Answer Man

Yes, Virginia, there was a Roachtown — of a sort

Q. Please answer a question that’s been eating at me for many years as I travel between Smithton and Belleville or Waterloo. Was there really a town of some sort called Roachtown? What did it consist of and where was it exactly? Also, what about Bohleysville? I see it on Channel 2’s weather map sometimes, and I have traveled Bohleysville Road all the way to Illinois 158 west of Millstadt, but I can’t imagine where a town could have been.

— N.E., of Smithton

A. If you’d open up a map of the metro-east from 150 years ago, you would be mystified by dozens of strange-looking names.

Forman. Strassburg. Confidence. Pittsburg. They’re all there in type almost as prominent as your Collinsvilles, O’Fallons and Waterloos. Yet today there’s little trace they even existed aside from their inclusion on these old maps or in the name of an area road.

If you think about it, it may not be too hard to understand why. Back then, of course, there was no instant communication. Hitching up the horses for a trip of more than a few miles was likely a big ordeal. Towns were smaller; remember even until 1882, Belleville stopped at about West 9th Street, where West Belleville began.

So outside the bigger towns, clusters of homes or farms or even major businesses became small settlements or otherwise well-known centers of area life. Many – perhaps even most — never legally incorporated. Yet to ask directions or perhaps as a source of pride, it was nice if a name were attached to it. Often, they’d use the name of the most prominent family in the area, so I suppose we could have had a Schluetertown if, long ago, people had asked to find my relative with the orchards south of Belleville. Often, too, it may have been connected to a railroad stop, so you’ll find such places as Reeb Station and Wilderman Station. But as time went on, these areas were either annexed by the towns that survived or simply disappeared.

This perhaps best explains the rise and fall of Roachtown and Bohleysville. According to the 1881 history of St. Clair County, Roachtown was the informal name given to a small group of houses built around a business owned by Samuel Roach and his son Matthew.

They had built a grist mill in 1864 and added on a saw mill three years later in the same area where their grandfather Frank had erected a mill about 60 years earlier. Old Frank apparently was apparently full of spit and vinegar. One report has him dying at 106 — four years after he challenged a Belleville merchant to a wrestling match.

The 1874 county atlas shows Roachtown as a small plot of land about a mile east of Centerville. By the time the 1901 atlas was published, Centerville had become Millstadt, and Roachtown had faded into history. Today’s maps indicate it would be on the Roachtown Road, about a mile south of Illinois 158 somewhere on a stretch north of Paule Lane.

But even though it never incorporated, Roachtown does boast the honor of being included in the book “Illinois Place Names.” Bohleysville earned no such recognition and is even less well-defined.

“I can identify the area,” Millstadt historian Glenn Schaefer told me. “It’s about a mile-long strip of ground on the Bohleysville Road where there’s a number of homes and farms on both sides of the road. Apparently, one of the residents was named Bohley, and he probably was the most prominent farmer in the area.

“There was the old Deken School located out there, too, because my mother grew up in the area. That school still exists but, unfortunately, it’s deteriorating. It’s privately owned now, but I don’t blame the people for not wanting to put a lot of money into saving it. Beyond that, though, I can’t tell you too much.”

As you have found, the Bohleysville Road runs for several miles. It starts out as the continuation of Triple Lakes Road south of Illinois 158 and then meanders east and south to the Monroe County line, near where it intersects with the Waterloo Road and then becomes the Floraville Road. Older maps show an Adam Bohley owning a good-sized farm in the area. Today’s maps seem to pinpoint the mythical heart of the “town” at the intersection of Bohleysville and Roenicke roads, about three miles southwest of Millstadt.

While we’re on the subject of places long vanished, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the German immigrant hamlet of Saxtown, which in the 1800s was just east-southeast of Bohleysville.

On the night of March 19, 1874, one of those crimes of the century occurred here when five members of the Stelzriede family were murdered inside their home. The victims were Friedrich and Anna, their 2-year-old son, Karl, their 8-month-old daughter, Anna, and Friedrich’s elderly father. A neighbor found them the next day, bodies clubbed and throats slashed. It left not only the Millstadt area stunned but the nation as well, according to “The Ax Murders of Saxtown” by Nicholas J.C. Pistor published just last year.

Because the house was ransacked, robbery was thought to be a motive, but this was merely a guess. Police reportedly interrogated several suspects, including two Stelzriede nephews, but the crime was never solved. The old log cabin is long gone, but some say the family’s ghosts remain restless to this day awaiting justice. According to Pistor’s book, recent owner Randy Eckert reported an experience within days of moving onto the property.

“Eckert and his wife were awakened by what sounded like a door closing and then by a dog barking,” Pistor wrote. “They looked outside and searched the small house and its surroundings. Nothing was there. But their own dog was posted silently at the foot of the bed — shivering, shaking. Scared to death.”

Eckert said weird things typically occur on or near the anniversary of the murder. A renter once awoke to a knock at the door, while his girlfriend heard someone walking up the steps of the basement. Other tenants have heard dogs barking, doors opening and unexplained knocking sounds. Paranormal investigators once visited the property and reported recording EVPs — electronic voice phenomena of the spirits. So more than just the memories of the ghost towns may live on.

Today’s trivia

What role did Q-ships play in the two world wars — and how did they acquire their name?

Answer to Thursday’s trivia: In the history of Major League Baseball, only seven players have hit two home runs in extra innings in one game. The first six to do it were, in chronological order, the St. Louis Browns’ Vern Stephens on Sept. 29, 1943; Cleveland’s Willie Kirkland on June 14, 1963, Cincinnati’s Art Shamsky on Aug. 12, 1966; Atlanta’s Ralph Garr on May 17, 1971; Baltimore’s Mike Young on May 28, 1987; and Philadelphia’s John Mayberry on June 4, 2013. And who was the last to accomplish the feat? The Cardinals’ own Matt Adams, who slammed a solo shot in the 14th and the game-winner in the 16th as the visiting Redbirds knocked off Cincinnati 5-4 on Sept. 4, 2013.

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