Roadside History of Illinois
Stan Banash - Special Introduction by Dee Brown
Illinois comprises more than 1,200 incorporated cities, towns, and villages, each with a
history of its own. Writing about each municipality would be a Herculean task, and I
had to omit many more stories than I would have liked. The communities selected for
this book were associated, for the most part, with people and events that helped to mold
and define our state. I established criteria for each choice—perhaps a prominent person
was born there, lived there, or contributed in a significant way to local, state, or national
history, or maybe it was the site of a major event.
When I began researching this book, I found myself asking: Is it possible that one
person—Abraham Lincoln—actually made such a profound impact in all corners of
Illinois? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Lincoln’s role in this state’s history was monumental,
and his influence extended the length and breadth of Illinois. Among Lincoln’s
many contributions were his service in the Black Hawk War, as a traveling attorney in
the Eighth Judicial Circuit, as representative in the state legislature, as a campaigner for
Whig presidential candidates, as a representative in the U.S. Congress, as a participant in
seven statewide senatorial debates, and as an American president.
I believed it was important to include troubling events along with positive ones.
Slavery and its prejudicial laws; the Trail of Tears; Indian depredations Fort Dearborn,
Hutsonville, Wood River, and other early settlements; the Haymarket Square Riot; the
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; and many more distasteful happenings are still subjects of
heated debate and intense emotion. Yet the innovations that came out of Illinois were
momentous: the G.I. Bill of Rights; the Plan of Chicago; Hull-House; modern dentistry;
and myriad agricultural inventions as well as cultural creations from the Ferris Wheel
to the fly swatter and from Raggedy Ann to Dairy Queen. All, for good or bad, were
part of our state’s history, and all have the potential to help us better understand the past,
appreciate the present, and plan the future.
As with the other titles in the Roadside History series, this book is organized along
roadways. Some trips stick to major interstates, others follow official scenic byways, and
a few wind along county roads. Many of these routes trace old Indian trails, wagon roads,
military roads, or railroad lines. The view from some of these roads has not changed
much in more than a century, rolling through the same countryside where early settlers
drove their wagons and livestock. Along the way, the contributions of hardworking pioneer
families are reflected in small communities and modern cities alike.
Depending on the season and locale, travelers may enjoy verdant fields of corn and
grazing cattle, gentle prairies blanketed with wildflowers, placid lakes edged with mosscovered
limestone, wide rivers rushing through narrow canyons, or cypress swamps
where the tip of an ancient glacier ended its southward descent thousands of years ago.
In addition to its abundant natural beauty, Illinois contains hundreds of historical sites,
museums, and cultural landmarks.
This book’s tours are designed to help both visitors and residents discover and savor
the historical, cultural, and ecological opulence of this great state. It is my hope that
readers will find Roadside History of Illinois entertaining, informative, and even enlightening.
If it inspires just one person to further explore the Prairie State and its remarkable
history, then it will have served its purpose.