Economy:1800-1950 Wiggins' Ferry

In 1819, Samuel Wiggins, a politician and businessman, bought an interest in the Piggott family's ferry operation and began to compete with the McKnight-Brady ferry and other ferry services. Soon after he began operations Wiggins used his political clout to persuade the Illinois General Assembly to grant him a charter with exclusive rights to two miles of Illinois river front opposite St. Louis and the right to establish a toll road leading to his landing. The act went further and allowed no new ferry operations to be created within a mile on either side of Wiggins' landing. Wiggins later bought out the McNight-Brady interest in Piggott's Ferry. To further his control of the Illinois side of the river he went into partnership with a prominent businessman who owned substantial portions of land in what was known as Illinoistown.
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From Gateway to the Past, Illinois Department of Transportation, 1982
The Wiggins operation marks a watershed for the area that would become East St. Louis. Through Wiggins' political power in Illinois he established a stronghold on river transportation to St. Louis and the west. This concentration of power was temporary, but lasted long enough to make Illinoistown and later East St. Louis a central crossing point for goods and people heading west. One of the first steamboats to ply the Mississippi stopped at St. Louis and the McKnight-Brady landing in 1817. The new technology promised new economic potential for the Illinois side of the river and Samuel Wiggins capitalized on this future.
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Diagram showing the various settlements along the Illinois bank of the Mississippi during the last 200 years.
From Gateway to the Past,Illinois Department of Transportation, 1982
The overlay to the right shows the state of the east side around 1818 on a map of present-day East St. Louis. It is evident that the course of the Mississippi changed significantly. The squares denote property holdings.

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