The following is an edited version of a chapter of my thesis project taking a brief look at the history of my hometown, Centralia, IL. While I knew a lot of what I came across during my research, I also came across a lot that I didn’t know. For those of you who are from the Centralia area, I really encourage you to do some research on the city. There’s an incredible amount of information and history behind the town, some of it incredibly interesting. For those of you not from the Centralia area, I suggest you do some research into your own hometown. You never know what you may dig up, for example, I found out through my research that I grew up within a mile of the largest oil producing fields east of the Mississippi River in the 1940’s. Sure there’s evidence as there’s oil derricks still in the fields today, but I’d have never imagined the magnitude and impact those fields had on the surrounding region.
The history of the city begins around 1852, when the Illinois Central Railroad was being developed and laid out. Ground was broken for the railroad in what was later to be called Centralia in 1854. Because accommodations were needed for the men that would be working on the railroad, cottages, cabins, and structures for necessities quickly sprang up close by. The city was later named Centralia in honor of the Illinois Central. As the railroad neared completion numerous types of businesses and services began showing up around the train depot, from churches and doctors, to attorneys and orchards. The State Fair was held in Centralia in 1858, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephan A. Douglas would both attend and make appearances as part of their campaign during the 1858 campaign for U.S. Senator from Illinois. On March 1st , 1859, a charter was adopted and Centralia officially became a city. Elections were set to elect municipal officials. Centralia was an important city during the Civil War. With it being a transportation hub for the region, military men could be trained and easily moved via railroad all over the country. Railroads from Chicago connected to Centralia in 1882 and from Louisville, St. Louis, and Evansville, IN in 1887. As the railroad flourished after it was finished, the coal industry built up steam in the early 1870’s as a seven foot vein of coal was discovered, and an eight foot vein found just a decade later. In 1906, the Central Coal Mining Company organized and a year later, coal was found in their No. 5 shaft.