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The Early History of Mitchell

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




Pre-historic Era
In pre-historic times, small pyramids dotted the landscape near the future Mitchell Station in Chouteau Township. One pyramid was 300 feet on each of its four sides, 25 or 30 feet high. It was excavated away to make room for railroad tracks. A great number of relics were found showing that the mound was used as a burial site. There were copper implements and ornaments, some made to represent the shell of a tortoise. One relic was found covered with copper, that when broken, it was discovered that the copper was spooled around bone. Copper awls and needles were found – some 18 inches in length. There were also flint implements and the teeth of a buffalo.
The American Bottoms
The future site of Mitchell Station (later called Mitchell) was part of the American Bottoms. Rich soil and marshes provided good hunting and farmland. Most of the early settlers in the Mitchell area were hardworking German farmers. Andrew Emert, who immigrated from Pennsylvania, settled in the future site of Mitchell in 1807. Another settler was James Gillham, who came to Chouteau Township in 1794 in search of his wife and children, who had been taken captive by Kickapoo Indians in 1790. A four-year search was made before the family was reunited and settled near Long Lake. The first industry of the area was a mill operated as early as 1820 by Moses Job. Job opened the first store in 1839. As time went on, immigrants bought the land and established their farms.

In 1813, the courts issued an order to establish the first two county highways – one from Edwardsville to a bridge over Long Lake in the neighborhood of Mitchell; the other from that bridge to the Mississippi River, a short distance from the St. Louis Ferry.
John J. Mitchell
John J. and William H. Mitchell
In 1870, John J. and William H. Mitchell purchased approximately 4,000 acres in the future site of Mitchell Station. They dreamed of creating and operating a cattle ranch. The brothers had been residents of Alton, owning a steam mill and distillery. They had also been partners with Colonel Buckmaster in connection with the Alton State Penitentiary. During the Civil War, they played a part in bringing arms from St. Louis aboard their steamboat, to keep the weaponry from falling into the hands of the Confederates. The Mitchell brothers drained the swamplands and marshes on their lands and built their ranch, with Michael Smith Link as foreman. In 1871, John Mitchell backed the construction of an elevator in Venice. Later, John J. moved to St. Louis, and William moved to Chicago.

Mitchell Station Established
About the same time the Mitchells bought their land, the Chicago and Alton Railroad was planning to build their railway through the area. John Mitchell promoted the construction ofWilliam H. Mitchell the railroad from Alton to East St. Louis, and established Mitchell Station. In the following years, several other railroad lines, including the Wabash, were construction. Mitchell Station became a busy rail transportation center, which attracted railroad workers and their families.

By 1882, Mitchell Station had two general stores - one of which was owned by Hinze & Krueger, and the other by Henry Reinamann. Henry Quinn operated a blacksmith shop and kept a grocery store. A. Rapp operated a meat market. The physician was D. E. Smalley, and the postmaster was Robert Krueger. Boarding houses were erected – one owned by Mrs. Whyer, and the other by Mrs. Netheringham. Charles Hackethal operated a hotel, saloon, and grocery store, which burned to the ground in 1916.

In 1904, when the World’s Fair was held in St. Louis, the Illinois Traction Street Car Line was built from St. Louis to Mitchell, and in 1905 it was extended to Alton.

Sometime before 1920, Ernest A. Brooks of St. Louis established a residential subdivision so that homes could be built for families of railroad workers. A large building boom didn’t take place until the 1950s and 1960s, when industrial workers from Granite City, Madison, and Venice were looking for homes.

U. S. Route 66 ran through Mitchell, and various businesses along the road became stops for travelers and truckers. One of these was the Luna Café, built in 1924. It was rumored the café had gambling and prostitution.

Since Mitchell was never been incorporated as a village, there has never been any local government officials. Mitchell residents, however, have been willing to take responsibility to improve their community. Donations made by businesses and a five-dollar subscription fee from each homeowner resulted in the establishment of the Mitchell Fire District. The first fire truck was a 1923 Seagraves pumper, and the fire station construction began in 1946.

Early Schools of Mitchell
The Mitchell Brothers donated land on which to build a one-room public school. The school was constructed in 1871, with an additional room being added in 1904, and yet another room added in 1937. In 1950 it was overcrowded and the building was torn down. Work began immediately on a new schoolhouse for children from Kindergarten through 6th grade. Upper grades attended Granite City schools.

Early Churches of Mitchell
The Mitchell brothers donated land for the construction of two churches – Catholic and Protestant. The construction of St. Elizabeth’s Church began in 1871, with the cornerstone being laid October 1, 1871. Parishioners supplied the labor and materials for the construction, and the church was named in honor of Elizabeth Hackethal Ebling, who furnished food for the workers.

A Protestant Church was erected with the stipulation that the title to the land would be awarded after the church operated for twelve years by any one denomination. The church was first used by a Baptist congregation, then by a Methodist group, and last by Presbyterians, who stayed in the church and fulfilled the twelve-year requirement.


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