Mt. Vernon used to be home to the Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company,
better known locally as the "car shops." They contributed to the Mt. Vernon
area economically and socially for more than sixty years.
The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company produced boxcars like
those pictured here.
ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1994
The car shops were opened in Mt. Vernon in August 1890. The car shops
were brought to Mt. Vernon by David O. Settlemire from Litchfield, Illinois.
It is not known why they were moved, but it was rumored that the losing
candidate in a mayoral race, David O. Settlemire, said, "If Litchfield
doesn't need me for mayor, they don't need my shops and elevator." The
new Mt. Vernon plant was equipped to build freight cars of all kinds for
the railroads. Operations began on a small scale and employed about four
hundred men when the new plant began.
Settlemire was the first president of the shops. He was born in 1827
in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Settlemire had had many jobs, beginning
as a cabinetmaker's apprentice at age seventeen. Afterward Settlemire became
a grain dealer. He realized that rail transportation was vital for transporting
his product as well as many other products. This realization led him to
become wealthy and led him to become president of the Litchfield car shops.
Settlemire never lived in Mt. Vernon, even though he located his factory
there. He died in 1908 in Litchfield.
After Settlemire died, W. C. Arthurs became president of the shops.
Arthurs was Settlemire's son-in-law. He had experience as a plowboy, grocery
store clerk, and drug store clerk. Before he became president he served
as the first secretary and treasurer of the shops. He and his wife lived
in Mt. Vernon in an elegant twenty-three-room home at 800 North Street.
W. C. Arthurs died at age 63 of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 16,
1928. After Arthurs's death Ralph Weber became the president until 1935
when David Arthurs took over. David was W. C.'s adopted son.
W. C. Arthurs had believed that keeping his men happy was the best
way to keep production up. His beliefs contributed to the community socially
and economically. He started a baseball team named the "Car Builders."
It played against many teams in Southern Illinois and was considered to be one
of the best teams outside the professional ranks. One of the most famous people
that played for the baseball team was Ray Blades. He was later a member of the St.
Louis Cardinals, and helped them to win the World Series while with the
team. It is very likely that the years spent playing on the car-shop's
team led him to the Cardinals.
The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company sponsored a band that presented
regular concerts to the community and played for parades and other events.
They were considered to be a fine band. It was called the "Carco Band"
but also nicknamed the "Kilties" because the band wore Scottish dress.
The car-shop's train whistle might be one of the best-remembered
things by the community. It sounded loudly New Year's eve to celebrate
the New Year. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L and N) also contributed
two switch engines to join along with nine other engines, to produce the
loud whistle. The whistle was also used to call attention to a fire in
The car shops also affected the community's economy. The Mt. Vernon
Car Manufacturing Company provided the largest payroll of any industrial
company for the city at the time. It averaged $100,000 every two weeks;
$2.6 million was distributed in the Mt. Vernon area in a year. In addition
to providing the community with a good payroll, large sums of money were
poured into local taxes for Mt. Vernon schools as well as other worthy
The car shops of Mt. Vernon produced one of the best products in
the nation. Initial production was eleven to twelve cars daily. The first
car was made of wood. Most of the cars were made for the L and N Railroad.
The product was so well received that the company not only started
doing business with other railroads in the United States but with foreign
countries. Cars were built for the Canadian National Railroad and for a
company in Mexico. The Mt. Vernon Car Manufacturing Company was at the
height of its business when the Great Depression descended. From 1930 to
1936 only one hundred cars were manufactured by the company.
World War II, however, provided a great boom for the company. The
Mt. Vernon car shops were called upon to provide a sizeable number of bombs
for the war in Europe.
The end of World War II, however, brought the end of an era. In 1944
the company was sold to H. K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh who dismantled
the shops. The site was sold to a group of local businessmen for $250,000
who in turn paid $90,000 to raze the buildings. Unemployment skyrocketed
with a 16 percent rate in the Mt. Vernon area. A few of the original buildings
stand today, including the Precision National Corporation and the office
complex that served as the Jefferson Memorial Hospital for several years.
The closing of the railroad era also ended the company that provided
jobs, money, and social activities for many Mt. Vernonites. There is probably
not an adult in the Mt. Vernon area who lived during the car shop's years
who does not remember hearing the whistle blow on New Year's Eve or watching
the car-builder's baseball team win another game.—[From Harry L. Bates,
History of Jefferson County, Illinois: 1810-1962; Mt. Vernon Daily Register,
Mt. Vernon, Illinois, June 29, 1981; Thomas A. Puckett, Mt. Vernon, Illinois
— A Pictorial History.]
This article was featured in ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1994
Illinois History A Magazine for Young People 1994. The link for this article
is no longer online however, the magazine is and can be found at:
Illinois History A Magazine for Young People
Biography of W. C. Arthurs