All ghost towns have a fascinating history, and Schoper, Illinois is no different.
Located about eight miles from Carlinville, the town of Schoper (also known as Standard City) was originally Thomas Schoper’s 500-acre family farm. In 1918, Standard Oil of Indiana bought the farm (literally) from Schoper, and sunk a 300-feet deep coal mine.
After a coal shortage in 1917, Standard Oil wanted a reliable supply of coal to call their own. The coal was used to fire the stills that refined crude oil and turned it into gasoline.
After the completion of several gelogocial surveys (commissioned by Standard Oil), it was discovered that there was a seven-foot tall seam of coal in the ground at Schoper. As an added bonus, Schoper was near The Chicago and Alton rail line, 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 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, 12 were built in Schoper and 24 went to Wood River.
The 12 houses were built for the supervisors at the “Schoper Mine.” There were also boarding houses and dorms built at Schoper, for the miners.
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 closed for good.
Nine of the 12 little Sears Houses were painstakingly disassembled and left Schoper the same way they came in: In pieces and loaded on a boxcar, headed off to destinations unknown.
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.
And that was the whole story – until last month – when a reader sent me an email with new information. I’m not sure how he did it, but he found 1930s aerial maps of Schoper, which showed the footprints (and precise location) of the 12 little Sears Homes.
Scroll on down to enjoy the many photos, including the vintage aerial photo from 1937!
To see the original vintage map, click here.
To read more about Carlinville’s kit homes, click here.
The above was excerpted from The Houses That Sears Built. To buy the book, click here.
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I think those are actually “crop squares”, which are very similar to “crop circles” that indicate where alien spaceships have landed. 🙂
I believe that large structure in your third photograph is a tipple.
Coal was carried to the top by mine carts or a conveyor belt, then dumped down the chute to a waiting railroad hopper car for transport.
It is a tipple, and pully systems and conveyers were used in the crushing of coal. It’s likely that this mine did this with all of its coal.
Margaret and Paula are right about this structure, it is what was used to hoist coal from the vain of coal below and deposit it into the coal car in the picture.
It’s a real relic of the past. Thanks for the pictures. BTW, I’m a retired/ coal miner.
I love learning more about these Sears homes and the Schoper Power House.
I went to Blackburn College 1990-1994 and would visit the Schoper Power House.
That building was awe inspiring. I still have a lightning rod from the smokestack.
I lived in Schoper, Illinois from in 1959 to 1961.