ILASCO, Mo. | ILASCO's rich tapestry of immigrants who settled in the early 1900's resonates through the region today, and descendants of the settlers of the company town for the former Atlas Portland Cement Company are regularly working on maintenance and renovation projects for the village's monuments.
The Atlas Portland Cement Company plant was built in the early 1900s, and the village of ILASCO began as immigrants from Eastern European countries like Romania, Slovakia, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine settled the village three miles south of Hannibal, near the plant which became Continental Cement Company, said Andrea (Babyak) Farr, president and secretary of the ILASCO Area Historical Preservation Society. Employees at the plant made cement for projects including the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal. Farr,her great-grandfather, grandfather and father represent four generations of the Babyak family who worked at the cement plant, and she works today with fellow ILASCO Area Historical Preservation Society board members to preserve the history of the village which was founded in 1901 and grew to more than 3,000 residents during its heyday.
Farr's great-grandfather, Ondrej Babjak, and great-grandmother, Maria Kamenska Babjakova, (their names were changed to Ondrey and Maria Babyak), arrived in the United States with their daughter, Mary. Ondrej Babyak began his career at the plant, but Farr's grandfather, Ondrej Babjak, stayed in present-day Slovakia with family until finances improved.
When he arrived in the United States during his teenage years, Farr's grandfather's name was changed to Andrew Robert Babyak, and he joined the plant's workforce like his father. Ondrey Babyak died after a large rock in the quarry crushed his leg, requiring amputation which led to a fatal case of gangrene. He was 36 at the time, and Farr said ILASCO's history includes the multi-ethnic immigration to the company town, dangerous conditions in the quarries, kilns and crushing plants of the time along with economic booms and busts of the era. Babyak's funeral was the first one held at the ILASCO Holy Cross Chapel where Farr was baptized and attended worship services for many years.
Andrew Robert Babyak had two children, Melinda (Babyak) Wright, Farr's aunt, and Andy Babyak Jr., Farr's father. He retired from Continental Cement Company after 43 years in 2003 as a process engineer. Farr began her career with Continental Cement Company before she graduated from college, working as a chemist in the alternative fuel laboratory in 1988. She returned for a second stint from 1999-2014.
Farr said many Hannibal residents moved to the village during its peak years, but as the founding immigrant residents had children and passed away, the members of the succeeding generations gradually moved away. But the tapestry of history is on full display for visitors to the village's immigrant monument area — ILASCO was a “cement town” from its inception, and its name is an acronym for the ingredients used to make Portland cement: iron, limestone, alumina, silica, calcium, and oxygen.
ILASCO Area Historical Preservation Society board members Farr, David Polc, Sally Polc, Melinda (Babyak) Wright, Jacky (Brothers) Imhof, Darryl Kolarik, Bill Northcutt, Angela Brown and Terri Wade work together to maintain the village monuments, and Farr said generous donors have fueled renovation and improvement projects like the flags greeting visitors as they cross the bridge, memorial markers of the schools and churches of ILASCO, the restored jail and the rejuvenated murals on the village's store and tavern buildings. The store's wall bears a regularly maintained mural with “ILASCO GROCERY” across the top and a vintage “Pepsi” logo. The adjacent tavern had a faded mural facing Highway 79 which read “Al's Tavern” across the brick wall. Ray Harvey restored the mural in summer 2019. Farr said the tavern is used today for the union hall for Continental Cement employees.
More information about the history of ILASCO is available by visiting the Hannibal Free Public Library website and clicking on the “Immigrant Community of ILASCO: 1901-1965” under the Hannibal history section. The ILASCO Area Historic Preservation Society holds monthly luncheons which have been temporarily postponed due to COVID- 19, but they plan to resume the gatherings in 2021.