Friday, September 16, 2022

Lost Towns of Illinois - Schoper, Illinois.

Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (aka Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. 

After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil Company wanted a reliable coal supply. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Mr. Schoper.

After completing several geological surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. The property was conveniently situated near the Chicago and Alton railroad, which was centrally located between the refineries in Wood River (near St. Louis) and Whiting, Indiana (near Chicago). 

In 1918, Standard Oil placed a $1 million order (for 192 houses) with Sears Roebuck and Company for 192 Sears Honor-Bilt homes. The houses were purchased for employees in Carlinville, Wood River and Schoper, Illinois. One hundred and fifty-six of the houses were built in Carlinville (152 of the original 156 homes still stand in a nine-block neighborhood), 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.

Twelve Sears Modern houses were built at Schoper for mine supervisors. There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper for the miners. Standard Oil purchased the farm from Mr. Schoper and sank two mines there, Berry and Schoper. The town of Schoper, aka Standard City, sprang up around the mines.

At its peak, Schoper was the largest coal mine in Illinois, employing 650 men and hoisting up to 4,000 tons of coal daily. About 450 men also worked at the Berry Mine, producing about 2,000 tons of coal per day. The times were good. In the early 1920s, Schoper miners worked about 298 days per year, while nationwide, most coal miners worked about 200 days yearly. 
Schoper circa 1919. At the foot of the sidewalk is a 12-bay garage shared by the occupants of the 12 Sears Houses. The Power House is shown in the background near Schoper Lake. The Whitehall, Gladstone and Warrenton models are shown in the foreground. Click here for Sears model plans and costs.




By the mid-1920s, the boom at Schoper had gone bust. The price of coal dropped after The Great War (1918), and Standard Oil could now buy their coal cheaper from mines in Kentucky (which did not have unions) than they could mine it in Macoupin County.

In July 1925, a small column on the bottom page of the Macoupin County Enquirer sadly announced that the mine was permanently closed.

Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in: on boxcars, headed off to unknown destinations.

Two of the Sears Homes were moved intact to sites just outside of Standard City. The last Sears House at Schoper (The Sears Gladstone) was home to John McMillan and his wife, a supervisor with the mine. After the mine closed, he became a caretaker charged with myriad tasks, such as making sure the powerful fans down in the mine kept the methane down to acceptable levels. McMillan’s little Gladstone eventually became rental property and burned down sometime in the mid-1990s. 

The last remnant at the site was the Schoper Powerhouse and Mine Offices, a massive concrete Federalist structure which was torn down in Summer 2003.

Today, Schoper is a ghost town.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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