EAST ALTON — When Jason Bricker was in middle school, one of his required classes covered East Alton’s history. But it wasn’t dull and boring with the late Merrill Rosenthal as his teacher. Rosenthal sparked an interest in history in Bricker that still burns today.
Kelli Fletcher has worked in Village Hall 29 years and has always been interested in history. She remembers when Bricker, now 42, would bring in old photographs he’d collected in high school.
“He would bring in a photo that he had blown up to poster size,” she says. “We have some of the coolest photos.”
Bricker and Fletcher are part of a 20-member history committee tasked with preserving East Alton’s history. The committee was formed when Joe Silkwood became mayor in May. He saw the wisdom of saving historic items in danger of being lost to time.
“We have a lot of history. It’s time to preserve it,” Silkwood says. “We have a really energized group of residents. They share the same common denominator — a love of history. They hit the ground running and have exceeded my expectations.”
The committee meets 6:30 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month in the basement of the Vital Services building next to Village Hall.
“Merrill told us about the city’s history but there were no displays,” Bricker says. “The library didn’t have anything; City Hall didn’t have anything.”
That changed with the village’s centennial celebration. Charlotte Wiegand was on that committee and in charge of a display case at Village Hall. After the centennial, she continued to rotate exhibits, such as a doll collection or Coca-Cola memorabilia. When the committee formed, the case became dedicated to items significant to the village’s history.
“I put in old pictures, memorabilia, stuff I’d collected over the years, like a sketch of the old racetrack. It was around 1812 and was called a driving park back then,” Bricker says.
He quickly falls into telling stories of the city’s history.
“Where U-Haul is now (on St. Louis Avenue), there was a fort, Beeman’s Fort, built by some of the people who were later killed in the Wood River massacre,” he says.
Ultimately, the committee wants to establish a museum but Silkwood says “that depends on budget considerations. We could possibly start with a room or two in a building.”
Two fundraisers are in the works. The first is a 2016 calendar the committee plans to sell at Christmas. The second is a book Bricker is collaborating on with Richard Chartrand, director of East Alton’s library. It will be published by Arcadia Publishing, a company specializing in local history books.
“We need 200 photos,” Bricker says. “We have about 150. If anyone has a photo, bring it in and we can scan it and you’ll get the original back. We want to make sure we don’t leave anything out.”
The book will be broken out into chapters, including the village’s early years, notable women, the downtown area and schools.
“Over the years, things disappear and what we do have we need to preserve,” Bricker says.
Photographs and other memorabilia can be dropped off at Village Hall, 119 W. Main St. The committee is willing to pick up items as well. To make arrangements, call Kelli Fletcher at (618) 259-6521.