Finding Ancestors wherever their trails led with Genealogy Trails History Group

Illinois Genealogy Trails

 Jefferson County Illinois
Early Businesses


Citizens Gas, Electric, and Heating Company
Neesa Wilson 
Mt. Vernon High School, Mt. Vernon 

The Citizens Gas, Electric, and Heating Company in Mt. Vernon was owned by the Henry L. Doter Company of New York. The Dotor Company was an early utility group that owned and operated several public utilities in many different states. The firm it owned in Mt. Vernon supplied heat and power to more than 125 customers. 

In 1912 the Citizens Gas, Electric, and Heating Company began construction on gas mains to supply downtown Mt. Vernon. The streets of mud, dust, cobblestones, brick, and macadam (small stones that fit closely together when pressed with a heavy roller) had to be dug up for the ditches to lay the lines. Citizens Gas utilized a central-heating system. Tunnels were dug for two pipes encircled by four-and-a-half-inch tiles. These tunnels and tile lines are still underground in Mt. Vernon.  

One of the utility company's towers uses the holding tank to urge customers to 
"cook with gas."

The gas, power, and heating plants were all located on 11th Street and Case Avenue. The gas plant burned coal to make gas. In 1902 this was a type of coal gasification. The plant had the capacity of producing 120,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The plant that produced electric light had an output of 750 kilowatts with three generating units. The generators supplied power to the streetcars. In the city and surrounding area, the company owned twenty-five miles of electrical wires. 

Although the company's name suggested they dealt in gas, electric, and heat, they also controlled the water works. The system included a filtering plant, pumping station, and two reservoirs. One of the reservoirs has a capacity of 350 million gallons and the other had a capacity of 60 million.

Citizens Gas, Electric, and Heating Company served the growing town of Mt. Vernon in the early 1900s by supplying the downtown businesses and residents with central heat, hot water, and electricity. Necessities of life today were not often available at the time. The company continued to serve until its services became outdated.
[From Thomas A. Puckett, Mt. Vernon Illinois: A Pictorial History; student historian's interview with Thomas A. Puckett, Sept. 1996.] 


The Great Hotels of Mt. Vernon
Aaron Saxe
Mt. Vernon Township High School, Mt. Vernon

The railroads increased Mt. Vernon's importance as a travel and business hub. A strategic location between Evansville, St. Louis, Chicago, and many other large cities enabled Mt. Vernon to grow into an important transportation center. As the city grew in importance in southern Illinois, a number of large and elegant hotels rose around the downtown. These early hotels established the city as a center for conventions in southern Illinois and provided its residents with a community meeting place including dining and entertainment.
The Dodson House, located on the southwest corner of Eleventh and Main streets, was Mt. Vernon's first hotel. It was a three-story brick structure with a sweeping front porch atop the dirt streets. Opening in 1858 as the Johnson House, it was later renamed the Commercial House before finally being named the Dodson House, its last remembered name. The J.H. Grant grocery store occupied the east side of the first floor while the lobby took up the remainder of the floor on the west side of the building. The rooms were rented for only one dollar a day and served railroad passengers on their way to other destinations. In 1914 the Dodson House was demolished to make way for the post office, which occupied that site until 1963.

For many years the Grand Hotel was one of the leading hostelries of southern Illinois. Since its opening in 1900 the Grand was synonymous with comfortable elegance and fine cuisine. The three-story brick structure was able to accommodate up to thirty people. Mrs. M. Krieckhause was the proprietor whose skill and experience made her extremely popular with the traveling and business public. The hotel was located on the east side of North Tenth Street on the present site of Expressions and was demolished between 1910 and 1930.

The Illinois Hotel was converted from earlier use and was one of Mt. Vernon's many small but comfortable hotels. The two-story red brick building was completed in 1910 as the Egyptian Hospital. Located at 106-108 North Eleventh Street, the hospital functioned until about 1915 when the hospital outgrew the facility. Then the Illinois Hotel occupied the building and remained open until it was torn down and replaced by a parking lot.

Perhaps the most famous and elegant of any of Mt. Vernon's old hotels was the Hotel Emmerson. Opened in 1926 as the New Mt. Vernon Hotel, the building quickly became a Mt. Vernon Landmark. The hotel was five stories high and had 150 rooms; rates started at $1.75. Many Mt. Vernon residents can remember the "human fly" who climbed the northwest corner of the hotel soon after its opening. The hotel was considered fire-proof because there were no wooden floors or walls in its construction. The Emmerson, famous for its fine dining and meeting facilities, was used frequently by community clubs such as the Car Shop Women.

Railroads were important to Mt. Vernon's growth; this view of the square shows a thriving downtown.

Between 1929 and 1933 the hotel changed its name to Emmerson in honor of the Illinois governor of that time, Louis Emmerson. In 1983 the hotel was demolished after remaining vacant for a short time and was replaced by a parking lot.
As Mt. Vernon's railroad traffic declined, the old hotels of Mt. Vernon started on their long but steady decline. The retail industry shifted away from the downtown area to Times Square Mall on the west side of Mt. Vernon. During the 1950s and 1960s, and before the completion of 1-57, a number of small motels were completed outside the downtown area along busy routes through town. These hotels include Motel Mt. Vernon and the Economy Inn located on Route 37.

After 1-57 was completed almost all of the downtown hotels closed because Mt. Vernon's downtown area declined. Heavy traffic shifted to the outskirts of the city as did the office and retail market. The first to be constructed was the Ramada Inn, now the Best Western, which offered dining and recreation. Other larger hotels were soon to follow. The Holiday Inn and new Ramada offer recreation, meeting facilities, dining, and entertainment options. All of these hotels are geared to the busy interstate travelers and conventions drawn by Mt. Vernon's central location between large cities.

The hotels provide a vital economic link for Mt. Vernon. With hundreds of employees, the economic impact of the hotels is tremendous. Without the interstate or hotels Mt. Vernon could not have grown into the convention center that contributes millions of dollars annually to the local economy. Today there are many more rooms than the older more intimate hotels of the earlier part of this century. The rates are much higher, fifty dollars and up at one motel, but the hotels also provide many more services than the older hotels. The newest addition to Mt. Vernon's collection of hotels is the Comfort Inn, which is conveniently located near many dining facilities and the Ramada Convention Center.

Mt. Vernon's urban development resulted in several elegant hotels being built around the downtown center. Most of these hotels catered to railroad travelers and businessmen visiting the downtown business district. After the railroad declined the hotels saw their business slowly fail before finally closing in recent decades. The interstate roadside proved to be the most convenient location for the new hotels that depend on interstate travelers. As the downtown hotels were demolished, newer larger hotels were completed on the other side of town. The purpose and location of Mt. Vernon's many hotels has changed drastically. Still, the hotels continue to have a vital economic role in Mt. Vernon. The interstate has replaced the railroad as the preferred mode of transportation, and the new hotels are somewhat less polished, less genteel, and are no longer clustered around the downtown area, but Mt. Vernon hotels continue to thrive. [From Mt. Vernon Historical Society, Facts & Folks; History of Jefferson County, Illinois 1810-1962; Tom Puckette, Mt. Vernon: A Pictorial History; John A. Wall, History of Jefferson County.]

The Birth and Rise of
Mt. Vernon Theaters

Tiffany Evans
Mt. Vernon Township High School, Mt. Vernon

Where did the people of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, meet for a social gathering before the 1880s? Socializing occurred primarily at local churches, but that changed when the Knights of Pythias and the Free Masons bought property jointly to build a theater. Before the theater was built, conservatives claimed it would be a bad influence. Opposition was overcome by renaming the theater the "Mt. Vernon Opera House." The structure was lighted by electricity, heated by a furnace, and furnished with opera chairs and elegant scenery at a cost of more than ten thousand dollars. The Opera House was on the first floor and the two lodges shared the second floor.
Operettas, slapstick comedies, and short skits were presented at the Opera House, along with many community events. In 1893 it was advertised as the "finest opera house in southern Illinois." Mt. Vernon's first experience with motion pictures started with short silent movies run at the Opera House and nickelodeon arcades around the city square. In 1944 the Opera House was destroyed by fire.

The first theaters in Mt. Vernon were not always successful. Between 1908 and 1911 the Dreamland, Vandette, Ninth Street, Gem, and Star theaters opened. Even though many of these did not last long, they still contributed to the desire of the people to progress as a city and the establishment of permanent theaters.

On Thanksgiving Day 1911, what was to become the first permanent theater, the Majestic, opened. This theater was known for showing many epic movies, such as, The Birth of a Nation. Many vaudeville acts were performed on the Majestic stage. During the remodeling, the theater was gutted by fire, and a new movie theater was built and named the Royal. The Royal was also destroyed by fire. But it was redesigned and reopened on May 15, 1947, as the Stadium Theater.

At the grand opening of the Stadium, the program consisted of The Star Spangled Banner, The Welcome, Universal World News Events, Metro-Goldwyn's Academy Award-winning cartoon, The Cat's Concerto, and Twentieth Century Fox's feature, The Homestretch starring Cornel Wilde and Maureen O'Hara. Matinees and night shows cost patrons fifty-five cents. After the birth of the first Mt. Vernon theater, citizens were no longer satisfied with only "country style" social activities. They not only watched the movies for entertainment, but movie goers began to fashion their clothing and hairstyles according to the movies. The Stadium is still operating today at the same location.

The Plaza Theater opened on December 25, 1919, and was the main theater for years. The theater had many firsts such as orchestra accompaniment, a pipe organ, and sound equipment. The city's first cooling system was installed, and usherettes appeared for the first time in a Mt. Vernon movie house.

In 1924 partners Reid, Yemm, and Hayes purchased all of the theaters in Mt. Vernon, and Homer Marvel became the manager. In 1929 the three owners purchased additional land to build the Granada, but this was delayed when on October 26, 1929, the chain was sold to Fox Theaters. In 1971 the Kerasotes Corporation purchased the theaters from Fox and currently runs them.

The much-awaited groundbreaking ceremony for the Granada was held on June 7, 1937. Six months later, December 16, 1937, the Granada had its grand opening. The movie True Confessions was shown to a sell-out crowd in the theater, which was considered to be one of the finest outside the Chicago area. The Granada had air conditioning, a stage, the latest movie technology, and arena-type seating for twelve hundred, affording a perfect view of the screen from any position in the theater.

The Granada's manager dedicated the new theater to the purpose of "making life fuller, richer, and happier to the people of Mt. Vernon." Marvel said that for a motion picture to function properly, it must be viewed in the proper environment. He boasted of fulfilling not only the major requirements of the modern theater, but also providing an atmosphere of beauty and good taste. The quality of the sound system called mirrorphonic was the latest development and was superior to anything ever heard before on the talking picture screen. Sound was directed equally to all parts of the theater, making hearing as well as vision perfect no matter where patrons sat. Engineers claimed it was one of the finest sound theaters in the country. The new Granada received many telegrams of congratulations and continued success from many movie stars such as Myrna Loy, Robert Young, James Stewart, Shirley Temple, and Clark Gable.

The Granada had been built with a high percentage of Mt. Vernon labor and materials. Congratulations from businesses like the following ran in the Mt. Vernon Register News: "We are proud of the part we play in making Mt. Vernon the best city in this section, and we too, have great confidence in the future of our community and strive to keep step with the advancement and betterment of our city." The theater did credit to a city many times larger than Mt. Vernon and was a real civic asset.

The Granada and Stadium remained basically the same until a few years ago, when both were remodeled. The Granada was divided into two theaters in 1981, the Stadium in 1985.

Currently, construction is underway for a new eight-screen theater located next to Jent Factory Outlet Mall. To many this brings excitement, but to others, it represents an era coming to an end. For so long the Granada and the Stadium brought movies to Mt. Vernon, and now that is being replaced with more modern construction and technology. [From "A stores G Advertisement," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; Carl Drennan, History of Jefferson County, Illinois; Jefferson County Historical Society, Facts and Folks, A History of Jefferson County, Illinois; "Motion Pictures at their Best in Mt. Vernon's New Granada Theater," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; "Movies Provide Good Entertainment," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; "Perfect Sound and Vision in New Granada," Mt. Vernon Register News, Dec. 14, 1937; Thomas A. Puckett, Mt. Vernon; stadium program, n.d.]

Illinois History A Magazine for Young People 1995

The Appellate Court of the Fourth District also attracts people to Mt. Vernon.

The Mt. Vernon
Car Manufacturing Company

By Matt Page
Mt. Vernon Township High School, Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon used to be home to the Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company, better known locally as the "car shops." They contributed to the Mt. Vernon area economically and socially for more than sixty years.

The car shops were opened in Mt. Vernon in August 1890. The car shops were brought to Mt. Vernon by David O. Settlemire from Litchfield, Illinois. It is not known why they were moved, but it was rumored that the losing candidate in a mayoral race, David O. Settlemire, said, "If Litchfield doesn't need me for mayor, they don't need my shops and elevator." The new Mt. Vernon plant was equipped to build freight cars of all kinds for the railroads. Operations began on a small scale and employed about four hundred men when the new plant began.

Settlemire was the first president of the shops. He was born in 1827 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Settlemire had had many jobs, beginning as a cabinetmaker's apprentice at age seventeen. Afterward Settlemire became a grain dealer. He realized that rail transportation was vital for transporting his product as well as many other products. This realization led him to become wealthy and led him to become president of the Litchfield car shops. Settlemire never lived in Mt. Vernon, even though he located his factory there. He died in 1908 in Litchfield.

After Settlemire died, W. C. Arthurs became president of the shops. Arthurs was Settlemire's son-in-law. He had experience as a plowboy, grocery store clerk, and drug store clerk. Before he became president he served as the first secretary and treasurer of the shops. He and his wife lived in Mt. Vernon in an elegant twenty-three-room home at 800 North Street. W. C. Arthurs died at age 63 of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 16, 1928. After Arthurs's death Ralph Weber became the president until 1935 when David Arthurs took over. David was W. C.'s adopted son.

The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company produced boxcars like those pictured here.

W. C. Arthurs had believed that keeping his men happy was the best way to keep production up. His beliefs contributed to the community socially and economically. He started a baseball team named the "Car Builders." It played against many teams in southern Illinois and was considered to be one of the best teams outside the professional ranks. One of the most famous people that played for the baseball team was Ray Blades. He was later a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, and helped them to win the World Series while with the team. It is very likely that the years spent playing on the car-shop's team led him to the Cardinals.

The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company sponsored a band that presented regular concerts to the community and played for parades and other events. They were considered to be a fine band. It was called the "Carco Band" but also nicknamed the "Kilties" because the band wore Scottish dress.

The car-shop's train whistle might be one of the best-remembered things by the community. It sounded loudly New Year's eve to celebrate the New Year. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L and N) also contributed two switch engines to join along with nine other engines, to produce the loud whistle. The whistle was also used to call attention to a fire in the community.

The car shops also affected the community's economy. The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company provided the largest payroll of any industrial company for the city at the time. It averaged $100,000 every two weeks; $2.6 million was distributed in the Mt. Vernon area in a year. In addition to providing the community with a good payroll, large sums of money were poured into local taxes for Mt. Vernon schools as well as other worthy causes.

The car shops of Mt. Vernon produced one of the best products in the nation. Initial production was eleven to twelve cars daily. The first car was made of wood. Most of the cars were made for the L and N Railroad.

The product was so well received that the company not only started doing business with other railroads in the United States but with foreign countries. Cars were built for the Canadian National Railroad and for a company in Mexico. The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company was at the height of its business when the Great Depression descended. From 1930 to 1936 only one hundred cars were manufactured by the company.

World War II, however, provided a great boom for the company. The Mt. Vernon car shops were called upon to provide a sizeable number of bombs for the war in Europe.

The end of World War II, however, brought the end of an era. In 1944 the company was sold to H. K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh who dismantled the shops. The site was sold to a group of local businessmen for $250,000 who in turn paid $90,000 to raze the buildings. Unemployment skyrocketed with a 16 percent rate in the Mt. Vernon area. A few of the original buildings stand today, including the Precision National Corporation and the office complex that served as the Jefferson Memorial Hospital for several years.

The closing of the railroad era also ended the company that provided jobs, money, and social activities for many Mt. Vernonites. There is probably not an adult in the Mt. Vernon area who lived during the car shop's years who does not remember hearing the whistle blow on New Year's Eve or watching the car-builder's baseball team win another game. [From Harry L. Bates, History of Jefferson County, Illinois: 1810-1962; Mt. Vernon Daily Register, Mt. Vernon, Illinois, June 29, 1981; Thomas A. Puckett, Mt. Vernon, Illinois A Pictorial History.]

Illinois History A Magazine for Young People 1994

From 1972 "Register News"
Submitted By: Janice Staples

L&N Cafe

Founded by  Bill Hicks; is remembered for it's Veal Sandwiches;
sitting only a few feet from L & N Depot, it was a favorite eating place for Railroad crews and  passengers;
Bill Hicks died in 1969 and the restaurant was  operated by his son John.
The place is used by Civic Groups Rotary; Lions; Kiwanis; Optimist; B&PW and Newcomers Clubs.

In 1972 the L & N had been in Mt. Vernon for 46 years at 15th and Broadway.

The first Lions meeting was held February 25, 1924. Club President in that year was H. W. ''Doc'' Faulkner.
The Lions met every Wednesday for lunch at the L & N Restaurant.
There most notable activities include the annual dinners for high school football teams and their program to provide glasses to needy school children. 

G. C. MURPHY become a fixture on Mt. Vernon Square.
It has been located at South side location since coming to Mt. Vernon in 1951.
The store was remodeled in 1956 and 3000 sq. feet added at that time.
In 1962, it was remodeled again. 

522 Main -  Owner Stanton Bean

800 S 10th -  Owner Doy Hines

Hwy 460 West - Owner -  Keith Fetgetter

24th & Broadway Owner - Bill Hines




General Radiator

In 1937 Lelan Carr and Bob Smith opened a Welding shop at 1016 Casey.
In 1938, Lelan moved and opened a shop then it moved again and was called Lelan Carr Motor Service. 
In 1940 at Jordan and 12th. It had five mechanics and the city's first wrecker service.
In 1942 the business joined with John Deere, in 1946 he contracted to sell Willys Jeeps.
Next the move was to Waltonville road here a 75,000 Building was constructed on two and half acre spot.
The Korean War interupted the business and Lelan sold the business in 1952.
Carr moved behind the big building and serviced lawn mower's, chain saws and go carts were manufactured.
In 1962, he started selling Oxygen and Welding supplies.
The same year he started selling Insurance with Mutual Farmers of America. 

Hughey Pulley Funeral Home

Bluford Funeral Home 5th & Elm Street

Hughey Pulley was operated by Charles Hughey for three and a half years in 1972.
It was founded in 1907 on North 10th street the original business, The Appleman, Fly Funeral Home was purchased in the early 1930's by George Hawkins.
Hawkins purchased the present home at 1314 Main.
That building had been built by COL.Thomas S.Casey, son of pioneer Zadock Casey. Built in 1865 right after the Civil War.
The Appellate Court House across the street was 11 years older being built in 1854.
The funeral home had 15 rooms. Hawkins operated the funeral home for 9 years after the purchase in 1934. He died in 1943, Then  Virgil Pulley purchased it.
In 1955 he added the Chapel on the West side of the building. He operated it until his death in July of 1959. Hughey purchased the home in 1969 from Mrs. Pulley.
Hughey remodled and re-decorated the interior after his purchase.

One of the first motion picture theaters was a small room in the 800 block of Broadway.
At the Opera House, short skits and slap stick comedy were shown, this was at 10th and Harrison.
Frank Gillespie and Homer Hicks owned and ran the Gem Theater at 102 South 9th.
The Majestic was at 226 S. 9th, it was owned by Arch Levick.
During the remodeling of the Majestic, it caught fire and a new Theater was built on the was called the Royal Theater. It also burned inside. Next was the Stadium opened on May 15, 1947.

The Plaza 118 S. 9th., owned by John Bingemer and managed by George Newsome was opened on Christmas day 1919.
The Star 910 Main was bought by Vandergrifts who operated for several years.
Usherettes came into being in 1922 when Light Opera was brought to the Plaza.
Music for the silent picture was furnished by Piano.
1924 the Plaza wa remodeled ans a yound man from Sesser Theater named Homer Marvel was brought in and he became one of the most alert and best manager of the Fox.
The theaters were also used for Charleson contest and some young boys and girls won fame for dancing.
In 1937, Walter Atkinson and Homer Marvel, dug the first spades for one of the finest theaters outside of Chicago. It was at 108 N. 9th. It seated 1200,  was air conditioned, with the latest sound equipment and large stage.
On December 16, 1937 THE GRANADA was open. Seats were filled and the movie shown was Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in TRUE CONFESSIONS.
Pictures often played to packed houses.
In 1948 Gilly Burnett came to manage the Fox, Later Leon Koch became the manager.
In 1971 Kerasotas Theaters  purchased the Mt. Vernon Theaters. 

Genealogy Trails History Group

©Genealogy Trails

©2010 and prior, Cindy Ford (all rights reserved)