History of Carbondale


In August 1852, Daniel Harmon Brush, pictured left, John Asgill Conner and Dr. William Richart bought 360 acres of land along the right-of-way for the Illinois Central Railroad with the intention of founding a new town. The site chosen was conveniently located between Marion and Murphysboro and between proposed railroad stations at Makanda and DeSoto. The town was platted on November 27, 1852. Not only was the railroad the determining factor in the location of Carbondale, it was to be of great importance in the development of the town and of Southern Illinois. The first train through the town on the main line north from Cairo, on Independence Day, 1854, was the occasion for a community celebration.

Illinois Central Railroad route and stations in Illinois, 1856

By the Civil War, Carbondale had been incorporated as a village and had a population of about 1,150, most of whom were Union sympathizers. Brush, Conner and John A. Logan were among prominent Carbondale citizens who fought for the north. In all, 250 Carbondale men went to war and 55 died. On April 29, 1866, the first Memorial Day was celebrated at Woodlawn Cemetery.

After the war, Carbondale continued to develop as a mercantile and transport center. The railroad made possible the shipping of Southern Illinois coal and fruit. By this time, Carbondale had also become an education center with the founding of Carbondale College, which later became Southern Illinois College (1866). The City was incorporated on August 23, 1873. Carbondale won the bid for the new teacher training school for the region and Southern Illinois Normal University (SINU) opened here in 1874. Instructors began in 1874 for a two-year teacher training program and by 1904 students were enrolled in four-year graduate degree programs and Master’s degree in education started the same year. This gave the town a new industry, new citizens and a model school to supplement the public grade schools.

In the 1890's, SINU continued operations adding additional buildings. The Illinois Central Railroad was thriving and the town's population and commercial ventures grew. Modern conveniences contributed to the town's growth. The Carbondale Electric Company was established in 1891; in 1900, Public Water Works was built; the Carbondale Telephone Company was operating in 1903. By 1906, the town was an established commercial, industrial and education center for the region.

 By action of the Illinois General Assembly, in 1947 SINU was renamed as the Southern Illinois University (SIU) and became a comprehensive research institution. Ph.D. programs started in 1955 and the first doctoral degree was granted in 1959. In 1979, SIU became accredited from the North Central Association. This accreditation is renewed every ten years, and the latest renewal came in 2010 as a “Research University: High Research Activity,” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Student enrollment increased from 2,711 in 1947 to a high of 24,869 in 1991 and the latest figure for fall of 2014 is 17,989. SIU is a large part of the City's economy. The university employs about 40% of Carbondale’s labor force. Being the home of SIUC has given the community cultural activities usually available only in larger cities.

Carbondale is also the hub of medical care in the Southern Illinois region. In 1912, Carrie Holden gave her home in Litchfield, Illinois to the Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church in Southern Illinois to establish a hospital. This came to be The Holden Hospital Corporation of Carbondale, officially opening in 1916 as a non-profit institution for the purpose of healing and care of the sick and needy by the Methodist Church of Southern Illinois. A training school for nurses was established shortly thereafter, and operated until 1936.

In 1924, an addition was built to the original building.  On March 4, 1940, fire destroyed a section of the original building, with damage amounting to $40,000.  By October of 1941, all repairs were made and the new South wing was occupied.  In 1949, the last of the original building was torn down because it had become too much of a fire hazard. In 1955, a fund drive was launched to attempt to raise $220,000 for an expansion program.  The drive failed, and the board recommended closing the hospital, but the Southern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church reorganized the hospital and was able to keep it open. On February 7, 1958, an agreement was reached with the Southern Illinois Hospital Corporation to sell the hospital. After a three-year legal battle, the sale was completed on September 1, 1961.  In 1965, it was announced that Holden Hospital was being consolidated with Doctors Memorial Hospital, and would become primarily an extended care hospital. The hospital property was sold in 1967 to the First National Bank of Carbondale, but the hospital remained in operation until April 15, 1971, when the new wing of Doctors Memorial Hospital was completed and the facilities at Holden were all transferred. Shortly thereafter, the old section of the hospital, built in 1924, was demolished, but the rest of the building was retained as an office building until 1976, when the last of the building was torn down to make way for a parking lot.

Memorial Hospital of Carbondale has been renovated and enlarged with additions of the Prairie Heart Institute, an Out-Patient Surgery center, a level one trauma ER center and a multi-level parking garage. Carbondale’s medical community is a leading facility in Southern Illinois. With over 3,000 employees, along with physicians and volunteers, SIH (Southern Illinois Healthcare) works to ensure that the health care needs of the community is met. Memorial Hospital of Carbondale is the flagship hospital for SIH and regional referral center for the 16 county southern Illinois region. Physicians in nearly 40 different specialties practice in Carbondale.

A few of the highlights of Memorial Hospital in Carbondale is; a 140-bed tertiary care hospital; Southern Illinois’ largest and most spacious birthing center with Level II Plus Special Care Nursery; the only dedicated pediatric unit in the region; the core hospital for SIH’s comprehensive, regional heart program, Prairie Heart Institute; affiliated with SIU School of Medicine through its Family Practice Residency Program, Neuroscience program including neurosurgery and the region’s only Primary Stroke Center. The hospital is accredited by the Commission on Cancer for comprehensive cancer treatment. Carbondale also hosts medical facilities with private practices, sleep centers, imaging centers, professional offices in obstetrics, pediatrics, chiropractic, rehabilitation, surgery and walk-in clinics. Also on the outskirts of Carbondale a 4,050 square foot Cancer Center is located next to Crab Orchard Wildlife Preserve, the center has infused a calm setting to treat patients. Staff members have access to state of the art technology and work space that will improve the level of care patients receive while maintaining patient privacy. In 2016, additional expansion was completed which includes; expansion of the operating rooms from 7 to 10, renovations and additional space for post anesthesia recovery unit, surgical prep area and pre-operative holding. A new Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (ICU), additional private inpatient rooms  and a new same day surgery center.

Carbondale today is a thriving active community. The city of Carbondale operates under a council-manager form of government with a mayor and six city council members elected at-large for four-year staggered terms. The City Manager, a professional hired by the city council, appoints the department heads. The city provides services such as police, fire, development services, public works, and public library. Several boards and commissions allow for citizen participation, bringing more citizens into civic activities. Carbondale is a zoned, home-rule municipality. In 2014, the city made final revision on a new comprehensive plan that lays out goals for the future and ways to accomplish these goals. In Fiscal Year 2015, Carbondale started the process to continue the revitalization of the Downtown area. The formation of a DAC (Downtown Advisory Committee) was implemented and with the input from the community, a plan to develop and restore the downtown has been started.

 The City contracted Houseal & Lavigne Associates to guide future development and to provide a blueprint for improving the Downtown area. A Downtown Advisory Committee (DAC) was formed to work with the City and consultant  to map out a future revitalization plan. Extensive public outreach was conducted throughout the nine-month planning process which also helped define a community’s vision for Downtown. Key components of the Plan include a summary of community feedback and outreach; a demographic and market analysis; a detailed vision with accompanying goals and objectives; a land use and infill redevelopment framework plan, a parking evaluation, a pedestrian mobility and connectivity plan; a beautification, streetscape, and signage plan; and an implementation plan has been presented. Collectively, the Plan will provide elected officials and decision-makers with the long-term vision of the Downtown area and the strategies and tools needed to achieve that vision.

In 2016, parts of the Downtown Plan have been realized with the development of a new apartment building with businesses operating in the first floor revitalizing downtown shopping. Renovations of additional parking have been realized with Kiosk parking stations eliminating parking meters. A bike/pedestrian path is underway drawing more foot traffic. Future developments are in the works for a hotel and transportation center

The city's business districts include a large shopping mall, and several strip malls in all sections of the City featuring a mixture of national chain stores and locally owned businesses. The University Mall, an enclosed shopping center with 677,000 sq. ft. with anchors: J.C. Penny, Macy's, Bed Bath and Beyond and AMC Theaters an 8 Screen Complex. Carbondale also has several open strip malls in all sections of the City. The Murdale Shopping Center is 87,600 sq. ft  with anchors: Neighborhood Food Co-op and Tru-Value. University Place, also an open-air center with 250,000 sq. ft. with anchors: Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy, Petco, AMC Theatre an 8 Screen Complex, TJ Maxx, Party City. There is also Eastgate Shopping Center with anchors: Ashley Furniture and in the Central Business district there is West Park Plaza with 55,332sq.ft of shopping with anchors of Gold’s Gym and Sherwin Williams Paint.

The downtown district is supported by Carbondale Main Street which has listings and information about individual businesses. The Carbondale Chamber of Commerce offers information on local businesses in over 60 categories.

Carbondale is known for a number of yearly festivals and events  including the Lights Fantastic parade in December, the Big Muddy Film Festival (February/March), the Taste of Chocolate (February), the Indian celebration of Diwali (December), the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta (April), the Sunset Concerts (a summer series of free outdoor concerts on the Southern Illinois University campus and in city parks), and Brown Bag Concerts (a spring and fall series of free outdoor concerts in the Town Square Pavilion).


The community of Carbondale is enriched with SIU having a teaching museum on campus, the University Museum, which has 60,000 artifacts in its collection and hosts traveling shows from known artists. In addition to the University Museum, there is the African American Museum and the Science Center. Theater-goers can see both professional and student-produced plays and performances at the university's McLeod and Kleinau Theaters.




SIUC is also home to the largest auditorium in Southern Illinois, Shryock Auditorium. Shryock Auditorium has brought in many performing artists, along with orchestras and other musical productions. There are also productions by The Jackson County Stage Company. In 2007, the Stage Company and Carbondale Community Arts (CCA) partnered to purchase and renovate the Varsity Theatre, which had been vacant since 2003, into the Varsity Center for the Arts (VCA). The VCA is now the performing home of the Stage Company and also supports a variety of other fine arts and performances through the CCA.



As a college town and a magnet for small businesses, there are naturally a variety of flavors in Carbondale. Alongside commercial restaurants, the local eateries faithfully feed both visitors and residents in the Carbondale area.

The Carbondale Park District offers a wide variety of programs to fit the needs of the community. The Park District serves a diverse population with a wide range of interests, our programs and services serve infants, preschoolers, youths, teens, adults and seniors, as well as family interests. The Park District offers special events, instructional lessons, free programs and leisure services.

Carbondale has access to 8 public golf courses, 18 public tennis courts, as well as the Superblock, which is a sports multi-complex with baseball, softball, soccer, football, and track fields. The Carbondale Park District maintains seven parks and an indoor pool for public use. In the spring of 2016, a “splash park” – Outdoor Aquatic Center opened in the “Superblock area” adjacent to Carbondale Community High School. The park features a lazy river, splash areas, competition lanes and slides. This is in addition to the “spray park” the Park District opened in 2010 at Attucks Park.

Southern Illinois University offers its students a Student Recreation Center that offers swimming and sports facilities, intramurals, sport clubs, group fitness programs, outdoor equipment rental, and much more for students and members. The Student Recreation Center also has facilities for meetings and events Also, Southern Illinois University's Recreation Center is open to the public; it provides swimming, bowling, rock climbing walls, tennis, basketball, an indoor track, racquetball, weight training, and a variety of exercise equipment.





Carbondale is located near many venues for outdoor activities, including some 14 parks in the immediate vicinity. These include Giant City State Park, the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Little Grand Canyon, Piney Creek Ravine, Pomona Natural Bridge, the Garden of the Gods Wilderness area, and Trail of Tears State Park. These areas offer opportunities for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

The Southern end of Carbondale, which opens up to the Shawnee National Forest, is also home to many wineries and is the starting point of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail which visits twelve vineyards in scenic settings, offering local wines and dining facilities. Several of the vineyards are bed-and-breakfasts or offer cabins for close accommodations.

Carbondale is also adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest; one of the area's most stunning natural resources. Bordered on the east and west by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Shawnee National Forest flourishes with vegetation, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. With 270,000 acres, it provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the Midwest. Shawnee National Forest lies in the rough, unglaciated areas of southern Illinois, known as the Ozark and Shawnee Hills. The area offers more than 135 miles of trails as well as opportunities to picnic, swim, and view wildlife.

 Surrounded by farm land, Carbondale is home of several outdoor farmer’s markets. Recently named by Midwest Living as the 3rd pick for the Best of 2016 summer trips, the Farmers Market of Carbondale, in its 41st year, host area farmers to show and sell their wares on every Saturday, April thru November.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge's 44,000 acres of land and water contain a wide diversity of flora and fauna. Major habitat types on the refuge include hardwood forest, agricultural land, grazing units, brushland, wetlands, and lakes. The refuge provides significant resting areas for migratory birds utilizing the Mississippi Flyway. Wintering numbers of Canada Geese can peak at 200,000. A total of 700 plant species, 245 bird species, 33 mammal species, 63 fish species, and 44 reptile and amphibian species have been documented on the refuge. The western 24,000 acres of the refuge provide a wide range of recreational opportunities and also includes 4,050-acre wilderness area. The eastern portion, 20,000 acres, is a wildlife sanctuary, and public use is limited.


Five minutes south of Carbondale is the city reservoir, Cedar Lake a 1,750-acre reservoir in Southern Illinois that was created by the damming of Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Big Muddy River in 1974. The lake is located in Jackson County, southwest of Carbondale and accessible from U.S. Highway 51.  The lake was constructed for the purpose of supplying tap water to the residents of Carbondale. Cedar Lake is also open to kayaking, canoeing and fishing.

The City owns and maintains a public beach and boat dock at Cedar Lake. The beach is best known for its family atmosphere and beautiful scenery and fishermen enjoy regular success reeling in crappie and bass amid the beautiful coves surrounded by towering bluffs.  The north access features several dramatic rock bluffs and secluded bays. Other lakes nearby include Little Grassy Lake, Devils Kitchen Lake, Crab Orchard Lake, and Kinkaid Lake.


Weblinks for the History of Carbondale

Carbondale Historic Preservation Plan
Photographs of Historic Places in Town
Historic Woodlawn Cemetery


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