bark.
The promise of New France increasingly drew people to the Americas, and as trade grew, so did settlements.
This display hints at the dramatic increase in French presence as time went buy.
A final display shows a hat shop in Paris, where the beaver pelts were turned into fashionable, water-proof hats.