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Wiggins Ferry




The Mississippi river has a picturesque background but without including the growth and development of the Wiggins ferry company it would not be complete.

In the year 1795, Captain James Piggott an ex-soldier who had served in the Revolutionary war was appointed Judge of the Court of Cahokia, by Governor St. Clair, succeeding John Dumoulin, Cahokia's first circuit Judge.

The enterprising Captain and Judge established a 100 acre militia claim upon the apparent Indian reservation, between Cahokia Creek and the river "just opposite the market place of Post St. Louis." He then built at his own cost a road across this land from the banks of the Mississippi to the creek, about opposite Market Street to the town of Illinois, and also a bridge across the creek at that point, to connect with the Cahokia Common fields road on the east bank thereof.

"In 1797 Captain Piggott applied to and obtained from Senor Trudeau, the Spanish commandant at St.Louis, the necessary concession for a ferry at this point. Tyson in his history of East St. Louis best describes the first ferry over the river at this point as "a crude affair, consisting of a simple platform, surrounded by a railing and floated on Indian pirogues." This was used both for the crossing of teams and passengers.

The adventurous Captain enjoyed the benefits of his business, but two years, dying in 1799.

Calvin Days once the lessee of the Piggott heirs then holding under McKnight and Brady first sold to Samuel Wiggins his leasehold in the Ferry. McKnight and Brady only owned five-sevenths of the old Piggott title to both land and ferry. Wiggins it seems, upon discovering this, promptly contracted for the outstanding two-sevenths of the Piggott title thus consolidating the whole title. Wiggins, a former resident of Rhode Island, was proprietor of the first hotel in this vicinity. The first steamboat plyed the Mississippi at this point, tying up to the shores in 1811. It was named New Orleans and was built in Pittsburgh for a Mr. Roosevelt of New York. The means of crossing of the river progressed slowly and at this time were about the same except for the addition of a small engine, however with the coming increase in traffic and populations Wiggins business increased and in 1820 he built a large boat this was operated by horsepower- "the animals treading upon a teeter board effects caused the paddle wheel to revolve." Illinois had now become a state and its first General Assembly under a State Government, met in 1819. Wiggins attended this Assembly meeting. It was there he procurred the most remarkable ferry charter on record. Granted a right to establish a ferry on the Mississippi, near the town of Illinois, the charter read "to run the same from lands at that place that may belong to him, and that no other ferries other than those then existing, should be established within one mile of the ferry established by that act, and that any person who, contrary to the provisions of that act, should run any ferry boats he, she, or they should forfeit any such boat, with the furniture and apparel, to Samuel Wiggins, his heirs and assigns."

Shortly after this, Andrew and Samuel Christy bought interest in the ferry. By 1828 Wiggins had a fleet consisting of 3 boats. It was in this year the placed the first steam ferry in operation.

It was christened "St.Dair". Its landings on the west side were at the foot of Mark and Morgan Streets respectfully, and on this side at what is now Trendly Avenue. Wiggins added another boat in 1832, at this time he sold interests in his holdings to six other persons, these namely were Bernard Pratt Sr., John O'Fallon, Adam S. Mills, Charles Milliken, Wm. C. Wiggins and John H.Gay.

Descendants of these original owners are yet represented in the ownership of local ferry interests.

Incorporated in 1852, vessels and real estate valued at $1,000,000 was represented in the incorporation.

The officers of the company in 1866 were L.V. Bogy, President, Hy L. Clark, Secty., John Trendley and Wm. S. Christy, General Superintendents, Geo. H. Hill, Chief Engineer, and A.J.Gerion, weighmaster. Stock in the Wiggins Ferry Co. at this time was selling for $200 per share.

The Charter issued to the Wiggins Ferry Co. also allowed them, "to subscribe for, take, or buy and hold, any and all stock in any railroad, or plants or turnpike road company."

The Wiggins Co. were now beginning to dispose of some of their large land holdings, parcelling it in lots. This property is best described by what is know known as the "Island." These lots were selling at from $20 to $100 per lot.

The board of directors in 1869 were Franklin Ridgley, H.C. Creveling, Napoleon Millikin, L. V. Bogey, and Joseph Brown.

In this year the Vandalia purchased from the Wiggins Ferry Co. the site for their depot. The purchase price was $120,000, up to this time the company has expended approximately $1,000,000 for revetment work on the St.Louis Levee. This wharf contained 6000 front feet with a valuation of $250 per foot, the value of the wharf alone being $1,500,OOO. A ferry boat of the type used by the Wiggins Ferry Co. was capable of transporting across the Mississippi each day 25 to 35 carloads of freight.

Although the Wiggins Company prospered, many were the difficulties that had to be faced, losses sustained during the winter months, caused by the breaking up of ice in the river often exceeded as much as $100,000, through the loss of boats and kindred equipment.

Rumors were persistent at this time, the Wiggins Ferry were hostile towards the planned erection of a bridge spanning the Mississippi.

In spite of these rumors the Missouri Democrat a St.Louis newspaper of this period stated in their columns, the following, "rumors of the Wiggins Ferry Company by prearranged agreement would have controlling interest over the bridge to be erected over the Mississippi."

Click here for more on the Wiggins Ferry Co.



Field Worker: Earl Hopper, East St. Louis, Illinois, St. Clair County

Feb. 24, 1936



Reavis's History of St. Louis, C.R. Baines Publishers, 215 Pine St. St. Louis Missouri

Tyson’s History of East St. Louis, Illinois, Published 1875, Jno Haps Company, East St. Louis

Daily Journal Files

East St. Louis Gazette

Sunday Herald



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