The city of Belleville, Illinois was founded in 1814. It is the county seat of St. Clair County and is the eighth most populated city in Illinois outside of the Chicago Metropolitan area. There have been many influential men who have contributed to the building and growth of this city. Here, we find many of them in photo’s from the Labor and History Museum and the Belleville Public Library. As you trace your family tree, finding photographs can be very rewarding and really help you connect to your ancestors in your family tree. For this reason, the founding fathers that I am showing do little to exhibit all of the influential men of Belleville’s history. Those who are portrayed here are those found in photographs, hopefully allowing family tree researchers to connect faces to the names of their ancestors.
Simion Bunn, a foundryman from Pennsylvania, was a bricklayer in his youth. He became a furnace builder for Belleville Steel Co. which operated two mills in the city — Valley Mill and West Mill. In 1871 Bunn patented a Puddling Furnace and in 1886 a “double-decker” Nail Plate Furnace. His sons followed him in the stove and foundry industries of Belleville. Simion enjoyed and worked at a long career. At the age of 65 he was still installing furnaces. In 1910, Simion Bunn Sr., installed an annealing and smelting furnace for the Allegheny Valley Malleable Iron Co. of Missouri. In his spare time he led a brass band, playing the trumpet and bugle. He died October 11, 1913.
Edward Abend (1822-1904). His family moved from Germany to Belleville, IL, in 1833. Abend became an Agent for German Capitalists in 1852. He served as President of Belleville Savings Bank and was a four-time Mayor of the City of Belleville. Because of his opposition to slavery, he was expelled from Democratic Party.
Ferdinand Braun, a malster from Germany, owned coal mine lands, a dairy and a brickyard on the north side of Belleville where his father, Lorenzo, and George Bressler built a distillery in about 1840. In 1863, Ferdinand was the sole owner. By 1874, his interests turned to transportation, and he incorporated the Belleville City Railway Company. Belleville is credited with the first electric rail line in the State of Illinois. Braun and his wife, Wilhelmina, returned to Germany in 1891 and never returned to Illinois or America. His father, Lorenzo, and brother, Charles, invested heavily in Belleville but resided in St. Louis, MO.
Jacob Brosius was a mechanic and an inventor who came directly to Belleville in 1849. His products reflect the hand of man. He held at least 7 patents for agricultural equipment improvements and 3 for radiators and steam conducting pipes. His foundry and machine shop was prosperous, and his castor, linseed and pecan oil business was even more so. In 1876, he built a very pretentious, palatial style home on a hill overlooking east Belleville. He called it “Kronthal”. In 1879, he built the works for heating the City. His “Electric Clock” located in his residential tower was connected with other public clocks in the City. He died in 1882, age 59.
Simon Eimer became one of the wealthiest industrialists of his day — a biographer states: “Eimer was prominent in every activity good for a city”. He arrived in 1844. In 1848, he built a bath house, followed by an entertainment park south of the Public Square and a hall on West Main Street. He served as a member of the Board of Education. As an alderman, he was appointed to a committee to plan for a new Market Square, a new Engine House and a new City Hall. He was a pioneer in the brewing industry of the Mississippi Valley and opened the Washington Brewery in 1846. The rebuilt brewery in 1859 was the largest brewery west of the Allegheny Mountains. The cellars were two stories deep in the ground. His nephew, John, also emigrated from Germany to help him manage his affairs which included investments in New Orleans and California.
The Gundlachs manufactured tools of their own invention. Immediately after the Civil War, Philip M. Gundlach built a new iron foundry powered with Gundlach coal. His son, Joseph, operated the railroad to transport the coal. The P.M. Gundlach Agricultural Mfg. Co. was staffed by his sons: Philip A., Gen. Mgr.; John P., Engr.; Aloys, foreman. They manufactured grain drills, cleaners, hay rakes, wheel hubs and more modern products such as “Packing for Piston Rods and the like”. The family emigrated from Frankfurt, Germany in 1842. The 20th Century Gundlachs were equally inventive. Some were self-educated machinists and tool designers. They respected foundry practices. Gundlach companies include: Gundlach Machinery, founded 1908; T.J. Gundlach Machine Co., founded 1919; Beno J. Gundlach Machine Co., founded 1927; Gundlach Roofing ca. 1900; Specialty Tool ca. 1920.
In 1803, Reverend Thomas Harrison, grandfather of Theopolis, arrived in Illinois, and unknown wilderness. Ten years later he built a cotton gin, the beginning of a very successful milling business. Harrison, who migrated from N. Carolina, was of Scot-Irish descent. He had 10 children. By 1831 the Harrisons built the first steam operated mill in the state. The mill, at the west end of Main Street on Richland Creek, burned down and was rebuilt. By 1844, Harrison Mills reported annual sales of a million dollars.
Another Harrison enterprise in Belleville was Harrison machine Works. Theopolis Harrison, a grandson of Reverend Thomas, invested in Middlecoff’s Agricultural Equipment Foundry in 1855. For 95 years, HMW manufactured threshing machines, steam engines, straw carriers and pea pickers. It should be noted that in 1838, Thomas Harrison served as “President” of the Town of Belleville. In addition to his milling enterprise, Harrison built the “Mansion House” in 1840. It was the site of many historical happenings in Belleville including the infamous Charles Dickens. The Lincoln Theater replaced the Mansion House in 1920.
The Stanley family traveled from New York to PA, SC, NC and finally to Illinois. John and Elizabeth purchased land at Ogles Station in the west end of Belleville. By 1824, Brother Stanley was hosting Methodist church sessions, and Stanley women had married into the Ogle and Phillips pioneer families. Richard Stanley served in the Civil War, learned the nailing trade and returned to Ogle Station to open a nail mill. As many farmers did, he mined coal for fuel. In 1874, Zachariah Stanley sold the farm he had lived on for more than 50 years to the Hazard/Wilson Mining Co. Richard moved his nail mill enterprise to a rapidly developing industrial area near Grand, Douglas and East B Streets. Stanley made wire nails, cut nails, tacks and all sizes of staples.
William H. Stuart, a marble dealer and stone cutter, sold drugs as a sideline. He emigrated from Pennsylvania in 1816. His brother, Edward R. Stuart, was a partner in the publishing of the News-Democrat in 1859. They were significant land owners in south Belleville, and in 1864, Washington Public School was built on 14 of their lots. In 1819, their father, Alphonzo, was killed in the infamous Stuart-Bennett duel — the only pistol duel fought in the history of the State of Illinois. It has not been determined who raised the two orphans.
Colonel John Thomas - The Thomas family emigrated from Wales to Virginia and arrived in Illinois by 1807. The family constructed a portion of the old stage-coach road from Vincennes, IL to St. Louis, MO (known as the Great Western Mail Route and later the National Road). Thomas participated in formulating the first State of Illinois Constitution and in the formation of the Republican Party.
Three generation of the Thomas family were capitalists who were influential in the manufacturing and business life of Belleville. Colonel John Thomas built Main Street’s Thomas House in 1854 and became President of the Pump & Skein Works in 1877. In 1880, he published the Advocate Newspaper, and he became the owner of the Short Line Railroad in 1884. Thomas family members served as Circuit Judges and members of the State Legislatures.
Henry Dietrich was born at Belleville in 1872 and at the age of 13 he was on his own. His father was a coal miner from Germany. Henry’s working career began with a printing apprenticeship to Hans Schwarz, Editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung. Schwarz, a spirited and vigorous editor of the German language newspaper was continually involved in the controversial labor issues of the time and active in the Illinois Association of German-American Press. Dietrich, also a labor activist was elected President of West Belleville’s Workingman Society and Typographical Union 18. He was elected City Assessor in 1902, a position he held until 1920.