Trail of Tears Encampment


  • LOCATION: 6890 State Route 146, Buncombe, Johnson County
  • STATUS: Threatened
  • BUILT: 1821
  • SITE TYPE: Archaeological, Native American
  • GEOGRAPHY: Downstate
  • THREAT AT TIME OF LISTING: Concern that it will be sold to someone who would demolish the structure.
  • CURRENT USE: Residential
  • DESIGNATIONS: Within the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail (1987); listed on National Register of Historic Places (2017)
  • TAKE ACTION: Learn More

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

Between 1837 and 1839, over 10,000 Cherokee traveled along the “Trail of Tears,” as part of their forced removal from the southeastern U.S. to the newly designated Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Like other travelers moving between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on Old Lusk’s Ferry Road (modern day State Route 146), the Cherokee party stopped at the Bridges family tavern and wayside store in Boncombe. This small property in southern Illinois served as a winter encampment for the Cherokees for three months in the winter of 1838-1839 as they waited for the Mississippi river to thaw and continue their march west. While encamped, the Cherokees utilized the Bridges family’s tavern and wayside store as a trading post. While the tavern burned to the ground in the 1940s, the timber-plank walls of Bridge’s wayside store remain intact within a modern barn on the property, making it the only known extant structure in Illinois with a connection to the Trail of Tears.

Although Illinois contains only 65 miles of the Trail of Tears, it is a significant section of Trail, illustrating an important yet difficult historical legacy. And yet, of the nine states that make up the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, in 2007 (and still in 2019) Illinois was the only state that lacked an Interpretive Center.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time Listing - 2006

While the encampment and trail were well known locally, they lacked any form of historic designation. In 2006, the elderly owner of the barn containing the wayside store was looking to sell. Although he hoped to sell the property to the Johnson County Historical Society, the preservation group lacked the funds for purchase. Along with the Illinois chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, the local historical society feared that a new owner could tear down the barn and wayside store, clear the historic camp site and cultivate the acreage for crops, leaving no trace of the site’s historic context. To help raise public awareness of these significant historic landmarks, Landmarks Illinois worked with the Johnson County Historical Society and Trail of Tears Association to include the Bridges encampment on the 2006 Most Endangered list.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

Since the listing, the Illinois Trail of Tears Association, in conjunction with Landmarks Illinois, the Johnson County Historical Society and the State Historic Preservation Office, has worked diligently to protect the encampment and elevate the story of the Trail of Tears Encampment at Bridges Tavern. In December 2006, thanks to a letter-writing campaign and public meetings organized by the Illinois Trail of Tears Chapter—as well as publicity from the Most Endangered listing—the State of Illinois conferred official historic highway status to Route 146, recognizing it as “a route of the Trail of Tears.”

Equally significantly, the old Bridges property was sold to a new, preservation-minded owner who has supported a number of critical historic activities and educational programs on the site. The Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation prepared an exhaustive Historic Structure Report in 2015, providing numerous recommendations for future preservation of the wayside store. The new owner has also allowed Southern Illinois University to conduct archaeological work on the site. In 2017, the John Bridges Tavern and Store Site was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring that this difficult but important site remains protected for generations to come.

The Wayside Store, however, is still in danger. The 1940s frame barn encasing the remains is deteriorating and, if the barn collapses completely, it could severely damage the historic structure. Additionally, the rough state of the barn exposes the logs on the west side of the Wayside Store to wind and rain. Given the deteriorated state of the barn at present, preservationists and archaeologists are hopeful that a long-term preservation solution can be identified for the Wayside Store. As of early 2019, a long-term solution to protect the above-ground resources is still to be decided upon.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

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