By Trish Muyco-Tobin
The town of Belleville, Illinois, the county seat of St. Clair County, celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2014. Belleville began as 1 acre of farmland, donated for a public square by George Blair in 1814. In naming the town, it is said that Blair chose Belleville (“beautiful city” in French) because he believed that a French-sounding name would attract more people to move to the area.
By the mid-19th century, most residents of Belleville were of German descent, many of whom had fled from Europe in the wake of the German Revolution of 1848. In the years following the Civil War, Belleville became known as the so-called “Stove Capital of the World,” with more than 4 dozen stove manufacturing plants, as well as for its booming foundry industry and for the production of agricultural equipment, nails and printing presses. By the mid-1870s, coal-mining had flourished, leading to an even more robust manufacturing sector in town. A brewing industry also emerged, and Belleville is identified as the site of the first brewery in Illinois, founded by Jacob Fleischbein in 1832 near the Public Square. It was also in Belleville that a 24-year-old German immigrant named Gustav Goelitz established a family candy-making operation known today as Jelly Belly.
Belleville’s downtown Public Square—where East Main meets West Main—is perhaps the town’s most iconic landmark and is recognized as the longest continuous Main Street in America. It’s a popular gathering place where many of the city’s large public events, such as the nationally ranked Art on the Square, are held. It’s also the site of the Veterans Memorial Fountain and Monument, erected as a tribute to veterans of all wars.
In the warm-weather months, Belleville’s Old Town Farmers’ Market springs to life, offering all sorts produce, meat and dairy products from nearby farms. On any given Saturday, you’ll find locally grown fruits, vegetables, plants and herbs; pasture-raised beef, lamb and pork; honey; baked goods; dog treats; and hand-made crafts. And come fall, Belleville’s fruit orchards and farms are popular destinations, as apple and pumpkin season go into high gear.
OLD TOWN FARMERS’ MARKET
(South Charles and East Main streets in downtown Belleville)
7:30 a.m. to noon; Saturdays through Nov. 3
Focusing on seasonal, locally raised or produced meats, dairy, produce, baked good and more.
Family-friendly, with live music and children’s activities on site.
IN AND AROUND BELLEVILLE
The 100-acre property, which has been with the Braeutigam family since 1831, began as a grain and animal farm. Located just 6 miles southeast of downtown Belleville off of Highway 15, Braeutigam is just down the street from a certain, splashier pick-your-own operation, but it’s most definitely worlds away when it comes to the kind of experience you’ll have in store.
Here, you’ll likely be greeted by Tom Range, the man who oversees the orchard and the adjacent bakery, drives the tractor and pretty much supervises the entire operation. Tom is married to Pat, whose grandfather, Rollin Braeutigam, started growing fruit on the property in 1935. The family-owned and -operated farm is now on its sixth and seventh generations, and we’re told the eighth generation—the Ranges’ grandchildren—is currently in-training.
Apple- and pumpkin-picking seasons (beginning in late August) are the busiest for the farm, but it remains an authentic, folksy operation—and that’s what we love about it. This month, the crop includes peaches, blackberries, plums, tomatoes and corn. If you didn’t come to pick fruit, the “sales shed” usually has a bounty of fruit and vegetables ready for purchase. Even better, Braeutigam’s Apple Cider Donuts and Apple Cider Slushy are not to be missed. Trust us when we say these two products alone are worth the drive! braeutigamorchards.com
Even if it wasn’t across a local landmark (the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows), it’s hard to miss this ginormous structure along Highway 15. The Belleville location of this Munich-based franchise is the largest in America (and only the eighth branch in the U.S.). Since its opening in March, Hofbräuhaus has quickly become a local hangout for those seeking authentic Bavarian fare and the ambience of a German bier hall.
As expected, the beer is serious business here, with several seasonal brews on tap—in August, try the pilsner. We also highly suggest the summer offering, the Russian—citrusy Sommerweizen combined with lemon-lime soda—what a refreshing treat!
Hofbräuhaus is pretty serious about the food, too. For starters, the pretzels and apple strudel are imported from Germany—and are the perfect selections to bookend your meal. The Salat Mit Hähnchenschnitzel (breaded chicken breast over spinach-potato salad) and the Jägerschnitzel (pork cutlets served with cranberries) are delicious choices for lunch, but there’s also sausages, sauerbraten, Bavarian-style hamburger made with pork and beef, and so much more. Can’t decide? We recommend the sausage tower—six kinds of sausages, two pretzels, sauerkraut, potato salad, mustards and more—but bring a friend or two to share it with. hofbrauhausstlouis.com