In 1930, The Old Post Association for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Vincennes was established. The Old Post Association was the predecessor of today’s Vincennes Historical & Antiquarian Society.
One of the first undertakings of the association was the placement of the Clark’s Advance Markers. The markers trace the approximately 7-mile route between what is now St. Francisville, Illinois, and Vincennes that George Rogers Clark and his men took in February 1779 when they captured Fort Sackville from the British.
Members of the Old Post Association decided to proceed with the marker project at their Sept. 2, 1930 meeting. The Clark Memorial was then under construction, which was an impetus for the group to move forward with that particular endeavor.
William H. Hill was president of the association at the time and Curtis Shake was vice-president. The group organized a project committee comprised of Shake, Mrs. Thomas B. (Nellie) Coulter, Byron Sutton, D. C. Amerine, Harry T. Watts, and Miss Arleigh Bunting. At their next month’s meeting the preliminary design of the proposed metal markers, prepared by committee member and architect Sutton, were shown.
Meetings continued through the fall of 1930, as the project committee finalized the design. There would be five markers, each in the shape of a shield, with raised letters. The text would be taken from the journal entries of one of the march’s participants, Capt. Joseph Bowman. An image of a frontiersman appeared at the top of each marker. They would be made by the Vincennes Foundry and Machine Co.
These would not be the first historical markers erected in Vincennes. In 1923, the Vincennes Fortnightly Club marked the Fortnightly Trail, leading tourists to 24 local historic sites and publishing an accompanying guide. In 1930, new metal markers would replace the old wooden signs and it would be rechristened the “Old Post Historical Trail.”
The Clark’s Advance markers were complete by March of 1931. They were put on display around town, including at a couple of banks, for the public to see, before they were installed at year’s end.
In the meantime, the Old Post Association assembled a small booklet that would serve as a guide to the markers. The booklet not only included photographs of each marker, with explanatory text, but it had a detailed map of Clark’s advance that had been painstakingly prepared by Harry Watts. Mr. Watts was not only a history enthusiast, but brought his skill as a civil engineer to the work. He also assisted with erecting the markers in the proper places.
Curtis Shake, Florence Watts, Harry Watts, and Thomas B. Coulter prepared the booklet. Shake would author the explanatory preface.
The first marker, the marker at Warriors’ Island, was placed on Dec. 4, 1931, with the others soon to follow. The remaining markers were the Sugar Camp, the Upper Mamelle, the Lower Mamelle, and the Wabash River, the latter in St. Francisville. In the spring of 1932, the association decided to place small arrow markers to further outline the trail.
Harry Watts, one of the project’s main participants, would not live to see the work completed. He died on Jan. 5, 1932.
On the second day of June 1932, the “Clark’s Advance on Vincennes” booklets went on sale at the Chamber of Commerce. The little booklets cost 15 cents. This was the Old Post Association’s third publication. It would be reprinted many times over the coming years.
Over the past few decades, the Vincennes Historical & Antiquarian Society has assumed responsibility for maintaining the markers. In the 1990s, a restoration was undertaken as an Eagle Scout project. In 2013, Virginia Stangle replaced the missing Upper Mamelle marker on the Stangle property. The challenge and cost of maintenance is ongoing. Today, the Lower Mamelle sign remains missing.
Brian Spangle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.