According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.1 square miles (15.7 km²), of which, 6.1 square miles (15.7 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.33%) is water.
Wood River is located on the Mississippi River approximately upstream of downtown St. Louis, Missouri among several coterminus cities and villages that have come to be known as the "Riverbend" area. The current confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers is just south of one of these neighboring villages, Hartford. Before both rivers changed course the confluence was at Wood River and served as the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Other cities making up the "Riverbend" include Alton, East Alton, Godfrey, Roxana and Bethalto.
Many local businesses, schools, streets and bridges still bear the names Lewis, Clark or both. Wood River has a Lewis & Clark School, neighboring Roxana has a Clark Street, Wood River has a Lewis Street, and the bridge over the Mississippi River at Alton is the Clark Bridge. Going further west from the Clark Bridge on U.S. Route 67, a traveler will then cross the Missouri River on the Lewis Bridge.
A century after Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery left the area, what is now Wood River was largely empty save for a few farmhouses and railroad tracks. That all changed in 1907, when Standard Oil Company came to town, building and opening a refinery in 1908. Workers began to flood into the area to work at the refinery and in 1907, A. E. Benbow, a local entrepreneur, founded Benbow City, a wide open town of saloons, gambling and brothels. The City of Wood River was incorporated in 1908 and developed around Benbow City. Wood River and East Wood River merged in 1911 and annexed Benbow City in 1917.
In the 1920s, Wood River was the one of the fastest growing communities in the country and had more workers than houses. To solve this problem Standard Oil bought and built many Sears and Roebuck catalog homes which can still be seen throughout the community. At the time, Standard Oil employed nearly 90% of the city's workers. In 1925, East Alton Wood River Community High School opened.
The refinery closed in 1981, and the city has proposed to clean up the site and build an office park on the property. The site of the former refinery occupies roughly 20 percent of the city’s land area.
In 1926, the City opened what was then the world's largest swimming pool. However over the years the age of the large swimming pool began to show. After serving the community for more than six decades, it was replaced by the Wood River Aquatic Center in the late 1980s. It can be found near East Alton Wood River Community High School. The Aquatic Center is a complete water recreation complex located at 670 Whitelaw Ave. The Aquatic Center Water Complex consists of: Twin four-story water slides that end in a four foot deep pool, a 50-meter lap pool, a separate diving well with one and three meter diving boards, a wading pool for small children, observation deck, men’s and women’s locker rooms and concession stand.
While Standard Oil no longer does business in Wood River, its legacy remains. The local high school, East Alton Wood River Community High School, is known as the East Alton Wood River Oilers.
A major employer in Wood River remains Olin Corporation in East Alton, which is commonly referred to by locals as "the Western". This comes from one of Olin's predecessor companies, the Western Cartridge Company.
Wood River provides seven major parks with over of facilities. Belk Park consists of and is the largest park in the City, located on Rock Hill Road at the eastern edge of the city. In addition to the 18-Hole Championship Golf Course, the present facilities include a lake with fishing, picnic areas, a ball field, children's playground equipment, shelters, woodland and open space. Belk Park Golf Course, is visited by more than 50,000 golfers each year and is recognized as one of the premier public courses in the Midwest.
Other parks include Brushey Grove Park, Central Park (home to the Aquatic Center and Roundhouse), East End Park, West End Park, the Emerick Sports Comlex (formerly known as Sixth Street Park) and the Wood River Soccer and Skate Park.
Brent Smith was born here.
There were 4,725 households out of which 29.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.2% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.6% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.1% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 28.7% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 16.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 90.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,875, and the median income for a family was $41,688. Males had a median income of $35,097 versus $24,522 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,098. About 13.2% of families and 14.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 21.2% of those under age 18 and 10.6% of those age 65 or over.
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