A Visit To Our Sister City Of The
Same Name Out There In Middle America!
by Albert Helzner in Marblehead,Massachusetts
Judy Decker in Marblehead, Illinois
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, Illinois.
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 in Marblehead.
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