Being just 5 nautical miles upriver from the Port of St. Louis, the Port of Granite City is part of the St. Louis metropolitan area. Located in Madison County, Illinois, the Port of Granite City is part of the Mississippi River System. It is also 150 kilometers (92 miles) south-southeast of Beardstown, Illinois, and some 340 nautical miles upriver (379 kilometers or 235 miles by air) north of Memphis, Tennessee. The 2010 Census reported that almost 30 thousand people called the Port of Granite City home.
Pre-Columbian populations that occupied the Port of Granite City area represented the Mississippian Culture, a mound-building indigenous people that thrived from about 800 AD until European began to arrive in around 1500 AD.
The first white settlers appeared in the Port of Granite City area in the early 1800s. Settlers found the fertile lands to the east of St. Louis as a promising place to start a new life. In the 1830s, a settlement began to grow up in the area of the future Port of Granite City. Called Six Mile, the farming area was only ten kilometers (six miles) northeast of St. Louis.
By 1865, a railroad passed through what would become the Port of Granite City. Founded in 1896, the Port of Granite City was a planned company town created by Frederick and William Niedringhaus, German immigrants who established a kitchen supplies factory on the site.
The Niedringhaus brothers had operated an iron works in St. Louis since 1866 that made kitchen utensils. William Niedringhaus learned about an enamelware process where utensils were coated to prevent oxidation. Applying for a patent in 1878, the granite patterned enamel-coated metal utensils became very popular. Brother Frederick, as a one-term Congressman, was instrumental in passage of a tariff that promoted the United States' steel industry, including their Port of Granite City plant.
In 1891, they planned to establish the Port of Granite City and purchased 14 square kilometers (3500 acres) that included the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Employees of the Niedringhaus had to live in the Port of Granite City, and their mortgages were held by the brothers. Luckily for the Port of Granite City residents, city government was independent from the factory owners. However, African-Americans lived five kilometers (three miles) in Brooklyn, Illinois, as they were not allowed to live in the Port of Granite City.
The plant prospered and, at its height, employed over four thousand people and occupied over 28 acres. In the 1950s, when new materials like stainless steel, aluminum, and Pyrex appeared in the market, iron-based utensils fell out of favor.
In the 21st Century, the Port of Granite City is home to several big manufacturers including such giants as US Steel, Kraft Foods, Capri-Sun, ADM Packaged Oils, Prairie Farms, Precoat Metals, and American Steel. The Port of Granite City is also home to clothing retailer Glik's.
The Tri-Cities area includes the Port of Granite City, Madison, and Venice, Illinois. A duty-free port, the Tri-City Port District is located on the Granite City Canal and is a locating facility for barges carrying mainly farm products.
The US Army Corps of Engineers embarked on the biggest civil works project of the day when it began to construct the Chain of Rocks Canal and Locks and Dam 27 in the late 1940s. The Corps had found that building the 13-kilometer (8-mile) long navigable waterway would be less costly than forever dredging the Mississippi River channel. The new waterway would provide year-round navigation for all river vessels, including barges.
Construction was finished in 1952, creating a new and promising opportunity for the Port of Granite City. Recognizing the potential, local attorney Randall Robertson crafted authorizing legislation for the Tri-City Port that was signed by Governor William Stratton in 1959.
The legislation created an organization that would use the waterway system to promote regional economic development. It invested power in the Tri-City Port of Granite City, Madison, and Venice with the right to issue bonds, exercise eminent domain, levy local taxes, and operate the airports. The new Port of Granite City organization was governed by a seven-member board of commissioners who set policy and future directions of the port. The Port of Granite City's first executive director was Retired Coast Guard Commander John Barron.
In 1960, the Port of Granite City Tri-City Port District secured by land lease with the Corps of Engineers its first property. With no tenants, few tenants, and limited State appropriations, early growth of the Port of Granite City was slow. However, the National Marine Service planned to establish a bulk liquid facility in the Port of Granite City.
By 1966, the Port District leased 276 acres from the Corps, and the first significant amount of cargo moved through the National Marine Terminal when 39 rail cars of soybean oil were shipped by barge to New Orleans. In 1969, the first on-site office was constructed, housing both the port staff and Bulk Service, still a major port terminal operator. In 1976, the Port of Granite City shipped its first one million tons of cargo.
In 1976, Apex Oil Company expanded the liquid terminal, adding storage tanks for petroleum-based products. Bulk Service also expanded and improved their terminal. Having established a significant regular international trade, Foreign Trade Zone #31 was approved in 1977.
In 1981, the Port of Granite City obtained rail service to the docks and harbor through the Norfolk Southern Corporation, increasing the port's ability to handle larger quantities of grains.
In 1983, the Corps of Engineers release a report that recognized the Port of Granite City as the best candidate for barge and harbor facility expansions. The same year, the Port of Granite City handled 2.5 million tons of cargo worth more than $600 million, more than any other public port in Illinois. When it celebrated its 25th anniversary, the Tri-City Port District and the Port of Granite City was the leading port in the St. Louis area and the US Inland Waterway System.
By the mid-1980s, the Port of Granite City and Port District's main material-handling terminals were firmly established. These included the public general cargo dock, steel products dock, public liquid terminal, fertilizer terminal, and two public dry bulk terminals. The Port of Granite City continued to enhance existing facilities, create new industrial facilities, add warehouse and open storage space, and improve utilities and transportation through the beginning of the 21st Century.
In 2000, the US Army Depot next to the Port of Granite City was closed. Containing large tracts of commercial and industrial property as well as access to class-one railroads and the Mississippi River south of the last lock and dam on the River, the Depot property was crucial to continued expansion and success of the Port of Granite City. In 2002, the ownership of the Army Depot was transferred to the Tri-City Port District and the Port of Granite City through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2001.
In 2002, the first 545 acres of the total 840 acres was transferred in a ceremony to the Tri-City Regional Port District. The Port of Granite City changed the name of the property to River's Edge. Within the first two years, the Port of Granite City entered into leases with government tenants. The leases went far in covering operating costs.
The same year, the Port of Granite City leased the Depot's 100-acre golf course to the St. Andrews Golf Club and restaurant and arranged for the Tri-City Area YMCA to open a day care center at River's Edge. Expansion of the North Harbor also continued, including one of the United States' biggest polymer-modified asphalt plants. Other groups added community-oriented facilities in River's Edge.
In 2004, the Port of Granite City opened a new small business incubator called the River's Edge Enterprise Center. The Center offers offices, conference room, equipment, and services to start-up businesses, the first graduate being Jaros Technologies.
In 2006, the Port of Granite City entered into a new effort, leasing about 46 acres of property on the Mississippi River for a new harbor at River's Edge. The site had been used as a harbor by the US Army during World War II.
A 2007 economic impact analysis found that the Port of Granite City and Tri-City Port District provided over 1300 jobs and $66 million in labor compensation in Madison County. The Port of Granite City also generated $10 million in state and local taxes.
Since it was created in 1959, the Tri-City Regional Port District and the Port of Granite City has created employment, facilitated the growth of new businesses, and enhanced multi-modal transportation in the region. The Port of Granite City has provided incomparable support to the local economy and to regional growth and development.