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The Alton Flour Mill Part 2

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Mill Glenn Moore

Photo by Glenn Moore, 1950s

The Morning After

According to mill manager James Mulroy, the cause of the fire was a dust explosion that occurs when the air becomes saturated with tiny particles that combust easily with a spark. Damages were estimated at $1,500,000 ($19,500,000 in 2016 dollars). The Stanard-Tilton unit was owned by Russell Miller Milling Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota. James Mulroy was the son of M. F. Mulroy, executive vice-president at Russell Miller Co. Insurance covered the damages.

A week after the fire, the St. Louis fire department sent a bill to Alton for $2,706.06 (about $35,000 in 2016 dollars) to pay for wages, gasoline, and equipment damaged in the flames.5 Some in the city balked at paying the bill. Mayor Harold Wadlow, father of Alton’s 8' 11" citizen Robert Wadlow, suggested the downtown businesses foot the bill, since they could have been so badly affected by the fire. Curiously, there is no mention of Russell Miller picking up the tab. A Telegraph editorial suggested the city pay the bill with sincere thanks for the help. The city of Alton did pay the bill. Interestingly, just before the fire, a citizen’s purchasing committee had been working to acquire an aerial ladder. The aerial ladder truck arrived shortly after the fire.6

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The Alton Flour Mill Part 1

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Mill 1


Alton’s Inferno
At 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 16, 1946, the first of a series of explosions blew the roof off the Stanard-Tilton flour mill in downtown Alton, Illinois. Working on the top floor about 20 feet from the explosion, James Brown was thrown 8 to 10 feet onto his back.1 The building burst into flames, and the fire raged through the five-story brick structure and spread to other parts of the mill. An hour after the first blast, the top three stories of the north wall collapsed onto Broadway, narrowly missing eight firemen below. An avalanche of bricks destroyed the pavement, lowering the street by 1½ feet in places. Most of the east wall fell inward five minutes later. Miraculously, all of the dozen mill employees working in the building escaped without serious injury.

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125 Gems of the Genealogy & Local History Library: Gems 21‒30

Plat Maps #HaynerGenealogyGems

Plat is a term for a survey of a piece of land to identify boundaries, easements, flood zones, roadways, and access rights of way. It is the legal description of a specific piece of real property and is required if land is to subdivided for building homes, creating parks, and setting aside rights of way. The Genealogy & Local History Library has a variety of local Plat Maps. These maps are a good tool in property research as well as helping locate the areas where our ancestors lived.

21. Plat Maps

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125 Gems of the Genealogy & Local History Library: Gems 11‒20


Mail Requests #HaynerGenealogyGems

We aren’t the post office, but we offer a great mail service!

For a minimal fee ($5.00 per name or subject), the Genealogy & Local History staff offers a lookup service for patrons who cannot come into the library to do their research. All we need is a letter explaining what you are trying to find in your family search or local history quest. We look it up, print it out, and mail it back! 

11. post office

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Alton Prohibition Stories - Part 5


By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Prohibition 10

Woman seated at a soda fountain table is pouring alcohol into a cup from a cane, during Prohibition; with a large Coca-Cola advertisement on the wall, February 1922

Booze Boss

In the fall of 1927, officers captured 28-year-old John Giannola, a “boss booze manufacturer and distributor” who had come to Alton from St. Louis after his brother Vito was murdered there in a “booze sellers’ gang-war.”33 Giannola was found with a still behind a false wall in the basement of 1130‒32 East Broadway. The Telegraph reported he was wearing $15,000 ($199,000 in 2015 dollars) in jewelry, mainly diamonds. At the time, police reported that sinister persons from St. Louis with high-powered weapons were hunting for Giannola in Alton. Officials transferred Giannola to the Edwardsville jail. The following July he was free on bail in Alton. Several years later, the Telegraph reported that Giannola said he had retired from his life of crime to run his fruit stand on Fourth Street between Belle and Piasa, a block from the Jennie D. Hayner Library building, which houses the Genealogy & Local History Library today. The fruit stand was probably a front for his bootlegging business. Although Giannola was accused of numerous crimes, including bootlegging, extortion, and murder, he was never convicted of a crime. Eventually he moved to Detroit. He died of tuberculosis in St. Louis in 1938.34

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LECTURE THURSDAY! History of the Breweries of Alton

History of the Breweries of Alton

Please join the Alton Area Landmarks Association and Old Bakery Beer Company on Thursday for this very cool local history event. Don Huber has given numerous talks at Hayner and you can see a fraction of Jeff Cress’s Walnut Grove Dairy collection on display at the Genealogy & Local History Library right now. And make sure to check out the series on Prohibition in Alton to get the back story before you go!

Alton Prohibition Stories - Part 4

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Prohibition 9

John Barleycorn's Grave

America Goes on the Wagon—The 18th Amendment Passes

In 1919, the 18th Amendment passed, prohibiting the manufacture, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors. The Volstead Act would outline a complex set of rules for the enforcement of the law.

There were loopholes. Citizens could make wine at home and drink it, since drinking was not prohibited by the 18th Amendment. The Telegraph reported that you could own and store booze and share it with friends and family, but you could not sell it.20 However, the days of stepping up to the bar for a cool one or buying a bottle to take home were over. Clergy could use sacramental wine and give it to parishioners. According to Robbi Courtaway in Wetter Than the Mississippi: Prohibition in St. Louis and Beyond, doctors could prescribe medicinal alcohol and did so liberally for everything from fever to flu and ptomaine poisoning to tuberculosis.21

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Alton Prohibition Stories - Part 3

By Ann Davidson, Genealogy & Local History Volunteer

Prohibition 7

Alton Evening Telegraph, April 8, 1914

Wets v. Drys

A storm was brewing between the “wets” and the “drys” across the nation. The drys began to push for passage of laws to stem the tide of alcohol inundating their communities. Altonians turned out at the Temple Theater and local churches to hear speakers from both sides make their cases, pro and con.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Illinois passed a “local option” bill that gave communities the right to vote to stay “wet” or go “dry.” In 1908, Alton voted to stay wet when 4,040 men cast their votes with 75 percent wets topping 25 percent drys.18 Upper Alton precincts held a tremendous majority of the drys, while the downtown precincts voted wet. Drinkers breathed a sigh of relief.

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