History Of Edwardsville IL.
Although there is some debate about exact dates, Edwardsville is generally credited as being the third-oldest town in the state of Illinois. Due in part to a strong Native American population that had thrived in the area — especially 20 miles southwest, around Cahokia — some of the first European settlers to forge through the Illinois prairies halted their westward journeys in this region. In 1805, a North Carolina settler named Thomas Kirkpatrick erected a two-room cabin on a bluff overlooking Cahokia Creek. His family homestead, which would have been located on the northern side of modern-day Edwardsville, prospered from the beginning, and word of their good fortunes quickly spread back east.
By 1809 more settlers from the Southeast were following suit, joining the Kirkpatricks and forming a small village. In particular, Edwardsville was forever changed by the arrival of Benjamin Stephenson, who migrated along with Ninian Edwards — the future territorial governor of Illinois — from Kentucky. Stephenson quickly established himself as a potent political and community presence. During the War of 1812, Stephenson — already an appointed sheriff — attained the rank of colonel. After the war, Col. Stephenson served as a congressional representative for the Illinois territory from 1816–1818.
Despite the rapid rise of his influence, perhaps the most lasting impression Stephenson’s life made upon the area was architectural. Both Stephenson and Gov. Edwards erected stately Federal-style brick homes in a portion of town they referred to as Upper Edwardsville. Miraculously, with the assistance of ambitious restoration efforts, Col. Benjamin Stephenson’s house still stands today, a monument to the pioneer spirit of one of Edwardsville’s founding fathers. For Ninian Edwards’ part, the most significant legacy he left upon the local area was his name. In 1812, Edwards had anointed the Kirkpatrick cabin with the municipal honor of being the seat of justice for the newly created Madison County. In return, in 1813, Kirkpatrick made the magnanimous gesture of naming the young town Edwardsville.
Throughout the decades leading up to the Civil War, Edwardsville continued to grow. The Land of Goshen section of south Edwardsville served as the western terminus of a road that cut diagonally across the state from Shawneetown — on the Ohio River — to Madison County, creating a vital artery for population growth. By the time the war ended in 1865, Edwardsville was a thriving town of nearly 2,000 that featured everything from a courthouse and a local newspaper (The Intelligencer) to beer breweries and a steam furniture factory.
Around 1890, a future industrialist named N.O. Nelson began a project of progressive vision and effective action that would forever change the fabric of Edwardsville. Inspired by new economic philosophies regarding profit sharing, Nelson built a modern manufacturing facility, complete with a selection of modest, yet attractive, new homes for his employees. He named the project Leclaire after a French profit-sharing pioneer. The 150 acres acquired by Nelson for Leclaire sat just southeast of Edwardsville’s center. His factory, which made toilets and other plumbing fixtures, was said to have been a model of efficiency highlighted by exemplary working conditions.
Good fortunes persisted for Edwardsville in the 20th century. The Edwardsville Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy group for local business, was founded in 1923. The country’s most revered highway, Route 66, blazed its way from Chicago to Los Angeles right through the heart of Edwardsville. The area was growing, and new businesses and industries were demanding employees with a college education. Early in 1955, The Edwardsville Chamber of Commerce established a committee that initiated a four-year institution, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.