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By Austin Andre
Every town has a unique story worth preserving and Jerseyville is fortunate to have many people dedicated to keeping the history of the town alive. One of those dedicated individuals is Stanley Sinclair, of the Sinclair Foods family run grocery store. For the last five years, Sinclair has researched the history of local businesses in town, dating back to 1820.
With the help of Jerseyville Historical Society members, Lois Lock and Bill Wells as well as many others, Sinclair has discovered over 1,200 businesses so far. Sinclair has compiled his findings into ten large books with over 3,000 photos, articles, layouts, and maps.
According to Sinclair’s research, Jerseyville maintained roughly a stable count of 90 businesses from 1887 to 1987. An article found by Sinclair, dated January 1935, lists the total number of stores in the county as 162, with 103 being located in the heart of Jerseyville. Combined, the stores made nearly $1.8 million which would be equivalent to $37.4 million today, when adjusted for inflation.
The most common businesses in the early to mid 20th century were grocery stores and filling stations, with about 28 stations and 32 different grocery stores over the years.
“There was a Grocery store every two blocks and a saloon for every 30 voters,” said Sinclair.
By 1903, Jerseyville was one of the most progressive towns in the area. By then, the city had a sewer system, water works, paved roads, and electric lights, according to Sinclair’s research.
Some of the town’s many businesses in the early 1900s included three banks, three drug stores, six barbershops, four coal yards, three hotels, two restaurants, four cigar factories, four bakeries, and four clothing and shoe stores.
During his research, Sinclair also discovered a booming manufacturing industry in the area. Jerseyville had multiple factories in operation that made items like baskets, soda, hats, and cigars. The biggest among these was the International Shoe Factory, which employed over 500 people. These factories were built and funded by subscription and paid for by the community, not tax dollars. Local bonds financed the Jersey County Courthouse, and city utilities.
When the community was affected by rationing during World War II, items like food, tires, and gas were scarce in the stores. Despite the shortages, residents managed to raise over $750 thousand in war bonds for the Government.
“I thought that was astronomical because the minimum wage in 1940 was 43 cents an hour. That’s a lot of money when you factor in things like 10 cent bread,” said Sinclair.
Sinclair has a chapter of his own in the pages of Jerseyville’s History. His father opened up the first location of Sinclairs Foods in 1940. They moved the business twice over the years until settling at their current location in the 1990s. Sinclair has no plans to stop the work he’s been doing. He remains committed to uncovering and preserving the story of Jerseyville’s economic history.
As long as there is a story to be told, Sinclair will continue to add to his already extensive research.
“I’m tickled that I was able to come back here and raise my family,” said Sinclair. “If the community does well, the town does well too.”
The books containing Sinclair’s research, including photos, articles, layouts, and many other attachments, can be found at the Jersey County Historical Society.