Interesting Facts and Tidbits About the St. Louis Metro-East
LOG CHURCH: The Log Church of the Holy Family in Cahokia, built in 1799, replaced a similar church built in 1699. Constructed of black walnut timbers in the traditional French Colonial "post-on-sill" vertical-log style, the Log Church is only one of five built in this style that still exist in North America. The church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
OLDEST PARISH: Holy Family parish in Cahokia is the oldest continuously active Catholic Parish in the United States, having been founded in 1699 by Canadian missionaries. Roman Catholic Services are still conducted in the church.
JARROT MANSION: The Jarrot Mansion was built in Cahokia circa 1810 in the Federal style by Nicholas Jarrot, a fur trader, judge and businessman. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2001. The Jarrot Mansion is less than half a mile from the Old Cahokia Courthouse State Historic Site, where Jarrot served as judge of St. Clair County.
INDIAN NAMES: Mascoutah (Mah-SCOO-tuh) is a Native American word meaning "grassy plain" or "prairie." Cahokia is an Illini Indian word meaning "Wild Geese." Kaskaskia derives from the old Miami-Illinois word for the katydid.
WILDEY THEATRE: Built as an opera house in 1909 by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Edwardsville's Wildey Theatre has been extensively renovated and reopened in April 2011 as a center of the performing arts, live music and classic movies. The theatre, run by the Edwardsville Parks and Recreation Department, seats 325, has state of the art technical capabilities, and has space for special events and business meetings.
MINER'S THEATRE: In 1916, member of United Mine Workers of America Local 264 convinced fellow miners that a union hall and public theatre should be built in Collinsville. The locals assessed each miner 1 percent to help pay for the theater. On December 28, 1918, at a cost of $138,993.26, the building was open to the public. It has been closed since 2008 and the Miner's Institute Foundation is raising money for renovations.
SCOTT FIELD: In June 1917, the War Department investigated a mile square field near Shiloh for training aviators. Ten thousand dollars was appropriated by Congress for construction and 2,000 laborers and carpenters immediately went to work constructing an installation. The field was named in honor of Cpl. Frank S. Scott who died during an experimental flight. Today, Scott AFB and Frank Scott Parkway still bear his name.
MARY'S TOWN: In 1900, Madison County farmer Charles Lange and his wife Mary, for whom Maryville is named, dedicated a parcel of their 350 acres of land for public use. The dedication of this land was the basis for what became the Village of Maryville, incorporated in 1902. Lange later became director of TheBank of Edwardsville and also served for 12 years as Madison County supervisor.
ABEND STREET: This street in the Belleville Historic District was named for Edward Abend, who built a home in 1857 on what was then a dirt path leading from Main Street. Abend was a prominent businessman and politician who served as Belleville's mayor for four terms beginning in 1851. He died June 17, 1904, at the age of 82, and was buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery.
CATSUP BOTTLE: Collinsville is the home of the "world's largest catsup bottle". The 170-foot tall catsup bottle began life as a water tower for the Brooks Catsup Co. It was commissioned in 1947, designed in 1948 and construction was completed by October 1949. Restored in the 1990s, it's on the National Registry of Historic Places.
THAR SHE BLOWS! The Gateway Geyser can spew a plume of water 630 feet high. It's across the Mississippi from St. Louis' Gateway Arch in East St. Louis's 34-acre Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.
WICKS ORGAN CO.: The business was started in the early 1900s above a jewelry and watch-making shop in Highland. Incorporated in 1908 by three Wick brothers, the company has built more than 6440 organs for churches, chapels, concert halls, universities, homes, practice rooms, theatres, and hotels.
O'FALLON NAMESAKE: The town began as O'Fallon Station, a depot of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. It was named for railroad president Col. John O'Fallon of St. Louis, a nephew of George Rogers Clark and William Clark. The first lots were sold at public auction on May 13, 1854.
BELLEVILLE DIOCESE: Bishop Edward K. Braxton was named the 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, based at St. Peter's Cathedral, in 2005. The diocese has 117 parishes in 28 Southern Illinois counties, and operates 28 Catholic grade schools and three Catholic high schools.
TOP DOG: A Belleville Beagle shocked the world when Uno, aka CH K-Run's Park Me in First, was crowned Best of Show at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2008 in New York City. After his big win, the first ever by a beagle, Uno traveled all over the country, opening baseball games, appearing on television shows, meeting presidents and becoming an official therapy dog, visiting nursing homes and hospitals. As the celebrity pet of Midwest Airlines, he even flew first class. He now lives outside Austin, Texas, with Uno Team member Caroline Dowell, who has a kennel there.
WHITE ASPARAGUS: The pale yet tender succulent vegetable put Belleville on the springtime culinary map. Is it a genetic mutation that took years for scientists to develop? Nope. The only thing that makes asparagus "white" is keeping the shoot covered up while it grows so the sunlight can't react with chlorophyll to turn it green. Shhhhh! That's a Belleville secret.
BEAUTIFUL MUSIC: On Jan. 26, 1867, Theodore Decker led a proud bunch of Belleville-area musicians in their first concert just two months aftet they got together on Nov. 19, 1866. The beautiful music never stopped. That makes the Belleville Philharmonic the second oldest continuous philharmonic orchestra in the United States. The New York Philharmonic gave its first concert in 1842.
GENTLEMAN FROM ILLINOIS: Belleville's favorite son is Sen. Alan J. Dixon, who served as U.S. Senator from Illinois from 1981 to 1993. The Belleville native was known for his glad-handing style and ready smile, earning him the nickname "Al the Pal." He built his political career from serving as a local magistrate in 1949 to serving in the U.S. Senate from 1981-93. He rose to the rank of the Senate caucus deputy whip, or No. 3 leadership position. Dixon died July 6, 2014, at age 86.
VAUDEVILLE HOTSPOT: Belleville's Lincoln Theater has been entertaining Bellevilleans for 93-plus years. On Oct. 6, 1921, Belleville residents paid 27 cents (balcony) or 36 cents (main floor) to see the Lincoln's first offering — four acts of vaudeville and the silent movie "The Old Nest." Over the next decade, future Hollywood legends, including Ginger Rogers and the Marx Brothers, would play the historic theater. Today, you can catch a first-run theater at 103 East Main St., or catch a recital on its restored 1927 Wurlitzer organ.
RITA'S GIRLS: Belleville East High School girls softball teams won state championships in the 1988-89, 1994-95 and 2002-03 seasons. The coach of all three teams was legendary Rita Menke. Menke's accomplishments — 609 wins, 11 Southwestern Conference championships, nine regional championships, seven sectional championships and two super-sectional championships. Menke retired in 2014 after 32 years as a teacher and coach at Belleville East.
ALTHOFF STATE CHAMPS: Althoff Catholic High School has racked up eight team state championships over the years. Althoff football teams were No. 1 in the state in the 1980-81, 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons, all under longtime coach Glenn Schott. Other state championships: boys baseball, 1990-2, coach Al Foppe; boys golf, 2011-12 and 2012-13, Dan Polites; girls golf, 2014-15, Tim Gehrs; girls soccer, 2009-10, Juergen Huettner.
WEST STATE CHAMPS: Belleville West High School has a long heritage of state champions. As Belleville Township, it won three baseball state titles in the 1939-40, 1946-47 and 1953-54 seasons. Belleville West has six team state titles in its trophy case: boys golf, 1968-69, 1970-71 and 1972-73, coach Dave Shannahan; girls golf, 2008-9, Paul James; and girls volleyball, 1990-91 and 1991-92, Charles Rodman.
JENA HEMANN: Jena Hemann, of Breese, is only the second athlete to twice win state championships in four track and field events. The 2011 Central High School graduate, now a senior at Texas A&M, set a school record in the heptathlon in March.
ROCK PIONEER: Sound engineer Bob Heil created the template for modern rock ’n’ roll sound systems. He founded Heil Sound in 1966, and created touring sound systems for bands such as The Grateful Dead and The Who He invented the Heil Talk Box in 1973, which was frequently used by musicians such as Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and Richie Sambora, and is still in use today.
SKI BREESE: Since 1936, Excel Bottling Co. has been making and bottling soda, including Ski, Frostie Root Beer and Lucky Club Cola at its Breese plant. It started making craft beers in the fall of 2012.
GINGERBREAD: Thousands of people flock to Belleville’s Main street to see creative creations in storefront windows during the Gingerbread Walk in November and December — and stop to enjoy the shopping.
BUDDY’S HOUSE: TV and movie star Buddy Ebsen grew up at 805 Lebanon Ave. in Belleville — in front of where the city’s cement pond used to be. Buddy moved to Florida when he was 10 and went on to be a song and dance man in Vaudeville, and starred in “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Barnaby Jones” on TV and a long list of moviews. Ebsen returned to his hometown on Oct. 12, 1992.
MODEL VILLAGE: Social visionary N.O. Nelson founded the village of Leclaire in 1890. It was a model cooperative village offering affordable homes, a healthful environment, free education and pleasant working conditions at the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Co. The Leclaire neighborhood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
CONFLUENCE TOWER: If you visit the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower near Hartford, you can climb steps or take an elevator to platforms at 50, 100 and 150 feet high for panoramic views of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Opened May 14, 2010, its marks the site of the start of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's Journey of Discovery westward in 1804. Guided tours are available; $4 adults; $2 12 and under.
CAHOKIA MOUNDS: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville was once a pre-Columbian Native American city (circa 700–1400 A.D). The park covers about 3.5 square miles and contains about 80 mounds. In its heyday, Cahokia covered about 6 square miles and included about 120 mounds in a wide range of sizes, shapes and functions. Today, you can climb wooden steps to the top of the largest, Monk's Mound.
WOODHENGE: The site of a circle of wooden posts once used to make astronomical sightings stands west of Monk's Mound at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville. Native Americans that occupied the site from about 900-1100 AD built five circles of posts. The third circle was reconstructed in 1985 at the original location. The circle is 410 feet in diameter, had 48 posts spaced 26.8 feet apart.
URBANA TO FREEBURG: Freeburg was platted in 1836 as the town of Urbana by John Tolin Lemen whose father had immigrated to this area from Virginia around 1800. In 1851, the post office came, and when it was found that there was another town of Urbana in Illinois, the city fathers changed the name in 1859 to Freeburg after the beautiful city of Freiburg in the state of Baden, Germany, home to some of the early settlers.
PLANK ROAD: The old Plank Road was built in the 1850's, and for 35 cents you could ride from Belleville to Freeburg in comfort without potholes on what is now known as the old Freeburg Road. Abraham Lincoln is said to have traveled this road on at least one occasion.
TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT: The World Shooting & Recreational Complex near Sparta is a world-class shooting venue offering trap, skeet, cowboy action, rifle and other types of shooting and national events, including the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships in August. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Camping and fishing also are available.
HORSE RACING: Fairmount Park Racetrack, 9301 Collinsville Road near Collinsville, is in its 90th season of offering throughbred flat racing. The 1-mile dirt oval has straight chutes for 6-furlong and 1 1/4- mile races.
OLYMPIC GOLD: Dawn Harper-Nelson, a 2002 graduate of East St. Louis Senior High School, won six state titles there — three each in 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles. She took Olympic gold in the 2008 Olympics and silver in the 2012 Olympics, both in 100-meter hurdles.
WHY NEW ATHENS? New Athens was once called Tamarawa, after the Tamarawa tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area. In 1837, the name was changed to Athens. Several years later, the "New" was added to differentiate it from Athens, a town near Springfield.
HOMETOWN COLLEGE: Southwestern Illinois College was founded in 1946 as Belleville Junior College on the campus of Belleville Township High School. Today it has more than 13,000 student on three campuses in Belleville (1971), Granite City (1983) and Red Bud (1985). It offers more than 150 degrees and certificate programs.
THE SHRINE: The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, off Illinois 15, southwest of Belleville, is one of the largest outdoor shrines in North America, attracting more than 1 million visitors a year. Work on the shrine began in 1958. Operated by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, it includes an outdoor amphitheater, a church, a restaurant, a hotel, an retirement complex and stations of the cross.
WAY OF LIGHTS: The Way of Lights at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows attracts approximately 450,000 visitors each November and December. 2015 will be the 45th annual display. More than 1 million lights and electronic sculptures line a 1.5 mile route depicting the Journey to Bethlehem.
THE OTHER RIVER: The 325-mile long Kaskaskia River begins near Champaign and flows into the Mississippi about 10 miles northwest of Chester. It is dammed to form Carlyle Lake, then flows for 36 miles past New Athens as a navigable artery for industry and recreation.
HOME TELEPHONE CO.: Founded in 1906, Home Telephone Co. is a family-owned business that offers a range of communication services to residential and business customers in the St. Jacob area. It offers long-distance calling, data storage, digital television transmission services and high-speed and dial-up Internet access.
HALL OF FAMER: Andrew Michael "Handy Andy" (March 7, 1922-April 29, 2001) was an American guard/forward who had an 11-year career professional basketball career from 1948 to 1958. Born in Granite City, Phillip led Granite City to the Illinois state championship in 1940. He was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1961.
SEALED IN BELLEVILLE: The current Great Seal of Illinois was designed by Sharon Tyndale, of Belleville, who served as secretary of state from 1865 to 1869. In 1871, he was murdered, a crime still unsolved.
GUAM TO BELLEVILLE: During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Navy Lt. William Braunersreuther, of Belleville, presided over the surrender of Guam to American forces.
REAGAN CONNECTION: In his youth and as an adult, Ronald Reagan used to visit his aunt, Emily "Ma" Wilson Rush and her husband, Stephen, who lived in O'Fallon. When Reagan married Nancy Davis in 1952, his best man was actor and O'Fallon native William Holden.
MEDAL OF HONOR: The Collinsville Historical Museum has the Medal of Honor awarded to Nineveh McKeen, who moved to Collinsville in 1878. He captured the colors of the Arkansas Infantry at Liberty Gap, Tenn., during the Civil War and helped 190 fellow prisoners escape the Confederates' Libby Prison in 1864.