Visitors Guide to
St. Clair County, Illinois
The history of Belleville
begins after the Revolutionary War when veterans immigrated to the region
and took advantage of the one hundred acre land grants they received from
their participation in the war. These new settlers chose to settle on the
high ground inland from the Mississippi River rather than near the
established community of Cahokia. As the number of Americans grew, demands
increased for the county seat of St. Clair County to be in a more central
location. In 1814 a commission appointed by the territorial legislature
decided to move the county seat from Cahokia to land owned by George
Blair, who offered to donate an acre of land for the Town Square and
twenty-five acres adjoining the square to lay out the new county seat.
Blair was given the honor of naming the city that he chose Belleville or
"beautiful city" in French after his wife, Belle. In 1819, the
state legislature granted Belleville a village charter and in 1850,
Belleville received its city charter. While the city was becoming a
political and judicial center, various industries also found it convenient
to set up in Belleville.
While not on the banks
of the Mississippi River and part of the famed American Bottoms, Belleville
had its own advantages that encouraged the growth of industry. One was the
fertile soil that produced a surplus of grain and of Belleville’s earliest
industries was the flourmill. Other industries, many related to farming,
were soon to follow. A major advantage for Belleville’s industry was that
coal, their source of energy, was abundant in the region. Coal was first
discovered in what then was called High Prairie, six or seven miles south of
Belleville and William Fowler opened the first commercial mine in the area
in 1825. At its peak, around the turn of the century, the coal industry saw
between eighty and ninety mines doing business.
A number of other
industries were successful for a time in the Belleville area. Belleville was
the site of many stove foundries and by 1911 there were about fifty
foundries operating in the town most of which had disappeared by the end of
World War II. Bricks, glass manufacturing, carriages, caskets, monument
works, farm machinery, cigars, shirt and pants, and shoe factories are among
the many industries that were located in Belleville. German immigrants in
the middle of the 19th century brought with them the cultural
tradition of beer brewing. Belleville alone once boasted seven breweries
with the last closing in the 1980’s.
to Belleville today can find a variety of interesting places to see and
activities to do. A trip to the Belleville Industry and Labor Museum will
tell the story of business in the area and a trip to the Victorian Home
Museum shows what home life was like at the turn of the 20th century. St.
Peter’s Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the state of Illinois and is
modeled after the Cathedral of Exeter, England. Belleville is host to a
thriving art scene featuring the William & Florence Schmidt Art Center
of Southwestern Illinois College, and the
annual Arts On The Square event.