The History of Southern Illinois

Stories of Our Land and People

Hundreds of millions of years ago, the land that would become Illinois lay south of the equator beneath a tropical sea roamed by trilobites and other fantastic creatures. Southern Illinois amassed huge coal stores from ancient fern forests and was later shaped by the glaciers of the first Ice Age. Traversed by rivers, ecosystems range from forests to marshlands. Sheltering woods and abundant water attracted Native Americans and later settlers. Surrounded by slave states, Black settlers in southern Illinois bravely conducted the Underground Railroad. Nineteenth century farming, coal mining, and industry flourished with the Illinois Central Railroad. Later, the Civilian Conservation Corps and Illinois Department of Natural Resources helped restore southern Illinois. A modern tradition of innovative higher education has made southern Illinois an international destination. Many cultures enrich our region.


Anne Marie Hamilton-Brehm, Ph.D.