LaFleur Grotto - Byron, Illinois
Kishwaukee & Crestview Rd, Byron, IL
This small roadside shrine was built by Joseph LaFleur to in thanks for the safe return of his children from serving overseas in WWII and Korea. Five of the ten LaFleur children served in the military, so out of concern for their safety, their father prayed to the Virgin and promised he would build a grotto in her honor. He began the central grotto in 1954, with local stones and concrete. Later on visitors donated souvenir stones from places around the world, and the LaFleur family gathered rocks from favorite places while on vacation.
The grotto is located at the corner of the LaFleur property where Crestview Road and Kishwaukee Road meet, forming a triangular area with the central grotto at its apex, screened from the road by a few pine trees. At dusk, the glass block cross at the top catches the glow of passing car headlights.
On the sides of the grotto, a pair of arches provide a symbolic entryway from the two roadways. Like the small arches flanking the grotto, each is topped with a single glass block, giving a decorative lightness to what is otherwise a heavy stone structure.
A church in Aurora donated a statue of the Virgin for the central niche. A circle of glass blocks in the ceiling illuminate the interior of the grotto, giving it a chapel-like aspect more than that of a dark cave.
Above the doorway of the grotto there are two portraits in concrete, perhaps Saints Peter and Paul. These are the only freehand concrete sculptures at the grotto. Their charming pebble eyes make me with that LaFleur had done more of such spirited portraiture.
The old LaFleur home still stands nearby, though it is not in good shape these days.
However, it is interesting to see that Joseph LaFleur was experimenting with stone and concrete building methods on his own house as well as in the small grotto. Many of the windows have decorative concrete lintels, giving the house an exotic look. And several small additions are made from a puzzle-like mix of cinder block and stone.
In an alcove at the back of the house, antique farm tools are displayed in the same flat silhouette style that decorates the concrete surfaces of the grotto.
The LaFleur house was razed in June 2012.
Joseph and his wife Josephine and the children all helped out in building the grotto over the years. Around the house there are other smaller decorative planters and furniture dated from the mid-1960s. Joseph continued adding to the grotto, and apparently considered it unfinished until his death in 1976.
The grounds of the grotto are well cared for, and it makes a pleasant place to visit.
References and Links to LaFleur Grotto
presented by Minnesota Museum of the Mississippi