French Azilum

Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

Tucked away in northeastern Pennsylvania is a little-known historical site lost on most of the world. In 1793, 1,600 acres of the Bradford County wilderness were purchased by a few wealthy investors. They were sympathetic to French refugees who were loyal to King Louis XVI (who was sent to the guillotine that same year) as well as other French refugees who wanted to flee the Saint-Domingue (Haiti) colony due to the slave uprisings happening there.

The group of investors selected a tract of 300 acres near the Susquehanna River where they laid out a village with streets, a large market square, over 400 residential lots, fields, and orchards. Eventually, about 50 houses would be built, and a huge house was erected and called “La Grande Maison.” This structure was used for social gatherings and had many famous and noble visitors such as Louis-Philippe, the future King of France. It is believed that this was to be the future home of the Queen, Marie Antoinette, and her two children when and if they could find a way to flee France for the haven. History tells us she never did make it to the Azilum, instead losing her head in October 1793.

Less than 10 years into the Azilum’s existence, two of the financiers went bankrupt, and many of the French had begun to move to cities in the southern U.S. or returned to Saint-Domingue. Then in 1803, Napoleon made it possible for exiles to return to France, all but bringing an end to the Pennsylvania village.

None of the almost 100 original buildings remain on site. A few families stayed and settled in the area, founding a few towns that remain today. Much of the land was sold and farmed for the next 200 years. Today, the historic site encompasses over 20 acres and includes a recreated log cabin and the LaPorte House, which is now a museum. There is also an exposed foundation of one of the original buildings left for visitors to see.

There is a lot of history in Pennsylvania. If you feel inclined to make a visit to French Azilum, reach out to us at Penn-Troy ahead of time. We would love to have you stop in for a factory tour while you’re in the area.