By Randy Pierce
Illinois House of Representatives 2019 Bill 0460, passed earlier this summer, not only congratulates the City of Fairview Heights on the occasion of its 50th anniversary but also provides a comprehensive profile of the community’s history.
A copy of the bill was presented to Mayor Mark Kupsky by State Representative Jay Hoffman at the Tuesday, August 7 meeting of the city council. He was primary sponsor of the legislation and another representative from this area, Katie Stuart, whose district covers the very northerly area of Fairview Heights and a large part of Madison County, was the co-sponsor.
Upon giving it to Kupsky at the council meeting, Hoffman reflected a bit on his own history with the City of Fairview Heights, saying, “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to one of these meetings. There were times I was a cheap replacement for Bob Becker,” referring to the late long-time city attorney for who he worked in the same law firm prior to becoming an elected state official.
“The city has really grown and prospered for so many years,” Hoffman added before joking that he would not read the entire resolution because the current city attorney, Garrett Hoerner, who works for the same law office once headed up by Becker, threatened the state legislator if he did take the time to verbally share every word of it.
“The House of Representatives,” Hoffman continued, “acknowledges the great 50-year history of Fairview Heights and all who came before and to all who are serving now, we thank you for your service.”
The resolution, after the initial congratulatory statement, based on the fact that Fairview Heights was formally incorporated as a city in 1969, mentions how Germans and other immigrants from Europe established farms in this area which was then known as Ridge Prairie.
Those early pioneers, the legislation continues, included an Irishman named William Kinsella who built a two-story, hand-hewn log cabin in 1854 which still stands in Pleasant Ridge Park. The Kinsella heirs still reside in Fairview Heights.
One of the community’s main early “hubs,” Hoffman’s resolution goes on, was the intersection of what is now Bunkum Road and Lincoln Trail, once the location of a brickyard, a farmhouse that served as an inn and the original one-room Grant School. Still another center of activity cited was the tavern and trading post formerly operated by Henry Becherer, later known as the Ridge Prairie Saloon then, eventually, the Dandy Inn which closed in January of 2017 because of the retirement of its owner.
Also noted is that the first of seven coal mines in what later became Fairview Heights was opened in 1903 and that the name “Fairview” was initially used in an advertisement by a land developer after a streetcar (trolley) line was extended from St. Louis to here.
Raymond Fairbrother, per what Hoffman brought to give to the mayor, was a resident of East St. Louis who platted the very first residential subdivisions in “Fairview” in 1906 and promoted the development as a place “where life is worth living.”
Local residents in 1914 formed the Fairview Improvement Association and raised money to have sidewalks and roadways in this area then a mercantile store, owned first by a family named Shively then later the Gaidos, was opened in 1916.
More modernization came in 1924 when the East St. Louis Light and Power Company began delivering electricity. In 1933, the aforementioned association of local people bought a used fire truck which was followed by the organization of the volunteer fire department. It is common now for some to refer to the Fairview Heights Fire Department but none actually exists. The original name without the word “Heights” has been retained and is currently in use since its formation.
Then into the 1940s and 1950s, the house resolution says, more subdivisions, stores and restaurants were added. A most notable landmark, the St. Albert the Great Catholic Church which had an usual circular shape, was built in 1967 at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and North Illinois Street.
After enough people decided that it was time to officially incorporate as a city, a major turning point came in the late 1960s when a referendum was held for deciding what to specifically named the new community. Voters had to choose from three: Lincoln Heights, Ridge Prairie or Fairview Heights with the winner prevailing by a three-to-one margin.
Local resident Warren Baker Jr., Hoffman’s research pointed out, was appointed as the first temporary city clerk which led to him putting together the first election for the new city council which took place on December 16, 1969.
In that election, the late Everett Moody, who the park on Longacre Drive is named after, was chose as the first mayor of Fairview Heights. He served until 1979 and was followed by George Lanxon who stepped down in 1995 and was succeeded by Gail Mitchell. Then since 2015, Kupsky has held that office.
Others joining Moody on the first city council then included Clerk Les Klein and Alderman Charles Baricevic, the father of former St. Clair County Board Chairman and Illinois 20th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge John Baricevic.
Further outlined in Hoffman’s review of the history of Fairview Heights is the purchase of four police cars from the Oliver D. Joseph auto dealership in Belleville, the dedication of Lonagcre/Moody Park in 1976 and the 1977 purchase by the city of the former Pleasant View Tuberculosis Sanitorium so it could be converted into the city hall which still serves that purpose today at 10025 Bunkum Road.
A large retail discount department-like store called Venture, recognizable because of its logo featuring diagonal black stripes on a white background (or vice versa), opened for business in 1969 and proved to be so successful that the May Company which owned it began plans for St. Clair Square, long since the focal point for Fairview Heights, which opened as a two-level shopping mall in 1974.
The very next year found Interstate 64, paralleling U.S. Highway 50 (now called Lincoln Highway within Fairview Heights), providing better access to the mall for shoppers from throughout the region.
The boom in commercial growth that followed with more retail stores, places to eat of all types, banks and businesses, like Stonewolf Golf Club, the Four Points by Sheraton and its Fountains Conference Center plus a MetroLink station at the intersection of Illinois Route 161 and St. Clair Avenue all being added.
Additionally included in the resolution from Hoffman is how Fairview Heights “has evolved into a shopping mecca that attracts people from all over the region,” with the city issuing numerous licenses to stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses every year while not levying property tax because its government programs and services are funded through sales tax revenue.
As frequently brought forward by Kupsky when he is speaking about the city, Hoffman further stated that even though Fairview Heights has a population of 17,000 residents who live there, the number of people actually within its borders can swell to 50,000 or 60,000 during peak holiday shopping season and at other busy times, thusly requiring a police force of over 40 officers which is considerably more than municipalities with a similar amount of local citizens.
Before the resolution passed by the state house closes, it cites the various public events taking place in 2019 in connection with the 50th anniversary of Fairview Heights, the next of which will be a time capsule burial, city hall open house and gala ball at the Four Points by Sheraton Fountains Conference Center.
The House of Representatives of the 101st General Assembly of the State of Illinois includes a wish for the city to “have many more successful years.”