By Lowell A. Dearinger
Early in the 1800's
George Sparhawk shipped yellow poplar (Tulip tree) from the site of
Thebes to New Orleans. The demand for this wood was good,
poplar being termite-proof. A few families from New Orleans
settled at the steamboat landing, the men being employed by George
Sparhawk. This small community became known as Sparhawk's
In 1843, Sparhawk's Landing was renamed
And in 1844, Thebes townsite was laid out. In
March, 1845--sources differ--the county board decided to move the
county seat to Thebes. Land for financing the building of the
courthouse had been donated by George and Martha Sparhawk.
According to his descendants, Henry
the King's Architect in his native Prussia. He came to
1835. A year or two later he settled on a farm near Thebes.
He operated a woodyard and a ferry across the Mississippi to
In 1845 Henry Ernst Barkhausen is
supposed to have
been awarded the contract for designing and supervising the erection of
the Thebes court house. The builder's contract dated December
was with Ernst Barkhausen. Construction consideration was
Local materials were used extensively in
construction. The stone was taken from the "public square."
Stucco was applied over the stone. Local trees were
and were hand-hewn and whipsawed by local labor. Mortar and
plaster were made locally. Construction was completed in 1848.
The court house is located on the bluff
town. The court room is on the upper level, as is a porch
commands a view of the Mississippi rarely equalled along the river.
Offices and dungeon-like cells are on the first floor.
new, the gables, the porch, the supporting columns and the stuccoed
walls all were painted white. This neo-Grecian temple of
must have been an impressive sight from passing steamboats, standing
out in contrast as it did to the endless forest border along the
After the county seat was moved to Cairo
the court house was for a time used as a public hall. It then
sold to the Baptists. It now is owned by the Thebes
Society, which maintains there a public library, a historical museum,
and a gift shop.
An important event in Thebes' history
building of the Missouri Pacific railroad bridge across the
Mississippi. Ground was broken July 8, 1902. the
train passed over the bridge April 18, 1905. The bridge is of
steel, double track, with five spans. The cantilever
span is 671 feet long. Each of the other spans is 521 feet in
length. The total length of the bridge, including the
approach arches, is 3,910 feet.
Nine hundred and forty-five thousand
cubic feet of
concrete were used in the construction of the bridge. Of
27 million pounds were used. To haul this in one delivery
require two trains, each consisting of 135 fifty-ton cars. It
the only railroad bridge across the Mississippi between St. Louis and
Memphis, a distance of some 400 miles.
During construction of the bridge Thebes
a vicious race riot. One man was hung by a mob, others were
thrown into the river. In one melee, 1,000 shots were fired.
Thebes had eight saloons at the time. During the
years of prohibition there was much to do in Thebes over the drinking
question. Some of the women declared that the town needed
cleaning up, claiming 16 speak-easies. Holly C. Marchildon,
at the time, claimed there were none.
Mrs. Roy Gammon, wife of the Kleagle of the local Ku-Klux Klan, ran for
mayor. Three sister citizens ran for the town board. It was a
hotly contested election. A cross was burned at the
home. The women won. By the time for the next
town treasury was empty. The voters became disillusioned with
female administration, claiming mis-management. The women ran
again, but the opposition decided that they literally should return to
their kitchens, and otherwise tend to their knitting. And so
ended that Women's Lib movement in Thebes.
Maps of Alexander County show five areas
land grants. There is evidence that these could have been
grants. Behind these grants is a story of international
plots, county-plots, and obvious treasonable actions against the United
States by men high in the public esteem. Spain seems to have
the chief instigator. During this hectic period, according to
family source, an American, Daniel Flannery, served as a spy for the
Spanish Government. He was paid in cash for his work.
addition, the Spaniards granted Flannery the right "to locate a
quantity of land equal to an area four leagues in length, and a third
of a league in width, anywhere in the Spanish possessions not within
one mile of Fort Massac. There is no record of any claim made
Daniel Flannery, but there are claims of 400 acres each made by Thomas,
Joshua, and Abraham Flannery, who may have been heirs to the Daniel
The 1,200 acres of the Flannery grant
are located in
Alexander County, in the Thebes-Fayville area. Title to this
was contested, but "By means of certified records in addition to oral
statements a perfect title to this land was established in the heirs at
In the same area claims of 400 acres
allowed to John McElmurry, Jr., and Joseph Standlee. These
supposedly were Spanish. The first settlement in the land
area was known as McElmurry's Station. Later it became Santa
The present name is Fayville.
--This article was donated by Joy Varner.
OF THEBES, ILL. TO 1937
little history of Thebes, Illinois was compiled by the teacher of the
Elementary Civics class in the Thebes Township High School during the
second semester of the school year of 1936-1937 as a result of the
students who were assigned as term perfect in civics to gather material
for a local history. The students who gathered and contributed
information for this history were as follows: Maisie Anne Creech,
Winnifred Hopkins, Homer Stamp, Franklin Shaver, Robert Foster, Leland
Shafer, Juanita Dyer, Amy Coplin, Charles Dalton, Lester McIntyre, and
Marvin Martin. R. E. Ford is Superintendent of Schools.)
I. EARLY HISTORY:
exact date of the founding of Thebes is not definitely known but it had
its beginning early in the nineteenth century. It was first
surveyed by two brothers named Sparrowhawk, who came down the
Mississippi River looking for a location for a town. They wanted
to find a narrow place on the river that did not have high bluffs on
either side. One of the brothers went to the Missouri side and
the other to the Illinois side and begin surveying a site for a town.
The brother who stopped on the Illinois side started at once to
cut the great poplar trees which grew on the flat on the river bank.
The poplar logs were floated down the creek to the river to be
used as ship gunnels for the keel boats. When the owners and
manufactures of keelboats at New Orleans saw the poplar timber they
sent a crew of men up to Thebes to cut the logs and they brought their
wives and children, which was the beginning of a settlement here it is
supposed. Some of the men now thought if boats would come up the
river they could use this poplar wood as fuel for boats. Poplar
trees were cut into lengths of about three feet. The poplar wood
did not make good fuel so they started cutting hardwood and stacking it
along the river bank. For a number of years Thebes was known as
Sparrow Hawk Landing. Later after Alexander County was organized,
the name changed to Thebes. Thebes never had but a few settlers
until about 1846.
II. EARLY SETTLERS:
Some of the early settlers of Thebes were:
Dr. H. C. Barkhausen, William Lranchen, Martha Brachon, Martin
Brown, William Brown, A Carzin, O. G. Ford, Dr. J. H. Gibbs, Levi L.
Lightner, Jacob Light, John Millers, S. A. Marchildon, James Miller,
William Pettit, I. G. Rowling, John R. Wallace, Henry Weiman, and Cpt.
John White and others.
III. EARLY BUSINESS HOUSES:
These included: I D. Hollinshead
cooperage, a stave mill, M. Brown flour mill, started in 1885, and
employed several men. In about 1900 the Sawders Bros. started a
brick yard. The first store was opened by J. H. Oberley in 1854.
A little later Thomas McClure came to Thebes and went into
business. In 1859 Mr. Marchildon started a store. H. C. now
operates the same store. B. F. Brown started a store here
in 1860 which still operates under the name of Brown Bros. J. G.
Rowling purchased the store of McClure and Oberley out later. The
bank of Thebes was organized about 1900 and closed March 1933 by the
Bank Holiday and was not reopened. W. R. Clutts was cashier of
the bank for a number of years prior to its closing in 1933. At
one time Thebes had a bakery located here which went out of business
some few years ago. Thomas Williams was editor of three different
newspapers here around 1895-1900. A clothing store was operated
by Louis Erlich for a time arund 1900. Arund the year 1900 Thebes
had eight saloons. Some of these saloons were named as
"Glad Hand," "First and Last Chance," etc. Henry Brown opened a
store in 1905. In 1907 the store was operated by U. S. Brown and
next by U. S. and Son. Later U. S. Brown's sons, known as Brown
Bros. with Harry and Ray Brown as proprietors. W. G. Jordan
operated a store for a number of years in Thebes and just recently sold
his stock of goods. Mr. Moore operated a grocery store part of
the years 1936-37.
IV. PRESENT BUSINESS HOUSES IN THEBES:
The present business houses in Thebes
include: H. C. Marchildon General Merchandise and Undertaking, T.
A. Brown & Son Drug Store, Richard Brown Grocery, Brown Bros.
Store, J. E. Rimer General Merchandise, King's Cafe, Thebes Hotel,
Clutts' Garage, Patterson Barber Shop, J. A. Van Sickle Lumber Yard,
Chas. Yates Cobbler Shop, A. T. Smith Ice & Coal, two oil filling
stations, one operated by Earl King and one operated by James Brinkley,
two insurance agencies, one owned by Mr. Rowling and one owned by W. R.
Clutts, a telephone exchance, operated by M. C. Walker and family.
V. EARLY COURT HOUSE:
Thebes was the County Seat of Justice for a
number of years At first, court was held under the shade trees in
the summer time and people's houses during the winter. H. A.
Barkhausen built the Court House which still stands. It was
completed in 1848. This court house is prized as a relic by
citizens of Thebes and is now owned by the city as a city hall.
W. P. A. (Works Progress Administration) funds have been secured
to help perserve it. The masonary in the court house is in almost
perfect condition. In this court house J. Logan and Douglas
debated and Lincoln made a speech. Levi Lightner was the first
judge of Alexander County and was a native of Thebes. Louis Gibbs
of Thebes was the first County Superintendent of Public Schools.
VI. INCORPORATION AS A VILLAGE:
Thebes was incorporated as a village in
November 1899. It was controlled by Cairo until the mayor and
officers were elected. The first mayor was Dr. C. P. Spann; C. C.
Miller was one of the first trustees. Some of the men who have
been mayor of Thebes were: J. C. Rothrock, Arthur Brown, H. C.
Marchildon, W. G. Jordan, Rev. William King, Nora Gamon, and G. W.
Some of the village marshals have
been: Roy Waddell, Jeff Neff, Champ Bailey, Nathen Kelley, George
Gilbert and Oscar Garret. The present mayor is L. C. Marchildon.
The present marshal is Jim Stump. City Clerk is Kenneth
Petitt. Board members are: Nick Gregory, J. E. Rimer,
Howard Williams, Jake Weibking, James Binkley, and Robert Hiller.
Police Magistrate: Hiram Petitt.
VII. THEBES SCHOOL:
Thebes has one of the best
equipped township high schools and consolidated grade schools in
Southern Illinois for the size of the town. The high school is
fully accredited both by the State Department of Schools and by the
University of Illinois. The high school employs six teachers and
offers about 23 units of high school work. The school has a fine
music department, commercial department, Home Economics department, and
foreign language department besides the regular academic courses.
The grade school employs nine regular teachers including a full
time music teacher. This year (1937-38) the Thebes grade school
was the first elementary school to be approved under the now
ridged state requirements in Alexander County. The present
building housing the grades and high school was erected in 1912
and 1913 at a cost of &50,000. The gymnasium was erected in
1926 at a cost (including equipment) of about $26,000.
It is one of the best gymnasiums
in Southern Illinois. The school building is three full stories
including the basement and is equipped with modern talking picture
projector loud speakers, microphones, amplifier, electric phonograph
turn table, and radio. The old school building which stood on the
present site and was a frame structure was destroyed by fire in 1912.
The Thebes Township High School was organized in 1912. The
Consolidated Grade School was organized in 1929. The two schools
provides free transportation (three big busses) since 1929. The
present bus drivers are: Herman Cotner, Carson Simpkins and John
Brown. Free text books are furnished for the grades and high
school. They were voted in 1936. The school grounds are
well-provided with concrete walks, playground equipment, tennis courts,
and ball diamonds for soft ball. The grounds are well terraced
and have beautiful shade trees around them. A Superintendent's
home is supplied by the high school district on one corner of the
campus. The school is known as High School District No. 50 and
Grade School District No. 26.
Superintendents of school have been:
Elbert Waller, Harry Wilson, Mr Norix, Mr. Austin, A. L. Lynch,
A. K. Patrick, Nat Boomer, Mr. Houston, G. M. Peer and C. O. D'Bois.
The present superintendent is R. E. Ford. The present board
of education for the high school district No. 50 is as follows:
J. E. Rimer, President, G. W. Cartner, secretary, H. C.
Marchildon, D. G. Youart and J. C. Rothrock. The present board of
education for grade school No. 26 is composed of: Nick Gregory,
Gerald C. Clutts, Secretary; Lester Brown Roy Waddell, Dewey Workman,
Ira Light and L. C. Marchildon. H. C. Marchildon has been a
member of the board of education for 25 years. W. R. Clutts is
Thebes has three railroads
running through town. They are the C. & E. I., which came
into Thebes in 1901. The Missouri Pacific in abut 1902 and the
Cotton Belt in 1904. These railroads have meant a great deal to
the citizens of Thebes in supplying work for the men and in paying
taxes for the support of the schools and town. All three
railroads have stations located here. The I. C. formerly ran a
train into Thebes.
IX. THEBES BRIDGE:
The bridge was started in 1900 and
dedicated in May 1905. It was designed by the famous architect
Ralph Mojeski, a son of a famous Opera Singer. At the time it was
erected , newspapers all over the United States carried stories in them
about the bridge because it was the first great bridge of its type to
be erected across such a great body of water. Wile it was being
erected twenty-six men lost their lives working on it. The cost
of the bridge was $4,000,000.00. The first review train crossed
over the bridge on March 27, 1905. The test of the strength of
the bridge was made by coupling 25 of the largest locomotives together
and running these engines to the middle of the bridge and stopping them
suddenly in the shortest distance possible with all the force of impact
possible under the pressure of the air brakes. At the time the
bridge was constructed it was considered to be the longest cantilever
span in the world. It was so perfectly constructed that even the
effect of temperature on contraction and expansion of the structural
steel used had been calculated on the most minor detail even to a 100th
of an inch. On the day of dedication famous men from all over the
United States attended the dedication ceremonies. During the
World War soldiers were stationed to guard the bridge.
X. INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS:
Thebes has a modern water works system
consisting of a water plant, pumping station, and pie and reservoir.
The water is taken from the Mississippi River at a point above
the village. The water works were installed in 1928. At the
present time the fire department was completed. The
C.I.P.S. extended their electric lines into Thebes in 1925.
Concrete sidewalks were constructed about 1905. The town
board purchased in 1936 a new cemetery site north of the village and
has improved same. The hill down to the river was paved by the
State Highway department in 1935.
The Thebes Y Park was constructed in 1935 and 1936 by the State
Highway department and W. P. A. It is the largest Y Park in
Illinois and is a scenic spot for tourists. Highway No. 3,
formerly State Highway No. 150 comes into Thebes from East St. Louis
and goes to Cairo. The concrete steps which lead down the hill
are a scenic spot. There are nearly 100 steps in the tiers with
iron railings on each side.
XI. THEBES FERRY:
The Holliday Ferry renders service between
Illinois and Missouri. The ferry gives 24 hour sercie daily.
Mr. E. L. Holliday owns the ferry. Before Mr. Holliday
started his ferry another ferry was operated for a number of years.
At one time two ferries were operated for a time.
XII. SCENIC THEBES:
There are many places of scenic
around Thebes. These include the old Alexander County Court
House, erected in 1848, where Abraham Lincoln spoke on one occasion and
where Stephen Douglas and John R. Logan debated. Another is the
Thebes double rail track railroad bridge. The long span of the
concrete steps leading down the hill. The Y Park is the largest
in Southern Illinois. The River Front Park and the beautiful
Thebes Township High School and Grade School building on the hill.
Thebes being located on the
river is subject to floods in time of extreme high waters. There
have been two floods in which the water inundated the town up to the
hill. These floods were in 1844 and in 1927.
XIV. AS A SHIPPING POINT:
For a number of years
Thebes was a shipping point for livestock and merchandise.
Livestock were driven here to the boad landing from near and far
and shipped to East St. Louis. Also a great amount of merchandise
was unloaded here for merchants in the surrounding region. The
wharf would be covered after the boats unloaded their cargo here.
The river boats, "Golden Eagle" and "Cape Girardeau" stopped here
on regular runs up and down the river. Also boat travel was the
most important mode of travel for several years.
XV. DYNAMITE PLANT AT FAYVILE
The Black Powder Plant was first
started about one mile below the Dynamite Plant. A little later
the Dynamite Plant was started at Fayville. It was started about
1907. This plant manufactured dynamite, nitro-glycerin, acid and
gun cotton. It employed from one hundred to five hundred men.
It employed from seventy-five to one hundred men from Thebes and
has meant much in the way of supplying employment for the citizens of
Thebes for fifteen or twenty years. The plant closed about 1930
and was never reopened. Explosions occurred at this plant from
time to time and in one explosion four or five men were killed.
At the present time
there are two churhes in Thebes. The Methodist church (a studio
building with basement and kitchen) is located at the foot of the hill,
and the Baptist church (brick) is located on the hill which also has a
full basement and kitchen. The old Baptist church was blown away
by a tornado a few years ago and the present one erected on the site a
few months later. The present pastor of the Methodist church is
Rev. H. M. Fish, and the Baptist pastor is Rev. Atherton.
XVII. PRESENT COUNTY OFFICERS FROM THEBES:
Mr. L. E. Hinkle
who lived in Thebes is now County Superintendent of Schools and Paul
Clutts is County Clerk.
XVIII. LEGENDS OF THEBES:
setting of the movie picture called, "Showboat," and the book entitled
the same was in Thebes and Cairo. The Captain of the Showboat had
a cottage in Thebes and he stayed a part of the time before he
Within the walls of the old courthouse has been created comedy,
tragedy and romance. A legend not generally known, but never the
less true contained all these that had been its beginning more than
seventy years ago. Thomas Moore killed a man in self-defense in
what is now known as the drainage district south of Beech Ridge.
He was awaiting trial in the county jail at Thebes. There
was an election in Thebes, the citizens were all agog with party
politics, so this was the favorable time for Thomas to receive a
home-baked cake. Concealed within a blade of a hack saw was
found. While the citizens were celebrating the election, Tom
sawed his way out of the jail and made good his escape. He went
to Kansas, settled there and made a good citizen, lived there for years
and formed a intimate friendship with a Kansas man to whom later he
confided his early secret. After a few years this friend turned
traitor to him and divulged the secret. So Tom was arrested on
the old charge and brought back to Alexander County. The
courthouse then was at Cairo. The case never reopened because
there was no witness left and no one to testify against him.
Shortly before the Civil War broke, a horse thief was caught
after several shots had been fired into him. He was brought to
the courthouse and a male nurse was hired to take care of him.
The thief knew he would die so he told the nurse is secret, in a
stream in Missouri he discovered gold and he even gave the nurse the
map. The man died before there was time to hunt the gold.
--This history was submitted by J. C. McNelly.