French Azilum is Located on a horseshoe bend in the Susquehanna River near present-day town of Wysox. It provided a refuge for a group of French exiles in the autumn of 1793 and spring of 1794. Some of the refugees left France to escape persecution during the French Revolution. Others fled the colony of Santo Domingo (Haiti) to escape the slave uprising there. The French refugees, mostly nobility and gentry, even believed that it might be possible for the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, and her two children to come to Azilum if they got out of France alive. In the plans of the settlement there was a house built for the queen, called La Grand Maison.
A consortium of investors in Philadelphia purchased sixteen hundred acres of land from the English and German settlers to establish Azilum. They also purchased several thousand additional acres in subsequent years, extending south into Sullivan County and north nearly to the border of New York. Eventually 50 houses would be built. Although not grand, these houses had chimneys, wallpaper, window glass, shutters and porches. La Grand Maison, the most imposing structure, was the setting of many of the social gatherings, and housed Talleyrand and Louis Phillippe (future King of France) as guests.
The duration of the sophisticated French town in the wilderness was brief. Economic factors, including the bankruptcy of its investors, led to the settlement’s decline. By the late 1790’s many of the French had moved to southern cities or returned to Santo Domingo. In 1803 Napoleon made it possible for the exiles to return to France. A few families, including the LaPortes, remained. These families and their descendants helped to settle nearby communities. None of the almost 100 buildings from Azilum, including houses, a chapel, a theatre and several shops, remain.
Today, the historic site contains over twenty acres that were part of the original settlement. Although no structures from the original settlement survive, an original foundation has been left exposed for public viewing . A reconstructed and relocated log cabin, circa 1790, serves as a small museum with artifacts pertaining to the settlement and a video about the establishment of Azilum. The LaPorte house, the summer home of the son of one of the original settlers, still stands. Visitors can see several outbuildings, part of the de Siebert and LaPorte Farms, and outdoor exhibits. The site is only open during the summer. One should check opening times before visiting.
The house was built in 1836 by John LaPorte, son of Bartholomew LaPorte, who was one of the principal settlers at Azilum.