Historic Edwardsville

The City of Edwardsville, the seat of Madison County, third oldest city in Illinois, and a historic stop along Route 66, has a story to tell.

The City of Edwardsville, the seat of Madison County, third oldest city in Illinois, and a historic stop along Route 66, has a story to tell.

Early Edwardsville

The first European settler to put down roots here was Thomas Kirkpatrick in 1805. Originally from North Carolina. Kirkpatrick built a cabin on 100 acres of land located on what is now the north end of Main Street. He platted the town in 1814, naming it after his political patron and friend, Ninian Edwards.

In 1809, Ninian Edwards was appointed the territorial Governor of Illinois when the Illinois Territory was established. President James Madison announced the formation of Madison County in 1812. Edwards built a house in 1819-1820 at the corner of Fillmore and East Vandalia Streets in Edwardsville- the current location of St. Boniface Catholic Church- and served as Governor of Illinois from 1826-1830.

The City of Edwardsville continued to grow as the young nation’s residents began to trek west for better prospects. The city’s first public square was located in the 1200 block of North Main Street and was the site of the first courthouse, a log structure built in 1817. Edwardsville also became an important seat for the state’s land office- settlers from across Illinois travelled to Edwardsville to negotiate land dealings for acreage from across the state.

Edwardsville continued to thrive, reaching a population of over 2,000 people by the end of the Civil War. The growing city had a local newspaper, the Edwardsville Intelligencer, which still serves the community- a modern courthouse built in 1858, beer breweries, multiple mills, a furniture factory, and industrial factories which prospered from Edwardsville’s proximity to the Mississippi River and vital trade routes.

Leclaire Park in Edwardsville -- one of the most well known parks and neighborhoods in the city.

Leclaire Neighborhood Historic District

Arguably Edwardsville’s most well-known neighborhood, the Leclaire National Historic District was founded in 1890 by St. Louis industrialist N.O. Nelson. On a tract of land then south of Edwardsville, Nelson built a cooperative village for the workers at the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company. He named the village for the French father of profit-sharing, Edme Jean Leclaire.

The Leclaire factories included a bathtub works, a machine shop, a foundry, marble shop and others that produced a wide variety of products, with an emphasis on plumbing supplies.
Nelson offered his workers fair wages, reasonable working hours for the period, a profit-sharing plan, and educational and recreational opportunities for workers and their families, His company encouraged home ownership, established a co-op store, offered workers low-interest loans, and established a provident fund to provide benefits for sick leave and pensions, amenities still considered progressive in the midst of the evolving labor rights movement.

In 1934, the worker’s village, including nearly 400 homes, a lake and park, a baseball field, the schoolhouse (Edwardsville Children’s Museum), Edwardsville Nickel Plate Station, and the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing buildings (Historic N.O. Nelson Campus of Lewis and Clark Community College), were annexed by the City of Edwardsville.

The Edwardsville Children’s Museum is located in the former 1895 Leclaire School House which was bought by the Edwardsville School District in 1934. Edwardsville’s Lewis & Clark Community College campus is named after Nelson and located in a restored group of the industrialist’s former factory buildings.

Leclaire is on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the homes in the district are original construction and some of the oldest homes in the city. The Friends of Leclaire group hosts Leclaire Parkfest every year on the third Sunday in October which celebrates the city and neighborhood with food, live music, historic displays and tours, children’s activities, and more.

An image of the Edwardsville Brick Street District Brick Layers courtesy of the Madison County Historical Society.

Brick Street District

Edwardsville’s Brick Street District is comprised of a series of brick roads that were laid in Edwardsville under Mayor H.P. Hotz from 1902-1910. The district contains Johnson Street from West Park to West Vandalia, West High Street from 2nd Street to 4th Street, Clay Street from Commercial Street in its entire length, and North Fillmore Street. The brick streets stretch over approximately 1.4 miles of current Edwardsville streets and are flanked my multiple historic homes and properties.

It was apparent in the early 20th century that something had to be done about the state of the streets in Edwardsville. Rain turned dirt streets into mud pits that bogged down wagons, created filthy conditions with standing water, and made traversing the streets by foot a miserable task-especially for women in their heavy dresses. It was even implied at the time that those crossing the street with toddlers should be careful or else lose their children in the mud!
In 1902 a plea was sent to the city by Edwardsville citizens to do something about the mess and in 1903 the first brick streets were laid. Most of the bricks in the district were made locally by the Banner Brick Company and used local bricklayers for labor.

A movement to restore brick streets in Illinois was made in the 1980’s and the brick streets of Edwardsville were submitted to be historically preserved as a district around that time. Today the streets lay in much the same condition as they were when built and you can still rumble down the century-old brick streets.
Historic Sites & Buildings

St. Louis Street Historic District

Another Edwardsville neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places is the residential St. Louis Street Historic District. With a history dating back to 1809, the St. Louis Street District is comprised of historic homes from the middle 19th century and early 20th century on a mile-long street.

Fifty-nine homes contribute to St. Louis Street’s historic character- once home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents. The first house on the street was built by John Lusk in 1809 and was a simple log cabin. In 1883, Judge Joseph Gillespie sold off the land on the north side of the street and divided the parcel into smaller lots which built homes closer together. The homes were designed in the popular architectural styles of the 1800’s- predominantly in the Queen-Anne Victorian, Italianate, Chateauesque, and Classical Revival style.

Approximately 100 years after Judge Gillespie sold off the north side of the street, the National Registry of Historic Places admitted St. Louis Street in 1983.
Brick Street District

Historic Sites And Buildings

1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House

When the United States Land Grant Office opened in 1816, Benjamin Stephenson was appointed the “receiver of public moneys” and became a Sub-Agent of Indian Affairs for the Illinois Territory in 1817. Stephenson served in the War of 1812 and reached the rank of Colonel before returning to Edwardsville. Stephenson’s Federal-style home, now known as the Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House, was built in 1820 and is one of the oldest brick houses in the city. It has been beautifully restored and is open to the public.

Dr. John Weir House

The Weir House, built in 1836, is a Federal style brick home built for Dr. John Weir. The Weir family sold the house to the Madison County Historical Society in 1963 and it has been used as a museum since that time. The Society built an Archival Library next door to the Weir House in 2002. Madison County History Museum and Library.

Edwardsville City Park

Bordered by East Park Street, Kansas, South Buchanan Street, and East Vandalia Street, Edwardsville’s City Park is the city’s most central and important park. City Park is heavily utilized for many city events and festivals, home to the Cleaon Etzkorn bandstand where Edwardsville’s Municipal Band and Community Symphony perform, and the site of the Madison County Centennial Monument.

Madison County Centennial Monument

The Madison County Centennial Monument, gifted to the people of Madison County in recognition of the county’s 100th anniversary in 1912, stands proud as a centerpiece of City Park. The monument is 16 ft. high, constructed of 30 tons of Georgia white marble, and was designed by renowned sculptor Charles Mulligan. It features four female figures representing Justice to the north, Virtue to the east, Plenty to the south, and Wisdom to the west. The monument was restored and rededicated in 2012 to celebrate Madison County’s Bicentennial.

Edwardsville Public Library

Less than a year after Illinois became a state in 1818, Edwardsville established a free public library. The first library, preceding the current Carnegie library by almost 100 years, was chartered in 1823 and consisted of only 121 items and a single librarian, Mr. John H. Randle. The city’s original library catalog has been preserved and is still viewable today.

In 1879 the library was rechartered. The original library only lasted a short time but was maintained by a dedicated group of women including Sarah Coventry who served as head librarian from 1891-1937 and, with support from the community, continued to grow the library’s collections. Though the city always had an organized library, it moved often and did not have a permanent location until the early 1900’s.

In 1903 Edwardsville resident Charles Boeschenstein, publisher of the Edwardsville Intelligencer, wrote to Scottish steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to request funds to build a new library building. Edwardsville received $12,500 from Carnegie and the city donated a parcel of land in City Park for the library’s construction.

When the Edwardsville Public Library was dedicated on June 28, 1906, library membership cost 10 cents a month for access to 500 books. A children’s room was added in 1926. In 1934, PWA artist Miriam McKinnie was contracted to create two murals for the library, one on industry and the other farming.

Shortly after a 1953 renovation, the library was destroyed by fire. Only the stone walls survived the flames. Rebuilding began immediately and the library reopened the next year. Miriam McKinnie returned to paint murals in the renovated building, this time for the children’s department where her colorful depictions of nursery rhymes can still be viewed today.

The Edwardsville Public Library has taken on multiple renovations since its reopening and now houses the Madison County Genealogical Society collections, a Children’s Room, the Gates Computer Lab, the Carnegie Café, and more. The library is utilized for many public functions serving the city and area residents with educational and recreational activities.
Route 66.

Edwardsville Public Library

Route 66 in Edwardsville

Edwardsville served as an important stop along Route 66 in Illinois, attending to travelers with fuel, automotive services, food, and lodging. By the time Chicago tourists reached Edwardsville, they often found their cars needed servicing and the city was the perfect place to rest and recharge before continuing west over the Mississippi.

The West End Service Station, founded in the late 1920’s, started as the Springer's Madison Oil Company on the corner of St. Louis and West Streets. In 1936, it became known as the West End Station and sold Mobil gas and oil products and was a popular stop for Mother Road travelers and teens looking for sodas and snacks.

Another Route 66 stop in Edwardsville resides at 104 E. Vandalia Street, current home of the Stagger Inn Again. The address has served as a tavern or restaurant since the mid 1930’s as the Robert Leuschke liquor store, Eddie’s Café, Otto Metz Liquor Store, the Rainbow Inn, El Del Uptown Tavern- later El Uptown Tavern, and as the first Stagger Inn from 1974-1983. Stagger Inn Again still serves locals and travelers with good food, drinks, and live music.

The campus of SIUE

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

In 1955, parents and business leaders from the Chamber of Commerce began a campaign to form a public university in the Metro East. Until permanent facilities could be built in Edwardsville, classes were held at two residence centers, the former Shurtleff College in Alton and in East St. Louis.

The first classes were held in 1957. Groundbreaking for the new Edwardsville campus was in 1963 with the Peck Classroom Building and Lovejoy Library opening in 1965 on what had been 2,660 acres of farmland. The SIUE campus is one of the largest college campuses in the country and serves the largest population concentration in Illinois outside of Chicago. The campus is linked to the Madison County Transit Trails system and maintains extensive ecological habitats through The Gardens at SIUE.

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