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The Early History of Alhambra

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




Alhambra was laid out in 1849 by Dr. Louis F. Sheppard, and the plat recorded November 2, 1850. Sheppard came from the east with his wife and purchased considerable land in Madison County. On their arrival, they made their home with Levi Harnsberger. Mrs. Harnsberger and Mrs. Sheppard were reading Washington Irving’s book, “Tales of the Alhambra.” The Alhambra (meaning Red Castle) was a Moorish castle in Spain, and it was so named because of its red-tiled exterior. When it was time to name his newly established town, his wife suggested Alhambra, and he approved.

William W. PearceWilliam W. Pearce settled at Alhambra and purchased the holdings of Dr. Southard. He laid out an addition of three blocks, north of the original town. He was a large land holder and became a leading man in the township. In 1858, Pearce built a spacious brick residence, the finest in the township, on Main Street. He was elected to the state legislature in 1884.

Solomon Tabor and Louis F. Sheppard erected the first buildings, at about the same time. Tabor put in his building a general stock of goods, while Sheppard’s was a residence. Sheppard also built a saw mill soon after the town was laid out.

William J. Lowry was the first postmaster of Alhambra. Lowry was a farmer, living about two miles west of Alhambra. In 1846 or 1847, he procured the establishment of a post office at his farm residence, calling it “Lowry.” When Alhambra was laid out, he moved there, and the name of the post office became “Alhambra.” The post office changed several times between Alhambra and Greencastle, which was one mile west of Alhambra. James B. McMichael moved the post office to Greencastle, and afterward changed it back to Alhambra. R. D. Utiger moved the post office to Greencastle in 1870, where he maintained it until April 5, 1884, when Alhambra and Greencastle combined and were incorporated under the name Alhambra. There had at times been great rivalry between the two villages, but in times they reconciled and become one.

                                                 1861 Map of Alhambra

A two-story frame schoolhouse was erected in 1879, where two teachers were employed. In 1882, the town contained two general stores (owned by Samuel Rosenthall and Leutweiler & Leuscheer; two hotels (owned by John Ottenad and William Berg); two physicians (F. M. Pearce and H. T. Wharff); two blacksmith shops (owned by Chris Stait and Keintz Brothers); two wagon shops (owned by George Schmidt and August Gross); a millinery and dress making shop (owned by Mary J. Warderman); a barber (J. P. Pearce); two harness and saddlers (H. Riffle and Casper Fridili); one hardware and agricultural implement store (John Gehrig); and one tailor shop (V. Deibert).  In 1884 the village of Alhambra was incorporated, with F. M. Pearce as mayor.

In 1907, the citizens of Alhambra met and organized the Citizens’ State Bank of Alhambra, with C. Tontz as president, Dr. C. E. Harnsberg the first vice-president, and C. B. Munday the second vice-president, and L. A. Schrieber as cashier. The stockholders were comprised of thirty-six of the wealthiest farmers of Alhambra Township. The directors of the bank were: Christian Tontz, C. E. Harnsberger, C. B. Munday, August Talleur, Herman Suhre, William Conrad, F. Oswald, N. L. Ryder, and W. H. Beckman.

Another bank was organized in 1907, and was the private institution of Adolph Hitz, who was the president, with Jacob B. Leef as cashier, and Emil A. Landolt as assistant cashier. It occupied a fine, two-story building, with furniture, fixtures, and a safety deposit vault. Hitz was one of the largest land holder in the township.

Alhambra became an important shipping point for grain and farm produce. Dairy farms were a leading agricultural pursuit, with large quantities of milk shipped daily to St. Louis, over the Illinois Central and the Clover Leaf Railroads.


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