History of Granite City: Part IIIPart II – Prelude to a City (1851-1895 A.D)
The Rise and Fall of a Powerhouse (1896 - 1956 A.D.)
In 1896 A.D., Granite City was officially incorporated as a City within Madison County, Illinois. Shortly thereafter, the City hired its first policeman, Henry Fossiek, and began construction on its first brick school house, which was to be named Emerson School. The following year, the school would officially open, and the School Board of Directors would be appointed by the Mayor. As the City’s population rapidly expanded, the need for a second school arose; and so in 1899 Washington School was opened, just two years after the opening of Emerson.
As the City grew, so too did the Niedringhaus’ company. Known at that time as the St. Louis Stamping Company, the Brothers decided to change the name to the National Enameling & Stamping Company so as to appeal to a more national audience as they had become a national and even multi-national company. Attracted by the promise of plentiful jobs, hoards of immigrants from Central-Eastern Europe, primarily Bulgaria, Macedonia and Hungary, thronged into the City in search of good jobs with decent wages. The vast majority of these immigrants settled into housing to the West of the downtown area in a place that would come to be known as ‘Hungary Hollow.’
While everything seemed to be humming along smoothly, it was not long until the area had a taste of its first economic depression, the Depression of 1907. It was at this time that Hungary Hollow was given the nickname, ‘Hungry Hollow,’ because so many of its inhabitants would go without food for long periods, while some would even starve to death. The following year, one of the founding fathers of the City and of NESCO, William Niedringhaus, would die, leading to the beginning of a new era in both the company and the City’s future.
- Granite City is officially incorporated
- The 1st policeman is hired. His name is Henry Fossiek.
- Work begins on the first brick school house (Emerson School).
- Emerson School officially opens (would eventually close in 1983).
- The 1st Church of the Concordian Lutheran Church is built.
- The Mayor appoints the first School Board of Directors.
- The 2nd brick school house (Washington School) opens.
- Stamping Company changes name to National Enameling & Stamping Company (NESCO).
- Lots are sold for a new subdivision to be named ‘Granite Park’ (More commonly known as West Granite, today).
- Two new schools augment the educational system, one near the levee for blacks, and one for whites on “the west side of the tracks,” near Lincoln Place.
- Granite City is devastated by a massive flood, which covers all of West Granite. However, the rest of the town remained comparatively dry.
- 10,000 immigrate to Granite City from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe during a two-year period.
- The majority of these immigrants, primarily those from the country of Hungary, move to present-day Lincoln Place. At the time, this area was called ‘Hungary Hollow’.
- During the 1907 Depression, the name of Hungary Hollow was nick-named ‘Hungry Hollow’, as many immigrants starved during this period.
- St. Joseph Catholic Church is organized.
- First automobile in city was owned by WG Davis.
- A young GC resident creates the logo for the United Lead Company (present-day Dutch Boy Paint Company), which is still in use by Dutch Boy today (although it has been varied slightly over the years).
- William Niedringhaus dies.
- East Granite is annexed along with Webster School.
- East-side Levee & Sanitation District is formed.
- A canal & levees are built.
- Methody Bulgarian Church in America is built in Hungary Hollow for the large number of Macedonians & Bulgarians living there.
- At the time, Granite City had the largest concentration of Bulgarians in the country and boasted the only American newspaper printed in the Bulgarian language. (For more about Granite City’s early Bulgarian population, click
- McKinley Bridge, which was built due in large part to the demand for quick access to St. Louis from area industry, opens.
- Washington Airdome, an outdoor amphitheatre where crowds were normally entertained on the week-ends by traveling stock companies and vaudeville troupes begins construction and would be completed the following year.
- Illinois Traction System, which was a system of trolleys, was built through GC connecting Alton and St. Louis.
- Government corruption arises. Mayor Uzell accused of taking pay-offs related to wide-spread gambling in the City.
- On November 8th, Uzell receives a fine of $300 plus costs and is impeached. The City Council votes to have George W. Kennedy fill Uzell’s unexpired term.
- Many Armenian immigrants move to G.C. and take residence in Hungary Hollow.
- Presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson addresses a large political rally held at the Airdome.
- The Lutheran Hospital in Granite City closes in June. In October, the hospital is repurchased and re-dedicated under the name St. Elizabeth Hospital by Rev Kaenders of Venice.
- Anheuser Busch begins construction on a building to use as a warehouse. They would house fifteen teams of Clydesdale horses here that were used to deliver beer. The beer was brought in by trains from St. Louis and then distributed throughout Madison County. At the time, A-B brewed and distributed Budweiser, Faust and Bevo beers.
- The NESCO plant in St. Louis is closed by the Niedringhaus family.
- Russians, Lithuanians and Romanians begin to settle near the mill.
- Charles Hufschmidt & Joseph Ranft begin a bottling business.
- Hufschmidt & Ranft move into the Wagner bottling building.
- City Hall is built. This was the second City Hall ever constructed, and was located on 19th Street between State and Grand. It was built for a sum of $5,000. This building housed the City Hall and the Fire department, and was utilized for more than 20 years. The first City Hall was located on 19th Street, and contained two rooms, one which served as the Police Chief’s office and the meeting room for the City Council, and another which served as the City jail and for fire department supplies.
- Hufschmidt & Ranft become Ranft & Boyd.
- Ranft & Boyd are granted the first franchise to bottle & distribute ‘Whistle’ soda.
- The name for Hungary Hollow is officially changed to Lincoln Place after residents of Hungary Hollow, lead by Bulgarian resident Nick Alabach, who was an employee of Commonwealth Steel Co., formally requested the name change.
- Due in part to the war in Europe, the GC plants were operating at full capacity.
- Industrialists bring in Mexicans to fill the labor shortage.
- Prohibition begins, as does illegal stills, speakeasies, and gang wars.
- NESCO controls almost all of the Enamelware output in the US at this time.
- Electric lights installed in the City.
- The Rialto Theater, one of the first movie theaters in the County, is opened in the downtown area. This theater would later be known as the City Theater.
- In November, the 5 wards of the City were changed to 7 wards due to the continuing population growth.
- The Granite City Park District is formed. (Click
- for more information about the History of the Granite City Park District).
- The Sisters of Divine Providence buy St. Elizabeth Hospital from Rev. Kaenders, but keep the name.
- GC Community High School opens.
- Washington Theater groundbreaking takes place in May, and the theater opens in December. The Washington Theater was created by transforming the Washington Air Dome into an indoor theater. It would become one of the more elaborate theaters in the area.
- Clarence Howard of the Commonwealth proposes organizing a local community club in Hungary Hollow.
- Materials for & labor to construct the clubhouse/community center are donated by Commonwealth Steel and area residents, respectively.
- Miss Sophie Prather is employed by the Commonwealth to supervise and manage the programs at the new Community Center. She comes to this job after having taught for a few years at Washington School in West Granite & Lincoln Place. She is considered a major force behind the educational movement in West Granite & Lincoln Place. She and her chief assistant, Alice (Soboleski) Dineff set up and run many programs at the center, including: Sunday school, Bible classes, citizenship classes, athletics, counseling, tutoring, adult English classes, Scouts, Folk dancing, needle work, dressmaking, quilting, and woodcrafts. She also maintains a library and helps everyone with their studies. Patriotism, Americanism and education are prevalent in all of the programs. She encourages every immigrant to study and become a citizen. In fact, her signature was found on all of the citizenship applications that were from Lincoln Place. Miss Prather was known as the “Mother of Lincoln Place.” She died in 1936.
- East Granite Methodist Episcopal Church is completed.
- Buses begin to run in the city.
- The cornerstone of the YMCA is laid.
- High winds (possibly tornadoes) damage the coke plant and NESCO.
- Park District is annexed into the city.
- City Council passes an ordinance renaming the streets (giving them proper names rather than just letters).
- Granite City Steel and NESCO are divided into two separate entities and Granite City Steel is incorporated.
- A bond issue is passed to build a new High School annex.
- Present City Hall is built.
- At this point, virtually all of the locomotive and passenger cars made in the US are made using products made at the Commonwealth plant.
- The High School annex, City Hall and the public library are dedicated.
- This was the third City Hall building in the City’s history and is the same City Hall building being used today. The third City Hall was built at a cost of $275,000 under the leadership of Mayor M.E. Kirkpatrick. Interestingly, the original plans called for an elevator in the building, which was not actually installed until more than 55 years later in 1986.
- The bottling company becomes JC Ranft Bottling Company.
- The country enters fully into The Great Depression.
- Because children have no food, Pearl Rosenberg begins the first hot lunch program.
- Pearl organizes men and women to plant gardens and grow vegetables. Also, several men in the community hunt rabbits and other wild game to provide meat in order to help supply food.
- Ranft Bottling patents its own cola and calls it ‘King Cola.’
- Mayor Kirkpatrick organizes a committee to help the needy. Unfortunately, the committee could not function due to lack of funds.
- General Steel Castings supplies relief to their veteran employees.
- Commonwealth Steel plant closes due to the economic strain caused by the Great Depression. This plant was known for building locomotives.
- City Treasury balance is $0. With the closing of several companies and many others defaulting and not paying taxes, the City suffered a huge loss of tax revenue.
- Illinois Emergency Relief Commission is established with $20 million. The funds were used to carry out local work projects and continue community canneries and gardens.
- Granite City becomes its own township.
- The Cyril & Methody Bulgarian Church, which had spent thousands just years earlier to build a new church is sold to the Armenian Orthodox congregation after being unable to pay the bills.
- Mayor Jennings makes major reductions in every city department.
- Granite City is considered one of the hardest hit cities in the US by the depression. Banks close, teachers, firemen and policemen receive large salary cuts, corporations go bankrupt and citizens are unable to pay their taxes.
- The WPA is established, helping a number of people to get off of relief by employing many, particularly young men, to build public roads and buildings, thus providing jobs and income.
- Terms of office for the Mayor and other elected officials is increased from one year to four years.
- Nameoki Transit begins operations as a bus company. The name would later be changed to Community Coach and then to Bi-State System.
- The boys from Lincoln Place, led by Andy Phillip, led the Granite City High School basketball team to their first ever State championship. Seven of the members, including Phillip, were first generation Americans with Eastern European roots. Phillip would go on to play for the University of Illinois and then in the NBA. Following his career, he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
- Third Baptist Church is completed.
- Lake Side Airport is built and is soon one of the busiest small airports in the country. The Airport was originally intended to become the world’s first international airport. It never came to completion because WWII started, and the chief planner died before the war ended.
- In December the US Naval base on Pearl Harbor is attacked, bringing the US into the Second World War
- Kirkpatrick Homes (KP) apartments are completed. These living units were intended to be used by citizens, who were down on their luck, just long enough to get back on their feet financially. It was never intended that KP would become a long-term residential facility.
- GC Engineer’s Depot is constructed and is operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. The name was later changed to the Granite City Army Depot and then the Melvin Price Support Center. (For more information about the Melvin Price Support Center, click
- Mayor Kirkpatrick dies in office, and EB Grantham is selected to serve as Mayor Pro Tem until the next election.
- The Engineer’s Depot reaches a point of employing over 5,200 people. More than 1,500 officers and 2,000 enlisted men received training in engineer supply and maintenance functions at the depot that year.
- Mayor Moelien appoints a City Planning Commission to aid in an orderly growth plan for residential, commercial and industrial sections of the city.
- Granite City begins $35,000,000 canal project.
- A mid-sized dairy company in Granite, named Dressel-Young Dairy Co. would begin a contract relationship with a company called Prairie Farms Creamery of Carlinville. The latter would later purchase the former under the name Prairie Farms Dairy. Currently the company produces soft-serve ice cream mix, milk for chain restaurants, including McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Ponderosa and Bonanza restaurants and more at its Granite City facility. (Click
- for more about the history of Prairie Farms Dairy).
- The small village of Nameoki merges with Granite City. At the time, there were several residents of the village that were very displeased with the merger, but eventually, the referendum did pass via vote in both the village and the City.
- Granite City Steel undergoes a large expansion, leading to a fully integrated mill
- A.O. Smith, an automotive parts manufacturer which started out making bicycle parts in 1900.
- and then moved to making parts for Studebaker, Cadillac, Packard Cars and later, Ford Motor Company, builds an auto frame manufacturing plant near Rt. 3 and Missouri Avenue.
- Bellmore Shopping Center is developed. This is considered the beginning of the demise of the downtown shopping area.
- Mayor Grantham dies from a heart attack.
- The Granite City NESCO plant, which just 30 years prior had been a $30,000,000 per year moneymaker, employing over 4,000 men and women closes, as graniteware is replaced by aluminum cookware, Pyrex, Corning Ware and stainless steel. The plant, which was destroyed by fire in 2003, covered 75 acres and had a floor space of 1,250,000 square feet.
- Sandra Sloss, a Granite City school girl, becomes National Spelling Bee Champion.
Next: Part IV – A Time of Jubilee and for Transition (1957-2010 A.D.)