Q. When I was a child growing up in the 1950s, the apartment building at 319 E. D St. in Belleville was the Eagles club. What is the origin of that building? Was it ever a private residence?
— Margaret Chouinard, of Belleville
Q. When I was young, my parents were very active in the Eagles. In the clubhouse on North Charles Street, there were murals of various country scenes painted above the bar. The clubhouse had a fire many years ago, and the organization moved to another location and then disbanded. I would like to know if any of the murals were saved, or were they destroyed in the fire?
— R.R., of Swansea
A. Front-page headlines greeted Belleville News-Democrat readers on March 10, 1928, announcing that the local Fraternal Order of Eagles planned to purchase the posh estate of former Belleville mover and shaker Col. Casimir Andel.
Born in 1840 at Bingen, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, Andel moved to the United States when he was just 17. He first settled in Evansville, Ind., before moving to Belleville a year later.
Evansville’s loss was Belleville’s big gain. Andel soon immersed himself in numerous local military and social organizations along with a wide range of business pursuits. Already in the early days of the Civil War, for example, he was one of 23 recruits sent to Cairo in 1861 to prevent supplies from being sent to the South along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
After the war, he returned to Belleville to become a civic and business leader. He helped incorporate the People’s Gaslight & Coke Co., became a director of First National Bank and purchased such businesses as the Belleville Clay Mining, Washing and Pottery Co. He was co-commander of the Belleville Guard, which, according to an 1877 story, “captured a railroad strikers’ train in West Belleville.” Later, he would be commissioned a colonel in the 11th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.
His long list of memberships included the Liederkranz Society, the Belleville Piscatorial Association, the Belleville Mutual Aid Association and the Belleville Health Department. In 1884, he became commander of the Hecker Post of the Grand Army of the Republic. Little wonder, then, that by the time the 1896-1897 Belleville City Directory was published, Andel was comfortably ensconced in his well-appointed brick house at 315 E. D St., near the intersection with North Charles. (It is thought that it was built between 1860 and 1875.) Andel (find a picture at freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sunnyann/SSAWV/andelcasimir.html) died in 1918 at age 77 and is buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery.
A decade later, the local Eagles were looking for a new home and began eyeing the Andel estate, which apparently served as a boarding or apartment house after Andel’s death. In 1908, the Eagles had purchased the H.L. Williams mansion at 225 E. A St., which the News-Democrat called “one of the finest in the state.” Two years later, the group bought the next-door property, where it erected a new pavilion.
But by 1916, the Eagles, whose membership had climbed into the hundreds, may have outgrown its home, so it sold the property for $10,000 to the Masonic Lodge. A decade later, the News-Democrat reported that the Eagles were planning to spend $50,000 to build a new home on West Main Street, but the idea never got off the drawing board. Instead, the group bought the Andel property in 1928 for $14,500.
As the News-Democrat noted, the home at that time was “elegantly situated” on a roughly 30,000-square-foot tract of woods. The club planned to use the ground floor for its reception area, lounge and dining room while turning the upstairs into a large hall and using the basement for club rooms. On Oct. 7, 1928, the new home to Aerie No. 743 was dedicated with much pomp and circumstance. A year later, the local Eagles celebrated their 25th anniversary by hosting a regional convention of 13 aeries from throughout Southern Illinois.
But the good times didn’t last. By 1946 — when the address was listed as 401 N. Charles — the building perhaps had become too big for the Eagles alone, so it also became the home of several unions, including the Belleville Brewery workers, the Enamel Workers, the Garment Workers and the Stove Mounters, according to that year’s Belleville City Directory. Then came the most devastating news of all when on Sunday morning, March 10, 1985, a fire broke out in the building that the lodge had called home for nearly 60 years. By that night, the lodge was nearly a total loss.
“We saved very little,” then-President Mike Lotz told the News-Democrat as he picked up several pieces of “what may have been furniture” and threw them down in frustration.
Although Lotz managed to find the group’s membership records, those beautiful paintings that graced the walls were destroyed. “The picture frame outlines were still visible against the walls,” we reported.
“A doctor who used to be a member of the Eagles painted them,” Lotz said. “When he sold the house to the Eagles, he kept the paintings here.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles organization, which was started in 1898 by six Seattle theater owners, continues to soar with more than 1,600 aeries throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 2008, they gave $25 million to fund the group’s diabetes research center at the University of Iowa.
How did Leslie Scott hit upon the name “Jenga” when she launched the game in 1983?
Answer to Tuesday’s trivia: In 1939, the National Association of Basketball Coaches invited eight teams to Northwestern University at Evanston for the first national basketball championship. On March 27, Oregon (29-5) dumped Ohio State (16-7) 46-33 for the crown at Patten Gymnasium, which seated 1,000. In 1940, the National Collegiate Athletic Assocation took over and we’ve had March Madness ever since. A Division II tourney was added in 1957 followed by Division III in 1975 and women in 1982.