Columbia, Illinois, is located near the Mississippi River, in the geographic heart of the USA. Columbia belongs to Monroe County. Just a 15-minute drive south of St. Louis, Missouri, Columbia offers access to five interstate highways.
The residents of this modern, but quiet city with its rural character are proud of their German-based traditions, which are upheld in many events throughout the year. The three day "Strassenfest", which was started in Columbia in 1960, has been celebrated in St. Louis since 1972 as it had become so successful that it was too big for Columbia.
Many stores, unique restaurants and a weekly farmer’s market serve the population.
For their community Columbia’s committed citizens have established four schools, nine churches, the Columbia Volunteer Fire Department and the Columbia Police Department. Eight hospitals within 25 miles of Columbia guarantee first class medical treatment.
Apart from the many jobs St. Louis offers to Columbia’s citizens, Columbia itself is home for a heavy-equipment construction company (Luhr Bros., Inc.), a label and tape processing company (Budnick Converting), a geo-physical engineering firm (Philip Environmental), Angelica Healthcare Services, a hospital laundry service firm, and Truss Components, manufacturer of construction trusses.
The following organizations, associations and clubs have their share in Columbia’s active community life:
- Rotary Club
- Lions Club
- Columbia Women's Club
- Sportsman's Club
- Sister Cities of Columbia
- Boy and Girl Scouts
- Jr. Women's Club
- Church Groups
- Monroe County Theatre Company
- Kids & Kicks Soccer
- Khoury League
The first white settlers who came to the area of Columbia, Illinois, in the mid 1600s were French.
In the mid 1700s the British took over the territory until the Revolutionary War (1776 - 1781) forced them out of the area. The colonial American settlers soon arrived and established Fort Whiteside (1780) and Fort Piggott (1783), which were the first permanent settlements in the area of Columbia. Both forts were made out of log cabins and were used to protect against Indian raids. They were named after Capt. William Whiteside and Capt. James Piggot, who fought with Col. George Rogers Clark in the Revolutionary War.
In 1820 Columbia was plotted out as a town and built on bluffs 500 feet high to protect against the flooding of the Mississippi River.
The German immigration began in 1833, with a majority coming in the 1840s. U.S. land agents had traveled to Germany to sell parcels of land to emigrating Germans. When the Germans arrived in the U.S.A., they traveled immediately to their own parcels of land. Whole villages (like Wernings) moved to the U.S.A.
Entering the USA in New Orleans, these Germans went up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. They settled in the general region, including the Columbia area. The ground was not expensive, harvests were rich, and the climate was perfect for growing grain. German thrift, German tenacity and German industriousness changed the character of Columbia from a pioneer settlement to a thriving community. The hard-working nature of the early German immigrants had a direct influence on the town’s present prosperity.
In the early 1800s the American landowners in the Columbia area often hired the German immigrants who were not landowners as farmhands. Money was short, so they were given land as payment. Soon most of the land belonged to the Germans.
In 1859 Columbia became a town as a result of the growth from German immigration.
In 1868 the first railroad tracks were laid in Columbia, and the town continued to grow and develop.
In 1927 Columbia became a city.
A notable feature of the community spirit was in evidence with the high level of Columbia’s interest in the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. With singular purpose, on Sept. 22, 1904 all businesses and schools were closed and 1000 of the 1300 inhabitants of Columbia attended the World’s Fair on that one day! It set a record of attendance for members of one community to be at the Fair at the same time.
In 1959, the 100th birthday (centennial) of Columbia was celebrated with a large community festival.
In 1960 the “Strassenfest” was established, a three-day festival celebrating the German heritage of the communiity. The “Strassenfest” became so popular that it had to be transferred to St. Louis in 1972, where it now attracts more than 100,000 visitors over a three-day period every year (http://www.strassenfest.org).
Today Columbia is a city with a population of about 8.000, mainly of German origin. Agriculture and light industry are the pillars of the local commerce. Primarily, however, Columbia is home for commuters making their living in St. Louis.