Hamel's First Inhabitants
Very little is known of the earliest Indian inhabitants of the area around Hamel, since their characteristics and occupations can only be studied from sparse camp sites, burial remains and associated stone artifacts. Archaeologists believe that the earliest inhabitants of the area appeared about 8,000 B.C., after the last glacial advance from the north, and lived principally in rock shelters along the Mississippi River bluffs.
More information is available regarding the later, prehistoric cultures which lived in the area. Numerous camp sites and artifacts have been found, particularly along water courses such as Silver Creek to the east and Cahokia Creek to the west.
Farmers in the area have frequently uncovered such artifacts during spring plowing, especially near springs and water courses. The Mississippian culture, which prevailed in the area from about 900 A.D. to 1500 A.D., is probably the most notable of the prehistoric cultures in the area. The capital and ceremonial center for the entire central part of the United States was located at the Cahokia Mounds complex in the American Bottoms.
Smaller, satellite communities with mounds and ceremonial centers were located at Lebanon, Dupo, St. Louis and Mitchell. The mounds were constructed for burial purposes, as temple platforms and for various ceremonial rites. The Indians of the Mississippian culture were the first to rely primarily on horticulture, although game and wild plants were still important parts of their diet. The size of the settlement and the degree of permanence suggest large population levels which probably could not be supported without broad-scale food production.
The Indians of the Mississippian culture may well have searched for wild plants and game in the Hamel area due to the close proximity of the mounds near Mitchell.
By the end of the 16th century, the Mississippian culture had disappeared. The reason for the sudden disappearance is not known for certain. Archaeologists originally thought that diseases introduced from the south and southwest or intensified warfare with neighboring enemies had contributed to the demise. However, new evidence seems to suggest that a severe famine, the result of wide-spread drought, may have been the primary cause.
During the latter part of the 17th century, the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Tamoroa, Moroa, Mitchigamea and the Kahokia Indians of the Illiniwek Confederation migrated to this area from the northeast to escape repeated attacks from the Iroquois. The Tatnoroa and Kahokia Indians established their main settlements in the Cahokia area, and the Mitchigamea settled near Fort Chartres in Randolph County.
French Exploration and Original Settlement The first white men of record to see the land which is now Madison County were Louis Jolliet, a French explorer and trader, and his missionary companion, Father Jacques Marquette. In 1673, they traveled through what is now Wisconsin and down the Mississippi as far as the Arkansas River. Marquette and Jolliet returned to Canada by way of the Illinois River, and it is significant to note that their exploration of the area marked the beginning of the end of Indian dominance.
Father Marquette returned to the area in 1675 to establish a mission at the original Indian village of Kaskaskia which was located near the present site of Utica. The mission was later moved to the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers.
During the same year, another was started in Cahokia. Subsequently, French villages were established in the American Bottoms, such as Prairie du Rocher in 1722 and Prairie du Pont in 1760. The French conveyed grants to nearly all the land in the American Bottoms which was in the vicinity of their settlements and the remnants of these grants are still apparent on current plat maps.
British Dominance General Wolfe's defeat of the French at Quebec lead to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1763, which provided that France give all of her territory east of the Mississippi to Britain. British troops occupied the territory in 1765, and some four years later Chief Pontiac was assassinated by an Illiniwek. As a result, the Iroquois tribes from the north and east descended on the Illiniwek and virtually annihilated them.
In 1833, the few remaining members of the once-powerful Confederacy of the Illiniwek moved west of the Mississippi River and eventually south to Oklahoma.
American Control After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Virginia claimed Illinois as part of its domain. Since many of the inhabitants of the area had remained neutral or hostile during the Revolutionary War, it was thought best to secure their allegiance. George Rogers Clark, a Kentucky backwoodsman, was sent to the region by the Governor and the Assembly of Virginia in the summer of 1778.
After traveling down the Ohio to within 40 miles of its mouth, Clark's soldiers concealed their boats and marched across country to Kaskaskia. The inhabitants were taken by surprise and surrendered at once. Accompanied by a number of the now-friendly inhabitants of Kaskaskia, the force then moved up the river; and the settlements in what is now Monroe County, along with Fort Chartres and Cahokia, capitulated without a struggle. After an historic march through the flooded bottom lands of the Wabash River, Clark recaptured the garrison at Vincennes on February 25, 1779.
When the British attacked the Illinois towns the following year, Clark came to the aid of Cahokia and helped defeat the Redcoats. As the Revolutionary War drew to a close, military operations ceased, except for periodic Indian raids instigated by the British. At the time of Clark's expedition into Illinois country in 1778, the inhabitants were all French except for a few American hunters and traders.
Hamel's Pioneer Settlement
Among the first American settlers in Madison County were men who had accompanied George Rogers Clark on a military expedition into Illinois in 1779. These men were given land grants of 300 acres for their service, and upon completion of their enlistments in 1781 they started migrating via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Illinois to claim their land.
In 1790 the government of the Northwest Territory and the judiciary of St. Clair County was organized by General Arthur St. Clair, who served as governor of the territory. The civil government of St. Clair County was also organized at that time with the county covering the southern third of the state, including present-day Madison County.
Madison County was politically created in 1812 and contained the entire northern three-fourths of Illinois, the western part of Michigan, all of Wisconsin and a large tract of southern Canada.
The Settlement of Hamel Township
Although the French settled in the Mississippi Valley as early as 1683, the area around what is presently Hamel Township remained unsettled until the early 1800's. The early settlers found fertile land with abundant water, as well as virgin stands of timber in the creek and river bottoms. The first white man known to settle in the Hamel area was a man named Ferguson. Be built a log cabin on Cahokia Creek in 1811, but abandoned it at the beginning of the War of 1812.
The first permanent settlers were a band of Masachusetts people consisting of Robert and Anson Aldrich, George and Henry Keley, Mrs. Henry Keley, Mrs. Ann Young, Henry T. and Harriet Bartling.In 1817, Henry Keley, aided by the Aldriches, selected a home site and built a log cabin. He was joined there by his family in 1818, and the Aldriches boarded with them.
There were only two roads at this time in what is now Hamel Township, the Kaskaskia and Peoria Trace traveling north-south (later called the Edwardsville-Staunton Road) and a trail made by rangers from Wood River to Bond county traveling east-west (later called the Alton-Greenville Road, now Illinois Route 140). Shortly after the Massachusetts immigrants settled in the Hamel area, people from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and Carolina began to settle in the area also. The early economy was strictly an agricultural one. The first wheat crop was harvested in the township in 1818. In 1819 Henry Keley and Anson Aldrich bought some apple grafts from a nursery in St. Charles County, Missouri, and planted the first orchards in the area.
The first industry in the township was a bandmill erected by Henry Keley in 1820. This mill was operated with rawhide bands instead of cogs. It was not a financial success, however, and was soon closed down. The next attempt to establish industry in the area was made by two men named Estabrook and Livermore. In 1829 they built a saw and grist mill on Cahokia Creek, which remained in operation until 1852.
A school was built on Robert Aldrich's farm in 1825, but was used for only a short time. A more permanent log structure was built some time later, and it was used for church services as well as classes.
During the 1830's a large number of German immigrants began to arrive in the United States due to the revolutionary turmoil occurring at the time in southern Germany. The Middle West was still extensively virgin prairie that held the promise of rich farm land which these people sought. They came in caravans either across the Wilderness Road through Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana or traveled to the headwaters of the Ohio, where they went by boat to the Mississippi and then up to Madison County. The Cumberland Road was also traveled by many of these German settlers. Between 1830 and 1840 the county's population increased 132 percent, and a large number of these were German. Many of these immigrants settled in the Hamel area and in 1861 they erected a Lutheran church. By the latter part of the 19th century, the township population was mainly of German descent.
The Founding of Hamel
Hamel's corner was started by Frederick Wolf in 1865. He built a general store and a feed stable at the Ewardsville-Staunton and Alton-Greenvilie crossroads. Travelers stopped there to eat, rest, and feed their horses. It was named Hamel's Corner after A. J. "Jack" Hamel, a farmer who owned all the land lying on the north side of the Alton- Greenville Road near the crossroads. In 1868 Jack Hamel also opened a general store at the crossroads, and in 1869 he built a flour mill in partnership with John Handshy & Sparks. Four years later, however, the mill ceased operation and was relocated in another community. This was wheat country and the reason for the mills going out of business after only four years of operation may have been that the busy mills at Edwardsville gave too much competition.
In 1867 Christian Traub opened a blacksmith shop, and soon afterwards C. A. Engelmann erected a wagon ship. In 1871 Jack Hamel sold his general store to George H. Engelmann and moved out of the township, and no further record of his life can be found.
The name, Hamel's Corner, lingered on even after the Illinois Traction (now Illinois Terminal Railroad) came through, and Hamel was painted on the small box of a station.
Transportation of goods and products was difficult and was limited to periods of good weather because the dirt roads turned into seas of mud after rain or snow. Therefore, the extension of the Wabash Railroad through the township in the 1870's was a stimulant for the local economy because it enabled farmers to ship their produce to distant markets. In 1877 the railroad built a station and installed a switch northeast of the village of Hamel. This station was named Carpenter by the railroad company, and during this same year over 20,000 bushels of grain were transported from this location.
Two churches were built in the township during the 1870's. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was erected in 1872, and the Evangelical Church was constructed in 1873.
By 1880 the population of the township had risen to 1,222, and commercial establishments in the village included a general store, two blacksmith shops, a wagon shop, and a shoemaker's shop.
A Period of change and Adjustment
The population of the township gradually decreased over the next 40 years. It declined from 1,222 in 1880 to 941 in 1920. This was the result of several economic factors of both a regional and a national scope. The mechanization of farms began in the 1880's and a substantial migration to urban centers from rural areas resulted. Concurrently, the industrial revolution resulted in a fantastic demand for labor; thus, these rural migrants were readily employed. The growth of large industrial firms, improved transportation system, and more efficient machinery began to compete with many varieties of local manufacturing enterprises found in most communities. Flour milling and tobacco are classic examples of industries that originally were scattered and then began to concentrate in certain locations near their market or source of raw material.
From 1920 to 1930, the population increased slightly, from 941 to 969. This was probably a result of the economic boom that was affecting the entire nation at this time. The great market crash of 1929, however, reversed the trend and the population again began to decline. The economy underwent gradual change, and economic readjustment and a shift from an agricultural economy to a more regionally oriented economy occurred. This transitional period was, in some respects, a difficult time for the community.
After a succession of gradual economic adjustments, the nation was swept into a severe financial depression which lasted virtually until the start of World War II. Ramel and the area felt the effects of this economic and social upheaval, but managed to weather these difficult years.
The Post-War Years: Boom and Growth
From World War II to the present, Hamel and the surrounding area has experienced a period of gradual growth and expansion. The population of the township has gradually increased from 930 in 1940 to 1,200 in 1960.
In 1955 Hamel was officially incorporated as a village. The village population at this time was recorded as 331. Wilbur Meyer was elected the first village president, an office which he still holds at this time. The village bought and enlarged the sewer system owned by Cassens & Sons. A water system was also installed at this time and a fire protection district was formed. Street improvements were made and a small community park was established on the south side of the village.
In 1956 postal service was established in the Village of Hamel, and a new post office building was erected in 1959. A bank was established in 1957, and natural gas lines were installed throughout the community in 1959.
Hamel has grown to a community of approximately 400 persons. The population growth in recent years may be attributed, in part, to the automobile and the increased mobility of the labor force.
Many of Hamel's residents commute to work elsewhere in the metropolitan area. The village is presently experiencing the "growth pains" that are affecting many of the smaller outlying communities in the metropolitan area. For example, urban services rapidly become inadequate and the cost of these services--sewers, water, police, fire, schools--increase at a greater rate than governmental revenues.
Industries in the Hamel area include Hamel Co-Operative Grain Company, Hamel Ready-Mix Company, and Hamel Well Drilling Company, Inc. Many of the village residents work at the oil refineries in the Alton-Wood River area and some are employed in Edwardsville.
Hamel has a village form of government. Officials serving the community include the President and the Board of Trustees, Village Clerk, Village Treasurer, Village Attorney, Village Engineer, and the Street Superintendent.
Several civic accomplishments have been achieved in recent years.
Construction of the new Hamel Elementary School was completed in 1969. The school is located on Route 140 in the western section of the community and replaced the present Hamel, Quercus Grove, and Carpenter Schools.
The village's arterial streets were repaired and blacktopped in 1967.