Thursday, March 19, 2020

72 Years Ago - March 19, 1948 - Tornado Devastates City of Bunker Hill

NOTE: This is a follow up to the 1948 tornado posting that I wrote on my November 2015 blog at

On March 19, 1948, at 6:45 a.m., another tornado hit the town of Bunker Hill.  This tornado had an estimated cost of damage of 1 1/2 million dollars (the first one occurred ten years earlier on April 6, 1938 which damage was estimated at $250,000).  Over 80% of the city was destroyed with very few things left standing.

Washington Street in the Bunker Hill business district resembled a set in a Hollywood disaster film after a tornado struck on March 19, 1948.  Nineteen people were killed and almost every building in town was damaged or destroyed. --file/TheState Journal Register  

Aerial view of the Bank block showing the Dental Clinic in the lower right and the Drug Store in the upper left

Looking North from the top of the School building.

Many of Bunker Hill's churches were destroyed.  All business except First National Bank, Bahn's Grocery, and Jacoby-wise on the east side of Washington, and one building on the west side were destroyed.  Today, these are the only two story business buildings in town to remind us of what our business district once looked like.

Bahn's Market soon after the 1948 tornado.

Behren's Drug Store and Lincoln Theater had the second floor lifted off.  It had served as a recreational hall and gymnasium.

The second floor above Lincoln Theater and Behren's Drugstore was lifted off the ground by the wind.  The bandstand at the intersection of Washington and Warren Streets collapsed.  The new Legion home of Partridge Post 578 was destroyed.  The fire house and city hall still stood.

Helen Fahrenkrog Teakert in front of the bandstand at the center of Washington and Warren streets before the tornado.  Note the filling station which is now Louie's Barber Shop and the Fire Department.

Early 1940's view of Washington and Warren Streets before the tornado.

 The remainder of the bandstand after the tornado struck.

The toppled Lincoln Statue

When the statue of Lincoln was toppled in the tornado, the statue fell from the pedestal and the head was found in someones yard.  The person laid it back on its pedestal and the body was still lying on its side in front of it.

Front view of Meissner School which was the Red Cross Headquarters.

The Meissner School was used as a hospital.  Another part of the school was used as a morgue.  To enter Bunker Hill after the tornado, a person had to have a card or pass.  This was done to prevent looting.  An important mass meeting was held on March 26 to decide how to reconstruct Bunker Hill.

 Postmaster Edna Bauser's new 1948 Hudson.
 Bill Miller and Terri Teakert in front

Members of surrounding American Legion Posts stopped sightseers as they passed through Bunker Hill on April 4, 1948 and collected $2,463.00 in donations from them.  About a week before, they collected $618.00 from sightseers.  The total amount of donations collected in this manner was $3,081.00.

The Red Cross was here within hours after the tornado struck Bunker Hill and set up their tents in front of Meissner School.  They provided shelter for those who were left without a home.  They also handed out food and clothing to anyone who needed it.  They aided in building and repairing homes and buildings and supplied furniture and medical care too.  Farming and occupational equipment was given to anyone who needed it.

Delmer "D.D" Truesdale retrieves furniture from what was left of his radio shop after the tornado passed through. --file/TheState Journal Register

A truck parked in front of businesses on the East side of Washington Street was crushed by bricks. --file/TheState Journal Register

H.F Lund of Springfield set up a ham radio in the middle of Bunker Hill and relayed information to radio stations around the State. --file/TheState Journal Register 
NOTE: H.F. "Buzz" Lund was FCC licensed as Amateur Radio operator W9KQL
He was a member of the Springfield, IL  Amateur Radio Club and also an active member of the Red Cross
His son, Thomas "TJ" Lund is also FCC licensed as N9PFC and now lives in Champaign, IL 

Ham Radio operator from the Springfield Amateur Radio Club assisting with communications during the tornado cleanup operations.

The Red Cross called a large meeting in Springfield on April 28, inviting 1,000 Mayors and 101 Sheriffs to attend to discuss the disaster.  The Red Cross aid went as high as $110,389.00 and possibly even higher.

A Red Cross itemized bill that was submitted after six weeks is as follows:

  • Emergency Mass Shelter and evacuation - $750
  • Mass feeding, clothing and food for individual families - $10,000
  • Rebuilding and repairing homes and bu9ildings -$59,000
  • Furniture - $14,000
  • Medical Care - $3,000
  • Farm Equipment and Supplies - $1,000
  • Occupational Equipment and Supplies - $200

The Salvation Army camp at Tornado wrecked Bunker Hill

The Salvation Army was set up on Washington across from the present Conoco Station.  They distributed food and clothing to the tornado victims and served approximately 1,500 hot meals each day.

The Shell Oil Company donated 4,000 gallons of gas, diesel fuel, and motor oil.  The Standard Oil company donated 1,000 gallons of gas and diesel fuel.

  Bunker Hill Business District in 1947 before the tornado.

Bunker Hill business section from the Truesdale home.

Bunker Hill on the day of the storm.

Overturned Meissner school bus parked at the Bruckert's Garage when the storm struck.

Every day for a month people from Blackburn College came to Bunker Hill.  A ten-man work crew helped local residents clean up the debris left by the tornado.  They also helped in the rebuilding.  One hundred and sixty coal miners from Coalton, Illinois closed shop for a day to come to Bunker Hill to help in the cleaning and rebuilding.  Coal miners from neighboring towns also came to help.

Reverend Burke is speaking, Reverend Johnson standing by the tractor.  Berean Baptist's Secretary Berniece Sauser and Gertrude Hilderbrand sing a duet.

Residents and volunteer workers stop their task of repairing damaged buildings and clearing away storm wreckage long enough to gather around the demolished bandstand for an open-air Easter service.  Using a bulldozer for a pulpit, the Reverend M. E. Burke and the Reverend H. C. Johnson conducted the community service.  --BH Gazette, April 1, 1948    

The American Legion chapters from Benld and East Alton held benefit dances for Bunker Hill and they netted $578.50.  They Altamont community held a "Battle for Bunker Hill" campaign and raised $856.41 in tornado relief for the town.

Many construction companies were here to offer their assistance during the days of rebuilding.  William's Hardware in Shipman offered special discounts to any victim of the tornado who lost their homes and belongings.

To show thanks to every group, organization, business, and individual, thank-you letters were printed in most of the editions of the Gazette-News following the tornado.

Looking Southwest from the flagpole area.  The "X" marks the present Amoco Station.

Since most of the major building in the business district were destroyed after the tornado, many adaptations had to be made to continue their business.  For example, the Post Office was temporarily set up in the lobby of the bank, a combination hospital/morgue was set up at Meissner School, and many gas stations set up tents.

At the time of the tornado, E. A. Rich was superintendent of Meissner School.
 The school, closed during the weeks following the tornado was re-opened on April 12, 1948.  When the students returned, they were not required to make up the work from the three weeks of the disaster.  Closing activities and graduation would be conducted as planned.

Memorial Services in Tornado wrecked Bunker Hill

The tornado of 1948 was the worst disaster to ever strike Bunker Hill.  Many people were killed or injured and much property was destroyed.  Let's hope history never repeats itself in our town.  There were 19 people killed and 126 injured.

The list of Deceased from the 1948 Tornado:
  • Allen, Jacqueline Jean (Jean Fensterman Allen's baby )
  • Gregory, J.C
  • Gurley, Marvin
  • Hales, Elizabeth
  • Kay, Georgette
  • Kay, Jacky
  • Kehr, Charles 
  • Landreth, Georgia May
  • Landreth, Mrs. Rachel
  • Langacher, Mrs. Chris
  • Osburn, Juanita
  • Pollock, Mrs. Isabel
  • Ridgley, Rose
  • Tipton, William
  • Vroman, Carolyn Sue
  • Vroman, Danny
  • Vroman, James
  • Vroman, Norma
  • Weimers, Jane

Local People Requested To Call For Packages and Mail

All residents of Bunker Hill expecting packages are requested by Miss Edna Bauser, local postmaster, who has set up temporary quarters in the First National Bank, to call immediately for such packages and other mail as soon as possible.  Lack of space at the bank, from which the Post Office is operating, make it imperative that mail be called for soon.
Package mail has been held in St. Louis since the tornado, but was expected to start coming though Thursday --Bunker Hill Gazette, Thursday March 25, 1948

Governor Green Tours

Governor Dwight Green of Illinois, and Governor Jester of Texas, toured the Bunker Hill disaster area Monday afternoon and the Illinois Governor reiterated the statement made in a telegram to Mayor Miller Saturday that the State administration would render every assistance in its power to restore this stricken area.  --Bunker Hill Gazette, Thursday, March 25, 1948

Following taken from "Rembembering"
Anna Wieseman: A lot of people didn't want to come back to Bunker Hill and were going to live out of town.  Then the business people and the people who wanted to stay had an all night meeting to decide what to do.  If there were people wanting to leave town, why, the businesses didn't want to be here either.  So, they decided to stay and some of the businesses rapaired their building.  This made more people stay and rebuild their homes.

Wilbur Pullen: We were living just south of Woodburn and did not get much damage.  I watched the storm go over and then went to my neighbor Ted Huette's to see if anyone needed help.  While I was talking to him, another neighbor came across the field riding a horse.  He asked us to come help as a beam had fallen on his wife.  As we hitched up the wagon, we realized that his horse had a large sliver of wood through on front tendon.  Had had been so worried about his family he hadn't noticed his horse was injured.

Marie Bartels: Our house was one of the few left standing on Washington Street.  A path was cut through from the south end of town to our house so that the ambulance could come into town for the injured who had be brought to hour house.


...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories here at

--Cite this story: Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "Bunker Hill History." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, pp. 43-48. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill Historical Society.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Monument House - Bunker Hill's "Grand Hotel"

The Monument House
 was located in the northwest block of Fayette and Clinton Streets.

This is a follow up expanded story from my earlier blog posting which can be read at

    Through the early years of the old Bunker Hill Gazette ran comments and references to the Monument House, Bunker Hill's grand hotel.  How old it was, exactly, we cannot say, but the following article on the Monument House appeared in the Aug. 5, 1896 issue of the Gazette, and we found it interesting.  A small picture appeared with the article, however, it is not fit for reproduction.  Should anyone have a picture of it, preferably during its grand days, bet even in its later years, we would appreciate the use of it.

August 5, 1896 --  One of the greatest events in the history of Bunker Hill, was the opening of the Monument house, which took place in 1856, under management of Mr. William H. Carroll (now long deceased).  This became one of the most famous hostelries between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi.  The Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway (then the St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute) and the Ohio & Mississippi were then the only lines between St. Louis and the East and the passenger travel over the former was very heavy.  All through trains stopped here for meals and the table service was so excellent that the house was noted far and wide.  (See "The Big Four Station" blog post at: and "Lee and Arthur Sutton - Railroad Clerks" - ).  After the death of Mr. Carroll, the house passed through several hands, and some years ago burned. down.

    The name by which the famous old hotel went, has been resurrected in connection with the practically new house on lots adjoining the old one.  The engraving above shows the appearance of the new establishment.  In its renovation and furnishing, the owner, Mr. John R. Richards, has spared expense in no direction, and in the completion of his work he has reared a Monument to his own good taste and liberality, as indeed he has in such a handsome adornment to the city as his own residence, and in such a substantial addition to our business interest as in the Foundry.  That he has been highly successful in his work goes without saying.  The arrangement of the house is most complete for managers and patrons' one more comfortable or more handsomely furnished will not be found in any interior town.

    The building is frame, covering 33 by 75 feet, two stories high throughout, with porches and verandas on three sides.  The painting is fresh and tastefully contrasted in colors, and the tall grassed, abundantly shaded grounds, unmarred by fence, make handsome exterior surroundings.  Adjacent on the west and north are well grassed lawns.

    The lower floor contains office, parlors, dining room and kitchens, with good dry cellar under all.  The office is abundantly lighted with windows on north and south, and is wainscoated with oak.  The furniture is heavy well polished oak, upholstered in green leather.  There is a capacious safe, and the large clock on the wall is a handsome ornament.

    The ladies parlor is carpeted with Brussels of elegant pattern; the furniture includes some rich plush pieces; the wall and ceiling papering is rich and tasty, as it is throughout the house.  Across the hall is another parlor, which may be utilized as sample room or bed room; the furniture is well polished oak.

    The dining room is cheerful and well-lighted, and furnished with latest design of furniture in oak, the principal ornament being a very fine sideboard.  The room contains four dining tables which will accommodate twenty-four guests.

    The kitchen and pantry are models of convenience, containing a capacious range, reservoirs for hot and cold water, and closets stored with an unusually large and excellent outfit of tableware.  The floors are hard pine, with oak wainscoating.

    The upper floor has four bedroom suites of two rooms each (eight single rooms) and a double room all well lighted and ventilated.  They are handsomely papered and carpeted in first class wool ingrains and beautifully furnished with bedstands of iron with bright brass trimming, the other articles being highly polished oak.

    All the hallways and stairways are carpeted and papered, and most excellent taste has been shown throughout, in this as well as in the furnishing.  For the present the house will be lighted with coal oil, and heated by stoves.

    Mr. Richard has shown a commendable public spirit in dealing with home people in all his large undertakings.  The carpenters and painters; bills have been done by home workmen.  The home merchants are entitled to credit for filling their contracts well.  M. Sessel has furnished the table and the bedroom linen; the crockery and glassware came through S. N. Sanford; C. J. Jacoby put in the carpets, furniture, etc.;  J. F. Cummings provided the mammoth range and cooking utensils, and W. P. Dickie set up the office clock.

    The house was put in preparation for rent to a competent manager; there have been several applicants, but no contract has yet been signed, and the property is open at present to some capable man, ready equipped for immediate and satisfactory service.  It will not be let to any one who will not keep a high grade house on a two dollar basis, with the best service that the money will afford.  It was opened in a quiet way last Monday.  Miss Lizzie Kenyon acting as housekeeper; while Mr. Richards, who will take his meals there, will exercise a general supervision and act as a Bureau of Information.  In their hands there will be no want for creature comforts or kindly attention to the resident boarders who have engaged there, or of commercial travelers or other transients who happen along.  It is to be regretted that one who knows as much about good living, and has as many genial points as Mr. Richards, did not drop into the role of Boniface years ago and settle down to it as a life occupation.

Read more about the Monument House Hotel story on my blog posting at

--Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, August 18, 1966. 

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Inception and Development of the First National Bank of Bunker Hill

United Community Bank
The Inception and Development of the First National Bank of Bunker Hill 

In 1877, the City of Bunker Hill was without banking facilities, as a former private bank had failed.  The businessmen of Bunker Hill were used to the checking and depositing plan of handling and protecting their cash.

One of these businessmen was Frederick Buman, operator of a grain elevator.  Prices were good and considerable amounts of cash were on hand.  Not wishing to keep a large amount of cash around the elevator, Mr. Buman established his son, Adolph Buman, in the dry goods and shoe business, bought a large safe, and left his cash money with his son at the store.  Mr. Buman would then issue to his customers an order showing how much grain had been sold by them and they would take this order to Adolph Bumans' Store and get the cash.  From this modes beginning the present bank started.

In 1878, Frank E. Huggins joined with Adolph and formed a partnership.  Because Mr. Huggins was not of age, the firm was known as A. Buman and Company.  Not long after this, the firm of Wise, Mercer and Company, were were operating a flour and feed mill, decided it would be to their advantage to likewise protect their cash.  So they also deposited money with Buman and started issuing orders for the payment of money.

In 1881, Mr. Huggins became of age and the firm assumed the name of Buman and Huggins.  Records show that deposits amounted to $2,951.73.  In 1881, another group opened a bank in Bunker Hill, but the First National Bank had established itself and deposits continued to climb.  Mr. Huggins sold his interest back to Adolph Buman.

When the deposit plan above was first adopted, the owners saw the need for some bank with which to do business and chose the Boatmen's Savings Institution as a correspondent.  It is significant to note that an account has been kept continuously with Boatmen's through all the years since 1877 up to the present.  This included many changes in both the Bunker Hill Bank and Boatmen's of St. Louis.

Until 1892, Mr. Buman conducted both the dry goods and shoe business and the banking business by himself.  Finding the task too confining, he took Charles E. Drew in as a partner and the business became Buman and Drew.

It was continued along the same lines with a gradual growth of deposits and in the same place as the present bank until 1898 when a fire completely destroyed the building.  The business was moved to the site later occupied by Jacobi Hardware.

In 1899, Buman and Drew purchased the present site of the bank and in conjunction the Mr. S. N. Sanford, built the bank building at the site later occupied by William's Red and White Store.  This was completed in 1900.  A new vault, modern for its time was included in the construction.

A steady increase in deposits brought them up to the $200,000 mark in 1913 at which time an agitation was started for a State or National Bank.  After due consideration, a National Bank was organized and opened for business on May 5, 1914.  This new bank brought the assets of Buman and Drew and also assumed the liabilities.  Adolph Buman was its first president and Charles E. Drew, the first Cashier.  At this point the bank continued to operate in in its usual quarters while the dry goods and shoe business was moved across the street and operated for a few years.  Then it was sold to E. R. Welch.

In 1921, Mr. Buman passed away and Mr. Drew became President, and I. E. Sanford was elected Cashier.  Deposits were over $400,000.  During the intervening years from 1921 to 1933, deposits at one time reached a peak of nearly $700,000.

In 1924, the demand for safe deposit boxes and other conveniences necessitated the building of a more secure and spacious vault.  Operations were started that Fall and completed in 1925.  It was during this period of construction of the new vault that the bank was robbed of $3,700 and several employees beaten by the holdup men.  Following the holdup, the bank installed safety bulletproof glass for the protection of its business and employees.  It was the first bank in in Macoupin County to make such and installation.  The walls and floors of the new vault were 27 inches of solid concrete with two rows of steel reinforcing bars.  With its nine ton doors, burglar alarm and nest of safe deposit boxes, it constituted one of the best and safest vaults in this part of the State.

 During 1933, the graveyard of many banks in the Untied States, it was closed during FDR's "bank holiday" and reorganized.  From 1914 to 1933, the stock in the bank was rather closely held by a few individuals.  One of the conditions of reorganization was to increase the number of stockholders.  When the bank reopened November 13, 1933, there were fifty-seven stockholders.  The Officers of the reorganized bank were: Mr. I. E. Sanford, President; Mr. Drew, Vice President; and W. E. Haxel, Cashier.

The bank has been remodeled several times since 1925.  In 1927, the building was remodeled and redecorated; in 1952 the old counters and the bulletproof glass were torn out and new counters were installed; and in the mid '70's, a walk-up window was added.  the Drive-up facility on the south end of town was added in 1979.  The main bank building expanded to the south as the buildings formerly housing the Red and White Store and Jacoby-Wise Furniture were acquired.  The most recent remodeling was in 1988 which included a new floor plan, and a totally new "look" to both the inside and the outside.  The plan included taking out the separating walls of the two buildings to the south for office an work space.  The bank remained open for business during this time.  Customers could make a careful entry through a temporary entrance on the north side of the building.  When all was completed, an open-house celebration provided the people a tour of the new facilities.

There have been two additional robberies since the one in 1925.  In September of 1967, approximately $22,000 was stolen.  This was not recovered as the statute of limitations had run out before the robbers were found .  Five hundred dollars stolen in 1978 was recovered and returned by  July of 1981.

Through the years, while the location, the vault, and the account with Boatmen's have stayed the same, the physical appearance of the building and the organization of the bank have changed.  In March of 1981, the bank became a one-bank holding company with Robert A. Narmont as President, Stephen D. Narmont as Vice-President , and Ralph L. Gerdt as Secretary.  In July 1985, it was again changed, this time to become part of a four bank holding company.  The four banks are Bunker Hill, Gillespie, Greenfield, and Pawnee/Chatam.  the First National Bank of Bunker Hill gave up its National Bank Charter and has been operating under a State Charter since January 1, 1992.  At that time, the name was changed to United Community Bank.  The present Officers (1993), are Robert Narmont, President of the holding company; Allen Moore, Executive Vice-President and Operations Officer; Jeannette Lawrence, Assistant Vice-President; and Elizabeth Wieseman, Cashier.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories here at

--Cite this story: Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "Bunker Hill History." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, pp. 127-128. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill Historical Society.