Answer Man: Is Belleville the oldest 'large' city in Illinois?

News-DemocratDecember 18, 2013 

Belleville and St. Louis reach birthday milestones in 2014. Where does Belleville rank in terms of age among Illinois cities over 40,000 and St. Louis in metros over 2 million? Also, for its celebration Belleville should partner with the BND and Chamber of Commerce to sponsor 200 whimsically decorated bees placed throughout the city. Then have a contest where people visiting a given number of bees win "Belleville bucks." You gotta 'bee' in Belleville! -- Emma

It seems if you want to create some real buzz, just say your city is the first or oldest. Even after cursory research, you'll realize that claim could get you into a real spitting match.

For example, Shawneetown has erected a large stone monument proclaiming "The Spirit of Shawneetown -- Oldest Town in Illinois." (Search for "Shawneetown" at www.waymarking.com to see it.) But guess what? The date listed on the monument is 1816 -- two years after George Blair named Belleville.

Then, there's Palestine (Illinois), "The Pioneer City," which two years ago used a logo proudly boasting "Palestine -- Illinois' First Bicentennial 1811-2011." But neither it nor Belleville holds a candle to places like Cahokia or Kaskaskia.

Actually, I suppose, it depends on what you consider to be a town's origin. Is it its incorporation? Its charter? Or simply its "founding," which often can be tricky to determine?

So with that introduction, let me give you news in which Belleville residents can take pride: Of the 41 Illinois cities over 40,000 population in the 2010 census, Belleville could call itself the oldest, having been incorporated as a village in 1819.

Peoria, which is sometimes referred to as the state's first city, does boast French settlements as far back as 1690, and there are references to a "Peoria" back to at least 1812. The city even celebrated its 300th birthday in 1990.

But the name of Fort Clark apparently was first officially changed to Peoria in 1825 with incorporation coming 10 years later. If you're curious, the town of Chicago was organized in 1833 and incorporated in 1837.

As for St. Louis, it's a Johnny-come-lately among major United States cities. I didn't count them all, but its 1764 founding came well after New York (1625), Philadelphia (1682), Detroit (1701), New Orleans (1718), San Antonio (1718), and Charlotte, N.C., (1755), among others. Of course, we can't forget the granddaddy of them all -- St. Augustine, Fla., established in 1565.

And, for your information, we are discussing prize hunts for a couple of our bicentennial events.

I'm a big fan of the Flying McCoys cartoon panel, but I have to admit that I didn't get the one on Oct. 13. It depicts an elderly couple watching a portly, out-of-breath police officer chasing a thief down a running trail in a park. There's no punch line -- or did you accidentally leave it out? -- W.M., of O'Fallon

I must admit I was hesitant to call my friends Gary and Glenn McCoy because I figure the worst insult you can give cartoonists is asking them to explain why a particular panel or strip is funny.

But Glenn took my call with characteristically good humor.

"You know what?" he joked. "Since it obviously wasn't funny, I'm going to go ahead and conclude that Gary drew that one."

Sure enough, I had taken a quick glance at the Sunday panel and mistaken who had drawn the trademark bulbous noses. So a quick call to Gary brought this humble explanation and apology:

"Actually, there's no punch line to it," he said. "I just thought it was funny being in a park where everybody jogs that this robber was fleeing the cop and they're both, like, in jogging shorts.

"I guess maybe my sense of humor sometimes is too quirky or doesn't always hit the mark. Sorry I left the reader scratching his head. I guess that happens sometimes."

I'm sure he's well aware that everyone doesn't have the same sense of humor. For instance, I remember one of the worst dates of my life. This woman had always found my sense of humor rather wacky so I figured it was a no-brainer to take her to "A Fish Called Wanda."

Wrong. I was rolling down the aisle in laughter while she sat there for two hours like the Great Stone Face. That pretty much put the kibosh on that relationship.

Today's trivia

How did women's undergarments known as "bloomers" get their name?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: When Jeremy Gelbwaks left "The Partridge Family" after just one season because his family moved, the show was forced to find a replacement for the TV family's youngest son, Chris. They found 11-year-old Brian Forster, who already had two claims to fame: He is the stepson of actor Whit Bissell, who appeared in more than 200 movies and dozens of TV shows. And he is a great-great-great-grandson of English author Charles Dickens.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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