City of Dust: A Cement Company Town in the Land of Tom Sawyer. By Gregg Andrews. (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996. Pp. 196. Acknowledgement, introduction, epilogue, bibliography, index. $42.50.)
Perhaps Gregg Andrews is the only person who could have written City of Dust. After all, on the surface the subject matter is relatively unattractive, except to the very few. The author deals with a cement manufacturing plant and its attendant immigrant-laden labor camp, Ilasco. Starting in 1901 an industrial community was located three miles south of Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. There the Atlas Portland Cement Company started to turn the area's limestone bluff outcroppings into a manufactured product needed for the physical development of America and even used in the construction of the Panama Canal.
Before World War I the Ilasco area grew to a population of three thousand. From that high point, however, the community declined. It disappeared in the 1960s, having become a victim of a river-road highway project. The cement manufacturing plant remains today, controlled by a predominantly Swedish-owned concern, the Continental Cement Company.
The stuff of history? Hardly, it would seem. Yet, in the capable hands of historian Andrews, currently a history professor at Southwest Texas State University, the Ilasco story becomes an important one. This native son of the Ilasco area, with his sympathies with the workers, draws a great deal of substance from the subject matter. Along the way he makes contributions to business history, labor history, immigrant history, the history of the immigration restriction movement, urban history, Missouri history, environmental history, the history of technology, and family history. …