ESLARP East St. Louis Action Research Project
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


History of East St. Louis
A Timeline of East St. Louis Development


The Early Settlement

1699 French located a mission at the site of present day Cahokia.

1763 British took legal control of the area for brief period.

1778 Village of Cahokia first occupied by Americans. Cahokia became the administrative center for St. Clair County and Illinois.

1781 James Piggott led the first large group of American settlers to Illinois.

1790 St Louis was a bustling river port. Area north of Cahokia was a vast swamp (Grand Marais). In wet season it was impassable by wagon.

1792 Piggott began building an all-weather road from Cahokia south toward the Illinois waterfront. Road was 5 miles long and took several years to build.

1797 Piggott began a ferry service across to St. Louis. Built two log cabins on the Illinois side (east bank). One was a ferry house, the other a residence. This settlement was called Washington. Local American Bottoms farmer began using the ferry to transport excess grain, lumber and livestock to St. Louis markets.

Piggott's road and ferry service made St. Louis the Gateway to the West.

1818 Illinoistown, the precursor of East St. Louis, was founded as a small settlement on the Cahokia commons adjacent to Piggott's ferry.


Young Town Growth

1823 Illinoistown had 20 or 30 houses scattered along the Vincennes-St. Louis road.

1837 St. Clair County established its present boundary. Population - 1030. A year of firsts: first rail line in the state conveyed coal from mines on the bluffs to Illinoistown; first dikes built to protect area from flooding.

1849 Major flooding on the Mississippi -- East St. Louis inundated.

1850 ESL becoming a commercial and industrial center. Higher wages in the factories attracted agricultural workers. Boom years for the railroad. Many small short coal lines were constructed.

1859 ESL laid out, surveyed and platted.

1860 Population of St.Clair County - 37,694. Coal mining was an important industry.

1861 - 1864 Civil War brought significant changes in St. Clair Co. Land and labor use switched from agricultural to commercial and industrial. Many men left the fields for the army. “Negro labor” was recruited from the South to meet the labor shortages. After the war increased wages drew men from the fields to the city.

Civil war sparked transition from agriculture to industry.

1861 Illinoistown changed its name to East St. Louis.

Illinoistown became the transfer point for soldiers and war supplies and was nicknamed east St. Louis. There was already a small town of East St. Louis located nearby, but it was much smaller and less well known than Illinoistown. The residents of the original town of East St. Louis were opposed to Illinoistown changing its name. When Illinoistown took the name East St. Louis the smaller original settlement was incorporated into the larger.


The Industrial Boom

1868-1873 The construction of the large railroad trunk lines was completed.

The new railroads made it possible for manufacturers to supply more distant markets which allowed St. Louis to grow as an industrial and commercial center. This growth spread across the River to the Illinois side. East St. Louis experienced sprawling growth around this time. The town also acquired a reputation as a "dumping ground where the moral filth of St. Louis could ... plan their deeds of crime."

1871 The National Stock Yards were established, becoming the 1st large ESL industry.

The stock yards were quickly followed by a wide variety of industries, including: "steel, brass, malleable iron, aluminum, zinc, chemical, wood - turning and glass plants; grain elevators and flour mills; railroad-related industries; lumber yards; packing houses; breweries, and factories turning out baking powder, roofing materials, soap, syrup, paint pigments and other commodities."

1874 The Eads Bridge opened. This allowed the rail to cross the river without use of the ferry.

1877 East St. Louis streets were raised by as much as 10 feet in an attempt to lessen the flooding problems.

1890 April 27th saw the centennial of St. Clair County. The census in 1890 showed 14,938 people living in East St. Louis. The total county had approximately 65,781 people.

1890s East St. Louis was one of the fastest growing cities in the US. The population doubled every 10 years reaching 75,000 residents in 1920.

1891 St. Clair County produced 1,332,978 tons of coal. This was the second largest production in Illinois.

1896 A devastating tornado struck East St. Louis.

1900 Belleville Shoe Factory was organized.

1901 Monsanto Chemical Works of Centerville Township was incorporated.

1902 Oil was struck in Mascoutah at the Postal Milling Co.

1903 The Mississippi River flooded East St. Louis. Plans were made to provide flood protection through an extensive levee system. East Side Levee and Sanitary District were formed.

1906 Belleville manufactured more cigars than any other southern IL city (3,297,681 cigars). The town of Dupo was laid out and opened a post office. And the Missouri Pacific Railroad located its shops 7 miles south of East St. Louis because it was one of the highest points in the Bottoms for miles.

1909 A meat packing industry moved to the town of National City. Also at this time, extensive construction of levees were pursued by the East Side Levee and Sanitary District.

1910 The population of the county was 119,870.

As part of the flood control project, a diversion channel was constructed to transport water from the Cahokia and Indian Creeks across the floodplain and to the Mississippi River. Later other creeks were channeled in the same way to alleviate inland flooding. Flank levees were also constructed on these creeks to prevent the flood waters of the Mississippi from backing up and overflowing the creeks.


Distressful Growth

1917 Changing population, political corruption and labor frustrations lead to race riots in East Saint Louis. At least 47 people died.

1920 Of all American cities with over 50,000 residents, East Saint Louis was the 2nd poorest.

Due to companies settling outside of the city limits, the city's tax base consisted mostly of residential property.

1922 A neighboring town of Belleville was the center of a county-wide Ku Klux Klan.

1926 Monsanto (a chemical industry) moved into the area. A seperate town for Monsanto employees was created. The town later became Sauget.

1928 Oil was discovered east of Dupo.

1930 Due to the Depression the first soup line in East St. Louis was developed. The population was 157,775 in the county.

1932 The last trolley leaves the city (June 14, 1898 was the first).

1936 U.S. Federal policy on flood control came this year with the Flood Control Act of 1936. This act authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen the levees around East St. Louis and elsewhere. This project was competed in 1968.

1940s Some companies returned to the area due to W.W.II.


Post-Industrial Decline

1950s East St. Louis begins a gradual diminishing as the decline starts.

1950-1958 St. Clair County's population increased to 39000 people during this time.

1958 St. Clair County's population was 245,000 persons in 1958.

1950-1964 The population in the city dropped by half during this time.

1961-1967 4,659 jobs were lost as some major industries closed: Armour Packing House, Alcoa, and Emerson Electric.

1967-1973 1600 jobs were lost due to Swift and Co. closing.

1973-1979 1500 jobs were lost due to Obear-Nester Glass Co. closing.

1975-1980 700 jobs were lost due to the closing of Hunter Packing Co.

1961-1980 13000 industrial jobs were lost as company after company abandoned the East St. Louis Area. American Brake Co., Key Boiler Co., Eagle-Picher Lead Co., American Asphalt Co., Excelsior Tool and Machine Co., and American Steel Industries were a few which left the area.

ESLARP home page is a link to the East St. Louis home page. You can also link directly to the LA 437/465 Fall 1995home page.

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Document author(s) : Barb Baugher, Diane Timlin, Mark Child
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History of East St. Louis

East St. Louis Action Research Project
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