Belleville (French: Belle ville, meaning "Beautiful city") is a city in St. Clair County, Illinois, United States, co-extensive with Belleville Township. As estimated by the US Census Bureau in 2012, shown on the city's economic development page, the city has a population of 43,765 . It is the eighth-most populated city outside of the Chicago Metropolitan Area and the most populated city south of Springfield in the state of Illinois. It is the county seat of St. Clair County, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. Belleville is the most populated city in the Metro-East region of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area and in Southern Illinois. Due to its close proximity to Scott Air Force Base, the population receives a boost from military and federal civilian personnel, defense contractors, and military retirees.
The city of Belleville was named by George Blair in 1814. Blair was born in 1760 and his father was born in Scotland. Blair donated an acre of his land for the Town Square and an additional that adjoined the Square for the new County Seat, causing the county seat to be transferred from the village of Cahokia. Belleville was incorporated as a village in 1819, and became a city in 1850. It is said that Blair named the city Belleville (French for beautiful city) because he believed that a French name would attract new residents. Since major immigration in the mid-19th century occurred following revolutions in Germany, most of the population is of German heritage.
Many of the educated people fled their homeland after the failure of the German Revolution in 1848. Belleville was the center of the first important German settlement in Illinois. By 1870, an estimated 90% of the city's population was either German born or of German descent.
After the Civil War, Belleville became a manufacturing center producing nails, printing presses, gray iron castings, agricultural equipment, and stoves. Belleville became known as "The Stove Capital of the World." The first brewery in Illinois was established in Belleville and in 1868, Gustav Goelitz founded the candy company that is known today as "Jelly Belly."
An immense deposit of bituminous coal was found in St. Clair County. By 1874, some farmers had become coal miners. One hundred shaft mines were in operation in and around Belleville. The coal brought the steam railroad to town, which allowed for the transport of many tons of coal to be shipped daily from Belleville to St. Louis. Later, Belleville would have the first electric trolley in the state.
The first style of homes in Belleville was simple brick cottages, known locally as "German street houses" or "row houses." However, there is a great variety of architectural style with American Foursquare, French Second Empire, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Victorian. Over 700 properties are listed on the Belleville National Register Historic District. The "Old Belleville Historic District," was formed in 1974 and is the city’s first historic district. The city also had two more historic districts: "Hexenbukel" (est. in 1991) and "Oakland" (est. in 1995).
Belleville’s early German immigrants were scholarly, with most of them having graduated from German universities. They were nicknamed “Latin Farmers” because of this. After 1836 Gustav Koerner contributed to establish the city’s public library. The Belleville Public Library is the state’s oldest, predating the Illinois State Library by three years. The German settlers also founded choral and dramatic groups as well as literary societies. Belleville was also home to one of the first kindergartens in the country.
In October 2010, KEZK radio host Delilah sponsored a "paint the town" project. A local Home Depot donated paint, and volunteers supplied the labor to paint murals and buildings along several blocks of the main street of Belleville.
The city celebrated its Bicentennial in 2014.