Columbia, Illinois is located at the northern tip of Monroe County in Southwestern Illinois only about 12 miles from downtown St. Louis.
The bedroom community of approximately 7,500 people has an elevation of 500 feet above sea level and occupies about 3,085 acres. The Mississippi River is just three miles west from the center of the city. Interstate 255 on the city's northern border connects it with the entire Metropolitan St. Louis Area.
Columbia, along with the rest of Illinois, was first populated by the Mound Builders, then the American Indians. By virtue of discovery and exploration, it was claimed and occupied by the French. In 1763, France ceded to England all the territory east of the Mississippi River.
The Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail passed through what is now Columbia. Nearby, Fort Whiteside and Fort Piggot were built nearly 200 years ago. Fort Whiteside led to the first permanent settlement in the vicinity. The fort was named for the Whiteside family which had come form North Carolina and were noted Indian fighters. They became the protectors of other Monroe County settlers.
Columbia was surveyed and platted in 1820 and became a town March 10, 1859. The first influx of German immigrants came in 1835. The Germans had the most profound impact on the community, building homes of local clay bricks close to the streets. This was done so gardens and livestock could be kept behind the houses. Many of these homes are still standing and contribute to the original community's unique appearance. The historic Gundlach-Grosse Home has been placed on the National Register. Some of the early German settlers came from the vicinity of Gedern, Germany--Columbia's sister city, located near Frankfurt. Columbia and all of Monroe County are part of the Southwestern Illinois German Heritage Area and also a French Colonial Heritage Region. The city also has a namesake submarine, the USS Columbia, a fast-attack, Los Angeles class vessel.
Columbia has a unique connection to the United States Navy. In addition to the namesake submarine relationship, Columbia is the home of two four-star admirals, Admiral Carlisle A.H. Trost and Admiral John Weinel. Admiral Trost is retired chief of naval operations and Admiral Weinel retired as head of NATO operations in Europe. Admiral Trost ranked first in his class at the Naval Academy. A second Columbia native also ranked first in his graduating class at the Naval Academy. Commander August Weinel (John Weinel's cousin) ranked first in his class and was commander of the USS Cisco when it sunk in the South China Sea during World War II. He was the youngest lieutenant commander in the Navy at the time. Columbia's admirals are honored with the Admirals Memorial Circle Monument in the city park, dedicated Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1997.
Columbia is experiencing dramatic growth in recent years as former city dwellers discover its peaceful and convenient location. Since the completion of the interstate highway system ringing St. Louis in 1991, Columbia is only minutes away from virtually anywhere in the metropolitan area.
While most of the area surrounding the community remains in agricultural uses, increasing
development in the Columbia area is rapidly changing its rural character. Commercial
development is following the influx of new, largely upscale, single-family housing. The community's retail, service and light industrial base is expanding because of its convenient location, incentive packages and available real estate.
More information about Columbia is available from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 467, Columbia, Illinois 62236. Phone (618)
281-7144 Ext. 118. For more information:
To contact the Columbia Chamber call (618) 281-7144, or write to P.O. box 467, Columbia, Illinois 62236.
You may also e-mail information or requests to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce
To contact the Columbia Chamber call (618) 281-7144, or write to P.O. box 467, Columbia, Illinois 62236.
The USS Columbia, the last of the Los Angeles (688) class, fast-attack nuclear powered submarines, is named for Columbia, IL, Columbia, MO, and Columbia, SC. It was built by the Electric Boat Co., a division of General Dynamics.
The U.S. Navy commissioned the USS Columbia (SSN 771) on Monday, October 9, 1995 at the North Lake Naval Base at New London, CT. Columbia, IL Mayor Les Schneider was on the commissioning platform with other civilian dignitaries from the namesake cities. They were joined by officials of the federal government, the Navy and the Electric Boat Co., the boat's contractor. Mayor Schneider led a delegation
representing his hometown. Similar delegations also represented the other namesake cities.
The USS Columbia was christened by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday, September 24, 1994. Columbia, IL Mayor Lester Schneider led a delegation of over 50 people to the launching at the Electric Boat Shipyards in Groton, CT. Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the historic significance of the send-off stating, "This day is historic because it represents the end of an era in shipbuilding. this is not altogether bad news because it is a sign of how far we've come together in making the world more safe and secure."
The First Lady took three tries to break the bottle, swinging it two-handed. She had told a pre-launch gathering in the Electric Boat headquarters that she had
invoked the assistance of her husband, President Bill Clinton, in preparing for the bottle-break by practicing softball in the White House lawn.
The Columbia delegation was seated inside the Electric Boat plant among some 1,600 invited guests. An estimated 18,000 more people watched from the adjoining pier and harbor. Electric Boat employees gathered alongside the 360 ft. vessel. Mayor Schneider gave a brief speech after the launching at a private reception given at the Electric Boat headquarters. Mrs. Clinton also attended this reception with her daughter, Chelsea, who served as the maid of honor for the christening.
The 6,900-ton USS Columbia (SSN 771) was the last to be launched by sliding into the harbor. The $1 billion submarine slid down a wooden
plank way at an estimated 18 miles per hour with her crew of 127 onboard. Invited guests joining the crew for the slide included Lucy Ebersohl, a member of the local delegation. Mrs. Ebersohl described her brief ride on the deck of the submarine as it slid into the harbor as the "absolute thrill of a lifetime." She said she was also impressed by the appearance of the crew as they surrounded her and other guests in their dress white uniforms. Maurice Schneider, co-chairman of the Citizens Committee For The USS Columbia, summed up the reaction for most Columbians at the launching. "I was very impressed as the boat slid. It was very emotional and I was very proud to be a part of it," said Schneider. Columbia High School student Dianne Kopp, one of the youngest members of the Columbia delegation, described the launching as "awesome." "I don't mean that in the slang sense," she explained.
The USS Columbia's motto is: "Last to slide, first in pride."
The City of Columbia's involvement in the ongoing namesake relationship with the submarine and its officers and crew has been coordinated through the citizens committee. This committee includes the mayor, Alderman Mike Conrad, Co-chairman Maurice Schneider and K. Gene Haller, representing Columbia American Legion Post 581; John Conrad, representing the Columbia Chamber of commerce and Frank Boo, member-at-large.
The community's involvement in the namesake program has included participation in both the launching and commissioning
ceremonies. The boat has twice sent officers and crew members to visit the community. Crew and officer visits will be ongoing throughout the term of the ship's service.
The three namesake cities have funded social gatherings with the crew during the launching and commissioning. In addition, an entertainment center for the boat and commemorative coins for the 140-man crew were paid for through donations by the namesake cities. The $45,000 budget for the namesake program was equally divided among the three namesake cities with private donations and fund-raising activities. No local government money is allowed to be used for these expenditures, according to federal policy.
Columbia, IL raised its funds through an honorary plank owner program and the sale of caps, shirts, and commemorative coins. Those attending the launching and
commissioning paid their own expenses.
Columbia, IL has a proud connection to the Navy in that it is the hometown of two admirals. Retired chief of Naval Operations Carlisle A.H. Trost, and retired Admiral John Weinel, each of whom graduated from the U.S. Naval academy. Trost graduated first in his class. The city's Admiral Parkway is named in their honor. The Admiral's Memorial Circle Monument at City park is dedicated in their honor.
A street in the North Lake Naval Base is named for USS Cisco, the vessel in which submarine Lt. Commander August Wienel, another Columbia native, lost his life. Weinel was in command of the vessel when it was lost in the China Sea in September 1943. He was the youngest lieutenant commander in the Navy at the time and had graduated first in his class at the Naval Academy.
Columbia has established a unique sister cities relationship with Gedern, Germany. The connection between the two towns of similar size and climate extends to the actual people themselves. This connection began in 1843 and was re-established 150 years
The story of the sister city relationship between Columbia and Gedern unfolded as a result of
genealogical research being done by Bob Schaefer while visiting Germany. Schaefer's research had revealed that a large number of Gedern area residents had immigrated to the United
States in 1843 and had settled in the Columbia and Waterloo areas. This story had long since been forgotten until Schaefer uncovered it in 1990.
Ironically, a group of Columbia people had at that time just formed Sister Cities of Columbia and decided to search for a German sister city. Learning of Schaefer's research,
correspondence was exchanged between Columbia and Gedern. A delegation of eleven men from Gedern visited Columbia for five days beginning on Nov. 26,
1991 to explore the possibility of a sister cities relationship. A Columbia delegation made a trip to Gedern in 1992 for an official signing ceremony of the Declaration of Friendship on April 29. A Sister City organization was formed in Gedern in the fall of 1992. The signing of the Sister City proclamation was formed on May 8, 1993. Since that time numerous exchanges and visits have occurred between the two communities and a lasting partnership has been formed.
The immigration to the United States by the Gedern area people was brought about because of poor economic
development in the area, bad weather conditions and a poor harvest. the people of nearby Wernings, Germany (now part of Gedern) met at their village inn in 1840. Their leader, teacher Wilhelm Reifschneider, discussed the plight of the area and urged emigration to America. As a result of this meeting, a large group of people agreed to leave Germany and move to America--eventually settling in the Columbia and Waterloo areas.
January 29, 1841 a contract was signed between the German village and the Count of Solms-Laubach for the purchase of their houses and land. By August 22, 1842, the county court in Budingen officially permitted the emigration. August 30, 1842 they were discharged from the vassal union of the state of Hessen and set out for America.
After a difficult trip to the Bremen harbor and a nine-day wait for favorable winds, the emigrants set sail on October 8 on the Swedish ship "Mimer" commanded by Captain Sjoberg. The 156 passengers were not only Werningsers, but also people form neighboring communities. There were 118 adults, 14 youngsters 8-12 years, seven youngsters 4-8 years, nine youngsters 1-4 years, and eight babies. The oldest emigrant was an 89-year-old man and the youngest was not yet two-months-old.
The "Mimer" arrived in New Orleans on December 2, 1842. From there, the passengers continued up the Mississippi on a steamboat until large ice masses near Chester made continuation of the voyage impossible. They continued the journey to St. Louis by wagons, arriving on December 26, 1842, some 98 days after their German departure. Almost all settled in Illinois near Waterloo and Columbia. Today, only the ruins of the Marien Church and the house of the forester of the Count of Solms-Laubach remain in Wernings. (From the Columbia
Sister Cities Book)
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