Friday, November 25, 2005

West Main in Belleville

Belleville is one of the historic towns in St. Clair County, Illinois. It is situated just southeast of East St. Louis.

Belleville is the county seat of St. Clair County, and home to one of oldest Catholic Dioceses in the state of Illinois. The center of Belleville is at the intersection of 1st Street (Hwy 159) and Main. About 3 blocks southwest you will find the Cathderal of the Belleville Diocese, one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the Midwest, with flying buttresses supporting a vaulted ceiling close to 200 feet in height.

Surrounding downtown are historic neighborhoods dating to the 1830s. On the east of downtown, the homes are larger on larger lots, but to the west side, in a lower- lying area along both sides of West Main, the homes are much smaller, nearly all brick, and nearly fully intact.

Travelling west on West Main towards St. Louis is like travelling through time. For about five miles you see the changes in architectural style as Belleville built out from the 1830s to modern times. You pass the historic SkyView Drive-In theater, with its original marquis that features a space vehicle that looks half rocket ship, half jet plane.

Finding your way into the historic heart of Belleville can be a little difficult. The easiest way to find it is to take Hwy 159 south from Interstate 64. It will take you right into the heart of town. Once you're familair with the area, there are many alternate routes to get there, including West Main, which is the old highway connecting Belleville to points west.

Visiting historic Belleville makes me wonder if anyone has ever created a historic map of the St. Louis region, showing the neighborhoods that would have existed in the 1860s-1890s. It would be a great resource for people interested in exploring those places today.

2 comments:

Urban Review - St. Louis said...

Great post Rick. I think it is easy to forget many of St. Louis' suburbs were their own independent towns at one time. Places like Belleville have their own interesting histories and some great architecture. I need to visit Belleville again -- not sure if I can get to downtown from MetroLink or if I must take my car.

Joe said...

The Belleville MetroLink station is about a 1 mile walk from the Public Square. Not an impossible walk. Take Scheel Street, which curves south into Charles Street. After about five blocks, you hit East Main.

Also, I think the #1 Main-State bus line goes that way.

If driving, IL Route 15 is another, very quick route to Belleville, east from I-255. It meets IL Route 159 just south of the downtown, so it's probably faster than taking 159 through Fairview Heights and Swansea.

IL 15 is also the way to get to the great free Christmas drive-through light display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.