Village of Bethalto
213 N. Prairie St., Bethalto, IL 62010
(618)377-8051 (Phone)
(618)377-5264 (Fax)

History of Bethalto

The area that came to be known as Bethalto was first settled in 1804 by a man named Thomas Rattan. He came from Ohio in a prairie schooner, crossing the river at Shawnee town. He found good timber and prairie for corn and wheat and a water source nearby in the form of Wood River, so named for the timber around it. Game was plentiful, with an abundance of squirrels, rabbits, turkey, prairie hens and other game. It was an ideal place to build a future.

By 1809, more settlers, many of them Dutch and German farmers, arrived in the area which was commonly referred to as Rattan’s Prairie. An abundance of Native Americans were also found living in the area, so numerous at one time along Indian Creek that there were Kickapoo villages. The creek was named after the Indians and many tribal relics have been found in that vicinity. Although surrounded by Native Americans, there was little trouble in those earliest years. Block houses were built in case protection might be needed, but, as no Indians made their appearance and the Rangers were constantly on the alert, scouring the country to the north and east, most began to feel so secure that in the summer of 1814 they returned to their farms and dwellings. The only recorded tragedy was the Indian massacre of 1814, historically known as the Wood River Massacre when the wife and two children of Reason Reagan, two children of Able Moore and two children of William Moore were killed at a place a few miles west of Bethalto.

Early settlers to Bethalto found many advantages. There was good soil for growing grain; a good vein of coal which had outcroppings; and lots of timber grew nearby, consisting of oak, hickory, walnut and other trees suitable for making building materials. The roads were also in better condition than most in a time when trails were the roads and ferries were the bridges.

Like many towns, Bethalto existed and prospered for many years before it was incorporated. Bethalto was founded in 1834, but not incorporated until April 19, 1869 under a special charter. In 1873, Bethalto was incorporated again under the State of Illinois’ general law. Bethalto was first known as Bethel. There was a church near Bethalto for many years named Bethel, and the community was given that name. When the first post office was established, it was necessary to change the name since there was another town in Illinois with the same name. Most agree the name was formed with the first four letters from Bethel and the first four letters from Alton, a town nearby. To this day, Bethalto is the only town of that name in the United States.

Houses and businesses were sparse at first, but by 1855, business tripled in Bethalto. The advent of mills, mines and the railroad brought with them large gains in population. Overnight travelers had ample opportunity to find satisfactory accommodations. By 1866, in addition to mills and coal mines, there was an agricultural and implement building, a plow shop and cooperage shops. Later came physicians, mechanics, marble workers, wagon and buggy makers, boot and shoe manufacturers, dress makers, jewels and watchmakers, harness and saddlers, livery stables, tin ware stores, carpet weavers, plow, cultivators and harrow manufacturers, repairers of farm machinery of every style and eventually, sheriffs and constables. Entertainment was often found in the form of community gatherings. Bethaltoans have a history of enjoying music and dance, as well as picnics at the park. The place called the Public Hall was also used as a theatre. As Bethalto grew, so did the necessity for a local banking industry. Although Bethalto’s early banking history is sketchy, the community has been served locally since 1903.

On the prairie, schools were often found in the homes of residents or one-room church buildings. The village’s first known school dates back to 1818 and was a blockhouse on Rattan’s Prairie that had been built for protection from Indians. By 1866, an influx of population prompted the building of new schools, most consisted of few rooms. Renovations to current buildings and new structures followed. High school wasn’t established until 1920. Space was always in demand and often classes were also held in back rooms of businesses, homes and churches. In 1950, Bethalto Community Unit No. 8 School District was formed and the new Civic Memorial High School was constructed later at the west edge of town on Second Street. Decades later, the current Civic Memorial High School was built.

Through the years, Bethalto has been built and supported by the efforts of its churches, clubs and civic organizations. These organizations and their members have repeatedly responded to the needs of their community to promote, support, assist in funding and participate voluntarily in projects too numerous to mention.

Bethalto’s prosperity has always been achieved through the actions and interactions of its people, who embrace volunteerism and cooperation and strive to bring about a better quality of life for all residents.

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