In the 1680s, Jesuit missionary Père Claude-Jean Allouez established the St. Joseph Mission near what is now known as Niles, preaching to the local Odawa and Ojibwe Native Americans.

Just south of town lie the remains of Fort St. Joseph, built by the French in 1691 as a trading post along the St. Joseph River. The fortification included ten French soldiers, commandant, Catholic priest, interpreter, blacksmith, and 15 households.

The British took over the fort after the French & Indian War and used it as a fur trading outpost.

In 1781, Spanish troops raided the fort, claiming it and the St. Joseph River as theirs. Their claim lasted only a few hours.

The British hung onto the fort until 1795; they abandoned the fort, and it fell victim to the elements, getting overgrown by brush & trees and falling into disrepair. It was finally demolished in the late 1790s.

Zoom ahead to 1998. Western Michigan University archaeologists discovered the site of the old fort site and exploration digs have been continuous ever since. An intact Jesuit religious medallion from the 1730s was uncovered, one of only two in North America.

In the winter of 2010, a foundation wall and corner posts of one of the original buildings were discovered. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Michigan Historic Site.

A memorial and historical plaque mark the spot of the fort, and just down the road is the memorial marker of Père Claude-Jean Allouez, hidden back in the woods, up a steep flight of steps.

It's one of Michigan's seldom-known historic sites, and one you should check out down in southwest Michigan!



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