131st Bomb Wing – Missouri ANG Community
St. Clair County
Illinois’ St. Clair County predates Illinois by 28 years: The county was established in 1790 as part of the new nation’s sprawling Northwest Territory by the territory’s governor, Arthur St. Clair, who named it after himself. Since then it has been reconfigured at least eight times, sometimes losing and sometimes gaining ground, but the present boundaries have stuck since 1827. New suburbs to accommodate workers in St. Louis, just across the Mississippi, have softened its industrial and agricultural losses in recent years, and there is a healthy public transit system with service by St. Louis MetroLink light rail, Metrobus and Madison County Transit.
In 1814 forward-thinking settler George Blair donated a block of 21 acres for a town square and county seat with an eye to luring the existing county seat from Cahokia to his own enterprise, which he named Belleville, French for “beautiful village.” He got the county seat, but the name failed to attract the French immigrants he wanted, though starting in the 1840s hundreds of educated Germans fleeing revolution in their homeland, the so-called “Latin Farmers,” lighted there, so many that within 30 years 90 percent of the residents were of German extraction. They brought their reverence for education and culture: Belleville had the state’s first public library, first brewery and the second-oldest philharmonic orchestra in the nation (1866). The Jelly Belly Candy Company opened in 1869, and heavy manufacturing was so pervasive that Belleville was called “The Stove Capital of the World.” A 400,000-acre coal deposit brought riches to many former corn farmers. Today, Lindenwood University-Belleville and Southwestern Illinois College serve the college-bound, and two full-service hospitals, Memorial Hospital and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, care for the sick. Military-friendly Belleview has Scott Air Force Base 8 miles to the northeast, three historic districts and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Annual fun events include Belleville’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, April’s Ale Fest, Art on the Square, the Tour de Belleville, Oktoberfest and December’s Gingerbread Walk. Three St. Louis MetroLink light rail stations serve the 42,032 residents.
Thriving Fairview Heights, the town that shopping built, owes its prosperity, even its existence, to what Realtors call “location, location, location”; it’s on the road to almost everywhere and easy to get to from almost anywhere in southwest Illinois, something developers picked up on in the early 1970s. Its first big shopping mall, St. Clair Square, opened in 1974 and now covers more than 1 million square feet with four anchor retailers and 130 smaller shops, from boutiques to eateries. Other shopping centers have joined the parade of retailers along the town’s sparkling thoroughfares, among them Lincoln Place, Winchester Plaza, LakeLand Square, Pontiac Plaza, Crossroads Center and Marketplace Shopping Center. Antique lovers can browse their own mall, St. Clair Antique Mall, where more than 200 dealers are tucked into 20,000 square feet. Eight major hotels cater to shoppers, tourists and convention- and seminar-goers, and good food and entertainment abound. The area is a haven for golfers, and Fairview Heights’ 16,827 residents can play or relax in two big community parks and three neighborhood parks. Art lovers look forward eagerly to the annual juried Midwest Salute to the Arts.