Answer Man

August 9, 2014

Answer Man: When did streetcars stop running in Belleville?

Answer Man

Got questions? You've come to the right place

Asked during a recent visit to Belleville Bicentennial: 200 exhibition in the Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College:

When did streetcars stop running in Belleville? -- L.W., of Belleville

A: At 3 a.m., Gerald L. Phillips rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he arose to board the last electric streetcar that would ever roll through Belleville.

His emotions must have started swirling as soon as he awoke that early morning of July 24, 1932. By then, he was running a grocery at 5800 W. Main St., but in 1898, Phillips, then just 22, wired the first eight streetcars that ran the route from Belleville to East St. Louis.

Then, on June 4, 1899, Phillips rode on the first car to enter Belleville on that line. Now, 33 years later, Phillips knew as he was dressing that he was about to mark the end of an era.

Before 1899, steam railroads and wagons -- usually drawn by mules -- were about the only way to travel between Belleville and East St. Louis. In bad weather, it was mud nearly the entire way, according to a News-Democrat report at the time.

But in the fall of 1898, eight new electric cars ordered by the St. Louis, Belleville and Suburban Railway Co. arrived at the car barn at the foot of Edgemont Hill. While they were being assembled in Belleville, it was Phillips' job to connect the wires from the two motors with the controller box and from there to the trolley.

The cars, "luxurious with large mirrors and leather-covered, comfortable seats," were 40 feet long and nearly 8 feet wide. Each was named after a state, including, of course, Illinois and Missouri.

On that early June day in 1899, company Superintendent Mayo said, "Phillips, look over the car to see that everything is all right." After Phillips made one final inspection, the Illinois began its inaugural journey up Edgemont Hill.

"We had to proceed very cautiously over the track laid in Belleville since it was very light and not designed to sustain the weight of the heavy new car," Phillips remembered in 1932. "We fairly rocked over those 3-inch rails. The day after, we gave everyone a free ride, and, believe me, we had passengers."

That memory must have crossed his mind as Phillips drove to the Edgemont station in the dark of night in July 1932. There, Phillips, who had also worked as a motorman for nine years, boarded the final car to come to Belleville. Then, he rode it back to Edgemont when, at 4:20 a.m., the last streetcar left Public Square.

At the same time, a bus owned by the Blue Goose Motor Coach Co. left St. Louis to start both intercity and intracity bus service in Belleville as the sun began to rise on a new day in metro-east transportation.

Today's trivia

When do some say "The Star-Spangled Banner" became a tradition at sporting events?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: The Rev. Paul Schulte was a German pilot during World War I. But we remember him best for flying mercy missions to the Eskimos and helping the Rev. Edwin Guild establish a shrine to Mary, Our Lady of the Snows. To see his picture and book, visit the Belleville Bicentennial: 200 exhibition, which ends Thursday at the Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

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

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