We are conveniently located in the St. Louis Metro area, along Interstate 55 and Illinois Route 4, Staunton is just 25 minutes north of downtown St. Louis and just 50 minutes from Springfield, Illinois the capital of the State.
By Steve Moore, Staunton Public Schools
How Staunton Got Its Name
- A man named Stanton bought land here, then decided to move on and gave the land to the village for a square. At the meeting to discuss the post office someone suggested they name the village Stanton as a “thank you” to Mr. Stanton. The suggestion was accepted and the application for a post office at Stanton went off to Washington, D.C. There the clerk who handled the request must have thought those westerners couldn’t spell. The grant came back with the name spelled S-t-a-u-n-t-o-n, which was the name of a town in the Appalachian region of Virginia. It would take time and effort to have the error corrected, and no one really cared. Anyway, Staunton, VA was and still is pronounced “Stanton”. And so it was in Staunton, Illinois for many years. Some say that the people here began saying Staunton as we do today only after their throats were so full of coal dirt that they could no longer say Stanton. (Source 1)
- 1817: John Wood arrives in the area (blacksmith from Virginia)
- 1820: Richard Chapman builds first mill in Staunton (saves trips to St. Louis)
- 1825: First schoolhouse built (William Wilcox taught for $2 a student)
- 1831: Stephen Hicks opens first general store
- 1835: David Hendershot plats the first section of a village
- 1835: Luke Coons becomes first physician in Staunton
- 1837: First Post Office (William Bonner is first Postmaster)
- Important addition because it brought in people and trade
- Staunton goes from a subsistent farm community to a trade-based one
- 1859: Staunton becomes an incorporated village
- Unincorporated village from 1830-1859
- 1870: Railroad arrives! (drastic change on the community and the nation)
- 1873: Royal Gem Mill built
- Tallest building ever erected here
- Won a gold medal for “Jack Frost Flower” at Paris World Exposition (1875)
- 1878: Staunton Star Times begins publication
- 1891: Staunton becomes a city
- Achieved a population of 2209 in 1890 (sufficient enough to apply for “City” status)
- F.E. Godfrey serves as first mayor
- 1894: John Kennedy starts Staunton High School
- Early 1900’s: Staunton starts to look like what we recognize today
- Staunton continued to grow in the twentieth century. Many of the buildings that make up what is now downtown Staunton were built around the turn of the century. Note: A few years ago, the community began a series of ornaments depicting historic buildings in Staunton. The first and oldest building in this series was the Gauer Building.
- 1904: Illinois Traction System passes through Staunton
- 1910: Staunton achieves a population of 5049 (biggest city in Macoupin County at that time). Note: Although these numbers prove that Staunton was prospering, some had predicted that it would be three times this size by 1912. A real estate ad taken from the Staunton Star-Times on October 14, 1907 urges citizens to buy land quickly, as “Staunton will become a city of 15,000 people in five years’ time and every lot in McKinley Addition will double or triple in value”. (source 2) Although a good marketing ploy, Staunton would never approach even half of that anticipated size, and still today remains at only a third of that predicted population.
- 1913: Staunton Public Library established (first Librarian was Bess Kirkwood)
- 1922: Staunton Country Club established
- 1923: Staunton Volunteer Fire Department established
- 1923: Staunton football team goes 10-0 (including state record 233-0 victory over Gillespie)
- 1925: Staunton High School built
- 1925: Staunton’s population (unofficially) reaches 6600 (all-time high)
- 1927: Lake Staunton (“The Rezzy”) built for $230,000
- 1946: Community Memorial Hospital Association organized (building dedicated in 1951)
- 1956: Illinois Traction System runs its last passenger train through Staunton
- 1956: Interstate 55 built through Staunton (led to the decline of Route 66)
- 1959: Staunton celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Village incorporation
- The Centennial Celebration lasted from June 28 through July 4, 1959, and included games, a parade, and concessions. One interesting happening was the “Judging of the Beards”, or the “Brothers of the Brush” contest, in which members of the community grew long beards to show respect and to honor those of past generations. (source 1) Note: My Grandpa actually ran this contest, and ironically, since he was a barber, it probably hurt his own business for a while. However, the celebration of Staunton’s history must have taken precedence, and I think his actions, as well as others who dedicated time and money towards the Centennial Celebration, are indicative of Staunton’s close-knit and dedicated community members. Perhaps the beards also represented a socially acceptable way for males to escape the conformity of the 1950’s. Either way, the celebration indicated a proud and thankful citizenry honoring its community’s history.
- 1971: City Complex built (Library, City Clerk’s Office, Police Station)
- 1991: Staunton celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of City Charter (less lavish than 1959 celebration)
- 1993: Staunton wins IHSA Class A basketball title
- 2004: Livingston schools are annexed into the Staunton School District
- 2009: Staunton celebrates its Sesquicentennial (150 years)
- Mostly from Germany in the mid-1800’s (first German family in 1846)
- Irish immigration in the 1870’s
- Italian immigration in the early 1900’s
- Henry Voge opens first coal mine in 1869 (“The Gin Shaft”)
- Coal Mining characterized the city for nearly a century
- Two large mounds of slag that rise from prairie farmland on the outskirts of Staunton tell much about the history and the present status of the small city. The size of the piles indicates many years of deep shaft coal production, while the weeded erosions indicate the tipples have been idle for years. Mining started here shortly before the Civil War. It ended shortly before World War II. When the shafts were operating, they provided most of the employment in the town. (Source 3) Note: although it has been said that coal mining had started in Staunton before the Civil War era, I found no indication of that in any other source. All of these indicate that coal mining first started in Staunton in 1869.
- Staunton Local 755 becomes largest coal miners’ union in the state
- The Labor Temple was built in 1914 by the Local Miners Union. The front doors of this fine structure opened onto an attractive lobby with a wide stairway to the second floor on the right and a ticket office centered between two entrances to a large auditorium which had a sloping floor, aisles between three sections of comfortable seats and in front a large, well-arranged stage. This auditorium had the first air conditioning system to be found anywhere within thirty-five miles of Staunton. From Tuesday through Sunday it was a theatre showing first-run movies for many years. The first Monday of each month the Miners Union held their meeting there. The other Mondays could be booked for graduations, dramatic or musical productions by local groups, speakers, etc. Upstairs were toilet facilities, several small conference or committee meeting rooms, and a large hall where lodges met and dances and receptions could be held. (Source 1)
- Last mine closes in 1951
- Lutheran Church established in 1847 (first school building in 1881, though some instruction took place before that time)
- Catholic Church established in 1867 (first school building in 1904, though some instruction took place before that time)
- Many other denominations have establishments in Staunton
World War I
- Observers generally recognized that during the spring and summer of 1917 the American people, at least in the Midwest, were not fervent supporters of the war. And as the United States rushed towards open hostility, even President Woodrow Wilson remarked on the “apparent apathy in the Middle West”. (Source 4)
- In Staunton, the area’s first organized opposition to the war emerged, as well as some of the first riots in support of U.S. intervention. During two evenings in early 1918, the local union decided, through vigilante tactics, to “Americanize” the City. (Source 4)
- With one man at the head carrying a large American flag, the mob made its way to various homes in Staunton where…persons whose loyalty was not of the 100 percent kind resided. At each of more than one hundred houses visited, the crowd hammered on doors and forced men inside to come out into the street where they were required to kiss the flag, sign loyalty pledge cards, salute the flag, or make other manifestations of patriotism. (Source 4)
- This display of “superpatriotism” was heralded throughout the area (even as far as Chicago).
- Following the two nights of loyalty demonstrations in Staunton, the area’s press gave enthusiastic support to the actions. The Staunton Star-Times announced that “the members of Local Union 755 [were] to be heartily congratulated on what they accomplished”…Other district papers not only supported the Staunton superpatriots but implied that such actions were required elsewhere in the area. The Mt. Olive Herald congratulated the Staunton patriots and issued a warning: “To Staunton belongs the honor of being first in the county in a real loyalty demonstration…In the future anyone with pro-German tendencies will do well to keep their mouths shut”…The Gillespie News commended the citizens of Staunton, and explained that while “we are not believers in mob violence…under the existing circumstances we are for it, and every man who took part in the Staunton demonstration should be given a medal”…And the Chicago Tribune commended the Staunton crowd for its “zealous Americanism”. (Source 4)
- Even the Governor of Illinois supported what the local union did in Staunton. “The people in Staunton who took the ‘Pros to a cleaning are not mobs….They were the best citizens that can be found in the great state of ours.” (Source 4)
- German dropped from the curriculum at Zion
Great Depression and World War II
- WPA projects
- Library Mural “Going to Work”. Note: This mural, along with several others in Illinois, was the subject of a documentary film about art done under federal sponsorship during the Great Depression. The film, which was tentatively titled Silver Lining, was sponsored by the Illinois Bicentennial Commission and the Illinois Arts Council. (Source 5)
- Many joined the Armed Forces
- Staunton becomes a commuter work force (as it is today)
- Mary Dorrell Kilduff, Staunton in Illinois (Alton, IL: Budget Printing, 1989)
- Staunton Star-Times (various issues and publications).
- Rand McNally & Co., Illinois Guide and Gazetteer (Chicago: RandMcNally, 1969), p. 488.
- David DeChenne “Recipe for Violence: War Attitudes, the Black Hundred Riot, and Superpatriotism in an Illinois Coalfield, 1917-1918” Illinois Historical Journal 85 (1992): 222.
- Design Committee, Staunton Main Street, USA. “Staunton Post Office”.
As our logo states, “Staunton – What small towns used to be” remains true. We are a caring, loving, helpful and the friendliest town, we believe, in America. Our people are hard working, industrious and compassionate. We are there for each other in times of need. Volunteerism is alive and strong in Staunton. The citizens of Staunton are its greatest commodity. We have blended our past with our future. We have a vision of being the small town with a bright future. We have a progressive outlook that will lend itself to immense possibilities while keeping our history within view. Staunton has two direct, and one in-direct, exits/entries from Interstate 55. This makes us a prime location for development of businesses and private home builders/buyers. We are the hometown of Community Memorial Hospital, Staunton School District, Madison Communications, Staunton Volunteer Fire District and Staunton Police Department. All of these facilities are among the county and state leaders in their areas of expertise. We have private and nationally known owned businesses that belong to the Staunton Chamber of Commerce. Also, we have The Knights of Columbus, The Lions Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and several denominational and nondenominational churches. The Boy and Girl Scouts are very active in the community. We have three parks located in town that are second to none. Staunton is located on the ITS-Route 66 Bike Trail with the Trailhead located at Duda Park. We have a Farmer’s Market from May through October for local farmers, artists and crafters to display and sell their goods. The Municipal Band provides public concerts and performs at city functions. The Staunton Public Library is located within our Municipal Building on Main Street. The Macoupin Economic Development Partnership will soon be calling Staunton home.
Come visit and see what “Small towns used to be.”