Monroe County ushers in the 21st Century - Republic-Times | News

Monroe County ushers in the 21st Century

By on December 21, 2016 at 11:56 am
A few of the commemorative souvenir items from the Bicentennial remain for sale in the Monroe County clerk’s office. Get them while they last. (Alan Dooley photo)

A few of the commemorative souvenir items from the Bicentennial remain for sale in the Monroe County clerk’s office. Get them while they last. (Alan Dooley photo)

(This is the final installment in our year-long series recounting the rich and colorful history of Monroe County from the first settlement to today in honor of its 200th anniversary.)

Monroe County rang in 2016 with a determined effort led by Valmeyer’s Dennis Knobloch and Columbia’s Mike Kovarik to observe our county’s Bicentennial, to celebrate it with event recreations and reinforce our appreciation of the contributions of our forefathers in building a community that predates the establishment of Illinois by two years.

The final segment being reviewed – 2000 to 2016 – has been a period of growth and change. It has been a time of great economic and population growth, and also a time of  some economic backsliding.

Businesses have come. Businesses have gone. But largely, the 16-year period has been good to most here, living relatively prosperously in an extraordinarily pleasant county.

The year 2000 concluded with an official population of 27,619. Ten years later, the 2010 census revealed a population of 32,957, a nearly 17 percent growth. Waterloo and Columbia are currently in the process of organizing special censuses to ensure the full breadth of their continued growth is represented.

In response to this growth, two new schools were built to accommodate local youth – Columbia Middle School along Route 3, and Waterloo High School just off of South Market Street.

We have seen the emergence of new businesses. Currently most visible is the five-story medical office building, 11 South, located at the north entrance to Columbia off Route 3.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Department of Transportation opened all the lanes of an expanded Waterloo bypass, increasing the two-lane highway on Route 3 to four lanes with sidewalks and walking and biking trails. A roundabout is in the finishing stages, which will wrap up the highway improvement project.

Looking west to the bottoms, the Rock City Business Complex emerged from the vast underground caves of a former limestone mine on the fringe of old Valmeyer. What was once a quarry and later a mushroom farm is today home to part of our nation’s official records held by the National Archives, and houses several other growing businesses.

The area experienced a couple of “high water events,” but certainly nothing comparable to the record flood of 1993. And leaders and residents have worked to protect homes and businesses from future flooding.

Another flood 800 miles away – the inundation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 – drained the National Flood Insurance Protection budget and changed the rules for communities that depend on this critical insurance – including Monroe County. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers NFIP, threatened entire regions protected by levees with the loss of reduced-cost national flood insurance if they didn’t reinforce, and in many cases rebuild, what were erected as federal levees.

The citizens of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties banded together to form the Southwestern Illinois Flood Protection District, and voted to tax themselves with a quarter-cent sales tax to pay the bill to ensure levees provide sufficient protection in the eyes of the federal government. The effort is still moving forward, but large segments of the levees are well on their ways to a restored 100-year level of protection, and are headed back to their original 500-year levels.

The value of the county’s history and rich cultural heritage is also being reinvigorated. Both Columbia and Waterloo are seeing revitalization of their historic downtowns. The Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail, which began as a path for bison used by Native Americans in the region and eventually became a series of roads, much of which would become Route 3, has been identified and shared by historians with the public. Markers delineate its path across three counties.

This history would be incomplete without recognizing the contributions of Monroe County’s young people. Scouting projects, senior service projects and often a simple love of their hometowns sent area teens into oft-neglected areas like cemeteries to honor some of the county’s oldest residents, marking veterans’ graves, cleaning up and, most importantly, remembering.

This monumental year of celebrations will close out the way it started, with fun and noise, outside the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo and at locations around the county with a “Bicentennial Blowout” at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Participants are invited to bring everything from bells to bugles, French horns to fox horns, and a limited number of Bicentennial kazoos will be distributed, to join in a raucous rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

A few items to commemorate the year remain for purchase in the county clerk’s office, although they are  going fast.

There is also still time to reserve a copy of the two-volume, hard-covered, slip-cased edition of the Bicentennial history book set, “From Tablet to Tablet, Monroe County, Illinois, 1816-2016: 200 Years of History.” This historical treatise will cover some 1,000 pages and will be a valuable record of the two centuries and this year of observances.

See Knobloch to deposit $50 and reserve a copy.

The author would like to offer his appreciation to the many people who assisted him in his journey through the rich and colorful history of Monroe County as he completed this series.

The readers, he is certain, feel the same.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.