Bellevue Acres was originally developed into a subdivision when the South Side realty Company of Peoria purchased acreage of two adjoining farms on Plank Road in Limestone County. It was December 23, 1936 when parts of the farms of Joseph Closen and Schweer Heuermann were subdivided into 115 residential lots and offered for sale by C.F. Aaron and Arthur Yergler. The realty company issued a document at that time stating their purpose for the development. It read “the depression and the election of new government in 1932 brought the realization of the need for a program where the low wage-earner could own his own home in America. We have a lot of people that have known better days who have suddenly lost everything. While government agencies have been spending huge sums on highly publicized efforts to accomplish this…..we think we in Bellevue Acres have worked out a satisfactory conclusion. We have done it without a bit of help from the government or other sources.”
The first lot in the subdivision was sold April 15, 1937 to Elwood Cloyd at 202 Bellevue Avenue. The first occupied house in Bellevue was a one room cabin at 215 Bellevue Avenue. Hastily constructed so the Howard Atkins Sr. family could move in as soon as possible. Another large family, the Richard Burtles lived temporarily in a big tent at 549 Schweer Court while they were building their basement home.
Getting a subdivision started in the Spring of 1937 with the unusual amounts of April showers, was a monumental project. Consistent with the contract agreement, it was the responsibility of Schweer Heuermann to cut through, shape up and maintain all of Bellevue’s six muddy miles of streets, lanes, courts and hills. For this work he kept accurate ledger records and billed the realty company regularly. Schweer’s daughter Vi (Heuermann) Williams kept the old yellowed loose leafed in which was recorded the endless postings of Bellevue’s maintenance back then. The entries make one marvel at the amount of work and planning required to launch Bellevue.
By March 2, 1941 when the village incorporated, it had grown spectacularly with 315 homes and a population of 1400.
“Schweer Heurermann was a strong-willed second generation descendant of German immigrants” the Peoria Journal Star reported on on April 25, 1978. “He was an advocate of private ownership instead of government control. When paid vacation became an American way of life, he would never quite accept the concept. It was too easy, too soft. The Puritan work ethic, a fair wage for an honest day’s work, was his creed. And Bellevue was his dream.
He watched as more and more people bought land, visions of owning own homes spurring them on, and Bellevue grew. He was among the leaders of a movement to build a school in Bellevue. no more 2.5 mile trips to Norwood school for his children. they would have their own school in their own town.
Schweer, who became nervous when money was spent ‘foolishly’ no doubt would think the $75,000.00 his three children, Gene, Viola and Carol, paid to buy back the Bellevue Grade School on Bellevue Ave. in 1978, was a tremendous sum compared to the $5000.00 it cost to build 40 years earlier. But he would be pleased and proud that his lesson of enterprise, plus a dash of American ingenuity, were not lost on his children.
Clarence “Zeke” Closen remembers walking along with Elmer Heuermann laboring to cut the original roads in Bellevue using an old McCormick Farm Tractor with huge steel lugs on the rear wheels. Zeke also recollects that his father, Joseph Closen – a well known Limestone Township “clogger” originally sold all but 15 acres of the farm to C.F. Aarons and Art Yergler for $130.00 an acre.
Many new Bellevue residents learned the whereabouts of the very cold fresh spring down the path from the Closen farm house and had it as their drinking water until individual wells were dug. Zeke believes that his Dad “witched” nearly all of those wells in Bellevue. Joe was born in 1876 and passed away in 1955. His wife Anna was born in 1876 and lived until 1966.
Zeke was a member of two Bellevue baseball teams that were sponsored by local merchants and business men. “That was the main activity of us young guys back then – along with hanging out at Alexander’s store and Fernwood Skating Rink. I enjoyed all the pretty girls that lived in Bellevue too. but baseball, with coach Dick Riedlinger coaching both the softball and hardball teams was where the action was. Everybody knew each other at that time and then in 1941 many of us went to serve in various branches of the service. I believe that Franklin Murray was the first casualty of war from Bellevue. he was a Navy fighter pilot serving on an aircraft carrier.
George and Anna Alexander and their five children moved to Bellevue in 1937. They built their home and adjacent grocery store on the corner of Bellevue Ave. and Plank Road, having previously operated a grocery store on the corner of 2700 S. Adams Street in Peoria. The original wood frame store was gutted by fire at one time and was replaced with a new concrete building. Anna Alexander had a secret receipt for her famous chili, for chili dogs served at Alexander’s Root Beer Drive-in on Plank Road.
Bellevue never had a Movie House but Larry Howard remembered the fun films shown at the school gym when he was a boy scout. In the early 40’s Bellevue had “Free Shows” outdoors. Long before the Bellevue Drive-in or the coming of television or VCR’s, folks in Bellevue watched weekly showings of “B” movies, serial chapters and lots of cartoons – under the stars. This was a reality, thanks to some enterprising local fellows with 16 millimeter sound movie projectors and the sponsorship of local merchants who paid for the rentals. At one peak time villagers were privy to three free movies a week. Monday night we spread blankets out in one of the grocer, George Alexander’s empty lots. Wednesday we hoped it wouldn’t rain out a showing at Larry Schlich’s back yard or Pearl Sampson’s Variety Store yard. Friday night would find us all congregated behind Fred Lulay’s tavern on Plank Road where Keith Bitner or Harold Richards would project maybe a hop-along Cassidy Western along with a Tom & Jerry cartoon after we thrilled to the 13th or 14th chapter of Flash Gordon surviving the latest evil-doing of villainous Emperor Ming.
Phyliss J. (Cowen) Thomlison recalls her parents operating their grocery market at 314 E. Closen Road in Bellevue from 1945 to 1959. Most of the Cowen children worked in the family store along with Mrs. Parrish, who lived across the street and Bob Test who worked full time from 1945 through 1954. After Mr. Cowen’s death in 1955, Mrs Cowen and her youngest daughter, Nancy contuined operating the store until 1959. At that time she sold it to an older couple. They later sold it to a younger couple named Widmer.
Mr and Mrs (Andrew & Delia) Bakder moved to Bellevue from Clay County Kentucky and in the building at 5514 Plank Road that earlier housed the first school house in Bellevue, they operated the 2nd grocery store in Bellevue.
Over the years this site has gone from being the 1st one-room school house in 1938, to “Mom & Dad” Baker’s Grocery, to Baker’s Tap to Brewer’s kindergarten, to Glasses Tap, to Cindy’s Tap to Woody’s 116 Bar.