Metro-East News

Fairview Heights went from quiet crossroads to shopping mecca in 50 years

If you think of cities in the metro-east as one big family, Fairview Heights is the baby that surprised Mom and Dad later in life.

Residents didn’t vote to incorporate until 1969. That compares to 1778 for Cahokia, 1814 for Belleville, 1839 for Caseyville, 1850 for Collinsville, 1861 for East St. Louis and 1886 for Swansea.

“People had lived in the area since the early 19th century, but the incorporation of the city is a 20th century story,” said St. Clair County Historical Society Curator Will Shannon, who’s helping to compile photos for a 50th anniversary book this year.

Age isn’t the only thing that sets Fairview Heights apart.

The city has evolved into a shopping mecca that attracts people from all over the region to St. Clair Square mall and other stores and restaurants. It’s one of the few Illinois municipalities that don’t levy property taxes. Most government programs and services are funded by sales-tax revenue.

But retail success also has its challenges. One is staying vibrant in a changing world with fierce competition. Another is insuring safety and keeping traffic moving. Fairview Heights employs 42 police officers, more than other cities its size.

“Fairview has a population of just over 17,000 — at night,” said Mayor Mark Kupsky, 57. “But because of the shopping, dining and other commerce, and all the people who work here, it swells up to 50,000 by day, and during the peak holiday season, that can go up to 70,000.”

Three of four Fairview Heights mayors pose for a photo. They are, left to right, Gail Mitchell, the city’s third and longest-serving mayor; current Mayor Mark Kupsky; and the second mayor, George Lanxon. Not pictured is the late Everett Moody. Provided

A committee has planned eight public events to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The first was the early May opening of the city’s new $21 million fitness and recreation complex, known as “The Rec.” The next is a concert on June 8 at Moody Park.

There’s also a cake-decorating contest.

“Businesses and individuals purchased 50 birthday cakes that are 4 feet tall and made of plywood, and they’re being placed all over Fairview Heights,” said committee chairman Jere Wilmering, 86, a retired contractor. “They will be judged, and prizes will be given out on Aug. 3 at our Party in the Park.”

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Fairview Heights businesses and organizations decorated 50 wooden birthday cakes that are being displayed throughout the city as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Students at Grant School put candles around their cake at the intersection of Lincoln Trail and Bunkum Road. Teri Maddox

Area once called ‘Ridge Prairie’

By the mid-1800s, Germans and other European immigrants had established farms in the Fairview Heights area, then known as Ridge Prairie, according to a city history compiled for the 25th anniversary.

Early pioneers included Irishman William Kinsella, great-grandfather of Marilyn Kinsella, 72, a storyteller, retired educator and member of the 50th anniversary committee. His two-story, hand-hewn log cabin, built in 1854, still stands in Pleasant Ridge Park.

One of the community’s early hubs was the intersection of what now is Bunkum Road and Lincoln Trail (old Vincennes Trace). There was a brickyard, a farmhouse that served as an inn and the original one-room Grant School.

“Legend says (Abraham Lincoln) himself once stayed at the inn,” the history states..

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Men and boys pose in front of Ridge Prairie Saloon in what is now Fairview Heights. St. Clair County Historical Society Curator Will Shannon believes the photo was taken around 1900. St. Clair County Historical Society

Another center of activity was a tavern and trading post operated by Henry Becherer, later known as “Ridge Prairie Saloon.” It was where the old Dandy Inn building stands today.

There were a couple of churches, and the first of seven coal mines opened in 1903. East St. Louis resident Raymond Fairbrother platted the first residential subdivision about 1906 in an area bordered by St. Clair Road, North Road, South Road and Center Lane. Kinsella’s grandfather bought one of the lots.

“It was emblematic of how cities and suburbs developed in the 20th century,” Shannon said. “The first time the name ‘Fairview’ was used was in an advertisement by a land developer.

“What they were trying to do is appeal to people living in St. Louis. They had just extended the streetcar to that area, and they were saying, ‘Come on over. You can enjoy all the benefits of country living, but you’re 15 minutes from the Eads Bridge. You can work in St. Louis and live here.’”

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This poster advertises lots in the first residential subdivision in what is now the city of Fairview Heights. It was developed in about 1910 by East St. Louisan Raymond Fairbrother, who called it “Fairview.” Provided

Posters described the subdivision as a place “where life’s worth living” and noted that buyers could profit in two ways: By investing in bluff-top property near the rapidly growing city of East St. Louis and by raising livestock and vegetables to sell.

A mercantile and electric lights

Local residents formed the Fairview Improvement Association in 1914, raising money for sidewalks and roads. A mercantile store, owned by the Shively family and later the Gaidos, opened in 1916 at Lincoln Trail and St. Clair Road.

East St. Louis Light and Power Co. started delivering electricity in 1924. The association bought a used fire truck in 1933, leading to the organization of a volunteer fire department.

More subdivisions, stores and restaurants popped up in the 1940s and ‘50s, but what is now Fairview Heights remained a relatively quiet crossroads between Belleville and Collinsville, East St. Louis and O’Fallon. The last coal mine closed in 1957.

The Gaido family operated an I.G.A. store at what is now the intersection of St. Clair Road and Old Lincoln Trail in the city of Fairview Heights. This photo was taken in the 1920s. Provided

Kinsella’s favorite childhood memories involve going to the annual firemen’s picnic.

“Back in the ‘50s, there really wasn’t anything much to do,” she said. “That was our summer ritual, and they had barbecue ribs, and nobody else had barbecue ribs back then. It was such a treat.”

The area got one of its most notable landmarks in 1967, when St. Albert the Great Catholic Parish completed its giant, round church at Illinois 159 and Lincoln Highway. The building was demolished in 2006 to make way for retail developments.

Fairview Heights bought its first fleet of four police cars from the Belleville dealership of Oliver Dee Joseph shortly after the city incorporated in 1969. Provided

By the mid-1960s, some local residents were asking for a post office. A referendum was held to decide whether to call the area Ridge Prairie, Lincoln Heights or Fairview Heights. The latter won by a three-to-one margin.

“Vic Canty, then Caseyville Township supervisor, advised residents in a May, 1969, letter that a bill before the Illinois Legislature would authorize existing municipalities to annex adjoining areas without the consent of the people living in the area to be annexed,” according to the city history.

“This stimulated action on the part of the Fairview residents who organized a committee, appointed by Canty, to look at the possibility of incorporation.”

On September 27, 1969, residents voted to incorporate in a special election. The vote was 1,612 to 874.

“It just floors me that there were that many nays,” Wilmering said. “Why would you oppose incorporating and evolving into this magnificent city? I can’t even fathom it.”

Sanitorium became City Hall

Warren Baker was appointed as temporary city clerk and helped plan the first Fairview Heights election on Dec. 16, 1969. Voters elected Everett Moody as mayor and Les Klein as city clerk. Charles Baricevic, father of former St. Clair County Board Chairman and Chief Circuit Judge John Baricevic, was an original alderman.

The city bought its first fleet of four police cars at the Oliver Dee Joseph dealership in Belleville.

In 1976, officials dedicated Longacre Park, which later was renamed Moody Park. The following year, they bought the old Pleasant View tuberculosis sanitorium and converted it into City Hall.

The annual Midwest Salute to the Arts show began in the 1980s.

There have been three other mayors since Moody: George Lanxon, Gail Mitchell and Kupsky. Mitchell will remain the city’s longest-serving mayor at 20 years because of 12-year term limits now in place. The longest-serving city clerk was the late Harvey Noubarian with 28 years.

“We’ve had four mayors, and we’ve never had any defeated,” Wilmering said. “I guess the people made outstanding selections. ... The city has so many outstanding people, who pitch in to make it a wonderful place to live.”

“People here are very loyal,” added City Clerk Karen Kaufhold, 68, a member of the 50th anniversary committee. “They’re very loyal to their friends, their beliefs and what they want to accomplish.”

Fairview Heights residents elected Everett Moody, left, as their first mayor after incorporating in 1969. He’s pictured in 1979 with Warren Baker, the first city clerk. Provided

Fairview Heights saw the construction of its first large discount store, Venture, in 1969. Some people believe its success helped persuade May Department Stores Co. to build a Famous-Barr (now Macy’s) on 88 acres along Illinois 159 in 1973.

A year later, the company opened St. Clair Square, an attached, two-level shopping mall with room for about 70 specialty stores. It expanded to include Sears in 1975, J.C. Penney in 1976 and Stix, Baer & Fuller (now Dillard’s) in 1979.

The metro-east section of Interstate 64 opened in 1975, tracing U.S. 50 and improving access for shoppers throughout the region.

“1975 was probably the most important year in the history of the city of Fairview Heights,” Kaufhold said.

In 1975, St. Clair Square had Famous-Barr and Sears stores, and J.C. Penny was preparing to open. Four years later, a court ordered the City of O’Fallon to remove the mall logo from its water tower. BND file photo

Mall, interstate spur growth

The population of Fairview Heights grew by about 3,000 people in 1989 with the annexation of three square miles to the south, along Illinois 159 toward Swansea.

Commercial growth continued in the 1990s with the construction of Stonewolf Golf Club, Four Points by Sheraton conference center and the 280,000-square-foot Fairview Heights Shopping Center, anchored by Lowe’s, and other developments. A MetroLink stop opened in 2001.

Today. the city issues nearly 1,000 licenses to stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses annually, according to Kaufhold. But Sears closed in March due to financial problems on the corporate level.

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The Fairview Heights 50th Anniversary Committee is planning several events this summer to help residents celebrate. Pictured are chairman Jere Wilmering, left to right, and members Marilyn Kinsella and Karen Kaufhold, who is city clerk. Teri Maddox

Mayor Kupsky took office in 2015 with a promise to not only maintain commercial success in Fairview Heights, but also to improve quality of life for local residents and boost the feeling of community.

The city reached one of his top goals in May, when it opened The Rec off Bunkum Road. It also has added playgrounds and dog parks in recent years.

“Looking back, I think it’s amazing what we have accomplished in such a short time period,” Kinsella said. “At one time, there was nothing to do in Fairview Heights, and look at where we are today.”

“We have something for everyone,” Kupsky added.

The Kinsella Log Cabin stands in Pleasant Ridge Park in Fairview Heights. It was built about 1854 out of hand-hewn logs. Provided

The following events are planned for the Fairview Heights 50th anniversary celebration:

  • June 8 Music in the Park from 6 to 8 p.m. at Moody Park with music by Jambox and the Jason Nelson Band and food, beer and soda for sale.
  • June 29 — Heritage Day from noon to 5 p.m. at City Hall with music by the Bob Hemmer Band, vendors, crafts, inflatables, a petting zoo, food and soda.
  • July 11 — Time capsule burial and other festivities from 7 to 11 p.m. at City Hall.
  • Aug. 3 — Parade at 11 a.m. and Party in the Park from noon to 10 p.m. at Moody Park with food, beer and soda for sale; inflatables, games, a car cruse from noon to 5 p.m., music by Sounds of Harmony at 1 p.m., a taco-eating contest at 2 p.m., a variety show at 3 p.m., music by Bulls Eye Womp Rats at 5 p.m. and a hot-air balloon glow from 8 to 10 p.m.

  • Sept. 14 — Open house from noon to 4 p.m. at City Hall, police, fire and library buildings with free hot dogs and soda and entertainment from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Oct. 5 — Anniversary Ball (details to be announced later).
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Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.