West City, Illinois

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West City is a village in Franklin County, Illinois, adjacent to the county seat of Benton, Illinois. The population was 716 at the 2000 census.

Contents

History

In the late 19th century, West City was a small settlement adjoining Benton on the west. In the early 20th century many immigrants from Poland, Lithuania and England settled in the West City area to work in the numerous coal mines.

On March 29, 1911, 33 citizens led by John Mulkey and represented by their attorney Robert Hickman, presented a petition to Judge Thomas J. Layman of the Franklin County Court to incorporate West City as a village. At that time there were 350 inhabitants. An election was held on April 15, 1911 and six Trustees where elected. They were Ed McIntire, J. J. Sanders, L. I. Tombly, Ben Fletcher, Marshall Moore, and Jack Adams. On June 1, 1911, Judge Layman declared West City to be duly and legally organized under the general laws of the State of Illinois as the Village of West City.

When Congress passed the Volstead Act establishing national prohibition in 1919, West City became notorious for bootlegging and gambling. The Birger and Shelton Brothers gangs vied for control of illegal activities in the area. In April 1923, 34-year-old Joseph A. Adams, a huge man of nearly 300 pounds and a roadhouse operator, was elected mayor of West City. Leslie Reed was elected City Clerk. John Lairsey served as Treasurer and R. E. Neunlist was Village Attorney. The six elected Trustees were Bruce Panchard, C. C. Gant, George Clinton, H. E. Stewart, W.R. Rogers, and R. N. Long.

Mayor Adams aligned himself with the Shelton Brothers Gang and thus became the bitter enemy of Charlie Birger and his men. On December 12, 1926, two of Birger's men knocked on Adams' door and told his wife they had a message for him. When Adams came to the door, they shot him in front of his wife Beulah and young daughter Arian. Sheriff Jim Pritchard gathered evidence and arrested Birger for the murder of Mayor Joe Adams.

Charlie Birger was tried in Benton and found guilty of ordering the killing, a charge he steadfastly denied. Birger was hanged in Benton on April 19, 1928, at 9:48 a.m., in the last public hanging in Illinois. A replica of the gallows was built in the 1990s by Birchard Wampler and his late son Birchard Neil Wampler. It stands today next to the old Franklin County Jail (now a museum).

After the sensational downfall of the Birger gang and the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, West City earned much of its income from legitimate taverns and nightclubs. During the 40's and 50's this proved to be a very lucrative business.

Despite West City's notorious reputation during the 20's, churches were established by the residents. Prospect, later called First Baptist, was the only organized church in the corporate limits of West City until 1921. Later Trinity Baptist and Harmony Freewill Baptist were established. Trinity Baptist is no longer in existence.

At one time there were three schools in West City limits: Old Jordon, Washington School and New Jordon School, located on South Central Street across from the present West City Village Hall.

On December 21, 1951, West City and all of Franklin County mourned 119 coal miners, who were killed in an underground explosion at C.W. & F. Orient #2 coal mine in West Frankfort. Every village, town and city in Franklin County was affected by the tragedy. The loss was devastating.

In 1963, Interstate 57 split the Village of West City down the middle from North to South. Preliminary work of buying homes and clearing the right of way began for the construction of Interstate 57 from Chicago to Cairo. Actual highway construction began in 1964, and its completion took nearly 10 years.

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