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Belleville Celebrates Bicentennial, Looks Ahead

Five men were inducted into the Belleville Walk of Fame in 2014: Ninian Edwards, Lyman Trumull, Bob Goalby, George Blair and Christian "Buddy" Ebsen.
Larry Betz
Belleville Historical Society

You’ve stumbled across the cakes, watched the fireworks and heard the stories about St. Louis’ 250th anniversary. But nearby Belleville also is celebrating a milestone: 2014 marked the Illinois city’s bicentennial.

Belleville was founded in 1814 when George Blair donated an acre of his farmland for the city, part of a deal that moved the St. Clair County seat from Cahokia, on the Mississippi River, to the center of the county.

“A lot of people think that the Germans settled Belleville, which is not true at all,” said Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society. “It was settled by easterners of English and French descent primarily. It wasn’t until the late 1820s and early 1830s that the German movement started happening.”

In fact, Belleville is French for “beautiful city.”

Blair was one of the five men inducted into the city’s new walk of fame. The name of each inductee can be found on a plaque in northwest corner of the Public Square. The Belleville Historical Society began working to create the walk of fame in 2010 to recognize people who have been significant to the city’s history.

“We wanted to use this as kind of a catapult into the next 100 years for Belleville, to kind of bring a sense of pride to the community of its history, and put it right out there for the people to see rather than put it in books and hide it away,” Betz told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

The historical society is working on a similar project to recognize historic buildings in Belleville.

“One of the neat things about the walk of fame is that we can kind of introduce some of the different aspects of Belleville’s history,” said Bob Brunkow, a Belleville Historical Society historian.

In addition to Blair, Ninian Edwards, Lyman Trumbull, Christian “Buddy” Ebsen and Bob Goalby were inducted into the Belleville Walk of Fame.

Edwards was a “great developer of Belleville,” Brunkow said. “He bought up all the vacant lots in Belleville and then offered them on favorable terms to people who he thought would benefit the town: merchants, schoolteachers, artisans. He deserves a lot of credit for the growth of Belleville.”

Edwards was the only governor of the Illinois Territory (1809-1818), was one of the first U.S. Senators (1818-1824) and served as Illinois’ third governor (1826-1830).

Trumbull also served as a U.S. Senator (1855-1873), and was active in the anti-slavery movement. He’s credited with co-authoring the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865.

Ebsen was an actor and dancer, widely known for playing Jed Clampett in “The Beverly Hillbillies” and the title character in “Barnaby Jones.”

Goalby, the only living member of the inaugural walk of fame class, is a professional golfer who won the Masters Tournament in 1968. Goalby and Roberto De Vicenzo were tied after 72 holes of regulation play. The two were destined for an 18-hole playoff the next day, but a mistake on De Vicenzo’s scorecard gave Goalby the championship that day.

The historical society plans to add two or three people to the walk of fame every two years, Betz said.

Although St. Louis had a 50 year head start on Belleville, the cities have had their competitions.

“In the brewing industry, there certainly was,” Brunkow said.

Stag beer was born in Belleville in 1907 at the Western Brewery. In 1912, St. Louis beer baron Henry Griesedieck bought Western.

“The competition of Stag became pretty great with Anheuser-Busch,” Brunkow said. “Adolphus Busch felt a need that they were cutting in too much of (A-B’s) market share, so he tried to establish a presence in Belleville. He bought the old city park and developed an area where people could come and sit out and enjoy the evening and drink beer. He even ran a railroad over to it so he could haul his beer over. He had tunnels made for the ice and all of this, and was trying to compete with Stag. And then Prohibition came in and he moved out and never came back afterwards.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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