Madison County ILGenWeb            Illinois County Map                      Piasa Bird, Alton, Illinois                 

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”  Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.)


 

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Welcome to the Madison County, ILGenWeb Project

 

Dedicated to the History and Genealogy of Madison County, Illinois

 

This website was created and is maintained by ILGenWeb Madison County Coordinator, Bev Bauser.  Please submit information to:  madison.cnty@yahoo.com.  

 

 

 

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..... Historical Highlight .....

 

 

The Wann Disaster - 122 Years Ago

January 21, 1893

 

The Wann Disaster is the most horrible railroad tragedy that occurred in Madison County history, involving the greatest loss of life in a single incident, and the most numerous cases of personal injury. It occurred at the Wann Junction on the Big Four railroad, about 4 miles east of Alton, near the corner of Shamrock and Main in the present day village of East Alton.

 

On Saturday, January 21, 1893, the Southwestern Limited train on the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad left St. Louis at 8:05 AM, and was due at Wann (or Alton) Junction at 8:50 AM.  Howard Clelland was the Conductor of the five passenger cars drawn by engine No. 109. The engineer was Webb Ross of Mattoon, and the fireman was Richard White, also of Mattoon. The train was running at a higher rate of speed than usual, approaching a slight curve. Rounding the curve, it was instantly seen that a switch was mistakenly left open with a long line of oil tank cars on the siding. Fireman White immediately jumped, while Engineer Ross applied the brakes, but it was too late - the passenger train collided with the 25 oil tank cars. Initially, most passengers were not injured in the collision. Later, some of the oil tankers caught fire from the collision, and then an explosion followed, sending 7,000 gallons of burning oil, called "a rain of fire," fifty feet into the air. Engineer Ross was trapped alongside of his engine; oil poured over him, he was burned to a crisp. Fourteen box cars on the siding caught fire and burned like paper.  Another tank car which was burning suddenly exploded, and four others did so almost simultaneously, scattering the burning fluid in all directions. The large crowd of over 100 spectators were covered with burning oil, their flesh burned to a crisp. Seven more tank cars took fire and burned. Houses and trees caught fire and the stockyards also burned. All the houses near the scene of the disaster have been destroyed. Thousands of people rushed to the scene to do what they could to aid the injured and dying. The newspaper reports gradually revealed the details of a scene that was one of unspeakable horror.

 

SOME GHASTLY FINDS

Numbers of ghastly finds have been the result of the search and two more terribly burned men have been discovered far from the place where they were overtaken by the flames. Both were alive, but will undoubtedly die. Pieces of flesh, numbers of hands, or the skin from hands with the finger nails still adhering were found, pieces of money melted together by the heat were picked up 300 yards away from the location of the exploded oil tank, while clothing thrown away as it burned on the bodies of the victims was to be found in every direction. The grass in the fields around is burned in many places, showing where the burning men and boys rolled in their agony. The hospitals are full and many private houses are crowded with the poor unfortunates, a large number of whom will undoubtedly die. A careful canvass of these places Sunday results in the finding of sixteen dead and fifty-seven wounded. Of the latter, probably fourteen will die before twenty-four hours have passed.

 

BEGGED TO BE KILLED

The scenes in the wards occupied by the injured were even more heartrending than Saturday. Lying on cots, wrapped and swathed in cotton and bandages until they almost lost semblance to human beings, and surrounded by weeping relatives and sorrowing friends, they formed a picture that brought tears to the eyes of even the physicians, accustomed as they are to such sights. The moaning of the patients were piteous. Every few moments some tortured person, writhing in agony, would half rise from his couch, then fall back, suffering more intense pain than before. Seeming to know by intuition when the physician was near them, they would beg to be relieved from their pain. "Doctor, for God's sake, kill me and put me out of this misery," said one. "O, for an instant's relief from this!" cried another.

 

To read more on the Wann Disaster, please click here.

 

 

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The True Story Of Piasata, Indian Maiden

 

Including the Legend of the Piasa Bird, as told by Piasata's father

 

Don't miss this one! Found in a 1900 newspaper, a first-hand story of 3 lads who lived near Delhi in 1828, and how they met an Indian family at the mouth of the Piasa Creek. The boys fell in love with Piasata, the daughter of the chief, and visited often during the summer to be with her. Also included, the chief tells the boys the true story of the Piasa Bird.

 

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Brief History of Madison County

 

 

Named after JAMES MADISON (1751-1836), fourth President of the United States, and Father of the U. S. Constitution, Madison County was established in 1812 out of Randolph and St. Clair Counties, before Illinois became a state on December 3, 1818. At the time it was established, Madison encompassed the majority of the Illinois Territory. All of Illinois north of the current southern boundary of Madison County between the Mississippi and Wabash Rivers was part of the county. In 1814, the formation of Edwards County removed almost half of the eastern part, and the final boundary change came in 1843, when a small portion on the northeast corner of Madison County became part of Bond County.

Madison County is the home of the Cahokia Mounds Historic Site -- the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico that had its peak of power in circa 1100-1200 A.D. The site is named for the Cahokia, a sub tribe of the Illini Nation.

Also prominent in the history of Madison County is the Legend of the Piasa Bird, whose painting was found by Marquette and Joliet on their expedition through the area in 1675. A painting of the bird can be found on the bluffs, just west of Alton.

The county seat is Edwardsville. In the late 1800s, Madison County became an industrial powerhouse, and in the 20th century, was known for first, Graniteware, and later, its steel mills, oil refineries, and other heavy industry. In the year 1900, the population of Madison was 64,694.  In 2006, the population was 265,303 [Source: Wikipedia.org].  For more county history click here.

 

 

 

Links to Town Histories

 

 

Alton

Alton Newspaper Clippings

Alton's History - A Bustling, Prosperous River Town

Alton Penitentiary/Civil War Prison

Why Alton Gave Away Her Chance to be the Capital of Illinois

The Lincoln - Douglas Debate

The Lincoln - Shields Duel

The Elijah P. Lovejoy Story

The Legend of the Piasa Bird

The Story of Piasata and the Legend of the Piasa Bird

The State Fair, Held in Alton, 1856

The Early History of the Alton State Hospital  

East Alton

Disaster at Wann Junction - January 21, 1893 - A train wreck of unspeakable horror.

Edwardsville

Madison County Fair, Held in Edwardsville, Illinois in 1857

Historic Leclaire District   [offsite]    New!

Upper Alton

Colonel Andrew Fuller Rodgers - His Story

1847 Anti-Slavery Convention 

History of Western Military Academy     

 

 

 

 

(Note: Links provided to external websites are provided as convenience and informational purposes only; they do not constitute endorsement or approval of any products, services, or opinions given on external site.)

 

 

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This page last updated:  01/27/2015

 

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Col. James Madison

The Father of Our Constitution

Colonel James Madison

 

“The future and success of America is not in this Constitution, but in the laws of God upon which this Constitution is founded. We’ve staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government–far from it.  We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the commandments of God.” ~Madison

 

 

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