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 Benld (/bəˈnɛld/) is a city in Macoupin County, Illinois, United States. The population was 1,541 at the 2000 census. The name derives from founder Benjamin L. Dorsey (d.June 19, 1895).

Dorsey was responsible for gaining the land on which the town was built and coal mining rights. When it came time to name the village, he took the combination of his first name and his middle and last initial

Benld is located at  

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39°5′37″N 89°48′15″W / 39.09361°N 89.80417°W / 39.09361; -89.80417 (39.093555, -89.804260).

Benld, Illinois

      Situated in almost the middle of three mines, Benld furnished the residences of the immigrants that settled in this area to work in the coal mines to raise their families. People came from many countries, some of which are Austria, Bohemia, Croatia, England, France, Galecia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia, and Sweden.
 
      The history of the area, of course, begins with Native Americans, and in the 1800's came the Dorsey family and the settlement of Cahokia Township in Macoupin County, Illinois. With the thought in mind that these constitute a vital part of the history of Benld, we are only going to look at the early 1900's on.
 
      Superior Coal Company, a subsidiary of Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, bought 40,000 acres of coal and mineral rights in 1903 from the Dorsey family and began to sink mines to furnish coal for their locomotives.
Number 1 was to the north and east of Benld at what is now Eagarville.
Number 2 was to the south of Benld at Sawyerville.
Number 3 was to the west at Mount Clare.

"Number 1" was at Eagarville; opened August 1903 & closed in 1951
 
"Number 2" was at Sawyerville; opened October 1903 & closed in 1952
 
"Number 3" was at Mt Clare; opened in 1904 & closed in 1953
 
"Number 4" was at Wilsonville and it opened in 1916 & closed in 1954.

 

In 1889-1890, the Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis Railroad began constructing a railroad line at Winston, Illinois, about a mile from Litchfield, Illinois, with the intent of the line eventually reaching Madison, Illinois.[1] At the same time, another railroad, called the St. Louis and Eastern, began building a line from Litchfield, Illinois to Glen Carbon, Illinois, also with the goal of the line extending to Madison, Illinois.[1] Sometime in the 1890s, the Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis struck an accord to lease some unbuilt right-of-way from the St. Louis and Eastern. Both lines eventually extended into Madison.[1]

National Guardsmen set up camp to keep order during unrest on part of the local mines in 1910 in Benld.

The Litchfield and Madison was incorporated on March 1, 1900 by James Duncan to take over an isolated line of the

Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis Railroad between
Litchfield, Illinois and Madison, Illinois.[1]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litchfield_and_Madison_Railway" \l "cite_note-railroadsL-O-1#cite_note-railroadsL-O-1" [2] At that time, Duncan also took over the Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis.[1] In 1926, the L&M constructed a connection to the Chicago and North Western at Benld, Illinois.[2] The railroad served as the entry to East St. Louis, Illinois for both the Chicago and North Western and the Illinois Central Railroad.[2] In addition, in the 1925-1926 time frame, the C&NW obtained trackage rights over the L&M from Benld to East St. Louis. At the same time, the L&M received minor reciprocal trackage rights over the C&NW.[1]

During its life, the L&M was known for being both a bridge railroad and also a hauler of coal.

[3] Most of the coal consisted of loads brought southbound to the St. Louis area from mines in the area.[1]

It is not clear if the L&M ever operated passenger service. The railroad's physical plant did include a depot and office at

Staunton, Illinois, suggesting that passenger service may well have been operated at one time.[1]

Apart from the C&NW, the L&M also connected with the

Illinois Central Railroad, the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad in East St. Louis, the Alton and Southern Railway, the Illinois Terminal Railroad, the Southern Railway, the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis and the Wabash Railroad.[1]

The railroad was headquartered in

Edwardsville


Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company 1902

 


Benld, IL. Depot
Courtesy of Georgia Ferry

      In 1902 the Superior Coal Company began to open mines in the area.
The Superior Coal Company was owned by Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company
.


Illinois Traction System 1905

      An electric trolley railway known as the Interurban. This is a small portion of the railway furnishing transportation through central Illinois, from St. Louis, Missouri through Alton, Edwardsville, Staunton, Sawyerville, Benld, Gillespie, Carlinville, and on north to Springfiled, Peoria, Bloomington, Decatur, Danville, and other points in between.
      The Illinois streetcar system of Champaign and Urbana was purchased by William B. McKinley in 1890 and thus began McKinley Lines, the basis for the beginning of this railroad. Through merging and connections with other lines, this became the Illinois Traction System and the route was completed through to Staunton in 1905. Another line betrween Alton and Edwardsville, the Illinois Terminal Railroad was bought by Illinois Power and Light in 1928 and then in 1956 these lines were merged to form the Illinois Terminal Railroad Company.

 

On September 29, 1938, a

meteorite landed in Benld, marking only the third meteorite landing in Illinois since records were kept. The meteorite was also one of the few known meteorites to strike a man-made object, punching a hole in the roof of Edward McCain's garage and embedding itself in the seat of his 1937 Pontiac Coupe. A neighbor, Mrs. Carl Crum, was standing about fifty feet from the impact and may be the individual who came closest to being struck by a meteorite in history up to that time. The meteorite and portions of the car are now on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

 

 

Photo of car seat and muffler hit by meteorite

In March 2009, the 7 year old Benld Elementary school was damaged beyond repair and ultimately condemned. This damage was caused by mine subsidence. This left 700+ students without a school. The students were then moved to the Gillespie High School and Middle School campus where they finished the remainder of the year on a split shift schedule. High school and middle school students attended school from 6:30am -Noon and elementary aged students attended from 12:30pm until 5:00pm. The students started the 2010 school year on the split shift. November 2, 2010 all students returned to a normal schedule with the elementary kids now attending class in 3 different locations.(modular units, middle school classrooms & the S.S. Simon & Jude Catholic School) The district was only allowed to collect $350,000 in mine subsidence insurance due to limits imposed by the state of Illinois. The district is in line to receive funding from the Capital Development Board to help with the construction of a new elementary school. The school is responsible for 20% of the $22million budget to build a new school. The school district is actively pursuing grants to fulfill their responsibility. The Ben-Gil Boosters, an organization formed to help raise funds for the construction of the new school, won $250,000 in April 2010 through Pepsi's Refresh Everything Campaign. The new school, estimated to be completed in December 2012, will be built adjacent to the district's middle school and high school in Gillespie, Illinois. Its name will be changed to Ben-Gil Elementary School, to reflect both communities.

Coliseum Ballroom, Benld Illinois

In its heyday, the Coliseum had the biggest dance floor (10,000 square feet) between Chicago and St. Louis and featured the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Kay Kyser, Count Basie and most of the other big-name big bands - the megastars of popular music from the 1920s into the 1940s. Situated along old Route 66 (now Illinois Route 4), the
Coliseum is said to have attracted crowds that sometimes topped 2,000, from all over central Illinois and metropolitan St. Louis. The popularity of the big bands faded, but the Coliseum continued to draw crowds for nationally known acts such as the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Johnny Rivers and Ray Charles. In its later years, the ballroom mostly featured local rock bands before closing about a decade ago.

The Coliseum Ballroom was used as an Antique Mall in the last years and sadly burned to the ground due to an electrical fire on ______________.

The night of the fire Eddie Ebert’s band ___________ was playing when the fire started.

Dominic Tarro

 

Dominic Tarro was born January 26th 1892 in Ironwood Michigan. In 1905 the Tarro Family moved to Gillespie, IL. Some time there after they located to the near by town of Benld. The town of Benld was built onthe backs of the under paid and over worked coal miners of Illinois. The miners, who worked for the coal companies were of Italian or Eastern European origin. They formed their town around the coal company housing near the mines. Typical of the time period the town had several small grocery stores and more taverns than churches. History has shown that where ever a large group of men gather to work the vices of the world are soon to follow. Liquor, gambling and prostitution are always at the top of that list and Benld specialized in all three.

It was the adult entertainment center for the area. A hot craps game or high stakes card came game could be found in the back rooms of just about every tavern. While the ladies of the night worked on another floor in the building. Just prior to or shortly after the beginning of World War I (1914 to 1919) Dominic and his brother Ben opened Tarro Brother’s Grocery. During the war he served in the 267th Aero squadron out of Pope airforce base, while Ben ran the store. Upon his return he continued in the family business and also opened a small roller skating rink downtown.

In a town where there is illegal activity and easy money you are sure to have organized crime. Benld was fortunate or should I say unfortunate to have one of the best know gangster of the 1920’s running the rackets there. Al Capone and his gang ruled the town with an iron fist. On January 16th 1919 the United States ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and the Volstead Act. The following year prohibition became the law of the land. This began the fall of the large breweries such as the William J. Lemp and Co., of  Saint Louis and other liquor manufacturers of the era.

This was also the birth of the bootleg liquor business. Dominic had formed a relationship with the gangsters in town and he soon became the head of the bootleg liquor racket in Macoupin County. He would purchase yeast and sugar for distilling through the Tarro Brothers name. He would then distribute these supplies to the illegal liquor stills in Macoupin and Montgomery Counties. One of the largest stills in the county was just east of town and was called the Number 5 Mine. The remoteness of the location and the gang’s grip on the area made it perfect for just such an operation. Business was very profitable through out the decade.

The roller rink operated by Dominic burnt down at the beginning of 1924. So he and Ben decided to replace the roller rink with a new building. This building became the Coliseum Ballroom. . In its day, the Coliseum had the biggest dance floor (10,000 square feet) between Chicago and St. Louis.
They hosted roller skating three or four days during the week and on the weekend featured the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Kay Kyser, Count Basie and most of the other big-name big bands along with the mega-stars of popular music from the 1920s and beyond. It was situated along old Route 66 (now Illinois Route 4) on the western edge of Benld and was said to have attracted crowds that sometimes topped 2,000, from all over central Illinois and metropolitan St. Louis.

An ill wind began to blow for Tarro when on 10/11/29 he was indicted by the Federal Courts in Springfield, IL. He posted $15,000 in bond and was released on the original indictment. James Eaton Deputy Prohibition Administrator out of Springfield and U.S. District Attorney Walter M. Provine had put together further indictments against him, fifty plus defendants and two national corporations. The indictments alleged that he was the distributor of illegal liquor making supplies for the Macoupin and Montgomery County bootleggers. He would purchased Corn syrup specifically designed for distilling from the Corn Products Refining Company and Yeast from the Fleishmann Yeast Company. The rumor began to circulate that he had become a witness for the state and had turned his books over as evidence. On January 29th 1930 Tarro was arrested again on federal indictments. The same day he was released on an
aggregated bond of $30,500 and he began to drive home.

On January 30th 1930 Tarro’s partially burned and bullet ridden vehicle was found along a road near Mason City, IL. He had disappeared and could not be found. February 10th 1930 was the arraignment date for Tarro and he did not arrive for his court appearance. U.S. District Attorney Walter Provine contended that he was still alive and may be
in hiding. Attorney Provine based this on the case of Albert Blewett a bootlegger whose body was found in the Sangamon River near Petersburg, IL and was later arrested in Wisconsin alive and well.

On May 2nd 1930 Robert Fox and Benny Spence were rowing in the
Sangamon River. Fox and Spence came upon a floating body. Authorities were notified and the body was recovered. It was the body of a man in a state of heavy decomposition. The body had wire bound around the  hands and feet. Another wire was wrapped around the neck of the man pulling his head to his knees. The body did not have a lot of clothing left on it. This body was not too far from the area that Tarro’s bullet ridden vehicle had been found in January. Family members Mike Fazio and Ben Tarro were contacted in an attempt to identify the body. The family members identified Tarro by cuff links, some of the clothing left on the body, other marks on the body and a bulge on one of his knees. District Attorney Provine still did not believe that this was the body of Tarro.

The body of Dominic Tarro was laid to rest on May, 6th 1930 in Mayfield Cemetery in Carlinville, IL. On May 14th 1930 a coroner’s inquest was held and the coroner’s jury decided that the body found on May 2nd 1930 was that of Tarro. District Attorney Provine still did not accept that this was the Body of Tarro and he continued his denial for sometime. Provine held the bond for months and the IRS investigated the value of the estate left behind by Tarro.

Beyond the gangs, the booze and the feds, Dominic Tarro’s legacy lives on in the sleepy town of Benld to this day. The Coliseum still stands and from what I hear Dominic and even his daughter Joyce may still be around the Coliseum in another form.

 

Joyce Tarro

Staunton Star-Times
Issue Thursday, February 19, 1976

Coliseum Ballroom Owner Killed Sunday

Joyce Tarro, 51, owner and operator of the Coliseum Ballroom in Benld, was shot and killed at 2:20 a.m. Sunday after exchanging gunfire with intruders in her home. According to an employee of the Coliseum who was with Tarro, Tarro was entering her house at 211, N. Main Street in Benld, from the rear and noticed the kitchen door was ajar.  Tarro and the witness saw a reported burglar’s reflection in the glass of the door.
The witness said Tarro pulled out a gun and fired several times at the intruder.  The witness then escaped and hid in the bushes near the Tarro residence.
It is believed that after Tarro fired at the intruder, another intruder fired at her from the bathroom on her left and killed her.  She was struck by five .32 caliber bullets.
After the shooting had subsided, the witness ran from the bushes and called police from a nearby house according to police reports.
Police said the killers escaped in a small, foreign-made car.
An autopsy by Macoupin County Coroner Conrad Dawson showed “Joyce Tarro was struck from the left side by three penetrating shells that entered her heart and lungs.  There were also two shots entering her left wrist and thumb from the left side.”  An inquest is pending, he said.

Tarro was found at the entrance to her living room just off the kitchen.  The house had been ransacked and an undetermined amount of money, including about $2,000 in receipts from the Saturday night Coliseum dance, were taken, Macoupin County Sheriff’s deputies said.
Two weapons were found at the scene of the shooting, one of which has been identified as Tarro’s.The Illinois Bureau of Investigation has joined in the investigation, deputies said.
Decatur police arrested a 20 year-old man Sunday night in connection with this slaying.  Jerry Baker, Decatur, was brought to Macoupin County Jail by Macoupin County Sheriff Richard Zarr and Benld Police Chief Matt Sucech.  Baker is being charged with murder, burglary, armed robbery and theft.
Zarr said $200 believed to be part of the $3,300 taken in the burglary was recovered from Baker, who allegedly used most of his $1,100 share to pay gambling debts.  Two handguns, both belonging to the slain woman, were found in Baker’s apartment, Zarr said.
Two more persons are being sought in the case according to police reports.  Police are seeking Mary Kay Hughes Connors and Roy King, ages and addresses unknown, who allegedly were implicated by Baker.  A couple resembling the pair were detained Monday by security guards at the St. Louis airport, but were released before police could arrive, Zarr said.  There is a “good chance” that couple was the hunted pair, he said.

It is believed that two intruders were in the house while a third waited in the getaway car.  The green Volkswagen allegedly used by the three suspects has not been recovered.  It had been borrowed from a Springfield man.

Bond for all three has been set at $500,00.


Staunton Star-Times
Issue Thursday, February 26, 1976

Suspects Held In Benld Slaying

Two persons were arrested in Grand Junction, Colorado February 17 in connection with the slaying of Joyce Tarro in Benld.

Roy King, 24, of Litchfield and Mary Kay Hughes Conners, 23 of Gillespie were arrested in a Grand Junction bus station.  The pair and a run-away juvenile had taken a bus from Eagle, Colorado where their car reportedly failed.
A tip from a Decatur man led to the arrests, according to Grand Junction Police Captain Ed Vandertook. Edward Stevens, 27, reportedly told Eagle County, Colorado authorities the pair kidnapped him and when his car failed, the three boarded a westbound bus.
King and Conners were arrested in Grand Junction, about 130 miles west of Eagle, during a meal stop, on warrants issued by Macoupin County authorities.
Jerry Baker, 20, of Decatur had been arrested February 16 on similar charges. Vandertook said the pair did not attempt to resist their arrest.  The 15 year-old girl was returned to her parents in Decatur.

 

2011 History. CIty of Benld & The Build Benld Organization
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