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Throwback Thursday: A little pioneer heritage from Mrs. Blair

Mrs. Clarence D. Blair was excited about the upcoming church potluck supper and exhibit of pioneer artifacts.

She wrote a long article for the Belleville News-Democrat that was published Oct. 15, 1968, a few days ahead of the Friday night event at Union Methodist Church in Belleville.

Besides the potluck, they had an exhibit of woven coverlets made by German immigrants John Phillip Seewald and George Gauss from the St. Clair County Historical Society collection. They also had a copper finial from the roof of a home as well as lamps and candle molds made by Balthasar Lengfelder. The guest speaker for the evening was to be the Illinois State Historical Museum’s Mrs. Betty Madden, who was writing a book about early crafts.

While the potluck and speech were surely engaging, what made her article especially interesting were the tales she spun about the weavers and craftsmen.

She started with Seewald, who was born in 1808 in Kelheim, Germany, and came to the United States when he was 20, landed in Philadelphia and learned to weave.

“But the western frontier, then the Mississippi River called him, for in guidebooks and gazetteers and from travelers and settlers he learned of the wonderful opportunities in the new territories,” she wrote.

Seewald walked here in the early 1830s with 25 cents in his pocket. “More than once on his journey he escaped Indians,” we presume somewhere around Cleveland.

He arrived in Ridge Prairie, which Mrs. Blair placed roughly where the Dandy Inn sits on the current border between Fairview Heights and O’Fallon. He married and in 1842 built a home.

“His great and complicated jacquard loom occupied most of the living room beside the fireplace.” He worked for nearly three decades at that loom, dyeing his own wool and creating weavings that landed in the state museum, the Ford Museum and here with the county historical society.

Besides weaving, Seewald also made brooms and delivered them in a two-wheeled cart. He died in 1902 at age 94.

Old Balthasar Lengfelder also made an interesting story, born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1839 and immigrating here in 1859. As a youth he trained in Paris as a silversmith, but when he got here his work was in baser stuff.

Want to see more photos from the pioneer artifacts, Mrs. Blair’s story from the newspaper or past episodes of Throwback Thursday? Visit us at bnd.com/tbt.

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