Tag Archives: Belleville

Reflections: The Future of Public Building Preservation

6 May

by Tom Thompson-

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of final course reflections from graduate students.

During the semester we met numerous people who are passionate about history and present it to the public in many different ways.  That passion rubs off on us as students and makes us want to continue their legacy of preservation.  However, I am concerned whether major historic preservation projects, of the type we learned about, will be completed in the future.

When I look at the old YMCA in Belleville as a public historian I see the architecture and the role the building played in improving lives of city residents.  But as a taxpayer and realist I just see a stalemate.  The building is too expensive to repair and the city does not have the money to tear it down.  So it continues to be exposed to the elements and become harder to restore.  Even if the economic environment improves, will the funding come forward to rebuild such a large building?

We’ve seen that cities like Lowell, Mass., have been able to use their historical past to lead preservation efforts for the city as a whole.  But Lowell’s experience was driven by a few people with vision, federal funding, and the continuing support of the National Park Service. What is to happen to our local cities with much smaller populations and no driving force for change?  I am normally a positive person but I have to say that I am not optimistic about the future of these large-scale projects.

The fiscal future points to reduced federal funding across the board and likely further reduction in the arts and state historical projects. Certainly in the short run it appears that the State of Illinois will have to fund people and infrastructure projects at the expense of the arts. What will happen to the smaller cities that want to preserve their inner core like Belleville and Granite City? Even a large project like Old North St. Louis has huge financial challenges. How will they find the funding to preserve significant buildings or historic areas?

Many cities we have learned about are considering converting these areas to an “arts” center. We’ve heard this in Belleville and Granite City. Other mid-size American cities like Reading, PA are going this route to save their inner core and reduce flight of younger residents from the city.  Reading has a head start with the drive of millionaire Albert Boscov, but what are the rest of us to do?  Can the arts attract enough businesses to save all of these cities?  Again I am skeptical.

So, rather than a call to action, I just want to point out to my fellow public historians that we are in an era where we may have to pick our small battles rather than win the whole war. So, in Belleville, the Historical Society is preserving a small old saloon while keeping an eye on the larger YMCA.  A manageable project with, perhaps, a manageable budget.  The way of the future.


Native Americans and Museums

22 Mar

by Becky Johnston-

Where does American history start?  Does it begin with the first European who set foot on the shores of this “New World?”  And who or when would that be?  It could be claimed that in the 1100s or earlier, Vikings came to the North American shores. Does it begin with the first English invader? Or, perhaps when the continent was first inhabited by any person?  Or even farther back,when the continent became separated?  Every event in the span of this region,as far back as we can go, has had some influence on subsequent events. The outdated line that has been drawn can skew history, making it seem as though what happened before Europeans invaded is not as significant as what happened after. That’s why I think it is so important and wonderful that the Labor and Industry Museum in Belleville included the archaeology found underneath the stockyards.

Though Europeans did not encounter these peoples directly, they would have encountered their descendants whose cultures were derived from these peoples’ experiences. Settlement patterns, botanical knowledge, and scientific observations that were taught to the Europeans to help them survive in this world, had a basis in the Mississippians and their ancestors –for everything is connected.

Being a student of Native American Studies, I find this barrier outdated and more than racist. It was in the 1800s that the theory of “prehistory” became a mainstream concept. A French historian was looking for a way to denote the time before a written record in France, but “prehistory” has much worse connotations. In the scheme of world history, it wasn’t long ago that history and story were synonymous. The history of something IS its story. To say “prehistory” would mean before the story. So now, Native Americans prior to European invasion are before the story and not deemed suitable for historical study.

Another misconception within museums is relegating Native Americans to natural history. The idea that Native Americans were “one with nature” has been labeled the “Pristine Myth” by anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. Cultures and societies prior to European arrival had a large impact on the environment. Because these peoples understood that it was nature that provided for them, their religious views included more of a symbiotic relation with the world around them, but they no more belong in Natural History than the Spaniards who arrived in 1492 and wiped out an entire civilization and are commemorated for it every year.

More museums should take the initiative that the Labor and Industry Museum in Belleville has taken by including Native American Studies into their exhibits. European arrival does mark a permanent shift in the direction of this country -creating a global leader. But without the existence of the first populations that migrated to this region thousands of years ago, Europeans might not have gained the foot hold they did on the backs of the Indigenous populations.

Belleville Saloon Museum

21 Mar

According to Riverfront Times, a group in Belleville is planning to create a Belleville Saloon Museum. The proposed museum will honor Belleville’s saloon heritage and Stag beer.

As local experts in museums and public history, do you have any ideas for the proposed museum?

Thoughts on Preservation

3 Mar

by Dennis Martinez

Throughout St. Louis, Missouri, and also in Belleville, Illinois, we see the remnants of what was a booming economic community. We are only left with the ghostly empty brick buildings that for the most part are being demolished. De-industrialization followed by de-urbanization seems to be the cause of most of the empty buildings. Having grown up near Belleville, I didn’t think twice about the history of all the beautiful brick buildings on Main Street. All I knew was that there was a Bread Co. in there now and now I am hungry! I think Main Street in Belleville is a good example of how the new era of businesses can take the older historical buildings and remodel them to work as a place of business today. With the help of Michael Allen‘s organization, and the Labor and Industry Museum, we as a class are able to see the significance of what was here before us, and the importance of keeping these historical buildings in our community.

If it wasn’t for organizations like these that step in to save the historic buildings, then most of our neighborhoods now would be very plain and would have nothing to spark the imagination to think what was here before me? The significance of having these non-profit organizations coming in and wanting to save these buildings and have business booming back in them is wonderful to see. Obviously these older buildings are not as energy efficient as the newer buildings, but with some interior remodeling that can be changed and you are left with a beautiful historical building as a business center. I want to get the opinion of the class to see whether you agree or disagree that Michael Allen is part of a great organization? Also, do you think the Belleville Labor and Industry Museum has an impact in the community in terms of celebrating the city’s history of industry and how it affects the community as a whole?