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Belleville, Illinois
Home of the
National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
and the
Scott Air Force Base
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Veteran's Memorial Fountain in Belleville, Illinois
Veteran's Memorial Fountain in downtown Belleville, Illinois

Where History Meets Heritage in Belleville, Illinois

by Betty Moore
Photos by Bob Moore
© 2000, Southwest Illinois News

The picturesque community of Belleville was founded by Frenchman George Blair in 1814 and was incorporated as a village in 1819. In 1914, it became the county seat of St. Clair County, replacing the Mississippi riverbank trading post of Cahokia that had been founded by the French explorer Marquette in 1790.

During the 1830's, the region was settled by German immigrants, who became known as "Latin farmers" because of their emphasis on education and the arts. Their simple brick architectural influence is still visible in the older neighborhoods such as the "Old Belleville District," "Hexenbukel" and "Oakland".

Emma Kunz House Museum
Emma Kunz House Museum, circa 1830
The Germans held fast to their cultural heritage by building a public library, chorale and dramatic groups. A committee met to create an orchestra on November 19, 1866. The orchestra gave its first concert on January 26, 1867. Today, the Belleville Philharmonic is the second oldest philharmonic orchestra in the country.

The city taken great care to preserve other structures and churches with architectural styles such as Greek Revival, French Second Empire, Queen Ann and Italianate. The Cathedral of St. Peter, located at 200 W. Harrison St., was founded in 1842 and modeled after the Gothic style of the Cathedral of Exeter, England. The Belleville National Register Historic District includes over 700 homes and buildings, including the Victorian Home-Museum and Emma Kunz Home Museum.

The Lincoln Theater, located at 103 East Main Street, opened in 1921 as a vaudeville house and later purchased by the FOX Circuit. In 1927, a theatre organ was installed to replace the orchestra.

East Main Street in Belleville, Illinois
Renovated streetscape along East Main Street features historic lights, expanded sidewalks and street planters
The theatre has been restored over the past 18 years with special attention to the organ. Today, theatre-goers can see current movies and hear the unique sounds of a organ accompanying silent films and in concert.

Residents and visitors enjoy year-round activities with festivals, bicycling along the Greenway Trail, sports at the Family Sportsplex, and events at the Belle Clair Fairgrounds. Shopping malls, unique specialty shops and antique stores are conveniently located in the downtown area and adjacent neighborhoods. Numerous cafes and gourmet dining opportunities are popular locations for business lunches and family occasions.

The growing community also has a diverse economy with major banks, manufacturing, medical centers and agribusiness. Many businesses are in their third and fourth generation. The Eckert's Country Story & Farms, located at Route 15 and Greenmount Road, is family owned and operated since 1862 by six generations of Eckerts, is the largest pick-your-own orchard operation in the United States. The farm hosts numerous weekend festivals with family activities, a kids' corral and petty farm, and gardening workshops.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, founded in 1958 by Fr. Edwin J. Guild, OMI, is located on Route 15 at Route 157 in Belleville, just fifteen minutes east of St. Louis.

The 2,400 seats and grassy slopes at the Shrine's Amphitheatre can accommodate large crowds for special liturgies and events. Visitors of all faiths and denominations participate in numerous programs year round including pilgrimages, retreats, healing workshops, youth rallies, ethnic festivals and concerts.

Our Lady of the Snows
Our Lady of the Snows' Amphitheatre
The Millennium Spire, an 85 foot tall stainless steel sculpture, rises out of a Candelarium built into a hillside above the Shrine's Amphitheatre. The Spire, by the late William Severson, a nationally renowned sculptor, was commissioned by the Shrine to create a symbol representing Pope John Paul II's vision of a new Pentecost. It reflects the light of the sun during the day and is continually illuminated with light emitting diodes (LEDs).

Belleville is adjacent to Scott Air Force Base, home to the 375th Airlift Wing. The complex, which occupies almost 4,000 acres with 900 buildings, is comprised of the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, the Army's Military Traffic Management Command and the Navy's Military Sealift Command. Additional commands include the Air Force Command, Control, Communications and Computer Agency and the Air Weather Service.

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