St. Charles History

The founding of a village

The city of St. Charles was founded in 1834 as the town of Charleston, IL.  Several years later, the early settlers discovered that another Charleston, IL already existed.  In an effort to avoid confusion, the citizens voted to change the town name to St. Charles.

Before the Civil War, St. Charles contained 20 properties that served as stops on the underground railroad.  One of the these properties was 606 Cedar Street, located downtown on the west side of the Fox river.   Congressman John Farnsworth, a founding member of the Republican Party and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, lived in a mansion located south of downtown along route 31.  Camp Kane (located along the east side of the Fox river) was a Civil War training center for the 8th and 17th Illinois Calvary regiments.  Today, the Farnsworth Foundation stages an annual re-enactment and dance at the park.

Mary Todd Lincoln visited St. Charles in 1871, it was rumored, in an effort to communicate with her lost husband and son through a local medium.  The seances were said to have been held at the Howard House Hotel, located on the northwest corner of Illinois and 3rd streets.

From farming to factories

During the later half of the nineteen century, the Great Western Railroad came to town, and St. Charles grew as a manufacturing center with an iron foundry and various factories.  Incorporated as a city in 1874, St. Charles saw rapid growth due to an influx of Swedish, Irish, Belgian and Lithuanian immigrants. By the beginning of the 20th century, St. Charles was manufacturing everything from cut glass to pianos.

Tourism arrives

During the 20th century, people outside St. Charles began to discover its natural beauty.  Many local landmarks were constructed during this time, including the Hotel Baker, Arcaca Theatre, Blue Goose Grocery and City Hall.  Crowds visited Pottawatomie Park along the Fox river, with its Robert Trent Jones golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts and amphitheater.  Visitors also took cruises on the Honeymoon Queen river boat.

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