Belleville, county seat of St. Clair County, is five minutes from Scott AFB and 15 minutes away from downtown St. Louis. Having celebrated it’s 200th anniversary in 2014, it is one of the oldest communities in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Farmer George Blair got things going on March 10, 1814, by donating an acre of farmland for a public square, and the former county seat then was transferred from Cahokia to the more central settlement. Blair got to name the town, and he chose “Belleville,” French for “beautiful city.”
Belleville rose quickly to prominence in politics and to economic growth in agribusiness, mining, banking, retailing and manufacturing. At one time it was known as “the stove capital of the world.” By the 1870s, coal mining was a growth industry and railroads were in place to haul materials and goods. By 1880, Belleville was a national supply center, serving not only the local market and St. Louis but points west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
By 2015, Belleville’s population had grown to 44,478, and the city had more than 300 miles of paved streets, including the longest Main Street in the U.S. with 9.3 miles of continuous city roadway. The municipality is the largest in Illinois south of Springfield, and has been a sister city to Paderborn, Germany, since 1990.
Belleville provides quality resources in both health care and education. Memorial Hospital has been serving the needs of area residents since 1958. In addition to the main hospital facility in west Belleville, Memorial also operates an off-campus diagnostic center and physical therapy center. Schools, both public and private, range from preschool through graduate school, including Lindenwood University – Belleville and Southwestern Illinois College.
The Belleville Public Library, a 183-year-old Carnegie Library, was the state’s first circulating library. The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra has been performing continuously for 152 years and is the second oldest in the nation.
To the east of Belleville is Scott AFB, the area’s largest employer. The military base and the city have enjoyed a positive relationship for over a century. The Belle-Scott Committee, established in 1949, is the oldest continuous military-civilian partnership in the nation.
Business and economic growth has gotten a boost from the Business Assistance Program, an update of the city’s comprehensive plan, and required business occupancy permits. Belleville’s Economic Development, Planning and Zoning Department teams with the city’s Health, Housing & Building Department and the Community Development Corp. on development issues and opportunities. The Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce also works cooperatively to advance business and community interests.
Belleville’s rich surrounding farmlands have consistently provided economic stability to the area and are famed for their white asparagus, horseradish, corn, strawberries, peaches and apples.
Downtown received a $7.1 million renovation in 2007 to become a shopping and tourism draw with its restaurants, boutiques, arts and crafts, museums, historic movie theater, and Old Town Farmers’ Market selling locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Other points of interest include the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Eckert’s Orchards, the Cathedral of St. Peter, the Skyview Drive-In Theatre, the Sept. 11 Memorial Walkway of Southern Illinois, Hofbräuhaus St. Louis-Belleville, parks, trails and golf courses. Annual events include Art on the Square, Oktoberfest, the Chili Cook-off, a Veterans Day ceremony, gingerbread festivities, a Christkindlmarkt (an open-air German Christmas market), and the largest Santa Claus parade in southern Illinois.
MetroLink light rail runs from Scott AFB through Belleville’s stations to St. Louis and St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Interstates 64 and 255 are adjacent, and Illinois state highways 15, 159, 177, 13 and 161 all cross Belleville.
Residents can select housing in lofts, new subdivisions, established neighborhoods or historic districts, including three national and three local historic districts.
The city’s 22 parks encompass more than 250 acres, which include 11 miles of bicycle and walking trails. Other recreational amenities include an outdoor skateboard park, as well as bowling, laser tag, bumper cars and go-karts.
To learn more, visit the City of Belleville website at www.belleville.net or call 618-233-6810 or visit the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce at www.bellevillechamber.org or call 618-233-2015.