History of Granite City: Part IV

Part III – The Rise and Fall of a Powerhouse (1896-1956 A.D.)

A Time of Jubilee and for Transition (1957-2011 A.D.)
Diversification of industry and development became a key focus during the era leading up to and including the first years of the new millennium, and the second century of Granite City’s existence. Indeed, the next 50+ years would be a period of transition and, at times, turmoil. This time of transition is not one that was begun willingly, but was the result of a change in the industrial structure of the town’s economy, since the City’s founder, the National Enameling and Stamping Company, closed its doors for the last time in 1956. Two years later, in 1958, another long-standing element of the City’s infrastructure would change when Illinois Traction, a streetcar system which had transported workers and sightseers alike back and forth between Granite City and St. Louis and Alton would run for the last time. Although nearly 50 years have passed since the cessation of this system, the old streetcar tracks can still be found in the roads of some of the older parts of town.

Transition, however, was not all bad for Granite City in the beginning and is even less so for the City today. In fact, it was in 1959 that the City took a huge leap forward when the City sponsored a request to the Illinois State Legislature to create a Regional Port District covering the western half of Madison County. The Act creating said Port District was adopted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor of Illinois in July, 1959. Also, that same year, the City was awarded the distinguished honor of being selected as an “All-American City.”

Many changes would occur over this period, including a major shift in the city’s population, as many people moved from the Southwest side of town to the Northeast, away from the mills. Others would move even further to the east, to a relatively young village named Pontoon Beach. As the City approached, and then surpassed its 75th and then 100th Jubilee anniversary, it would undergo many transformations, as it prepared to face a new millennium.

1959:
      Granite City is selected as an All-American City.


    The Illinois State Legislature passes an Act to create a Regional Port District in July, 1959.

1962:
      New sewer lines are constructed throughout the City.
Tri city Regional Port District
1964:
    Tri-City Regional Port District has dedication ceremony.

1969:
      Port District enters into a contract with Bulk Service Corp. of Riverdale, Illinois to build, lease and operate a bulk loading and unloading facility and a 60,000-ton fertilizer warehouse in January.


    In December, the construction, which was nearing completion, was destroyed by fire.

1970:
      Plans were made to re-build the structure at the Port, and construction was completed by the end of the year.


    The City reaches a record population level for the City at 40,685 residents.

1971:
      Granite City celebrates its diamond jubilee 75th year as an incorporated City.


      Granite City Steel is purchased by National Steel, a company based out of Mishawaka, Indiana. The new Granite City Division of National Steel was one of the largest facilities in National Steel’s portfolio of assets.


      The voters of Granite City approve the flotation of
The Population of Granite City
    bonds to construct a new elementary school at the intersection of Maryville Rd. and Route 203.

1972:
    The Granite City High School boys soccer team wins their first state championship under the leadership of coach John Sellmeyer. Under the direction of coach Gene Baker, the team would go on to win the state championship nine more times in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1989 and 1990. Baker would later be voted Soccer Coach of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches Association.

1973:
      Due to an increased need for space at the Community High School and predictions based upon demographic studies, priority for the site that was originally intended to be used for an elementary school at the intersection of Maryville Rd. and Route 203 was given over to become the new Granite City North High School. They are named the Granite City High North Steelers and become instant rivals with the newly renamed Granite City High South Warriors.


1975:

Washington Theater
    The Washington Theater shows its last movie before closing down due to waning interest in movie theaters and decreased ticket sales. Following years of neglect and a catastrophic fire, the building would later be demolished in the mid 1990’s to make way for the new Madison County Transit bus station.

1979:
    The Ketteler Center, named after Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, a co-founder of the Sisters of Divine providence and of St. Elizabeth Hospital, was dedicated and opened. The Ketteler Center mostly serves those with psychological and behavioral disorders.

1981:
    Kaender’s Pavilion is constructed and dedicated at the growing St. Elizabeth Hospital. At this time, the hospital had over 300 licensed beds with over 130 physicians and over 340 nurses.

1983:
      Just ten years after the opening of Granite City North High School, a decline in the student body population leads the School Board to close down the newly constructed school. The building, however, did not sit long, as it was sold shortly thereafter to Belleville Area College, a local community college. The campus, now under the name Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) is one of three campuses owned by the school. The others are located in Belleville and Redbud, Illinois.
SWIC Campus

    The High School was not all that closed down in 1983. In the first quarter of the year, American Steel Foundries called it quits after being in operation in Granite City for nearly 90 years. Unfortunately, the recession in the U.S. at this time hit the steel industry and other heavy manufacturing industries extremely hard, making Granite City one of the hardest hit communities in the country. The hard-hit steel industry in Granite City saw the loss of a few thousand jobs during this time.

1986:
    With the City still reeling from the losses suffered by the steel industry, recently elected mayor, Von Dee Cruse determines that the City will make the transition to a stronger economy by diversifying our economic base across different industries, including non-manufacturing based industries.

1989:
      The Granite City War Memorial is dedicated on May 29 at Memorial Park. It is dedicated to the 230 plus veterans from Granite City, Pontoon Beach, Madison and Venice who gave their lives for their country in a time of war.


    With the recession at an end and the economy starting to heat back up, American Steel Foundries was able to rekindle the furnaces and open back up for business in September, bringing over 700 jobs back to the City.

1993:
    The flood of 1993 was classified as a 300 year flood by the Army Corp of Engineers, which means that it was the kind of flood that only occurs once every three hundred years. Many riverside towns in the St. Louis area were covered to their rooftops and Granite City was nearly one of them. The waters rose high enough to reach the top of the levee system. Had the levee not broken further downriver to release the pressure, the City would almost certainly have been flooded like some of its neighbors.

1994:
    The Koch Family Health Center, named after Dr. Felicia Koch, opens in June at St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

1995:
GCHS New Addition
    Badly in need of repair, the citizens of Granite City voted to raise a special tax to fund the renovation of the Granite City High School. As part of the renovation, a new wing is also added to the school to accommodate the growing number of students.

1996:
    The City celebrates 100 years since its conception.

1998:
    The renovation of the high school is completed.

2001:
    American Steel Foundries and Keystone Inc. merge in January, renaming the company ASF-Keystone Inc. Following the move, the facility in Granite City is dedicated as the new headquarters for the railroad products division of ASF-Keystone. ASF-Keystone now has approximately 1,000 workers at the Granite City facility.

    Granite City, like much of the world, mourns the loss of the innocent lives lost due to the terrorist airplane hijackings and suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

2002:
    National Steel declares bankruptcy, causing a great deal of uncertainty among employees at the Granite City plant and residents of the town as to the future of both the plant and of the City.

2003:
      On May 20, the National Steel Company is purchased by U.S. Steel,
Tower Fire
      thus rescuing the Granite City plant out of bankruptcy. At the time, the Granite City plant had nearly 2,800 employees, or roughly one-third of National Steel’s 8,400 employees.


    The former NESCO plant, a 1.25 million square foot facility, and the company on which Granite City was founded burns to the ground on October 27. The facility was being used to store Michelin tires and propane fuel. It also had creosote soaked wood floors, which were gentle on workers’ feet, but highly combustible. Firefighters fought the blaze for more than 14 hours before getting it under control. However, the rubble would continue to smolder for more than three days afterward.

2005:
    The brand new Nameoki Commons, home to Starbucks, Applebee’s Bar & Grill and much more opens for business, breathing new life into the City’s commercial retail sector. The Commons was developed by Koman Properties out of St. Louis.

Nameoki Commons2006:
    In the general election of 2006, the populous of Granite City voted to reduce the number of wards in the City from seven to five, thus also reducing the number of Council members from fourteen to ten. This reduction will take effect in 2011 after the results of the 2010 Census are published.

2007:
      Tower Automotive, formerly A.O. Smith, an automotive frame manufacturer closes its doors as the result of the closure of the Ford Motor plant in Hazelwood, MO. Tower was a direct supplier of Ford’s Hazelwood plant.

2008:
             U.S. Steel Granite City Works & Sun Coke Energy begin a combined $600 million investment that includes the
             construction of a new steam-powered co-generation plant, new efficient coke ovens as well as other upgrades.

             The U.S. and global economy enters into arguably the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s
            
2009:
             Lowes home improvement store opens their doors on Rt. 3.

2010:
             The new Granite City Cinema opens in downtown Granite City.  The cinema was built and owned by the City.

             The 'Great Recession' shows signs of relenting as existing businesses such as Prairie Farms and Wal-Mart 
             begin new multi-million dollar expansions of their facilities in town.  However, impending threats such as the
             State's huge debt crisis looms over the City as the State falls behind on payments to local governments,
             resulting in significant financial strain for local schools and municipalities.

Both new and existing opportunities and threats faced by the city and its citizens will continue to mold and change the City’s direction and path over time. However, if we sharpen our strengths, curtail our weaknesses, and have the preparation, dedication and a willingness to not just survive, but to thrive - like those who have come before us - we will assuredly have not only a proud history, but a bright future as well.