DEVELOPMENT

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DEVELOPMENT OF BLOODY ISLAND

 

The years between the 1850s and the 1860s were significant in the expansion of the urban core and differentiation of land use activities in Illinoistown and Bloody Island. The transportation-related activities of the Wiggin's Ferry Company had always been clustered along the riverfront, and were separated from Illinoistown by Cahokia Creek. Following the connection of Bloody Island to the mainland and movement of the ferry to the new riverfront on the west end of the island, ferry-dependent services including railroads and other commercial activities began the move from Illinoistown to the island. This was accompanied by much conflict as Bloody Island attempted to separate itself from Illinoistown and maintain an independent commercial municipality. This process began in the mid-1850s with the entrance of the railroads.

The first railroad into the area, the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, entered the town via Fourth Street and extended south for a mile to the Wiggin's Ferry landing on the old shoreline south of Illinoistown. After completion of the new dike road at Broadway Avenue, the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad established a terminus in Illinoistown on lot 4 of block 28 between Main Street and the St. Clair County turnpike. Other railroad companies, including the Belleville and Illinoistown; the Terre Haute, Alton, and Chicago; and the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis, clustered on the east side of Cahokia Creek opposite the dike road. From this point the railroads transferred passengers and freight by omnibus and wagon over the dike to the new ferry landing (Reavis 1876:60-63).

The year 1857 marks the real beginning of development of Bloody Island into a major railroad terminus. Though the Wiggin's Ferry won ownership of Bloody Island and right to build a city in 1853, the platting of the island into streets and town lots did not occur for another decade, thus having to accommodate the early railroads. Beginning about 1857, the ferry company began selling riverfront property to the railroads for use as terminal facilities. During this period of rapid railroad construction between 1855 and 1875, the Wiggin's Company cleared a nice profit on these real estate ventures, and assured the ferry company of a booming business in transferring Missouri-bound freight from Bloody Island to St. Louis. Plate 3 depicts Bloody Island as seen from St. Louis in the late 1850s after the railroad had relocated from the mainland to the island.

The first railroad to stake a claim to riverfront property on Bloody Island was the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. Completed to Vincennes in 1855, it was officially opened in 1857 when the tracks were connected to Cincinnati. The Illinoistown to Alton link of the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis Railroad entered the island around 1855. Originating from the north, it followed the old Illinois shoreline through Venice and Brooklyn, curving sharply toward the river and crossing the old river channel via trestle at a point on the shoreline opposite the north end of Bloody Island, thus enabling a terminus perpendicular to the Mississippi River. Figure 11 depicts the access routes and property of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad and the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis Railroad in 1869.

The Terre Haute and Alton Railroad and the Belleville and Illinoistown Railroad consolidated as the Terre Haute, Alton, and St. Louis Railroad in the mid-1850s. In 1861 the TH,A,& St.L Railroad was reorganized into the St. Louis, Alton, and Terre Haute Railroad. In addition this railroad leased the Cairo Shortline Railroad from the Belleville and Southern Illinois Railroad. In the reshuffling that followed, the St.L,A,& TH Railroad exchanged a tract of land between Crook and Trendley Streets with the Indianapolis and St. Louis, and the Cairo Shortline for a station between Bogy and Pratt Streets; the Illinoistown Roundhouse was leased to the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad (Reavis 1876:60-64).

By the end of the Civil War the railroads with a terminus on Bloody Island included the Ohio and Mississippi; the Chicago and Alton; the St. Louis, Alton, and Terre Haute; and the Cairo Shortline. These four railroads were the major occupants of Bloody Island until the late 1860s and early 1870s. There do appear to have been other non-railroad occupants of Bloody Island before it was platted. One local informant reported that her great-grandfather settled on the island in the early 1850s and set up a business supplying steamboats before the railroad came in (personal communication 1981).

The Civil War years were marked by increasing enmity and distrust between Bloody Island and Illinoistown. Bloody Island had a reputation for harboring lawless characters that was not helped by the St. Louis courts, who viewed the island as a Botany Bay, and encouraged Missouri criminals to forsake St. Louis for the island. The city of Illinoistown wished to bring the island under municipal control in order to stem the rising crime originating from there, and to recover some of the commercial tax base that the island had drained off during the exodus of business to the new ferry landing. In addition Illinoistown wanted to exert some control on the Wiggin's Company, which had blocked off access to the riverfront to nonferry commercial use (Reavis 1876:68-69.)

The campaign to consolidate the area under one charter began in the decade before the Civil War. In the mid-1850s, Page and Bacon, two bankers from New York, bought 1400 acres consisting of the old Richard McCarty tract, John Jacob Astor's lands, and a parcel belonging to Vital Jarrot. They sold a large tract to the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, and in 1858 sold the remainder to New York investors Aspinwall, Comstock, Chauncey, and Barlow. In 1859 the area was platted and corporated as the town of Illinoistown. The same year the corporated city of Illinoistown and the town of Illinoistown, and the area in between consisting of the town of St. Clair were incorporated as East St. Louis.

The Civil War and military occupation of the east side saw a worsening of the security of East St. Louis as the marauding elements in and following the Union army added to the overall lawlessness created by the criminal element on Bloody Island. To combat the danger, East St. Louis formed a vigilante committee and volunteer fire department to maintain order. S. W. Toomer was made captain and John Bowman was appointed secretary. The vigilante committee, performing as a police force around the city, was relatively successful in stemming the tide of crime originating from the island. However, in 1863 the committee clashed with the island over railroad policy and the protection of the city from floods.

East St. Louis was protected from high waters by the railroad embankments of the Ohio and Mississippi; the St. Louis and Southeastern; the St. Louis, Alton, and Terre Haute; and the Cairo Shortline, except for an open culvert in the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad enbankment between Third and Fourth Streets. When the waters began rising following heavy rains in 1863, East St. Louis had the culvert closed. It was promptly reopened by the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad who feared damage to the embankments from the water pressure. The city closed it again and placed a guard over it. United States troops were sent in by President Bacon of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, and a riot ensued. The citizens were driven away with bayonets and the culvert remained open. The city sustained damage from the flood (Reavis 1876:69).

Most of the confrontations between the city and the island were economic or political. In 1861 the island chartered the St. Clair County Turnpike Company to build a tollgate over the dike road and charge a fee to East St. Louis residents for use of a road that the company had not even built. In 1863 the city again tried to bring the island under municipal control, though again the Wiggin's Ferry Company defeated it in the state senate where its influence was considerable. Soon after, the Wiggin's Ferry attempted to make the island a separate municipal city, but was beaten by East St. Louis. A compromise charter was finally drawn up in 1865 by John Bowman that, despite being stolen once in the lower House of Representatives, was finally passed with great concessions to the Wiggin's Ferry Company and the toll gate company. John Bowman was elected mayor of the new city of East St. Louis (Reavis 1876:69-73).

Later that year Bloody Island was surveyed by the St. Clair County surveyor. The island was platted into 734 town lots within a street plan consisting of 11 streets perpendicular to the river and four parallel streets. Because much of the area between the island and the mainland was old river channel, the street plan of Bloody Island closely defines the eastern limit of the original sandbar at the edge of the old channel. It would be years before the old channel was filled and put to use. It would remain a large pond and the source of much annoyance during the frequent floods that fed the pond via Cahokia Creek.

East of the old channel was the original shoreline that consisted of about 200 to 300 feet of land between Cahokia Creek and the old river channel. Located on this old shoreline was the road between Illinoistown and Brooklyn that had served these two communities since the 1820s. The road was retained in the town plan and designated Brooklyn Avenue. However, because the railroads were using the original shoreline between Brooklyn and East St. Louis as an access corridor to Bloody Island, the old road was terminated at its junction with Illinois Avenue, while north-south traffic shifted east to St. Clair Avenue. Also located on the old shoreline, but south of Dyke Street, was a subdivision around Crooks and John Street. This may have been part of the town of St. Clair platted by John St. John in the 1830s.

The growth of Bloody Island as a railroad terminus brought many immigrants to East St. Louis to initially work in railroad construction and later, as roundhouses, engine houses, and freighthouses were constructed, the labor was needed to carry on the functions associated with railroad service and maintenance activities. To augment the very limited housing available for the immigrant workers, the Wiggin's Ferry Company constructed single and multi-family tenement houses on the island and offered them for sale on an installment plan (Reavis 1876:72-73). To help its image, the company also donated land for a school and contributed $6,000 towards its construction. The school, called Douglas School, was destroyed by fire in the mid-1870s and was reconstructed. It was rebuilt with limestone and brick and destroyed again in the cyclone of 1896.

The Wiggin's Ferry Company could afford to be generous during this period. The windfall profits acquired from selling real estate to the railroads, as well as the monopoly on freight transfer between Bloody Island and St. Louis, had made the Wiggin's Company one of the most prosperous in the St. Louis area. Operating in conjunction with the St. Louis Transfer Company, which transferred freight between the railroad yards and the ferry, this combination enjoyed the security of a monopoly for many years. However, in 1864 a rival transfer operation, the East St. Louis Transfer Company purchased the Madison County Ferry that operated between Venice and St. Louis, thus offering the first real challenge to the Wiggin's-St. Louis Transfer Company monopoly. The East St. Louis Transfer Company quickly jumped out in front in 1869 with an innovation that enabled the direct transfer of railroad freight cars, without breaking bulk to load the freight from the railroad car to the ferry boat. The Wiggin's Company soon introduced the same service, which involved the use of inclines and barges (Plate 4a), and shortly regained domination, transferring 18,775 carloads of freight between 1872 and 1873 (Baldwin n.d.).

The incorporation of Bloody Island into East St. Louis and the continued prosperity of the railroad and ferry business did not lessen the conflict between the Wiggin's Company and the city. Though the St. Clair County Turnpike Company had been given a concession by the charter, Mayor Bowman intended to break this stranglehold on access to the riverfront by constructing an alternate route. In 1861, Bowman began this venture as a private enterprise by collecting subscriptions for construction of a bridge across Cahokia Creek at the foot of Missouri Avenue. Mayor Bowman, Vital Jarrot, and other prominent businessmen who sponsored the new road also proposed a plan to redivert Cahokia Creek to above East St. Louis near Brooklyn with levees to connect to the Front Street levee.

The Wiggin's Company responded to this impudence by having the legislature amend the city charter to prevent exercise of eminent domain in developing the Missouri Avenue side of town (much of which was owned by the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad Company). In addition, the new charter provided for a shorter mayoral term and a second term was prohibited. The legislative amendment went even further and put the police force of the city in the hands of a board of commissioners appointed by the legislature (Reavis 1876:76).

The city council, which consisted of pro-administration East St. Louis supporters, voted to resist the takeover by the state-appointed metropolitan council made up of pro-island Wiggin's Company supporters led by Thomas Wilder, postmaster of East St. Louis. In 1878 Bowman served notice that the aldermanic election would be held under general state law instead of under special legislative act. His opponents declared that the notice was illegally filed and declared that the metropolitan council would serve. They held a meeting in the police station and elected their own mayor, while at city hall, Bowman appointed his own police force. For several months the city of East St. Louis had two mayors, two city councils, and two police forces. Bowman's police department made two attempts to capture the metropolitan police station and were driven off. Finally the fight was taken to the Supreme Court. Both city councils were declared illegal and the system of state-appointed police commissioners was declared unconstitutional (Reavis 1876:75-77; miscellaneous documents file 1915).

The Bowman-metropolitan political episode was only a preamble to the violent politics that would continue in East St. Louis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Judd and Mendelson (1973:8) note:

"At one point the city was racked by a bloody riot that broke out during the final stages of an election campaign, and it took the Illinois State militia to restore order... In the 1880's elected city officials absconded with the city treasury and burned down city hall to destroy the municipal records. Shortly after the building was reconstructed, its vault was dynamited to make it appear as though the treasury had been robbed, when in actuality most of the city's money and bonds had been stolen. Soon after, in 1885, former Mayor John Bowman who had advocated honest government was assassinated. His death catalyzed the election of one of his followers who for a brief period brought honesty, and a semblance of order to East St. Louis government."

The assassination of John Bowman brought to a close the illustrious history of a man who brought East St. Louis through the stages from a small ferry town to a rising transportation and manufacturing center. Always quick to rally opposition against a force which he perceived as contrary to the best interests of the city, Bowman ruled the east side with an iron hand. From the political battles with the island faction, Bowman went on to fight the Illinois and St. Louis Railroad's attempt to force an easement through the St. Clair section of the city. He pushed for a high grade policy to protect the city from floods, he sympathized with the plight of the railroad workers, volunteered his diplomatic expertise to the cause of the General Strike of 1877, and advocated public access to the waterfront being held by the Wiggin's Company.

Bowman was a revolutionist as a young man, participating in the 1848 Revolution in Germany or Austria, and later was a member of the London based Fraternal Democrats, made up of Democratic Nationalists. He remains an enigmatic figure in East St. Louis history. He has been perceived as both a socialist for his championing of the unskilled workers, and as a corrupt city boss for his work in bringing in much of the big business and railroads and totalitarian rule of the east side. Bowman apparently straddled the gray area between aggressive progressive policy and machine politics. After his death in 1885, he was praised as a friend of the railroad corporations, while at the same time unionists charged that he had been murdered by the Pinkerton Detective Agency at the order of the corporations (Burbank 1966:28).

 

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