Mitchell, Illinois, is an unincorporated community northeast of Granite City. Mitchell has always been a small community (current population: approximately 1,400); but it has a long history, dating back to the early 1800s, of attracting people who were willing to give their time and expertise to get things done.
Most of the early settlers in the Mitchell area were hardworking German farmers. They planted and harvested wheat, oats, corn, potatoes, and hay. Two of these settlers were James Gillham and Andrew Emmert. The Gillhams and Emmerts figured prominently in the early history of this part of southwestern Illinois.
Mitchell owes its beginning as an actual community to two brothers, John Jay and William H. Mitchell, who dreamed of creating and operating a cattle ranch. Why they came from Chicago to this area is unknown. What they found was typical American Bottom swampland.
In 1870 the brothers purchased approximately 4,000 acres. After the land was drained, it became suitable for growing crops to feed the cattle.
Joseph Troeckler, who was born on the ranch, gave some insight in 1966 into everyday life on the ranch. His father was foreman and, as part of his duties, rounded up cattle (the ranch specialized in the Angus breed), made cattle drives, and oversaw the tenant farmers who grew corn and wheat. Corn was fed to the cattle, and wheat was shipped to market.
About the same time as the Mitchell brothers bought their land, the Chicago and Alton Railroad was “laying out” the area for railroad tracks. After moving to St. Louis, John Mitchell promoted construction of the Chicago and Alton Railroad from Alton to East St. Louis and established Mitchell Station. Some historians say that it was John Mitchell, not both brothers, for whom the railroad station and the area were named.
In the following years, several other railroad lines, including the Wabash, were built, and the area became a busy center for rail transportation. After the turn of the century, many other railroad companies operated in the Mitchell area, and some built rail yards.
The railroads attracted workers from Kentucky and Tennessee, some of whom stayed at the two boardinghouses in the area, one owned by a woman named Mrs. Whyer and the other by a Mrs. Netheringham.
Shortly after they purchased the land for their ranch, the Mitchell brothers donated sites for construction of two churches, Catholic and Protestant, and a one-room public school. They may also have contributed money to build the Protestant church.
The brothers had stipulated that title to the land for the Protestant church would be awarded after the church was operated for twelve years by any one denomination. The church was first used by a Baptist congregation, then by a Methodist group, and last by Presbyterians, who stayed in the church and fulfilled the twelve-year requirement.
Parishioners supplied labor and materials for construction of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, which was named in honor of Elizabeth Hackethal Ebling, who furnished food for the workers.
In the 1882 history of Madison County, Mitchell is described as having two general stores, one owned by Hinze & Krueger and the other by Henry Reinemann; a blacksmith shop and a grocery store owned by Henry Quinn; and a meat market owned by A. Rapp. D. E. Smalley was a physician in the community and Robert Krueger the postmaster.
At a meeting of the Old Six Mile Historical Society in the early 1980s, Marquerite Lexow, who lived in Mitchell all of her life, reminisced about the community she knew when growing up or had heard about from her parents. In addition to the boardinghouses, she remembered the following businesses:
- Bill and May Hawk’s grocery store (May Hawk was also the postmistress)
- Saloon operated by Charles Hackethal
- Albert Paul’s blacksmith shop and, later, garage
- Two hotels: a railroad hotel and the hotel and general store owned by Charles Lexow (Marguerite Lexow’s father-in-law), both destroyed by fire
- Bender’s Restaurant
- Lake View Inn, operated by “Mom” Ebling (presumably Elizabeth Hackethal Ebling, mentioned above)
- Ben Eberhart’s garage
- George and Kate Kinder’s grocery store
- White Pig Barbecue
- Luna Café
- Diamond Inn
- White Swan Inn
Some time before 1920, Ernest A. Brooks, of St. Louis, established a residential subdivision so that homes could be built for families of railroad workers; his sons subsequently laid out other subdivisions. However, a residential building boom did not really take off until the 1950s and 1960s, when industrial workers in Granite City, Madison, and Venice were looking for homes to buy.
U. S. Route 66 ran through Mitchell on its way to California, and various businesses along the road became stops for travelers and truckers. One of these was the Luna Café, built in 1924. Rumor had it that there was gambling in the basement and prostitution upstairs. According to local legend, if the cherry in the martini glass on the neon sign was lit, the ladies upstairs were open for business. After almost nine decades, the Luna Café is still in business, but the gamblers and prostitutes are gone.
Because Mitchell has never been incorporated as a village or town, it has never had local government officials, elected or appointed, to insure that the community moved forward and provided its residents with basic services such as fire protection and a clean, modern water system. However, Mitchell has been fortunate in having residents who willingly took responsibility to improve their community. The present-day fire and water districts are a result of their foresight and hard work.
The history of the Mitchell Fire District goes back to 1945, when seven men met to discuss the need for fire protection. A larger group attended the second meeting. It was decided that funding would come from donations made by businesses and a five-dollar subscription fee from each homeowner in the area. The first fire truck was a 1923 Seagraves pumper bought from the St. Louis Fire Department.
Construction of the first fire station began in 1946 with donated land and money loaned by a local resident. Financial support of the fire department was stabilized in 1949 when voters created the tax-funded Mitchell Fire District.
The Mitchell Public Water District was established by referendum on September 7, 1957. After the sale of revenue bonds, construction of the water system began. In May 1962 the first homes were connected to the water supply.
Granite City Press-Record. 1966. Seven-part series on the history of Mitchell. March 3, March 7, March 10, March 14, March 17, March 21, March 24.
History of Madison County, Illinois. Edwardsville, Ill.: W. R. Brink, 1882.
“Mitchell and Chouteau History Reviewed by Mrs. Charles Lexow.” In Old Six Mile Clippings and Chattings, vol. 1. Granite City, Ill.: Old Six Mile Historical Society, 1984.
Norton, W. T., ed. Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois, and Its People, 1812-1912. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1912.