View of the Past: Blizzard of 1982

This week’s view features Frank Fohne navigating Scott-Troy Road with an O’Fallon Township snowplow after the Blizzard of 1982.  An all-day rain on Saturday Jan. 30, 1982 intensified into thunderstorms in the evening.  Then the temperature dropped.  Thunderstorm became thundersnow – thunder and lightning accompanied by heavy, quickly accumulating snow.  By Sunday afternoon, O’Fallon was buried under 18 inches of snow with drifts up to 5 feet.  The photo was taken on Monday, the next day. 

(Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

Richwood School – The history of a local progressive one room schoolhouse

OHS Vice President Andrea Fohne names off the Richwood School class of 1936. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

By Angela Simmons

O’FALLON – A former O’Fallon Township one room schoolhouse was the topic of the O’Fallon Historical Society’s (OHS) November program. Newly elected OHS Vice President Andrea Fohne gave the presentation about Richwood School, which her grandfather and several other relatives used to attend. 

The school was in the city of Lebanon, to the north of where the city and Horner Park are located. Richwood School Road connects at each end to a different section of Old Lebanon Troy Road. The school had the schoolhouse, school yard an outhouse and a well. 

“The only remnant of the school that’s left is the well cover,” Fohne said. She excitedly shared the only photograph known to exist of the school. Reading from a dissertation about one room schoolhouses that was loaned to her, she explained that Richwood School was a clapboard frame structure, and had been destroyed by a fire, vandalized, and the site was ultimately used by O’Fallon Township to store rock piles.

She had no idea when the school was built, but the earliest record she was able to find was from 1904. “It was fully functional then. I believe it closed in the 1950s or 1960s,” she said.

Fohne met with one of the students that used to attend the school, Robert Schmitt. She noted that Schmitt’s memory was still very clear about his time at the school, and he was able to provide her with several more photos of the students, as well as the names of the majority of them. Schmitt was also able to recall much about the students’ families, and would have attended the meeting to present with Fohne, but could not due to illness. 

She shared photos from multiple years, noting how the student dwindled as the years went on. 

“I was able to connect with the Lebanon Historical Society and they were able to give me the records that they had,” Fohne said. 

She found that the student population in the earliest years of 1904 to 1907 ranged from 34 to 38 students and ages ranged from five up to 18. “It went all the way from that to the last records I could find in 1953, their annual furnace statement, and the same names were still in the records. It really was a tight knit community out there,” she said.

By 1911, the school had 25 to 34 students and was accepting transfer students from Madison County, for which a tuition of $15 per year was charged. Teachers were both male and female teachers that taught for eight months of the year, being paid $75 per month in 1936. 

The school was labeled as District 94 and had its own elected board. The mowing, cleaning and maintenance of the school was a community effort. She marveled that much of the cleaning was done by her great-grandmother. She also marveled that the records for the entire school were meticulous, including student records, coal used, names of community members that helped with upkeep, and more, including parties and events held on the property.

“It really was a focal point for the community. Mr. Schmitt told me they had cake socials, raffles, picnics, Halloween parties, Christmas parties where they all got together. It was more than just a school, it was almost a community center for those rural families,” she explained. She also mentioned that the schoolhouse was used for elections, and shared old documents showing the votes for the former school board. 

Fohne noted that the school was progressive for having boys, girls, Caucasians and African Americans all educated in the same classroom. 

“There was a whole part of town, north of the school on the Madison County line road where the African American families lived. I was just talking to our member Kenny Joseph, and he agreed with Mr. Schmitt that they were all the same. Hearing stories from the 1930s and how the country was at that time, out there, it was just different. They were all the same. They were all just kids growing up together, and their families helped each other,” she said. 

Joseph said “When we consolidated schools, our school was probably 50 percent black. The kids that I went to school with, their parents went to school with my dad. It was just common. The only thing that was segregated was that everyone had to have their own cup for drinking from the well.” He continued to mention that when he later attended city schools and his African American friends were not allowed to attend because of segregation, it was hard to deal with. “They were hardworking, respected families,” he said, sharing some personal stories from that time. 

Learning about the connection between families made Fohne want to learn more, so she visited William Cemetery, an African American cemetery that’s north of O’Fallon. Fohne mentioned the terrible condition of the cemetery, talking about how much of it is overgrown, and stones were overturned. Some graves didn’t even have stones. Fohne said she wasn’t sure how many graves existed, but the last burial was in 1986, and added “I did find out that old funeral homes used to plant daffodils in the general area of graves, and there were daffodils everywhere. That was beautiful.”

View of the Past: A bus belonging to the O’Fallon-Belleville Coach Company

This week’s view is of a bus belonging to the O’Fallon-Belleville Coach Company, parked on the side of what is now Gia’s Pizza at the northwest corner of State St. and Lincoln Ave. in O’Fallon.  The bus line, run by Loyed “Katy” Cavins, operated out of that building from 1943 until 1963 when it was bought out by the Bi-State Development Agency.  The photo was taken in 1946.  

(Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

For more, stop by the O’Fallon Historical Museum, located at 101 West State Street. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment.

View of the Past: Historical pageant “This is Our Town” presented in Community Park, 1954

Fred Hangsleben as Father Time

This week’s view is of Fred Hangsleben in full costume for his role as Father Time during the O’Fallon Centennial celebration in 1954.  Among the many spectacles during the event was the dramatic historical pageant “This is Our Town” presented in Community Park the evenings of Aug. 26 and 27.  The sprawling 10 episode epic opened with a herald greeting the audience and making way for the “Spirit of O’Fallon” dressed in silver and white queenly attire on a raised pedestal in a cloud of smoke.  She summons Father Time (played by Hangsleben) who is followed by the Dance of the Hours — 24 girls in pastel colors doing an intricate fountain dance.  Nearly 10,000 came to see the pageant over the two nights.
(Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

Osborne to be honored by National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution with award

Betty Osborne will be awarded the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution Community Service Award. (Photo by Brian Keller)

Betty Osborne, who has dedicated herself to honoring O’Fallon veterans, now finds herself in the spotlight as the recipient of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution Community Service Award. Her numerous contributions to the community and tireless spirit at 90 years young helped earn Betty the prestigious award, as well as recommendations from her fellow committee members and Mayor Herb Roach. 

The prestigious award has eligibility requirements that include contributions to the community, which DAR- Cahokia Mounds Chapter member Kathy Dice said that Osborne has made in spades. “She has really worked hard to bring so many great things to O’Fallon and has dedicated her whole life to honoring our military. She’s so deserving of this award. We’re so pleased to be able to honor her,” said Dice, who is currently serving as the Chapter Community Service Award Chairman.

To read the full article, pick up a copof this week’s paper on newsstands now. Or, click here for the digital edition.

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View of the Past – September 13, 2017

This week’s view is of the cornerstone laying of the Taylor Opera House on Sept. 15, 1908.  Still standing at 220 E. State in O’Fallon, the Opera House was built by merchant, coal mine owner and one-time O’Fallon Mayor (1909-11) Joseph Taylor.  The building’s life as a theater lasted from its opening in December 1908 to its closing in March 1940.  It hosted a variety of entertainment including plays, vaudeville and motion pictures.  Not to mention graduations, lectures, rallies and anything needing a stage or an auditorium.  In the photo, the cornerstone laying is being witnessed by Joseph Taylor (white hat, black suit) standing to the right of his wife, Mary.  She died New Year’s Day 1909, just four days after the grand opening of the theater.

(Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society.)

For more, stop by the O’Fallon Historical Museum, located at 101 West State Street. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment.

Historic clock repaired after truck accident

BY BRIAN KELLER
FOR THE WEEKLY

O’FALLON – The historic Bank Clock affixed to the side of the O’Fallon Historical Society has been repaired following an accident in May.

On May 20 or shortly before, what was believed to be a truck jumped the curb and struck the bottom copper finial of the Bank Clock. Fortunately, the actual clockworks weren’t damaged but part of that bottom finial was crushed in and cracked.

In order to repair it, the finial was removed on June 28. Also at that time, parts of the clock including the hands, chimes and three of the faces were removed for their protection.

In addition to the repair, it was decided to move the clock up on the building about four feet. That should prevent a repeat of something hitting it while turning the corner.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of this week’s paper on newsstands now. Or, click here for the digital edition.

O’Fallon Historical Society explores Schildknecht Funeral Home

Cur Schildknecht presents Brian Keller with a metal sign orginially used for Doctor H. T. Bechtold’s Office, which was located at the current site of Schildknecht Funeral Home.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – The O’Fallon Historical Society held their most recent meeting in a seemingly unusual location- a funeral home. Members headed to Schildknecht Funeral Home to get a tour from Curt Schildknecht and receive a donation for the O’Fallon Historical Museum.

The original portion of the funeral home was completed in 1904 by a beloved local physician,  Doctor Herman Theodore Bechtold. Bechtold saw patients on the first floor and had living quarters on the second. He was also an esteemed community member, serving as the first OTHS Board of Education President from 1919-1926, on the McKendree Board of Trustees for four years, and as a member of several community organizations.

To read the full article, pick up a copy of this week’s paper on newsstands now. Or, click here for the digital edition.

View of the Past – May 17, 2017

This week’s view is of the old O’Fallon City Hall at the corner of Lincoln and Washington, ca. 1935.  This is one of the last photos of the old steeple that towered over the front entrance and held the fire bell.  The steeple was removed in September 1937.  To the far right is the newly built American Legion hut — a log cabin constructed with electric poles from the streetcar that once traveled through O’Fallon along Second Street.  The City of O’Fallon and Enterprise Grange engineered the moving of the hut to Community Park in 1976 where it remains today.  The old City Hall, built in 1890, is currently being rehabbed by Brad McMillin.

(Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

For more, stop by the O’Fallon Historical Museum, located at 101 West State Street. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment.  

George Portz donates family fiddle to O’Fallon Historical Society

George Portz (right) donates one of his grandfather’s fiddles to the O’Fallon Historical Society. Portz is pictured with OHS member Greg Zelinski (left).
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – Shiloh resident and renowned fiddle player George Portz has donated one of his grandfather’s fiddles to the O’Fallon Historical Society. Portz, a five time Illinois Sate Fiddle champion and a National Open Fiddle champion, is heading into the 38th year of his annual fiddle contest in O’Fallon and wanted to leave a lasting piece of musical history with the town.

The fiddle, which Portz said was carved in Illinois in the 1920s has a lion head carved into the end of the neck. His grandfather, Perry Briggs of Brownstown, was the head of the four generational fiddle group consisting of Briggs and his daughter Kathleen Portz, George Portz and his son Jason Portz, now the Boys Varsity Baseball Coach at OTHS. The group toured and played in numerous states winning over 400 championships. “I don’t think we ever played that we didn’t get a standing ovation,” Portz said. A picture of the foursome is on an informational poster that Portz donated with the fiddle.

The poster talks about the origins of fiddle playing in the early settler days and it’s stemming from Irish and Scottish roots, then talks about the Portz family, their beginnings with fiddle playing and their accomplishments.

Portz, a 1970 OTHS graduate, got his start playing at events in the Shiloh and O’Fallon area and became the Illinois State Champion Fiddler at 16 years old, the youngest that had ever won. Portz left the area after a few years after graduating to be part of the Goins Brothers, a renowned bluegrass band in Kentucky. He has played at the White House, the Smithsonian Institution Music Festival and the WSM Grand Ole Opry. He has performed with artists such as Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.

Upon his return to Shiloh, Portz began teaching and coaching wrestling at Collinsville High School. He retired from competing, but began organizing fiddle contests in O’Fallon, Murphysboro, Patoka and many more. He continues to play music with the Friends of Bluegrass band and his sons Jason and Justin and daughter Kaitlin.

Portz has also received a Legacy Award from the state of Illinois for his work, is an honorary Kentucky Colonel, is in the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Country Music Hall of Fame and is in the Library of Congress.

“I’m very proud. I love the O’Fallon and Shiloh area, and being able to donate this is great. Being in this historic building is wonderful,” he said.

For more on Portz, or to purchase his discography, visit www.georgeportzbluegrass.com. To see him in action and hear many more musicians, come to the 38th Annual George Portz KC Fiddle Contest at the O’Fallon Knights of Columbus Hall at 5:00 p.m. on April 8th.

“I’m very proud. I love the O’Fallon and Shiloh area, and being able to donate this is great. Being in this historic building is wonderful,” he said.

Historical Society seeks assistance to honor patriots in Shiloh Valley Cemetery

SHILOH – Tom Schwarztrauber and the O’Fallon Historical Society are seeking community help in funding cenotaphs for patriots buried in the Shiloh Valley Cemetery. Schwarztrauber began the project in 2015 and hopes to ultimately complete five cenotaphs.

The five men are buried along what he calls “American Patriots’ Row.” The four men he hopes to provide cenotaphs for are Colonel John Thomas, Captain Joseph Ogle, Private Larkin Rutherford and Lieutenant William “Turkey Hill” Scott, and then there is also a grave for Eleazer Allyn.

In 2015, Schwarztrauber began by getting a cenotaph placed for Captain Ogle, who was the first resident of Prairie Ridge that later became O’Fallon. “I procured a free grave plot in the Shiloh Valley Cemetery through Dave Tiedemann, Shiloh Valley Township, for it’s 2015 placement,” he said.

The next cenotaph Schwarztrauber worked on was for Private Larkin Rutherford. “I first received a grave plot from the Shiloh Valley Board for a spot to place a cenotaph. I asked the Belleville Chapter of the NSDAR if they would take on this on as their project, to have a dedication.  They were having a meeting immediately following my conversation with them.  The answer came back that they would do the dedication,  but to proceed they would have to confirm with their National Headquarters’ National Historian to research for the proper wording on a DAR plaque.  This whole process might take a year.  Then I had to wait as their National DAR Historian verified what could be placed on the DAR Plaque.  That took many months of waiting. Now it has been approved and the plaque is being made.  The OHS allowed me to create a Cemetery Fund to allow Donors toward this project to receive a Tax Deduction for their donations toward the estimated $2,000 fund goal. Funds have come in, although a little short of my goal,” said Schwarztrauber. Don Tisch of the Tisch Monument Company in Belleville which allowed Schwarztrauber to save on the estimated end budget.  The Daughters of the American Revolution dedication ceremony will take place at the Shiloh Valley Cemetery on May 20th at 2:00 p.m..

Since the DAR plaque addition has taken so long, Schwarztrauber is moving ahead with the third cenotaph and has no plans to ask for a DAR dedication at this time. The third cenotaph is for Schwarztrauber’s 5th great grandfather Lt. William “Turkey Hill” Scott, the first resident of Turkey Hill. Schwarztrauber found out the Scott was buried in Shiloh Cemetery after he was doing some research following a request for information on the Turkey Hill area by author Jack LeChien.

“I realized that my work here was not finished with my Rutherford project. I was granted a third plot by the Shiloh Board, which I’m thankful for, so I began a new appeal for funding of a memorial cenotaph for Scott.  This time I’d only need the funds for the actual cenotaph from Tisch Monument Company. Within days of my announcement of doing this Scott Project, I, with my cousinsTim Ogle, Donn Beedle and Dorothy Scott-Falk had donated $351 of the estimated $1,000 needed” he said.

Schwarztrauber made an appeal to Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier for funds for the cemetery project, and within 24 hours, on March 9th, he received notice from the Village of Shiloh that they would be donating $500.00 to the project. “That was over half of my goal. Thank you to the Village of Shiloh and Mayor Vernier for that honor,” said Schwarztrauber.

Now at a total of $851.00, Schwarztrauber and the OHS are so close to their goal. “Please help if you can. No donation is too big or too small, and all donations are tax deductible. Thanks for considering to help fund this project to honor this local Illinois pioneer who is buried in the Shiloh cemetery.”

Donation checks can be made out to the O’Fallon Historical Society. and Schwarztrauber asks that people write “Cemetery Fund” in the notation field so they know where to place the donation. Checks can be mailed to the O’Fallon Historical Society, PO Box 344, O’Fallon, Illinois 62269-0344.

A View of the Past – December 14, 2016

samuel-c-smiley-houseThis week’s view is of the home of Samuel Christy Smiley (1841-1916) which was located where the old section of St. Clare School in O’Fallon now stands on West Third Street.

A native of rural O’Fallon, Smiley was a corporal in Company I of the 117th Illinois Volunteer Infantry organized in O’Fallon during the Civil War.  After a disability discharge in 1863, he returned to O’Fallon to farm.  He moved to town in 1884 and lived in the home in the photo.  That same year he was elected the first supervisor of the newly created O’Fallon Township.  He was very active in civic affairs and was instrumental in bringing electric and, with his sons Ernest and Charles, telephone service to O’Fallon.  He also served one term, as a Republican, in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1888-90.  The house with adjoining property was bought by St. Clare’s in 1921 and torn down shortly after to make way for St. Clare School.   (Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

For more, stop by the O’Fallon Historical Museum, located at 101 West State Street. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment.  

A View of the Past – November 2, 2016

carbon-mine-oct-1936-resizedThis week’s view is of Carbon Mine which was located west of the Venita Drive bridge in O’Fallon, near the railroad.  The coal mine was originally sunk in 1856 by the Gartside Coal Company and operated until March 31, 1937, closing the next day.  At the time it was the oldest operating coal mine in Illinois.  The photo was taken in early October 1936 after it had been newly remodeled.  (Contributed by Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society)

For more, stop by the O’Fallon Historical Museum, located at 101 West State Street. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment.  

City management addresses concerns related to proposed Downtown development plan

The scale house as it currently sits in the middle of the parking lot on First Street, in the middle of the proposed development site. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

The scale house as it currently sits in the middle of the parking lot on First Street, in the middle of the proposed development site. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – The recent proposal of the new Downtown Plaza in O’Fallon is raising some concerns for local residents. Concerns about traffic, noise, and the relocation of a downtown attraction and a historic building are those that City Administrator Walter Denton says that he has been hearing the most.

Additionally, the artist’s rendering of the proposed development at First and Vine streets does not show the Scale House, which was moved to it’s current location by the O’Fallon Historical Society on June 2, 2001, and was designated as a City of O’Fallon historic landmark in 2004. The building was first erected in 1907 on East First Street and sat where the Chamber of Commerce building sits today. From there, it was moved two other times before the Historical Society saved the building from being razed and paid to have it relocated.

“The rendering is just a starting point. It is not the final version, so the way it looks now could be very different. This is just a concept. We know it’s a historical building and is important to the historical society. Right now, we’ve decided not to decide. If the development is approved, then it will be discussed and we can determine where it could go. Where it sits now is not the original location, so there’s no historical significance to the location. It will be continue to be displayed once we would determine a new location,” Denton explained.

Regarding the Santa’s Hut building, Denton said the all weather pavilion will serve as Santa’s new home.

This photo is the earliest known photograph of the Scale House in it's original location on East First Street (Photo Courtesy of Brian Keller, O'Fallon Historical Society president)

This photo is the earliest known photograph of the Scale House in it’s original location on East First Street (Photo Courtesy of Brian Keller, O’Fallon Historical Society president)

“The idea for the pavilion is that it would be an all weather building, so in the winter, garage type doors would be down, and the Santa visits would take place in there, as well as leave plenty of room for waiting. Right now, if you’re waiting in line, you’re standing outside. There would be room indoors in the pavilion, as well as room for crafts or other activities,” Denton said.

Addressing residents’ concerns regarding noise, Denton said that the current response is that market days and events are fine during the day and on the weekends, but that the concerts seem to be the most concerning. “There’s a noise ordinance in place currently, and the O’Fallon City Council has complete control on what can go on there, and if residents in the community don’t want to have late night concert events, then we don’t have to have them. We didn’t conceive of having loud evening events, but just to have bands play during festivals and such.”

Denton urged residents to remember that this is a starting point, saying “We had to start somewhere. That area right now is an ugly site, just pavement and railroad tracks. This development could make it look nicer, make the town look nicer, and draw in more positive traffic and revenue to the area.”

The Community Development committee took a week long break after the proposal to come up with questions they might have, and at a special meeting on November 1, they voted to send the proposal to the full council. The full council will meet on Monday, November 7.

Historical Society hears from local paranormal expert

Len Adams speaks to a group of O'Fallon Historical Society members and guests. (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

Len Adams speaks to a group of O’Fallon Historical Society members and guests.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

O’FALLON – Former O’Fallon resident Len Adams has made a name for himself in the paranormal world and took time to share ghostly tales from around the world at the October Historical Society meeting.

Adams entertained meeting attendees with stories from several locations on his tours, and then spoke of other area haunts like churches and restaurants that he has had good and bad paranormal experiences in. He discussed his methods, saying “I’m really not a fan of Ouija boards. I’ve tried them and had horrible things happen. There are better ways, like divining rods. Those take a real skill to use, and you can ask the spirits yes or no questions. You can loosen the front of a Maglite to where if you hit it, it will go off. You can ask questions carrying that and the light will flash in answer.” He’s a big advocate of trusting your intuition and how certain places make you feel.

Adams currently hosts the Haunted Lebanon tours which feature the Mermaid House. The Mermaid House was built by a sea captain in 1830 and has hosted Charles Dickens, who referred to his hotel stay in one of his books.

“I never promise anyone experiences, but we’ve had some crazy things happen on the tours. Upstairs in the Mermaid House, in the

Len Adams (O'Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

Adams described his ghostly encounters (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Angela Simmons)

bigger room, that is the most active location in the building,” he said. He mentioned chairs rocking when no one is near them, and said people accuse him of doing it, even when  he’s not near them.

Attendees asked questions and made exclamations over some of Adams’s tales, especially one where a particular entity followed him home and caused physical harm. Following that event, Adams took a break from paranormal tours and hunting, and is just now easing back into that world.

Adams reflected back on getting started in paranormal research, saying that while he had been interested for years before being active, “I really thought it was something that only happened in Hollywood. I’m open to everything, but looking for proof.”

He began taking the tours in Alton from Troy Taylor and became friends with him. “I started helping with the tours, and then started leading them. Troy told me that I was doing the tour from the back of the line anyway, so I might as well take over.” Adams also rose through the ranks of the American Ghost Society to be the vice president. He’s had his stories featured on multiple TV programs, but says “I won’t share some of them. I’ve been asked for shows to develop them and I won’t allow it.”

Adams has written two books that are available at the Lebanon Visitor’s Center and Legendary Creations. The first, titled “So There I Was….. More Confessions of Ghost Hunters”, is co-authored with Troy Taylor and talks about behind the scenes happenings in paranormal hunters’ lives. The second book is titled “Phantoms in the Looking Glass: History & Hauntings of the Illinois Prairie”. Autographed copies are available on the tours. Tours run through the end of October, since they are walking tours, but in the winter months, Adams does do overnight stays at the Mermaid House. Follow his Facebook page, Haunted Lebanon Tours/ High Spirits Investigations- Ill., for more information and to keep up with current events. The last Haunted Lebanon walking tours of the season will run the Friday, October 28, and Saturday, October 29.