is difficult for us to
imagine not having the basic services that provide light, heat and
water for our homes. It took a special kind of
entrepreneurial spirit to bring "new-fangled" inventions like
electricity, plumbing to an entire town.
Westhoff Power and Light
In 1899 the Westhoff Grain and Mercantile Co. began generating electric current, primarily for its own use, using a 10 volt dynamo located in the store's elevator. The Light and Power Co. was organized in 1913 and Frank Westhoff, the youngest of five brothers, was the first engineer until 1923 when brother Adam Westhoff took the position. Frank's eldest son then had the job of plant manager from 1937 to 1952. William Steiner, Sr. and his son were engineers when the plant was sold in 1952.
At the insistence of Rev. Jasper, pastor of the Assumption Catholic Church, electric lines were extended to all the parish buildings. Current was furnished at no charge to church buildings for twenty-five years in appreciation for Father Jasper's encouragement to expand service.
Even before the light plant was built, the businessmen of O'Fallon felt the pressing need for electricity. George Vetch's saloon (on the west side of Main Street just north of West Elm), one of O'Fallon's oldest buildings, was the first consumer. Further expansion became necessary and a new electric plant was constructed in 1916. This building still stands on the east side of Main, just south of the railroad tracks.
By 1951, it became apparent that the increasing demand for electricity would require an expansion that was prohibitively costly and it was decided to sell the plant. The Westhoff Light and Power Company was sold to the Missouri Edison Company on December 16, 1951. The old company engines stopped running on January 31, 1952.
By 1938, it became apparent that the city's future growth depended upon the construction of a water system. Proposed as a project under the W.P.A., the estimated cost of the water system in 1939 amounted to more than $150,000 of which only $40,000 was to be paid by the city. The Federal Government paid the rest.
On August 23, 1940, ground was broken for the project at the site of the present water tower by Mayor Paul Westhoff. The well was drilled to a depth of 833 feet with a capacity of 60 gallons per minute. The new water system was completed in 1941 and put into operation the same year.
In 1943, city sewers extended along Main Street from the lumberyard, north to the city limits. With no funds available from the federal government, a bond issue had to be passed to provide funds to complete the system. In 1953, the city of O'Fallon once again had to expand its water facilities to accommodate a growing population and a new well was built in 1954 that produced 140 gallons per minute. Even more new subdivisions led to yet another expansion in 1956. Again, bond issues were used to raise funds and the city incurred a horrifying debt of $134,500 for the expanded service.
When simple bucket brigades were no longer sufficient for protecting the property of O'Fallon, an organized fire department was formed in 1906. Then and for many years thereafter, O'Fallon's fire fighters were volunteers; dedicated citizens who were concerned with the safety of citizens and property alike. The first fire chief was William Westhoff and the first fire "truck" was a hand-drawn cart that carried a tank containing a chemical agent used to extinguish the fire. The station was a single bay garage near the corner of Main and East Elm Street with a large bell on the roof for summoning the firemen.
O'Fallon's first motorized fire truck was a 1927 Chevrolet purchased by volunteer firefighter, Henry Ermeling, for the sum of $700. This truck served the Department's needs until it was replaced by a 1941 GMC fire truck. The first full-fledged firehouse was a brick building that sat behind the row of businesses on the west side of Main Street and was built on piers over the old Mill Pond.
In 1960, the new firehouse on East Elm was dedicated and remains Fire House #1 to this day. In front of the station is the bell from the first single-bay garage, renamed the Memorial Bell. In 1963, O'Fallon proudly hosted the Missouri State Fire Fighter's Convention.
Over the years, the fire department was supported by donations and funds raised by the sale of fire tags. Fire tags were actually decals that residents placed in the windows of their homes. In 1970, the people of O'Fallon voted to form the O'Fallon Fire Protection District to provide the department with taxpayer support though it remains a separate political entity from the City of O'Fallon.
In 1959, the O'Fallon Police Department was officially formed with one paid police officer and one patrol car. Prior to that, law enforcement was provided by the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department and constables were hired in each of the townships. The O'Fallon Police Reserve was formed in the late 1960's. They were volunteers trained to assist with crowd control, traffic and were often seen on duty at school events, parades and picnics.
In O'Fallon's earliest days, the postmaster's job consisted of delivering mail to the depot for pick-up by the railroad. People delivered and picked up their mail at the office of whoever was currently serving as postmaster.
Rural delivery service wasn't established until 1903. The earliest rural carriers delivered mail in horse-drawn wagons often having to brave heavy rain and mud or ice and snow in the winter. The wagons were specifically designed for rural mail delivery. They were built water tight to protect the mail when the wagon had to be driven through a creek.
In 1959, city delivery service began with three city routes. The first post office was in a lean-to building next to Gentemann's store on Main Street. In 1957, it was moved to a new building a little further south on Main Street and in 1960, moved into even larger facilities on East Elm. The current post office on Church Street was built in 1991.