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The Early History of Highland, Sepastopol, and St. Morgan

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




The settlement of this part of the county by white people began as early as 1804, but these were very few and far between. In 1831, immigrants from Switzerland began to arrive, followed in increasing numbers by other Swiss and Germans. Joseph Suppiger built the first frame house, which later became about the center of town. When the first larger number of Swiss immigrants, who followed the original Swiss settlers (the Koepflis and Suppigers), arrived in 1833, they bought the existing pioneer farms – usually a log cabin and several acres of cultivated land. The squatter who had built the log cabin would then pack his few belonging on a horse, with his wife and children on another, and away they would go – armed with a shotgun. The first home of the Koepflis became the headquarters for the district, being besieged by people from all directions who came to see father Koepfli – the only doctor within miles – or for information regarding the purchase and sale of lands. For immigrants, it was the first place of refuge.

General James SempleIn 1837, General James Semple, then a member of the House of Representatives in Illinois, selected section 5 of Helvetia Township in Madison County for the site of a future town. A railroad development was in planning stages, and an appropriation of $1,600,000 was made for the construction of this and the Alton–Shawneetown Railroad. One day, quite unexpectedly, two strangers appeared on horseback. One of these was General Semple, and the other Joseph Suppiger. General Semple stated that he wanted Suppiger, Dr. Koepfli, and James Reynolds to join as founders of the new town. An agreement was made, deciding that 100 acres were to be platted into forty-five blocks, each 300 feet square, with the usual streets and alleys, with the central block being reserved for public or school purposes. The survey was made by the then county surveyor, Benaiah Robinson. In naming the town, Suppiger and Koepfli proposed either Helvetia or New Switzerland, but General Semple, being of Scotch descent and his new associates also hailing from mountain regions, proposed Highland, which was adopted. The original plat of the town, as recorded, shows not only the projected railroad, but also the depot grounds and an additional railroad named “Die Belleville and St. Louis.” Zschokke Street was made considerably wider than others for the purpose of the prospective railroad right-of-way, but that railroad was not completed. The plans were presumably abandoned during the panic of 1837.

The next step taken was a public sale of town lots on September 16, 1837. Constable Nic Kile was the auctioneer. The attendance was not large, due to the sparsely settled area, and only a small number of lots were sold. Wesley Dugger, from the neighborhood of the present town of St. Jacob, was the only one present from a distance. He bought a corner lot on which he built a frame house and started a small country store.

Immediately after the sale of lots, Joseph Suppiger began building a steam mill, thus affording welcome employment to others. Because of the steam mill, a log cabin of 20 feet square was constructed, in which on New Year’s Day, 1838, the first public dance occurred. In the mill, Sylvan Utiger installed a turnery, for the making of bedposts, and naves for wagons. Settlers soon began building frame houses and improving their log cabins. For heating, cooking and baking, they all had large fireplaces, as cast-iron stoves were too expensive. The meals at that time consisted usually of cornbread, bacon or venison. Deer were so numerous that the meat could be bought for less than one cent per pound. The Methodist Hill at that time was the meeting place of deer, rabbits and wolves – the latter being especially severe on young pigs. All the animals were allowed to run at large before the stock law was enacted, which required all occupied or improved buildings in town to be fenced in to keep animals out.

The post office was established in 1839 with David Thorp as postmaster.

Soon after the town of Highland was laid out, Swiss colonists were reinforced by immigrants from Baden. In 1840, the families of Bender, Meyer, Hammer, and Bader arrived. In 1841, seventy-two immigrants arrived, included the families of Hotz, Federer, Rall, Trautner, Fellhauer, Essenpreis, Weber, Kustermann, Holizinger, Voegele, Schwarz, Frey, Schaefer, Bellm, Barth, Koch, Winter, Woll, Ehrhardt, Hirsch, Weidner, Knopf, Metzger, Hoffmann, and Zopf. Most of these families settled east or northeast of Highland, in a semi-circle, and were devout Catholics. In 1844, they erected their first church edifice. Rev. Father P. Limacher served as their first priest.

                                                1861 map of Highland, Illinois

In 1865, Highland was incorporated and the first town election was held. Jacob Eggen was elected president, with Joseph Speckart, Henry Weinheimer, Xavier Suppiger, and Frank Appel as trustees. Berthold E. Hoffmann was clerk, and John Menz, treasurer.

Highland had no railroad at this time, and when in 1867 the builders of the Vandalia line proposed to run a road through the town if money was contributed, the citizens agreed to $10,000. A road was completed in 1868.

In 1884, discussion was held to organized Highland as a city. The proposition was hotly contested for fear the town might be run heavily in debt. The proposition carried by a large vote, however. Election of city officers was held May 6, 1884, with Fred B. Suppiger as Mayor, Alexander Beck, city clerk; Adolph Mueller, treasurer; and aldermen J. George Dumbeck, Jacob Grossenbacher, John Guggenbuehler, John Wildi, Adolph Ruegger, and John H. Hermann. A suitable two-story city hall was constructed in 1884, with the upper floor for meetings and offices, and the lower floor for fire engines and the jail.

Highland was one of the first towns in Madison County to install electric lights. The plant was first owned by private parties, but after a few years, it was purchased by the city.

Highland Industries and Businesses
The founding of the town was succeeded by the terrible commercial crisis of 1837. No debts could be paid except in cattle or produce. Despite this, the population and business activity began to grow. A steam mill, as previously mentioned, was erected as early as 1837 by Joseph Suppiger & Co. (Joseph Suppiger, Dr. F. Ryhiner, and Caspar Meyer). The capacity of the mill was about 30 barrels of flour in 24 hours. A saw mill was attached. From 1840 to 1850, the firm was composed of Joseph, Melchior, and Bernard Suppiger, James Reynolds, and David Thorp. A fourth brother, David, bought Bernard’s share in 1850. In 1854, James Reynolds sold out to Bernard Suppiger, who then became again a partner of the firm. In 1866, the mill passed into the hands of David Suppiger, Robert Suppiger (oldest son of Bernard), Hale M. Thorp, and Henry Weinheimer. The latter sold his share to Otto Suppiger (youngest son of Bernard), and Edwin J. Raith in 1880. The first building was erected by Joseph Suppiger, and the machinery for both grist and corn mill by an eastern millwright named Gale. In 1857, the whole mill was remodeled, the saw mill removed, and a new engine constructed under the supervision of Captain Julius Raith.

The first mechanic of Highland was a wagon maker named Krucker, from St. Gall, Switzerland. Krucker, along with a blacksmith from Germany by the name of Lang, were put to work in 1839 by Jacob Eggen making the first wagon, which they completed to perfection and established a reputation that brought them abundant work.

Charles Kinne started a harness shop in Highland. The first store in Highland was opened by Elijah Ellison, on the site of the Highland House. David Thorp opened a store in 1838 or 1839 (which later became the site of a bank) and became the first postmaster of Highland.

Jacob Eggen, who arrived in Highland in 1833, started a brickyard, and connected a pottery with it. The first vessels for the St. Louis White Lead Works were made in this pottery. Mr. Eggen was also the founder of a distillery and later a bakery.

In the summer of 1843, Joseph and Salomon Koepfli, upon their return from Switzerland, built their fine, large residence on the hill just north of town, and converted the grove on the north side into a neat park. The same year, a number of buildings were erected and several stores opened. Peter Tuffli and his stepfather, John Laubinger, bought the house in which Elijah Ellison operated a store, and opened the first regular meat shop. About the same time, J. R. Blattner began building the noted New Switzerland House, which existed about fifty years until John Wildi bought it and erected in place of it his fine mansion.

The first hotel of Highland was opened by Anthony Buchmann. In 1843, Highland became a station on the stage route between Vandalia and St. Louis. Other hotels include the Eagle Hotel, and the Republic House.

A wool-carding machine was erected by N. Smiley in 1843, and in later years it was owned by Mr. Stahl, who converted it into a yarn factory. The business was continued successively by Bosshard, Feickert & Co., Bosshard, Pfenninger & Co., and by Charles Bosshard, up to September 1874.
Highland Brewery
John Guggenbuehler founded the Jefferson Brewery in 1843. It later passed into the hands of Daniel Wild. In 1865, it was consolidated with the Highland Brewery, which was founded in 1854 by Charles L. Bernays. In 1856, Bernays took Gerhard Schott and M. F. Schott as partners. Bernays sold his interest in the brewery to the Schotts in 1857. Soon after, Gerhard Schott sold his interest, and Martin F. and Christian Schott remained sole proprietors until 1870, when Christian Schott withdrew from the business.

Jacob Eggen, together with Ludwig Gruetli, opened a distillery in 1844, with Henry Hermann and George Ruegger as partners. In 1849, the business passed into the hands of Anthony Miller, Henry Hermann, and J. J. Spindler, and was successfully operated until 1865, when the partnership was dissolved.

In 1850, Henry Hermann, John Leder, and C. H. Seyht, with a capital stock of $100,000, founded the Highland City Mills.

In 1859, the Highland library was organized, with A. E. Bandelier as President. In 1866, the Highland Turn Verein was organized. A public hall was erected, large enough to comfortably seat 700 persons. In the hall were musical performances and political meetings.

After the Civil War, Highland had a population of nearly 2,000 people. The log cabins and light frame buildings were disappearing, being replaced with substantial brick buildings. Other businesses were founded such as the Highland Foundry, N. Rohr’s planing mills and door and sash factory, Grossenbacher’s Custom Mills, and the Highland Mineral Water Factory. Grain elevators were erected near the depot, to facilitate shipment of agricultural products.
Helvetia Milk Company, Highland, Illinois
In 1885 the Helvetia Milk Condensory was founded, which manufactured evaporated milk. The well-known “Pet” and “Highland” brands were popular, with Pet being sold to the domestic trade, and the latter exported and sold to the army and navy. Through perseverance, the company prospered. Their eight plants (Highland, Greenville, Ohio, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Westfield, Pennsylvania) turned out from eight to ten carloads of finished product daily. Although the company was not the inventor of the manufacture of evaporated milk, they were the first to put the product into successful practice on a commercial scale. The first board of directors were Dr. Knoebel, John Wildi, George Roth, Fred Kaeser, and Louis Latzer. Dr. Knoebel served as president, and John Wildi as secretary and treasurer.

Highland Embroidery Works was founded in 1881 by John Rush of Switzerland, but established in 1883 by J. J. Spindler Jr. Numerous machines were imported from Switzerland and Germany, and about twenty-five men and seventy-five to one hundred girls were employed.

The Stocker Artificial Stone and Gravel Company was established in 1903. The company manufactured plain and ornamental building blocks and other concrete articles. They constructed concrete sidewalks, bridges, foundation for houses, etc. Fred Stocker served as president, with Ferd Krenzer as secretary and treasurer.

Highland Banks
The First National Bank was evolved from the bank of Kinne & Pabst and the Highland Bank. Kinne & Pabst founded their bank in 1890, and in 1891 the Highland Bank was incorporated. On March 5, 1903, the name was changed to the First National Bank of Highland.

The State & Trust Bank was organized May 3, 1903. John Wildi served as president, L. J. Ruhr, vice-president, and Louis Blattner, cashier.

The East End Bank was organized October 28, 1908. Edward Feutz served as president, and Louis Miller, vice-president; Frank Zolk, secretary, and L. A. Schreiber, cashier.

Early Highland Schools
Although there was no schoolhouse, Miss Slater was retained as teacher. She taught in the homes of various families of the students.Highland Public School, constructed 1894 Joseph Suppiger, in about 1839 or 1840, raised funds to erect a schoolhouse. It was built by Joseph Mueller on what is now called Methodist Hill, at the expense of $300. The schoolhouse on Methodist Hill was open to all, and was also used for religious services. This schoolhouse soon proved to small, and on October 27, 1843, it was decided to erect a stone building, 40x24 feet. This building was completed in 1844. This schoolhouse burned down in the S pring of 1850. Joseph Suppiger called a public meeting, and it was decided to raise money for the erection of a two-story brick building of four rooms, upon the public or school square. This building was soon erected, with one room used for the regular English public school, and the other three rooms by private teachers. Records show that Miss Emily S. Thorp was the first teacher of this public school. Due to rapid increase of population, this schoolhouse soon became insufficient. In 1867, another two-story brick building of four rooms was erected. Again, in 1893, the two buildings proved inadequate. In 1894, a modern building of ten spacious rooms, at a cost of $24,000 was constructed. The two old schoolhouses were torn down.

Early Highland Churches
The German Catholic Church - On December 26, 1843, the Catholics of Highland decided to build a church. Solomon Koepfli, John Schwartz, Conrad Bader, William Lang, Dr. Caspar Koepfli, John Frey, Theodore Mueller, Nic Voegele and Jacob Durer were appointed to take the necessary steps. The cornerstone was laid May 1, 1844 by Father J. Catting. Eventually the small church was found inadequate, so in October 1853, a new brick church, 110x45 feet, was completed in 1856. The first frame church was used as a parochial school until the convent building was completed in 1866. The rectory was erected in 1857.

The German Methodist Church was organized in 1846. The church was built in 1847, and the parsonage was built in 1876 or 1877. Rev. William Fiegenbaum was the first resident pastor.

The French and English Congregational Church – The Congregational Church of Highland was evolved out of the French Church, which had its beginning with the coming of Rev. Francis Vulliet from Switzerland in 1848. He was an ordained minister for more than twenty-two years, but refused to obey the mandates of the political party in power. He immigrated to American with his family, arriving in Highland in 1848. He immediately began religious services in his and other homes of French-speaking families until in 1859 a brick church was built on Methodist Hill, named the French Evangelical Church. In 1874, Rev. Francis Vulliet died, and his son, Rev. Louis Vulliet, was elected pastor. The congregation joined the Southern Association of Congregational Churches in 1876, with Louis Vulliet as minister until 1886. A new church building was erected in 1887.

The Highland Militia
In 1844, when was with Mexico was expected, 3 militia companies were organized – an artillery company with Jacob Eggen as Captain, an infantry company with Captain John Guggenbuehler, and a cavalry company under Captain Richardson. The members of the first two companies were all Germans or Swiss-Germans, while in the cavalry company, only three Swiss were enlisted. The three Highland companies formed their battalion and elected Jacob Eggen as Major. In 1848, the population had increased, and the number of men was brought up to 250. The state furnished a cannon for the artillery company, which Major Eggen selected and brought over from Alton. He was met by the company at Silver Creek, north of Highland, where the men formed in position for parade to Highland, after firing three salutes. This event was witnessed by the entire population. 1848 was the last year of the existence of this militia. The cannon was later used for “thunder” on the fourth of July and other festivals. It was later mounted in Lindendale Park as an ornament. During the Civil War, Highland furnished more than its quota of men for the preservation of the Union.



Sebastopol, Helvetia Township, Madison County, Illinois - 1861 mapSebastopol in Helvetia Township, Madison County was a French settlement started by colonists from the French cantons of Switzerland in about 1848. The settlement was promoted in 1856 by L. Trembley, a native of France, who lived on the border of Clinton County for years prior to the foundation of the settlement.

Sebastopol was a rich, agricultural section inhabited by industrious people. Timothy Gruaz laid out the little town of Sebastopol in 1860, after opening a store in 1858 on the north side near the Ramsay farm. Eventually the village had about a dozen houses, with a general store, two blacksmiths (J. C. Luchsinger and Elisha Demoulin), a cartwright (Rud Kaufmann), and a shoemaker (Aug Kkeiser). Gruaz’s store came into the hands of William Hagnauer Sr., and then years later to J. C. Steiner, and lastly to Elisha Demoulin, who closed the store in about 1900. The blacksmith, cartwright, and shoemaker went out of business about the same time, so that only homes remained. During the best years of this village, Anthony Hoefli conducted a small tavern.



St. Morgan was a small crossroads town at the southwestern corner of Helvetia Township, on Trenton Road. E. M. Morgan, a pioneer of Clinton County, settled there in 1844. He was associate justice of Madison County from 1857 to 1861. He opened a store and had a post office established there, and served as its postmaster. Zicholas Zopf opened a tavern, and Fred Hanselmann opened a blacksmith shop. After the death of the original owners, the store and tavern had other proprietors, but have closed years ago.

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