The following passage was compiled by Steve Wagoner, Extension Educator, for the Damiansville comprehensive plan:
History of Damiansville
The chain of events that formed the State of Illinois and its counties reveals the timeline for Damiansville as an early settlement.
Before 1784, the forests and prairies of Illinois were a small part of the Northwest Territory claimed by Virginia as their western land. The territory included land between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The State of Virginia ceded in 1784 this territory to the United States, but its size made ordinary governmental operations difficult. Congress formed in 1800 the smaller Territory of Indiana that included Illinois. The Territory of Illinois was formed in 1809 with Kaskaskia as the seat of government.
A wagon road was laid in 1808 through a section of the Territory of Illinois which later became Clinton County. The road crossed the Kaskaskia River at the present city of Carlyle and enabled civilized white men to move among settlements. Settlements were made about 1810 in the timbered portions of what is now Sugar Creek Township. Frontier forts and block houses were established as “squatters” settled in the extreme southwest part of Clinton County as early as 1810 to 1812. The first regular land entry was made in 1817 by Elisha Rittinghouse.
A bill admitting Illinois into the Union was passes by Congress in April of 1818, and Clinton County was organized from parts of Washington, Bond, and Fayette counties on December 27, 1824. The first census taken in 1825 listed the county population as 1,106. The assessed value of taxable property excluding lands was $60,930 which was $55 per capita or $330 per family. Recorded names indicated all people were of English or Irish decent, born as citizens of America, and came from states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky.
Customs of early settlers included plenty of wild meat for cooking, and they usually brought enough food with them to last until a crop could be raised. Indian corn was grown and made into wholesome bread. A crane was hung in the fireplace, and a dutch-oven was used for baking. Fish came from streams, and roasting ears, pumpkins, beans, squashes, and potatoes were raised in “truck patches.” Coffee and tea were precious and used sparingly. Maple syrup was commonly used, and honey and butter were only five cents a pound. Eggs were three cents a dozen.
From 1820 to 1830, a cow and calf cost five to seven dollars, oxen were worth $30-40 per yoke, horses from $25-40, pork from one and a half to two dollars per net cut weight, fat three-year-old steers from seven to eight dollars and fifty cents per head, corn from 12 ½-15 cents a bushel, and wheat from 37 1/2 -50 cents a bushel.
Clinton County was subdivided into four election districts from 1826-1828, and 15 political townships known today were apportioned in 1874. Damiansville traces its roots back to Lookingglass Township formed at that time. The township is in the far southwest part of the county and contains 48 sections mostly of fine farming land. It is bordered on the north by Sugar Creek Township, east by Germantown Township, west by St. Clair County, and south by Washington County.
Some of the first settlers in Lookingglass Township included Solomon Silkwood, John D. Patton, Daniel White, and Peter and Israel F. Outhouse. Elisha Rittinghouse entered the first land in the township on June 9, 1817, and George Ward filed claim for 160 acres in Section 27 near Sugar Creek.
John Duncan, a native of Kentucky, moved to Sugar Creek Township in 1818 and later moved to a spot about a mile north of the present site of Damiansville. He improved a farm there.
John S. Howe purchased in 1839 from the United States Government 80 acres of land in Clinton County. Some of his 80 acres were to become the part of Damiansville that lies to the north of the paved road.
The first German family to settle in Lookingglass Township was that of B. H. Heimann from Hanover, Germany. He located on the east side of Sugar Creek, Section 24, in 1837 and raised with a hoe his first crop of four acres of corn from the raw prairie.
B. H. Heimann had six sons, but John B. was the only son who remained in Damiansville. He improved his father’s farm, and had four sons and two daughters. One son Frank remained on the home place while his brothers Joseph and Herman improved farms of their own nearby.
Edward Teke and his family settled in Damiansville in 1838 with no descendents now living in Damiansville. Herman Kalmer also arrived that spring and was probably the first German to settle on the west side of Sugar Creek. He married Mary Santel and raised seven children.
John Herman Santel bought in 1846 from the United States Claims Department at Edwardsville a tract of land near Damiansville and had arrived from Holland ten years earlier. He had four children and built a house on his land which is probably the oldest building in Damiansville. One of his sons John Jr. farmed his land and has descendents still living in Damiansville.
Other Damiansville families tracing back to German immigrants include H. Henry Santel, Herman Rensing, Ben Middendorff, John Broeckling and his daughter Mary Breiner, and Herman Billhartz. Farms were passed from generation to generation. Money was scarce, and their means of survival were like other Illinois settlers. Iron-rimmed wagons were rare, but almost every farmer had a home-made wagon made entirely of wood. Even repeated greasing could not stop the screeching of these crude wagons, and the sound could be heard for miles.
The Germans (especially from Hanover and Westphalia) continued to rapidly settle in the Damiansville area in 1842 and 1843 and were joined by immigrants from Holland.
Throughout these early years, early residents of Lookingglass Township thought about educating their children. A small log school house was built around 1830 and probably was sustained by private sources because of the chaotic school law of the time. German settlers built another log school house in Section 24 as early as 1844, and Joseph Ostendorf was the teacher. Another landmark built in the middle of the territory was Kalmer’s School and served the boys and girls of the area farmers from the 1800’s until 1950.
The history of the Village of Damiansville is directly tied to the history of the parish of St. Damian’s. The Catholic Church was the first building erected, and the village was built around it. The first pastor, Rev. Augustine Berger, said the first Mass on February 10, 1861, in a solid brick 46 by 70 foot structure of Roman style without a steeple. With the establishment of the new parish, the village got its present name. It had previously been known as Dempter and named after its sister town in Holland of the same name.
A one-room frame school house was also built in 1861, and a cemetery on the northwest corner of the church property was established the same year. The new church was dedicated in 1863 by Bishop Junker of Alton, and a small brick rectory was built and the cemetery moved to the southwest corner of the church property that same year.
The first pastor of St. Damian’s was Father Berger, and his successor was Father Chmelicek. Under his four years of leadership, the church was freed of debt, the Catholic school district was opened, and the life-size figures for the Christmas crib were acquired. A steeple and an addition were built to St. Damian’s Church in 1877 under the direction of Father Francis Lohmann. The congregation consisted of 120 families in 1881, but the formation of two new parishes at Albers and New Baden reduced its size to 80 by the Golden Jubilee Year of 1911.
A fire completely destroyed St. Damian’s grade school on February 22, 1940, but school classes were still held in the parlor of the convent and in the church sacristy. A new school was built and opened by that September, and 19 years later, enrollment increased necessitating the addition of another classroom to the school.
There is a detailed historical public record of church leadership over the years reinforcing the significance of religion to Damiansville.
Damiansville was settled as an agricultural community, and at first only enough grain was grown to provide for the needs of the pioneer families. Eventually, though, more land was cleared, markets came closer, and more and better crops were grown. Wheat, corn, and oats became the principal crops of the area, and soybeans were added as a cash crop. Farm stock ate timothy and prairie grass until alfalfa was grown successfully with the help of limestone.
Agricultural statistics compiled by Lookingglass Township assessors in 1880 included 5,636 acres of corn yielding 182,190 bushels; 12,125 acres of winter wheat yielding 249,942 bushels; 1,401 acres of oats yielding 32,023 bushels; 36 acres of vineyard yielding 3,450 quarts of wine; 63 fat sheep sold grossing 3,780 pounds; 398 cows with 23,740 pounds of butter sold; no cheese, cream, or milk sold (although urban sprawl eventually shortened transportation distances to increase the demand for dairy products); nine hogs or pigs dying of cholera; and nine horses dying.
Horses, mules, and a few oxen did most of the field work until Gerhard and Anna Toennies had the first Moline-Universal tractor in 1917. Wheat reapers, the swing-stacker, the binder that used twine, the steam engine threshing rig, and finally the combines of today harvested the field crops. Neighbors helped neighbors, men harvested the crops together, and women congregated to cook meals of beef or chicken soup followed by chicken, roast beef, pie, and coffee cake.
Damiansville has had numerous business places since 1861. The church was the first building built followed by two stores built and opened by Henry Haidders and B. Stephens that same year. A post office was established in 1862, and within 20 years, three stores, three saloons, two blacksmith shops, and one wagon-maker existed. Henry Book, Gustave Lehrter, and Martin Jansen were the three storekeepers in 1881, but many other business records were incomplete. Other types of stores that were needed in Damiansville’s early years included a shoe shop, a creamery (which did not last long and was no longer in existence in 1910), a saw mill, a grist mill, a planning mill, a brick quarry (which did not last long after 1900, a general store, a barber shop, and possibly an undertaking business.
A flavorful description of Herman Toennies’ business was, “He does custom grinding only in the grist mill and in the saw mill department does both custom and commercial sawing. Hardwood lumber is sawed almost exclusively. The capacity of the mill will average between 2,500 and 3,000 feet daily when in operation. It is equipped with a 60-inch circular saw and is operated by steam. The planning mill is also operated by steam. In connection with the above business, Mr. Toennies also handles pipes, fittings, guttering and spouting, dressed lumber, etc., and he has a large business along these lines.”
A common practice in the 1800’s was for stores to send “peddle wagons” (usually covered) stocked with dry goods from farm to farm trading goods for butter and eggs. A three-day trip was then made to St. Louis and back to peddle the collected farm-grown produce.
Entertainment and Recreation
The earliest entertainments were husking bees, barn raisings, and card games. House parties were a popular form of recreation as neighbors and friends gathered together and refreshed themselves with homemade wine or cider. Public dances were not held, but dancing on platforms in the open air occurred at weddings. Individuals with accordions provided the music, but a popular band of the time was called the Lookingglass Outlaws or the Sugar Creek Outlaws. The church also occasionally provided to young people silent movies shown on a Sunday night in the school basement. An organization called the St. Damian’s Dramatic Club presented annual plays during the 1920’s.
A common party followed the presentation of a “turm schirm” where a group of young people would toss an old Christmas tree on the ‘victim’s’ porch, let out a yell, and then run and hide. After being found, the crowd would have a party at the house of the family that got the “turm schirm.”
Sports such as softball, basketball, and volleyball eventually became popular types of recreation.
The greatest cause of change for Damiansville has been Interstate 64 (I-64) running south of the Village. The interstate connects St. Louis, Missouri, with Norfolk, Virginia. Land acquisition on the Clinton County portion started in 1967, bridge construction began in 1969, paving began in 1970, and the official opening occurred on December 28, 1973.
I-64 improved the quality of life for Damiansville residents and provided easier access to jobs, entertainment, and shopping in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Easy access to the interstate influenced where Monterey Coal Mine No. 2 (north of Damiansville), Home Nursery, and Sugar Creek Subdivision were located.
The community realized the need to incorporate as a village when growth occurred in conjunction with the opening of I-64 and the construction of Monterey Coal Mine No. 2. A 1969 state statute, though, required a minimum population of 400 residents for incorporation. Area representatives were made aware of the problem, and a 1975 state statute was enacted lowering the minimum population to 200 residents needed for incorporation by an Illinois town. Nearly 300 residents lived within the Village of Damiansville by then so on June 18, 1977, Damiansville voters approved an incorporation referendum by a vote of 80 to 28. Leander Horstmann was elected Village President on August 20, 1977, along with Johanna Fuehne as Village Clerk, and Francis Billhartz, Frank Heimann, Henry Jansen, Clifford Kolb, Louis Korte, and Albin Toennies as Village Trustees. Since that time, the Village Board has initiated several projects including replacing or adding sidewalks, annexing several properties to the village, and completing a sewer system.
Damiansville Chamber of Commerce
The Damiansville Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1959 to solve community problems; to provide facilities for the protection, convenience, and comfort of Damiansville citizens; to promote the general welfare of Damiansville; and to make Damiansville a better place to live. The Chamber was instrumental in providing Damiansville with street lights and new streets, and played important roles in becoming incorporated and forming a water district. Although the town board now assumes some of the responsibilities once held by the Chamber, the organization still thrives today.
Damiansville Public Water District
New homes being built on the east edge of Damiansville in the early 1960’s along with St. Damian’s School were supplied with water from a deep well owned by Albert J. Toennies. The State of Illinois and the Environmental Protection Agency began issuing in 1968 regulations and standards for those supplying water to the public. Albert’s son, Alfred, agreed to chair a committee to consider a project for supplying water to the entire community. After several meetings and with legal advice, a hearing was held to determine the location and boundaries of a proposed water district, and voters on February 15, 1969, approved the public water district by a vote of 106 to 10. The Circuit Judge of Clinton County then let it be known as the Damiansville Public Water District on February 17 of the same year. The Damiansville Chamber of Commerce had paid previous expenses to set up the district, and the Farmers Home Administration entered into a loan agreement with the District on November 27, 1972, authorizing $93,000 to complete the project. The system was turned on for the entire community in May of 1974, and the District was granted on December 5, 1975, a Community Development Block Grant of $72,000 to install an elevated water tower and fire hydrants.
Sources: 1961 “Centennial Souvenir Booklet” compiled by Sylvia Henken. 1986 “Quasquicentennial Souvenir Booklet” compiled by Ariene Helmann Korte, Anita Helmann Rakers, and James Steinmann.