[From the November 2021 ECHA Newsletter]
In the late 19th Century, N.O. Nelson located a suitable site to found his factory town just outside the city limits of Edwardsville. Nelson, a wealthy businessman from Missouri, wanted to build a cooperative town where employees were not exploited as cheap sources of labor, but treated as integral stakeholders of the company. In 1890, the Village of Leclaire was founded, named by the factory workers in honor of Edmund Leclaire, a pioneer of profit-sharing.
The N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Company provided clean and safe working conditions within the factory, along with fair wages and profit-sharing for its employees. Education was provided to all children in the Village, free of charge. There were ample recreation opportunities, including swimming and ice skating at Leclaire Lake. Most importantly, N.O. Nelson understood the importance of supplying affordable housing to his workers.
Nelson sold homes to his employees at below market prices, slightly above the cost of materials and labor. He setup payment plans which were based upon a worker’s salary and family size. Payments were suspended if a family fell on hard times due to injury or illness. These initiatives put the prospect of homeownership within reach for all factory workers, which was a rarity during this time.
The quality of life that was established in Leclaire did not go unnoticed. Papers from Chicago, New York and Los Angeles wrote of the standard that Nelson set for the Village. Leclaire was a great experiment whose history should instill civic pride in all Edwardsvillians.
When we talk about affordable housing in 2021, it is not uncommon that we field this question: ‘Edwardsville is a great city, why do you want to change that?’ Our response is this: caring for others and improving housing equity is within our nature. It is part of our collective DNA. We are a better city today because of N.O. Nelson.
Growing our affordable housing stock will only make us a better city for the future.