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History of Venice, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




A number of land claims by French colonists were located along the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Wood River down towards the future site of Venice. However, very few of these colonists improved their land by building and cultivating.

In about 1815, John Anthony, of Pennsylvania Dutch descent, built the first house on the site of the old village of Venice. There he entertained travelers in a single-room house built of cottonwood logs. He rented skiffs to people wishing to cross the river. In 1826, Matthew Kerr, a merchant of St. Louis (and for whom Kerr’s Island was named) established a horse ferry at the present site of Venice. His annual license was fixed at $20.00 by the county, and the name of his boat was “Brooklyn.” The village of Venice was platted in 1841 by Dr. Cornelius Campbell and Charles F. Stamps. Campbell was largely interested in the ferry.

In 1842, Lieutenant Robert E. Lee built a dike running from Kerr’s Island south to the head of Bloody Island. This necessitated a change in the landing place of the “Brooklyn,” and the company operating the ferry obtained $1,600 damaged from the U. S. Government. This money was used for the construction of a bridge connecting Kerr’s Island with the mainland. The National Road terminated here, and across Kerr’s Island was the principal street of Venice. The “National Way,” as it was called, soon became the center of a large trade. Two hotels catered to the needs of travelers, and two livery stables supplied horses and vehicles. Three general store and two blacksmith shops were erected. One of the stores, kept by Peter Smith, was the first brick building erected in Venice Township. The flood of 1844 swept everything away except the brick store building, a livery stable (also of brick), and a part of one of the hotels. A German, in a fit of desperation, jumped from the bridge as it was being carried off, and committed suicide. His was the first smithery in the township, erected in 1837. As soon as the waters receded, the work of repairing commenced. A finer bridge soon spanned the slough, and business revived. Trade was represented by Peter Smith, James Morris, and Charles Pearce – all engaged in general merchandise.

In 1851, high waters again swept Venice away. Much of the beautiful island was carried off, so that the former terminus of “National Way” was far out in the Mississippi. The bridge was not rebuilt. A solitary brick building remained on the once busy site of Venice.
                                                   1861 Map of Venice, Madison County, Illinois
Recovery of Venice from the flooding was slow, but with the establishment of the Venice Elevator, erected in 1871 by a stock company (Messrs. R. P. Tansey and John J. Mitchell were the prime investors of the enterprise), the industrial development of Venice went forward.

On June 24, 1873, an election was held to determine whether the town should be incorporated. It resulted in seventy-nine votes for, and one against. Venice was incorporated June 28, 1873, with Henry Robinson, Joseph Froehly, Theodore Selb, Francis McCambridge, William Roberts, and John Kaseberg elected as members of the first board of trustees. Henry Robinson was chosen president, and Thomas W. Kinder, secretary.

The Venice Branch Union Stock Yards were established in 1874. They had a capacity in 1882 for handling ten thousand head of hogs, and five thousand head of cattle. W. A. Ramsay was the Manager, and J. J. Fletcher, Superintendent.

Bell Brothers of Indianapolis, Indiana erected an extensive sawmill on the banks of the Mississippi on the original town site of Venice, in 1877. In 1882, it was moved to Memphis.

The Venice Flouring Mills were erected by Glenn Bros. in 1871, at a cost of $22,000. They had five run of burrs, and were capable of turning out four hundred barrels of flour daily (1882). Keohler Bros. were the proprietors. On March 13, 1882, they were destroyed by fire.

In 1882, the following businesses operated in Venice:
Dry Good Merchants – Henry Robinson & Co., Henry Rittmann
Druggists – C. S. Youree, Hermaun Wilfemeyer
Grocers – Fred Kohl, Joseph Froehly, Henry Robinson & Co.
Blacksmiths – F. Kaseberg, Joseph Froehly
Carpenters – Burrel Ogletree, B. V. Merritt, T. L. Conner, E. Mott
Stove and Tinware – J. H. Puckhaber
Shoemaker – F. Brewer
Hotel – the Union House, William H. Sippy, proprietor
Physicians – W. H. Grayson, C. S. Youree
Postmaster – James B. Pinckard

By 1912, other industrial interests located in Venice, such as the Pittsburg Plate Glass Company, the Gibson Asphalt Company, the Inter-State Cooperage Company, and others. The rail car barns of the Alton, Granite & St. Louis, and the Illinois Traction Companies were located there.

McKinley Bridge, Venice, Illinois
In August 1907 work began on the McKinley Bridge (named after Congressman W. B. McKinley of Champaign, Illinois), which would take traffic across the Mississippi from Venice to St. Louis (the railroad track being in the center, and the auto lanes on the outside lanes). In January 1910, the center span of the bridge collapsed, and four men went down. They were saved after a thirty-hour battle with death in the ice floes. They clung to a piledriver scow after the crash, and had drifted ten miles south of the city when the scow sank. They saved a ladder of the scow, and with this made their way toward shore. Heavy fog prevented their being seen, but their shouts for help were heard and their rescue followed.

On September 20, 1910, the first car of the Illinois Traction System crossed the McKinley Bridge during a test run. It reached St. Louis ten minutes later and proceeded to its St. Louis passenger station at Twelfth Street and Lucas Avenue.
McKinley Bridge, Venice, Illinois
The bridge was formally opened and dedicated November 10, 1910. Citizens were invited to the gala event. During the day visitors were entertained by concerts and other amusements. At 2:30pm, a parade was held and reviewed by the Governor H. S. Hadley of Missouri and Governor W. S. Deneen of Illinois. Congressman McKinley attended also. The Archbishop John J. Glennon of St. Louis held a blessing and prayer service. After the dedication, a display of fireworks was held.

In 1958, the city of Venice purchased the bridge from the Illinois Terminal Railroad for nine million dollars in cash, and eleven million dollars in bonds. Venice then raised the toll from 20 cents to 25 cents per car. The railroad retained perpetual rights to use the bridge. Railroad service was discontinued on the bridge in 1992. The bridge was closed in 2001 due to unpaid taxes owed to St. Louis. A settlement was reached in 2004 to turn control of the bridge to Illinois, and forgive back taxes. In 2005 the highway approaches and main spans were replaced. The bridge was reopened in 2007.

A grade school was erected a half a mile from the principal business street of the village in 1868. It was a two-story brick building.

The Venice High School was established in 1917. It served the community for nearly nine decades before closing in 2004. The building has been razed. A charter school was established to continue the education of Venice students.

The Methodist Episcopal Church was erected in 1870 at a cost of $1,500. It had a seating capacity of 300.

The first service at the new St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Venice was held April 16, 1882. Before this time, Catholics in Venice attended church in East St. Louis and St. Louis. The cornerstone was blessed October 25, 1881 by Rev. C. Koenig. Approximately 32 Catholic families attended.


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