Visitors Guide to
St. Clair County, Illinois

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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.

Visitors 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.
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