Chapter 1 - Before 1900
In 1765, Richard McCarthy settled in the territory which later became East St. Louis. It was first known as Washington.
In 1797, Captain James Piggott built two log cabins on the banks of the Mississippi on land which is now part of East St. Louis. The first ferry license was granted by the court to Captain James Piggott. Thus began the Wiggins Ferry Company, beginning in 1828 and operating with steam.
In 1808, "Illinois City" was platted as a town site.
In 1817, the name was changed to "Illinoistown" but it was not incorporated into a village until 1859.
In 1861, the name was changed to East St. Louis and incorporated as a city in 1865.
Around 1831, the German immigration arrived in St. Clair County. The first railroad was built by Gov. John Reynolds. It ran from the coal mines at the Bluffs to St. Louis and was owned by the Illinois and St. Louis Coal Co. The cars were drawn by horses.
On Oct. 27, 1836, St. Phillip Catholic Church was formed and the first mass was said in French Village by Rev. Jean Francois Regis Loisel in the house of Madame Germain.
Granite blocks were laid on Front Street. Legal action followed making the improvement of streets by raising them to a high-grade possible. Tons of earth were brought from the hills to fill the rock sided streets. People residing in homes along the streets that were being improved had to use their rear entrances. The second stories of some homes were on the level with the streets.
Mayor Stephens was responsible for getting the city government to pass a $900,000 bond issue for this work and it was vitally necessary for East St. Louis. However, the city has never overcome this debt and the "financial problem" of today goes back to those bonds.
Bloody Island was bounded by Front Street, Spring Avenue, Trendley Avenue and the approach to the Eads Bridge off Broadway. This area, later occupied by freight terminals and warehouses, was formerly an island in the Mississippi River. The island, a sandbar that shouldered its way above the water in the early nineteenth century, soon grew to be a mile in length and about 500 yards wide. Its dense willows and cottonwoods made it a favorite arena for illegal boxing bouts, cock fights, and duels. The most tragic combat was that between Maj. Thomas Biddle and Spencer Pettis, a member of the 21st congress. Armed with pistols and stationed but five feet apart, the men killed each other on August 25,1831.
As Bloody Island continued to enlarge, the Mississippi was diverted from the Missouri shore and the St. Louis harbor became dangerously shallow. Urged by alarmed St. Louisans, Congress appropriated funds in 1836 for the construction of diversion dikes. Under the supervision of Robert E. Lee, then a lieutenant, a dike was built between the upstream tip of the island and the Illinois shore; another was built from the downstream end of the island. The current was consequently deflected toward the Missouri side, the St. Louis harbor rapidly deepened, and in time the space between Bloody Island and the mainland was filled with silt. In reward for his work, Lee received a captain's commission. Upon this dike was located the first two raised streets in East St. Louis, First Street and Broadway.
During the year 1845, the first Church was built by the Methodists on Brundy Street between Second and Third Streets. That same year William Singleton built the first hotel, the "Western Bundy," which opened at 120 South Main Street. The Illinois Coal Company completed a railroad line from Caseyville to Brooklyn on which they immediately placed a locomotive, and large quantities of coal were transported daily to St. Louis. Until this time coal had been hauled by ox and mule teams. Ground was broken for the first steam railroad (The Ohio & Mississippi) in 1857.
The St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute Railroad Co. opened a branch line from East St. Louis to Belleville under the name of the Belleville and Illinoistown Road. Later the line was extended to Du Quoin, there forming a connection with the Illinois Central Railroad, giving a direct line to Cairo. East St. Louis was the second largest railroad center (Chicago was always first). There were over 40 railroads in East St. Louis: the Alton & Southern, Baltimore & Ohio, Burlington, Cotton Belt, Louisville & Nashville, Missouri Pacific, Mobile & Ohio, New York Central, Nickel Plate, Pennsylvania, St. Louis & O`FalIon, St. Louis and Ohio, Southern, Wabash Railway and Wabash Railroad were prominent in the group.
Prominent railroad men were: Ray and Bill Flannigan, (with brother Sid at the 18th St. and Missouri Avenue Tavern) at the Pennsylvania Railroad.; Ed Coffey, Jack Maher and Frances (Fuzzy) Law at the Southern Railroad and Steve Cashel and George Mertz at the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
Railroads declined because of the growth of bus, truck, automobile and later the airplane modes of transportation.
Eads Bridge was named for its builder. James B. Eads (1820-1887). This bridge spans the Mississippi between Washington Avenue in St. Louis and Broadway in East St. Louis.
Completed in 1874 after five years work, the Eads Bridge was one of the engineering marvels of its day. It marked the first use of steel in a truss bridge and embodied the longest fixed-end metal arch in the world. In building the piers on bedrock under the river, Eads was the first engineer in America to employ the pressed-air caisson. Twelve workmen lost their lives in the air chambers. Other caisson-workers wore bands of zinc and silver to ward off attacks of the mysterious "bends."
Education began slowly in Illinois and particularly in East St. Louis. However, in 1854 a state law was passed that property should be taxed for the education of all the children in the State.
In St. Clair County there were, at this time, thirty-one schools; twenty-four taught exclusively by women, seven taught by men and women at different times.
These thirty-one schools were attended by 1,217 pupils. The highest annual salary paid to male teachers was $202.00, the lowest $85.00. The total amount paid for teachers' salaries in the County was $2,820.00 annually,
In 1861, there were two schools in East St. Louis, the upper and lower school, each having two teachers. Upper school was conducted in the basement of St. Patrick's Church. The lower school has become the Franklin School. Only six months of school was required. The teachers were laborious, industrious and self-denying; yet many lacked in the thoroughness of a good education. School and equipment were crude.
In 1871, the first colored school of East St. Louis was opened in the Colored Baptist Church on Brady Street through the influence of John Robinson, an ex-slave.
The following year East St. Louis High School was established at 5th St. and St. Louis Ave.
East St. Louis has always been blessed with one of the best school systems in the United States as attested to by our former residents.
Union Labor has always been very strong in East St. Louis. In 1866, the "National Labor Union" was organized and the farmers of Illinois founded the "Order of Patrons' Husbandry" which was the fore-runner of the Grange movement. In 1869, the "Knights of Labor" was organized in Illinois.
East St. Louis was to become one of the strongest union towns in the United States, and was the birthplace of many international unions.
Earl W. Jimerson (1889-1957) was the International President of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen. I visited his office in Chicago and he presented me with a paperweight with his face etched in silver (1889-1957). He and his wife visited our restaurant (Bush's Steak House) whenever he was in East St. Louis.
Bricklayers & Masons, Carpenters, Retail Clerks (Jo Strauss), Engineers, Labor Local 100, Musicians, Painters and Decorators, and the Teamsters & Chauffeurs... I could go on and on but we have always been well represented in Union activities.
In 1865, the Union Stock Yards was established in Chicago and the era of the "Big Three" packing plants (Armours, Morris and Swift's Packing) began.
Seven years later (1872) the National Stock Yards was established. This was the first major industry in the American Bottoms. The annual value of its products was estimated to be in excess of $2 million a year. Here was located the largest horse and mule market in the world, developed by the Sparks family. National Stock Yardsalso became the second largest hog market and it is accredited with being the third largest clearinghouse of livestock in the world.
Harry Sparks, the founder of Sparks Horse & Mule Market, died in 1990 at the age of 99. His son, Joe C. Sparks is a neighbor of mine, in Clayton, Mo, and has sold most of the farms and is the president of North American Environmental Corporation.
By 1935, there were seven packinghouses: American Packing, Armour & Co., Circle Packing, Hunter Packing, Missouri Packing, Morris & Co., and Swift and Co. Together they employed a total of 5,000 people. Receipts were: cattle 726,617; calves 391,722; hogs 3,327,404; sheep 658,652 and mules 69,026.
There were many overlapping businesses and commissions firms such as John Clay, Frank Crake, and Henry Beykirch, Sundheirner and Malcolm Roche. Walter Tyler also was with Sundheimer and Roche for 40 years. Monty and Pete Gould, Clyde and Bob Landrum, Knox McClinton with Producers, Commodore Edmiston, Watkins Brothers, Mel Wren. Bob Marshall and his father ran John Clay along with Ray Smith. Thomas McTigue was with the 1st Railroad in the Yards.
The National Hotel and Restaurant was run by John and Inez Scoville and later by their son, Jack Scoville.
In addition, flour and grist mills, chemical and paint works, rolling mills, foundries, machine shops and railroad repair shops were flourishing in the fourth ranked Illinois city behind Chicago, Peoria and Joliet.
One of East St. Louis' major problems was so many industries bordered its city limits (by design to avoid taxes); such as Monsanto Chemical Company, Cerro Copper and Brass, Lewin Metals, Big River Zinc Corporation (AMAX), Sterling Steel Castings, Ethyl Petroleum, Midwest Rubber, Phillips 66 and many others located in the Village of Monsanto (later renamed Sauget).
East St. Louis did get Obear Glass Works (later Obear-Nester Co.) in 1893, American Steel, Key Boiler, Walworth Valve, Mempham Paint, McMahon Transfer (Columbia Terminal), General Box Co., Allied Mills, P. Flannery & Sons, Hill Brick, Hill-Thomas, Corno Mills, Dixie Mills, Atlas Building Materials, St. Clair Lumber, Wiles Chipman Lumber, Dunkel Oil, T. J. Moss Tie Co., Illmo Oil Co., Lubrite Refining (later Socony Mobil), Standard Oil, Eagle Foundry, Excelsior Tool & Machinery, Federal Iron and Foundry, Intercoastal Paint, Southern Malleable Iron Co., Phelan-Faust Paint, Swansea Stone Works, Midvale Mining & Manufacturing, Max Mussman and L. Weisman Iron Companies.
The first "Masonic Lodge" #504, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons was constituted October 3,1866.
St. Henry Catholic parish was established at 6th and Broadway during the year 1869. The First Episcopal Church of East St. Louis was built a year later.
East St. Louis had a spiritual renaissance in the 1860's, despite its lawlessness at the time. Thomas Furlong, Chief Special Agent for the Jay Gould railway system, called it the "toughest of tough towns, tougher than Dodge City, Kansas."
1894 BUSY YEAR
In 1894, the United States was in the depths of a serious depression and M. M. Stephens was serving his fourth term as Mayor of East St. Louis. Despite the depression all lines of education in the city were progressing.
East St. Louis High School moved from its old locationon Fifth Street between Missouri and St. Louis Avenues to the third floor of the Howe Institute at Tenth St. and College Avenue.
St. Teresa's Academy was built at Winstanley Park, which was now a part of East St. Louis, and was located at 25th Street and Ridge Avenue.
Webster, Franklin and Douglas public grade schools were inoperation.
Earliest Churches of all denominations were organized such as First Methodist, St. Paul's Episcopal, and St. Peter's Lutheran, St Patrick's, St. Henry's and St. Mary's as Roman Catholic. Also Immanuel Evangelical, First Christian, First Baptist Protestant Churches and 1st United Presbyterian Church of East St. Louis and Belleville.
Our local author and retired St. Louis Post Dispatch writer, Carl R. Baldwin, has written an outstanding history of the 1st United Presbyterian Church. Carl has written a number of books on our area and is the most outstanding author of our time.
Among those answering my post card request for memories and pictures was John "Cocky" Houston. His letter will be of interest to all East St. Louisans and reads as follows:
Click here to read John "Cocky" Houston's Letter
MIGRATION THRU ELLIS ISLAND BETWEEN 1892 AND 1924
There were 17,000,000 people that migrated to the United States between 1892 and 1924 through Ellis Island. This was the greatest immigration in history and 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry from there during this time. The immigrants were steerage passengers. They spent days battened below hatches in rough weather, sick, filthy and often tormented by thirst and the weather. Then, they had to prove that they were not charlatans, solders of fortune, thieves, con men or imbeciles. Uncle Sam wanted Europe's poor but not the lame and the halt. There were all kinds of tests including health and literacy. Clothes were fumigated for typhus-bearing European lice, and individuals were given opportunity to bathe.
Ellis Island is a 22 acre mud flat in the middle of New York harbor. It lingered on until 1954, handling a reduced flow of arrivals from Northern Europe, after the nation imposed a discriminatory quota system that favored them. It has been restored and reopened on September 10, 1990.
The East St. Louis Liederkranz Society was organized along with the "TURNGEMEINDE" which was formed for the purpose of promoting athletic sports. Also, the game of "TIDDLYWINKS" was introduced.
On August 30, 1890 - the viaduct at East St. Louis, which spanned the railroad tracks and Cahokia Creek was officially declared open for business for teams and pedestrians by Mayor M. M. Stephens.
Later, Mayor Stephens formally opened the McCasland Opera House at 7th and Broadway.
Not many people know that in 1894, the Robinson Danforth Company of East St. Louis was founded. Later it became the Ralston Purina Company at 8th and Clair Ave.
In 1897, the Henrietta Hospital was built at 16th and Illinois Avenue. It was later called Christian Welfare Hospital.