Lebanon’s History

Located less than thirty minutes from the heart of St. Louis, Missouri, Lebanon, Illinois is a community steeped in history.
No one is actually sure when the first inhabitants of the area came, but they left behind what is known today as “Emerald Mound”. Part of the works by “mound builders” found throughout this area, “Emerald Mound” is located just northeast of the present city. You can learn more about it and the others in the area at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic site.

200 years ago, an original settlement was located to the south and east of the current city. Though land in the Lebanon area was officially “owned” as far back as 1804, the founding is recognized as when Lebanon was first populated in 1814. (A home was built and ‘an improvement made.’) Lebanon was incorporated as a town in May, 1857 and reorganized as a city in 1874. Lebanon was moved onto the hill it now sits upon as a defensive move. The US census of 2010 shows the population as over 4000. (This number including the resident students of McKendree University.)

Lebanon’s commitment to education came early and continues to this day. In 1828, pioneer Methodists founded Lebanon Seminary. In 1830 it was renamed McKendree College after William McKendree, the fourth Bishop and the first American born Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Today, as McKendree University, it is Illinois’ oldest college and the oldest Methodist-affiliated college in the United States.

During the 1800s, Lebanon became a significant milling, distilling, brewing, and manufactory town. At one time, the town boasted nine saloons, five hotels, and a wide array of flour mills, distilleries, a brewery and saw mills.

In 1842 England’s well known writer, Charles Dickens, visited the United States. On his leg to “the west”, he traveled by watercraft to Cairo, Illinois then came up the Mississippi as far as St. Louis. Wanting to “see a prairie”, he traveled from Saint Louis, through Belleville, and on to Lebanon from where he set out to see the “Looking Glass Prairie” situated to Lebanon’s east. The evening of April 12, 1842, Mr. Dickens’ entourage of fourteen men stayed at the Mermaid Inn in Lebanon. Within the book written of his travels to the United States (American Notes – 1842), he wrote of his “Jaunt to the Looking Glass Prairie and Back” referring to his stay at the Mermaid House Inn and his walk about Lebanon. (Chapter 13.)

The following year (1843) Dickens wrote the first and most noted of his trilogy of Christmas related works, “A Christmas Carol”.  “A Christmas Carol” is performed every Holiday season on the very streets that he walked at Lebanon’s famed Looking Glass Playhouse.

In 1903, the East St. Louis and Suburban Railway Interurban line was expanded to Lebanon. At that time, many affluent St. Louisians had summer country cottages in Lebanon. They would travel to Lebanon by horse and buggy or by Interurban to get away from the hectic life of the city. Many of the stately homes within Lebanon were built during this time period.

In 1917, Scott Air Force Base was opened just seven miles to the south of Lebanon. It was one of the very first of the new air bases in the country brought on by the onset of World War I. Celebrating its 100th birthday this year, Scott Air Force Base is the only Air Force Base named after an enlisted man and continues strong as one of the largest employers in metropolitan St. Louis. Today, Scott houses organizations and members of each of the armed forces, and provides global control through three joint command headquarters. Many active and retired military personnel make their homes in Lebanon.

Mid America Airport Opened in 1998. Mid-America St. Louis Airport is located adjacent and parallel to Scott Air Force Base and just three miles south of Lebanon. It was built to take some of the burden off of St. Louis Lambert Airport and to better serve the needs of the over 500,000 residents of the metro east area. Though the economic downturn has greatly affected the need for the airport, things are looking up as weekly flights are available from Mid-America Airport to Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, NV.

New life is apparent everywhere around Lebanon. McKendree University is a member of the NCAA. McKendree is also growing by leaps and bounds, with new acquisitions of land and new buildings being built to house the ever increasing number of top level students coming here to study.
Lebanon is growing with two new sub-divisions, new banking and retail facilities, new and improved roads, and much more happening daily.
Knowing our history, improving our present, and working toward a better tomorrow. Lebanon is unique in so many ways.