East St. Louis
Past : Present : Future
H. D. Sexton
President Southern Illinois National Bank
East St. Louis
Address Delivered at Meeting of
Commercial Club of East St. Louis, Illinois
April Eight, Nineteen-Nine
EAST SAINT LOUIS has a new place among the municipalities. We have become the third city in this great State. Our growth has made St. Clair the second County in Illinois.
This is an opportune time to take stock of our population and prospects. Our change in rank means new conditions. It implies new obligations. It offers encouragement for the future. We are out of the class of small cities to which we belonged in 1890 and in 1900. We have stepped up into company of the communities which do big things. The clothes we wore ten years ago don't fit now. We need a new suit and we want things made to order, not hand-me-downs. The time was when our neighbors on the Missouri side knew East St. Louis as a good place to fish and to get persimmons. If I mistake not the spirit of this greater and growing East St. Louis, we will, within a very short time see a string of automobiles crossing the bridge to explore our boulevard and park system. We will be supplying the homes to many thousands of workers in the offices and stores and industries at the other end of the bridges.
We realized that we've grown rapidly. Our vision tells us that. But how many of us have measured that growth? Certainly the truth will be a great surprise elsewhere.
In 1900, the year of the last government census, East St. Louis was away down in the sixth place, in point of population. Our near neighbor in number was Joliet, the seventh city in Illinois. In 1903 we slipped past Springfield and Rockford handily and found we were closing up on Quincy. In 1905 East St. Louis was ahead of Quincy, ranking after Chicago and Peoria. I base these statements about our rapid advance in population upon information obtained from the census office of Washington, not upon guesswork. If there is another American city which has made the proportionate growth that East St. Louis has in the decade just closing I do not know it. These cities in Illinois which we have passed, one after the other, are prospering and are growing but they have not prospered and grown at the rate East St. Louis has. Please bear in mind that in 1890 we were only the 16th city in Illinois.
I am not predicting that we will take second place from Peoria when the government ennumerators pass around next year. I do not know that we will be near enough to second-place to make the race interesting to Peoria. In 1905, Peoria had 65,026 people, according to the census office estimates and information. Her rank among American cities was No. 66. But Peoria for some years past has been growing at a rate or percentage only about one half that of East St. Louis. In my mind, after a study of the population figures of the two places for some years back, there is not the slightest doubt we shall pass Peoria in he next decade and become the second city in Illinois.
The growth of East St. Louis is an interesting study. There is more in the deductions which may be drawn legitimately than in the bare figures. During twenty years our rate of increase has been greater than that of any other Illinois city. So far as my investigation has gone we lead most of the cities of the country for that period in our percentage of increase in population. Our census rank, taking all of the cities of the United States is No. 116. In reality, however, we are much better than that. No. 116 was the place given us by the census office on June 1, 1905. That must remain our official rank until next year. But our rate of increases so much better than that of other cities that we have passed several of them since 1906.
I do not need to say to you who know East St. Louis that this is solid, substantial growth based on the best of foundations of municipal increase,--the productive industries. We have grown faster than others cities because we have gained a more than they have in employment-giving establishments.
Into 1890 we were away down the list,-- No. 153, as a matter of fact. In 1900 we had passed 16 of our rivals and were No. 137. In 1905 lead cut down the leaders twenty-one and were No. 116. The race is not to the boom town or to the city which annexes far and wide; it is to the city which builds up with industries and is made a good place to live in. These are the lessons which the figures teach us. Mark the prediction! Next years census will put East St. Louis in the lists of the 100 largest cities of the United States.
We may well be proud of the growth of these St. Louis. But we must take into consideration something more than local pride. St. Clair county cast 26,531 votes last November. That was 5,000 more than were polled by either Sangamon or Peoria, the other two large counties of the State. That aggregate vote means not only that we have the second county of the State, St. Clair will show more than 125,000 population in June, 1910. Passing that minimum of 125,000 people, the county, under the statutes of Illinois, becomes entitled to a board of assessors, and also to a board of tax review, with the privileges and obligations implied in the new status, and will also make St. Clair County a Judicial Circuit giving as three Circuit Judges. More important to East St. Louis is the new relation it will sustain to the county shortly. This surprising and gratifying increase of the population of East St. Louis will give the city a majority in the County Board of Supervisors so that we shall control the affairs of the county. This result will follow the census next year. It will enable us to work out plans for our future growth and betterment upon broad lines bounded only by our county limits.
Very encouraging are some of the facts established by the change in relative rank. We now lead several state capitals which were ahead of us in 1900. We have passed some of the most widely known commercial and manufacturing cities of the county, which at the last decenial census were larger than the St. Louis. We our rank to-day, in population, Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas; Topeka, the capitol of Kansas. We have some thousands of inhabitants more than Chattanooga, Galveston, Joplin, Pueblo, Knoxville, Taunton, Elmirs.
Not only have we passed other Illinois cities which were considered in 1900 to be our rivals in population, but we have gone ahead of them at a rate of increase so much greater than theirs that we have distanced them. I do not think you'll ever hear again of rivalry in population between East St. Louis, Quincy, and Springfield. Springfield increased 4,075 in five years of this decade; Quincy increased 2,380; East St. Louis increased 9,730 in the same five years.
East St. Louis is now placed by the census officials in the class of cities between 25,000 and 50,000 population. It is my prediction that the next census will places formally into classes cities between 50,000 and 100,000. In fact, we have already passed the 50,000 and need only the confirmation of the census enumeration to be placed where we belong.
It was only a few years ago that many people employed in East St. Louis lived and were counted in St. Louis. I call your attention to the great change which has taken place in that earlier condition. East St. Louisans by day have become East St. Louisans by night. More people are employed in St. Louis and live in East St. Louis now than our employed in East St. Louis and live in St. Louis. That may be called striking a balance in our favor. It is a balance which are sure to grow. It is a factor in our future we have not hitherto taken into account. Not hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands will find it more comfortable and more economical to have their homes on this side of the river, going to and from their employment on the Missouri side in fraction of the time that would be required of them living in St. Louis.
Is easy to overestimate population. Therefore, I did best to keep close to what may be called "official figures." With a government census only 14 months away, I prefer not to take any chance on false prophecy.
East St. Louis had 29,655 people in 1900. The government census office gave us 39,385 on the first of June, 1905. We are safe in the conclusion that we have been growing since 1905 as rapidly as we were gaining the first five years of the decade. That maintained percentage of increase will give us over 50,000 population by the next census without taking into consideration any addition to our city limits. But we have at hand evidence, unmistakable, as to our rate of increase in the past four years. There is the number of votes East St. Louis cast at the last November election. We polled five months ago the handsome totaled of 11, 565 votes in the Presidential election. Under normal conditions the population is estimated at from four and one-half to five times the vote. The minimum multiple gives us more than 50,000. It is a conservative statement to save it East St. Louis to-day has 55,000 population.
Election returns afford the basis for some interesting comparisons. The vote of East St. Louis last November was much larger than that of any other Illinois city. It was so much larger as to show the St. Louis to be well and permanently ahead of the Illinois cities with which we have hitherto compared population. But the surprise in these election statistics is found in the comparison with the vote of Peoria, the second city of the State. Peoria has been considered far beyond our class. And, yet, in November, 1908, Peoria cast 13,383 votes, only 1,818 more than the St. Louis cast.
Peoria, as I have already stated, had by the government census report in 1905 population of 65,026. Lead us, for a moment, consider our shifting relation to the second city. I for one will not feel as if East St. Louis has grasped the easy opportunity offered until we can point unchallenged to our position as the second city of our great commonwealth. In 1890 East St. Louis was a little more than one third as large as Peoria. In 1900, we had a little more than one-half as many people as Peoria had. And now we come to the next census with a growth and a rate increase which will make us the rival of Peoria for second city within five years.
Added reason for congratulation is found in the growth of our county. While the growth of East St. Louis has been phenomenal, St. Clair has not been at a standstill. On the contrary to county's gain has been most satisfactory. I'm not sure that this development of the whole county should not be fully as gratifying as the increase of the city. It means that our suburbs and the whole region immediately tributary to East St. Louis or building up on the same scale of development that we are.
St. Clair county increased in population over thirty per cent from 1890 to 1900. That was an addition of one-third to the population, a new comer for every third person, in ten years. In the past nine years, from 1900 to 1909, St. Clair county has gone even better than that, the gain being about forty per cent. That means few waste places or unoccupied territory within the county limits. Of course, the percentage for the county does not approach that of East St. Louis. Our increase from 1890 to 1900 was nearly one hundred per cent and from 1900 to 1909 it was ninety per cent. We gained 20, 114 population in the county during the ten years from 1890 to 1900 and over 30,000 in the nine years from 1900 to 1909. While review with pride them with a sense of new obligation that period of industrial development and growth of population upon which East St. Louis has entered, we will do well to bear in mind that St. Clair County as a whole is sharing in this movement.
Do not overlook the fact that our growth is coincident with the expansion of St. Louis. We are well named East St. Louis. We are indissollubly united with the great commercial and industrial center on the west side of the river. St. Louis has been growing the past two decades as she never grew before and we have been growing with her. State lines make us politically independent but industrially and commercially we share in the prosperity of the great city. We have become more than a collection of terminals for St. Louis. We offer all of the advantages of the distributing center that she possesses. We are nearer the fuel. We have inexhaustible water of the finest quality for manufacturing purposes but a few feet below the surface. We have cheaper sites for the factories. We have room to spread. Every bridge the spans the river is to our advantage. We may prepare to welcome the coming of tunnels. I see nothing but gain in the cultivation of the closest possible relations with St. Louis.
St. Clair is not so large in area as some of the more populous counties in Illinois. It is smaller than Sangamon of which Springfield is the county seat; smaller than Adams in which Quincy is located and smaller than La Salle. Since 1900 St. Clair has passed both Peoria and LaSalle. It has had a larger population than Sangamon or Adams for some years. It is now next to Cook county. It holds second place in the State by a leader which insures this rank indefinitely. There is a consideration in these population figures we do well not to overlook. I refer to the growth of consumption. Every farmer, every dairyman, every gardener, every fruit grower in St. Clair has had his market greatly enlarged by this increase. Every acre as well as every town lot has shared and is sharing in the benefits of our growth. St. Clair County cast 26,531 votes last November. That means more than 125,000 people.
East St. Louis, as at present bounded, is not a large city for the population. I have been especially interested in the comparison of area with other cities of similar population. I find that East St. Louis is of about average territory. But, if our growth continues at the present rate, we shall be obliged to extend our limits. That is a subject to have in mind with our planning for the greater East St. Louis.
Upon this generation of business men of East St. Louis devolves a new measure of civic responsibility. We can't have the glory of greatness without increased responsibilities. We must take good care of the added and the coming thousands. The figures I have given you cannot fail to impress the fact that we have grown surprisingly and that we are going to grow a great deal more in the near future,--more than any of us have been anticipating. We must have no more flood uncertainties. We must provide for the new industries bound to locate with us. We must make this city more desirable for homes of the tens of thousands who will wish to live here. We must build and provide for the future on a scale of which the past generation had no conception. If we do not we are blind to our opportunity, recreant to our duties as citizens of no mean city.