Establishment & Incorporation
In August 1852, Daniel Harmon Brush, 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, but it was also to be of great importance in the development of the town and of Southern Illinois. The first train through the town on the mainline north from Cairo, on Independence Day, 1854, was the occasion for a community celebration.
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 have enrolled in four-year graduate degree programs and a 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 1890s, SINU continued operations by 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 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 by 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 the fall of 2021 was 11,266. 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.