History of Granite City: Part IThe Beginnings of Six Mile Prairie (Pre-1750 - 1850 A.D.)
The earliest known inhabitants of the American Bottoms were the Cahokia Indians & Mound Builders who are most prominently recognized for their high knolls constructed above the plains of present day Cahokia, Illinois. Following the mysterious disappearance of this magnificent tribe’s civilization the area would later become home to more than 23 tribes, including the Illini (or Illiniwek), Blackfoot, Delaware and Cherokee Indians. It was during this era that the French explorers Marquette and Joliet discovered the area in search of a water route to the Pacific Ocean.
In the mid 1700s, still before the birth of the current form of the United States Government, the American Bottoms were beginning to be settled by Europeans from the East. The French were the first to make settlements in the area, on Choteau Island, on which they bred horses, shipping them to New Orleans on flat boats. In 1770, what is known as the first great flood washed these settlements off the face of the earth.
In 1783, Revolutionary War troupes of George Rogers Clark began to settle in this area due to the fertile land and beauty of the American Bottoms. Also this year, the American Bottoms officially became U.S. territory. In 1799, a man named James Gillham from Kentucky traveled to this area in pursuit of the Kickapoo Indians, who had kidnapped his family. The Indians held Ann (nee Barnett) for over five years before selling them into slavery to a fur trapper in St. Louis. After discovering where they were, James paid a ransom and negotiated their release, James then wrote to his 9 siblings then living in South Carolina, Kentucky, or Georgia to come to Illinois, a land of great promise and beauty to help him settle the area. The mass exodus from the colonial states to IL did establish the first ‘white’ settlement in the area that is now the intersection of Hwy. 203 & I-270.
The Gillham family and their allied lines who came to Illinois between 1799-1806, were all Revolutionary War Patriots or the children of those early colonists, and it was this group who voted in masse against slavery, that permitted Illinois to be admitted into the Union as a free state."
The next 50 years saw a great deal of movement into the area. The following is a timeline of those events.
- The Wiggins family and Patrick Haniberry arrive at the north edge of Horseshoe Lake and name the area the Six Mile Settlement because it was located six miles from St. Louis.
- Dr. Caldwell buys 200 acres of land in what is now West Granite, making him the first known European settler in present-day Granite City.
- Nathan Carperter arrives and builds the first horse mill.
- William Gillham builds cabins on the southern bank of Long Lake and begins to farm.
- The Cummings, Waddles & Griffins also settle near Long Lake.
- Other families settling in the area include the Hayes, Loftus, Clark, Stallings, Kinder & Squire families.
- Dr. Caldwell farms and practices medicine
- First Methodist congregation meets in the home of Thomas & William Gillham.
- U.S. Congress votes to build a road from the east to the Mississippi River. The road runs through Six Mile, but is never completed.
- Andrew Emmert moves into the area.
- Henry Hayes and his large family settle near present-day Worthen School site.
- Native Americans were said to have “manifested a war-like spirit.”
- The Ammin family settles in the area.
- A blockhouse is held in the present-day Worthen School Area to protect the women and children during the War.
- Madison County, the 3rd County in Illinois, is officially organized.
- County is named by Governor Edwards in honor of his friend James Madison, President of the United States.
- The County was surveyed into Townships by John Messenger.
- Issac Gillham’s oldest daughter, Margaret marries John Davidson and builds their home on land now occupied by the YMCA, Library and Niedringhaus United Methodist Church.
- Governor Edwards appointed Dr. Caldwell as County Court judge.
- Calvin Kinder, (father of Calvin & George Kinder) arrives with Issac Braden (grandson of Philip Hawks), Thomas Kinder, and Philip & John Hawks.
- Area becomes known as Six Mile Prairie to distinguish it from Six Mile Township.
- On December 3rd, Illinois becomes a part of the Union.
- William Emmert arrives with his widowed mother,
- Christina, and four teenage sisters.
- A plank road is built, extending the National Road to the Mississippi.
- Methodist church is built on Thomas Gillham’s property with membership consisting of Gillham’s, Barcos, Kinders, Snyders, Simses, & Davidsons.
- Wooden plank road built through Six Mile Township to connect East to West. Road was used by Conestoga Wagons carrying freight and stagecoaches carrying passengers. This road becomes known as the Great Wagon Route.
- William Emmert builds the house where he would eventually own three famous racehorses as well as large apple, peach and pear orchards.
- Floods and malaria plague the area.
- Issac Braden purchases 400 acres of area that is now Colonnades Nursing Home.
- Flood waters reach highest level in history, covering all of the American Bottoms and causing massive
- destruction. Many of the older settlers sell their land. Most of the new landowners were people who had emigrated from Germany and were already working on the farms. The Germans brought the crop of horseradish with them and it did very well here. (It did so well, in fact, that this area is still known as the horseradish capital of the world today). Fortunately, the Germans knew how to deal with flooding much better and so began constructing levees and canals that were used to control floodwaters.
- Susan Stewart-Emmert dies and William Emmert marries Maria Snyder. They have nine children. (William Emmert’s home is now the Six Mile Historic Society’s Museum).
- A cholera epidemic (thought to be brought by the German immigrants) kills 80% of the population.
- By this time, however, the Germans have become very successful on farmlands.
Next: Part II: Prelude to a City (1850-1895 A.D)