The sign entering Marblehead on Highway 57 reads:
Sister City to
You cross the small highway bridge and continue for about
half a mile along the highway until you see the back of an identical
sign welcoming people who are entering town from the opposite
direction. Marblehead, Illinois, is not very large. Its population
in 1990 listed in the Rand McNally Atlas is shown as 100. But
it has the biggest welcome sign of any town in the area. As you
drive south along Highway 57, you see mostly one story homes,
well kept up with a variety of flowers adding color to the scene.
The houses to the left of the road are built on a gradually rising
river bluff. The houses to the right are at road level with the
ground behind them sloping down and becoming flat as you look
toward the Mississippi River in the distance. Corn and soybeans
are the main crops being grown in the area. Marblehead is about
nine miles south of Quincy, Illinois.
My introduction to the people of Marblehead, Illinois, was the
inscription on my jersey which read, "Marblehead, Mass."
and my cap which read "Marblehead, the Towne with the SPIRIT.'
These, along with copies of Marblehead Magazine and the
Chamber of Commerce Visitors Guide, were my passports into the
homes of Henry and Vada Decker, Bobby Board and his mother Ellamae
Glas Board. Telephone calls to Lowell Glas, Mrs. Doris Roan and
Donald Wittland were begun with the statement, "Hello, I'm
from Marblehead, Massachusetts." These magic words opened
up warm and informative conversations.
The names of many cities and towns in the southern Illinois
area are the same as towns in Massachusetts. Quincy, Rockport,
Hull, Pittsfield, Canton, Salem, Beverly and Melrose can be seen
on the local maps. Marblehead, Illinois, was originally called
Millville. It's final designation (the one we love) probably
came from the name of a limestone mining company called Marblehead
Lime Company. No records could be found as to when the name of
the town was changed from Millville to Marblehead. Millville
consisted of twelve blocks of land. Four blocks were located
on low ground between the main highway and the Mississippi River.
Eight blocks were located on high ground on the other side of
the highway. Each block consisted of about eight lots. My first
contact in Marblehead was with Mr. George Goehl (Pronounced "Gale")
who has lived in Marblehead since 1964. He runs a welding business
in town. Since he has lived in town for only 30 years, he recommended
I speak with Henry Decker about the history of Marblehead. Mr.
Decker lives just outside of town. Mr Goehl also recommended
I visit Bobby Board and his relatives. The Board family represents
many generations of "Marbleheaders" who are still living
in Marblehead, Illinois, just as there are many generations of
Marbleheaders still living in Massachusetts. Mr. Goehl also directed
me to the old schoolhouse down the street from his shop. This
three room schoolhouse which taught grades 1 to 8 is now closed.
Today, the town's children are sent to school in neaby Payson,
A visit with Henry and Vada Decker produced a wealth of information
about their Marblehead. They have been living in the area for
about 52 years. Mr. Decker was a forman with the old Marblehead
Lime Company which mined limestone in the area for about 100
years. Mr. Decker is now retired. He went to work for the Marblehead
Lime Company in 1936. At that time there were about 250 families
The Marblehead Lime Company operated the mining of the rock and
the treatment of the lime. The limestone was mined inland and
then transported to the lime treating kilns located near the
river by a special narrow gauge train run by the mining company.
When the mining company was shut down in 1974, there were 43
employees working. At the height of the mining operation, about
1932-1934, there were approximately 100 employees. The Marblehead
Lime Company is still operating. Its main office is now located
in Chicago. It is one of the world's largest suppliers of lime.
The Mississippi River is the common boundary between Illnois
and Missouri. At one time there were five active mining sites
in nearby Illinois and across the river in Missouri, performing
limestone mining and processing operations. The two Illinois
operations were in Marblehead and Quincy. The Marblehead operation
was run by the Marblehead Lime Company. The same Marblehead site
is still being mined today. It is now managed by the Quincy Carbonate
Company. Three Marblehead Lime Company operations were going
on across the river in Missouri. The Hannibal, Missouri and Louisiana,
Missouri operations are now closed. It is believed that the Springfield,
Missouri operation is still continuing.
Marblehead, Illinois, is conscious of its history, just as
Marblehead, Massachusetts, is of its history.
The first settlement was made by John Thomas in 1823. The first
school was taught by Levi Wells. It was a little log building
erected for that purpose in 1826. The first marriage was that
of Mr. Crandall to Miss Anna Beebe. The first birth was Priscilla
Crandall, later the wife of Josia Thompson, one of the prominent
citizens during that period.
At one time, there were passenger trains running through Marblehead
along the Mississippi River. The Wabash and the CB&Q (Chicago,
Burlington & Quincy) railroads ran service between Quincy
and Rockport, Illinois. The annual women's event was a train
ride to Rockport and back. The railroad added a special car to
the train just for this event.
One present resident, Mrs. Ellamae Glas Board, went through all
eight grades of the former three-room Marblehead schoolhouse.
Her daughter, Sharon Smith, went through four grades just before
the school was closed. Her education was completed in the neighboring
town of Payson. Ellamae Board's father went to school in Marblehead
in a one-room brick schoolhouse. This building, with the original
school bell, is still standing a short distance from the center
if town. Ellamae Board's home is on the west side of the highway
toward the Mississippi River. During the Mississippi flood of
1993 the west side of the town was inundated. Mrs. Board received
aid from Marblehead, Massachusetts, residents which was of great
help to her. The west side of the town was also hit by flooding
of the Mississippi River in 1947 and 1965. In my conversation
with Ellamae Board and her daughter Sharon Smith, I noted that
Marblehead, Massachusetts, does not have a problem with rivers
flooding. But we do get ocean storms, such as the major catastrope
of February 1978 when we were battered with hurricane winds,
we were hit by extraordinary high waves that smashed sea walls
and we were buried under a record snowfall, all occurring at
the same time. The Board family originally came from Germany
when the town was called Millville. No definitive documents could
be found as to how Marblehead, Illinois, got its name.
There are no stores in Marblehead today. At one time there were
two stores and a post office in Marblehead. One store was founded
and operated by Valentin Stolberg, Ellamae Board's grandfather.
He owned the store and the post office building. The post office
was later taken over by Valentin's daughter Rose Haggard and
then by his son Edward Stolberg. The store went out of business
about 1967. The other store was owned by William Ellerbrake and
operated by Henry Wittland. This store closed in the 1930's.
About 1958, the Post Office was taken over by Doris Roan. At
that time it was moved out of the Stolberg building and run from
Mrs. Roan's home for 17 years. Her husband, Homer, was a trainman
on the railroad that ran to and from Quincy. When Doris retired
in 1975, the Marblehead Post Office was closed. All mail to Marblehead
is now addressed "Rural Route 5, Quincy, IL 62301."
Another well-known resident was Sally Wittland who collected
the utility bills in town. She was affectionately called Aunt
Sally because she always had cookies for the children. Her ancestors
originally came from Switzerland.
Today, if you look East, West, North and South, you will see
acres and acres of corn being grown. The other businesses in
Marblehead are Mr. Goehl's Welding and Repair shop, Mr. Board's
Auto Repair and the quarrying of the mine.
A visit to Marblehead, Illinois, can be a short half mile drive
along Route 57 or it can be a memorable experience if you stop,
find someone and say, "My name is ___________and I'm from
Marblehead. Massachusetts, that is."
EDIT. NOTE: While some may wonder
why we publish these sort of stories, others know. It is small
communities, who continue to hold onto their unique characters
and histories, to which this magazine has always been and always
will be dedicated. -- BP