Posts By Kent Williamson

The Big Inch: How Norris City Made History During World War II

You might not realize it when visiting the small 1300-person town, but Norris City was an important component in the United States fight against the German nazis. And we might forget, were it not for Ed Oliver, an 81-year-old man who was originally appointed the town historian in the 1970s by the then-mayor. When reliving those days, he says, “They never did fire me.”

When the United States entered World War II, oil was still being transported primarily on seafaring tankers which, not too surprisingly, were important targets for the German submarines. Take one of them out, and that means other boats don’t have the needed fuel to make a scheduled trip. And of course that fuel was hugely important for land vehicles as well. 

German subs sank at least 233 American vessels in the first six months of 1942 alone. 

That’s why the U.S. needed a new way to transport fuel quickly, efficiently, and across long distances. And it didn’t take long for the country to find an alternative: oil pipelines. One of the most important was called the “Big Inch.” You might’ve guessed that one segment of the 1253-mile line passed right through Norris City.

$35 million was granted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to being construction of the Big Inch, which would transport oil from East Texas oil fields directly to where it was needed in the Northeast.

It was in Norris City that the quickly completed pipeline was dedicated on February 19, 1943, instantly putting the small town on the national map.

Oliver remembered, “NBC Radio came here. They broadcast live from Norris City on their network nationwide. Paramount studios came with a camera crew, and it became a newsreel shown all over the country.”

Oliver was only five when the big day arrived, though.

He said, “The main thing I remember is all the rationing. Whenever my father needed new tires on the truck, he was considered an essential business, so they sent him a special ration of tires. I can remember seeing all the used tires piled up to recycle.”

Although he has a lot of pride in his town and how important it was during the war effort, Oliver says it’s sad that no one seems to remember the massive effort that went into the Big Inch’s construction.

“They ran this thing seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You cannot overestimate how important it was. Yet people have no idea.”

But he recently fought for a commemorative plaque — a 250-word historical marker to help people remember what they were a part of creating.

New Casino Finally Approved In Southern Illinois

Anyone who has watched the most recent season of Ozark probably has a good idea of how difficult it is to get a new casino approved anywhere in the United States. Generally, states only allow a certain number of casinos to operate within their borders (wouldn’t want to increase the level of debauchery too much, else the church will start trying to tear you down). Anyway, officials have announced a new casino will be built at the Walker’s Bluff Winery in Carterville.

The move was made by the Williamson County Board.

Construction is expected to begin as soon as possible — but that might include at least a year of waiting. They can’t get underway until the Illinois Gaming Board approves the casino as well. And who knows if that will even happen. 

Cynde and David Bunch have been trying to get a license to build a casino for a while. It was only this year that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed off on a bill that would allow industries reliant on gambling to grow and expand a little more. He and other officials believe that Walker’s Bluff Winery represents the opportunity for substantial economic growth in the region — and that’s something sorely needed in Southern Illinois.

There are at least five other new casinos in the works — but that isn’t all. Illinois also recently legalized gambling involving sports, which means everyone can start placing bets on their favorite teams.

All these changes stem from SB 690, which was sponsored by Senator Terry Link (D-Indian Creek). It was passed in a 46-10 vote. 

Apparently Link has been at this for a while: “I’ve only been doing this for 20 years to get this done, and it’s a little emotional,” he said.

According to estimates, the initiative will boost revenue in the state by a whopping $12 billion over six years.

Link said, “This key piece of legislation really is going to make an economic difference of keeping our dollars home….thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in construction across the state.”

Governor Pritzker said, “Legalized sports betting and expanding gaming will create jobs up and down the state…where communities hungry for employment will see 10,000 new jobs…Gaming expansions in this state have been attempted and failed for years. Today is a win for the whole state.”

Is Southernmost Illinois Getting Smaller Over Time?

Sometimes people forget that Illinois is a vast state that expands over 57,913 square miles, and that Chicago isn’t all there is to explore there. That’s especially true since the lion’s share of Illinois residents live in the city. The farther south you travel, the fewer people you’re likely to find. That’s upsetting to some residents of Southernmost Illinois, because they feel their taxes aren’t going into projects that have any benefit or impact on their lives.

And certainly it gives people the mistaken idea that most of Illinois isn’t a great place to live.

According to criminal defense lawyer Jared Staucet — originally from Florida — Illinois is a great place to live based on a number of metrics: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, Illinois has something for everyone. The crime rates are relatively low, the outdoors provides enough adventure to last a lifetime, and its affordability is a big draw for people with low incomes. That’s especially true for those who prefer to live out in the country. I’m always trying to get my friends to move here.”

But still, many communities in the south feel like their voices have been unheard for a long time.

This is especially true for towns where the economy is faltering, like Murphysboro. When one region of a state is struggling while the rest prosper and grow, it can create a vicious cycle of decline. People will decide they don’t want to live there anymore, and then move away to a place where the pastures are greener. Those who remain are more likely to be elderly. In that way, the median income declines substantially over time, and the towns become poorer.

Cities are still growing, and many residents of rural communities experiencing population loss blame that trend for their struggles. 

The good news is this: new technologies like driverless cars and electric vehicles are expected to boom over the next decade. When the explosion happens, people will be more likely to spread out again. If you can take a nap or read a book during your morning commute, more people are likely to travel bigger distances.

That means people who live in cities now will look to less expensive regions in the future. Those who live in smaller country towns will be more likely to stay where they are while commuting to the city, where they may have found a higher paying job. In other words, driverless and electric vehicles will spread the wealth a bit more equally, a great reality for both the economy and democracy.

Move To Southernmost Illinois If You Want A Job According To New Jobs Report

If you cannot find a job anywhere else in Illinois, your best move might be the Carbondale-Marion metropolitan area, where more jobs were added to the local economy than anywhere else in the state in the last twelve months. This is according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (or BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (or IDES).

For the last nineteen years, most added jobs were farm-related — and that’s an occupation more and more young people are staying away from — but IDES reported that the majority of the new jobs were unrelated to the farming industry.

Jobs were actually added in all metropolitan areas of Illinois in the last year, but Carbondale-Marion added the most. 

The number of jobs there went up by a respectable 2.3 percent during the time period. That’s 1,300 new jobs in Carbondale-Marion and 9,900 in all of Lake County. Other good places to add to your new job search are Harrisburg and Olney-Mount Carmel, which both added close to six hundred each.

Across all of Illinois, the jobs report indicated over 78,000 jobs were added. This is the biggest period of job growth recorded since July 2015. 

SIU Carbondale Professor John Jackson said, “The Fiscal Year 2018 and ‘19 numbers have slowly been ratcheting up and now, in the first month of FY ‘20, we’re finally getting back to the baseline that would’ve been FY ‘15, before the gridlock. Obviously this report does not support the narrative of those who insist that the sky is falling, in Southern Illinois or in the state as a whole.”

It’s worth mentioning that job reports such as these fail to recognize a number of factors when considering unemployment — including those who want a job but have stopped searching or those who aren’t bothering to look at all. Both factors could paint a spectacularly bleaker picture than what the two organizations presented, but for now the news seems to be on the bright side.

Many have attributed the growth to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s budget balancing skills: the new budget went into effect July 1, which means we’re only now seeing the first results. Pritzker has implemented a number of new projects related to infrastructure, and plans to begin construction on schools. 

Deputy Governor Dan Hynes said, “This administration will continue to build on our momentum with policies that invest in our future. That’s why Governor Pritzker worked hard to pass a balanced budget that makes historic investments in education and a bipartisan capital bill that will help grow our economy for years to come.”

Fun Facts About The Shawnee National Forest In Southernmost Illinois

The boundaries of the Shawnee National Forest were established as a means of protecting the quickly deteriorating forests of Southernmost Illinois in the early 20th century when foresting projects and logging companies had scoured much of the region. Worst of all were the consequences of the projects: farmers were unable to preserve the fertility of the soil at around the same time WWI began, and inevitably moved their family to larger population centers where they could find high-paying work.

Finally, the United States Federal Government set aside 290,000 acres in Southernmost Illinois for a new preserve: Shawnee National Forest.

  1. Shawnee was constructed. Some of the lands that were set aside for the forest had already been cleared by the aforementioned foresting projects. In order for the “national forest” to be born, it first had to be planted. Those who were set to this task planted 62 acres of pine seedlings, but they also serviced 128 miles of roadway, set up telephone poles, and constructed fire towers. Of course, they did a lot more.

  2. The Shawnee National Forest Mint. A quarter featuring the forest was released in 2016 as part of a program to spread awareness about our country’s national forests and parks. This particular quarter is popular, and has helped spur new tourism to the state.

  3. Shawnee was an economic boon. It is one of 155 national forests in the United States, but the only one in all of Illinois. The forest drives millions of dollars worth of tourism to the area and at least 75 federal workers keep the operation running. About a million people visit every year to hike, ride horses, camp, backpack, walk or run, swim, help maintain trails, or take photographs of their adventures.

  4. Logging still occurs in Shawnee. Logging has always been part of the national forest’s history, but the practice creates a fair amount of strife between environmentalists and those who work there. Protesters took it up a notch when they camped out for 79 days in 1990, trying to prevent one of the logging projects from taking place. Although timber is technically a “renewable” resource, the organisms that live in those trees are not.

  5. The Underground Railroad operated there. Before the Shawnee National Forest was built, the region was used as a station for the Underground Railroad. Sand Cave is an assumed shelter for some of the slaves who passed through the region, and stories also say that Crow Knob was used as a point at which signal fires could be set to help guide some to freedom.

Why You Should Visit The Lincoln Home National Historic Site

On your way to explore the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois, you’ll find other major historic attractions in the region such as the Lincoln Log Cabin, the Vandalia Statehouse, and the Looking for Lincoln Story Trail. Obviously there’s plenty to see, but not everyone does. As is so often the case, the people who live in southernmost Illinois are sometimes the ones least likely to experience the history attached to these places!

You might not know that Abraham Lincoln’s parents, Thomas and Sara Bush (who was his stepmother), were two of the first to settle the local area. Historians have preserved as much of the mid-1800s landmarks as possible so people will know what it was like to live in Lincoln’s shoes when times were simpler.

Charleston was also the agreed upon arena where the fourth Lincoln Douglas Debate occurred. 12,000 people were there to see the grand spectacle. That was a lot of people back then!

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in downtown Springfield marks the site on which Lincoln’s only house stood. Abraham and Mary lived there together for seventeen years. It was built in 1839 and opened to public tours starting in 1887. Since then it was restored to appear as it did in 1860.

The Lincolns raised four sons in that home, and one even died there. The two-floor building houses twelve rooms. In addition to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, you’ll also be able to visit the nearby Lincoln Tomb while exploring Springfield.

Those who wish to see it should be ready for a wait unless they’re in line early, because hundreds of thousands of tourists fight over a spot on the free 15-person tours every day. If interested, you must acquire a ticket in the Lincoln Home Visitor Center. Tours last an average of 25 minutes. You’ll be walked through the formal parlor, sitting room, dining room, guest bedroom, Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom, Mary Lincoln’s bedroom, two more bedrooms meant for a child and/or the hired help, kitchen, and then outside in the backyard to explore the other buildings on the property.

If you would prefer to take a virtual tour, you may do so online.

Other historic buildings still standing in Springfield include the Old State Capitol (Abraham Lincoln served there during his time as a state legislator) and the Lincoln Depot. These landmarks are some of the greatest reminders of our past, and travelers should put them on the collective bucket list to ensure they continue to thrive well into the future!

Who Is Black Hawk?

Black Hawk, whose Native American name was Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak was born in 1767 in Rock Island, Illinois. He was a leader of many Native American tribes such as Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, and Ho-Chunk. He is most famously known for defying the United States Government after 50 million acres of Native American land were promised to the government from the Treaty of St. Louis in 1804. His decision led to the Black Hawk War in 1832.

Black Hawk did not appreciate white men settling on his land and opted to side with the British during the War of 1812 in hopes of preventing more settlers encroaching on his territory. After being forced to move to Iowa, he banded together with a group of roughly 1000 Native Americans and attempted to recross the Mississippi River to settle back into Illinois, prompting Governor John Renolds to call in a militia.

At first, Black Hawk’s band was able to hold their own, especially during the Battle of Stillman’s Run. As weeks went on, the Native Americans did not fare well. Aid from other tribes as well as from the British never arrived. They had a shortage of food and supplies. Black Hawk and his men retreated north but most of his men were killed in the final battle at Bad Axe River in what is now Wisconsin. Black Hawk managed to escape but surrendered. The government’s treatment of the Native Americans during this war was so impactful, most Native American moved westward leaving the Northwest Territory completely in control of settlers.

During this time Black Hawk remained in government custody. They were paraded around the country from St. Louis all the way to Washington D.C. The trip home included stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. He finally made it back home but spent the last five years of his life out of the public eye. He died in 1838 in his home near Des Moines, Iowa.

Who Is George Rogers Clark?

Hailed as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” George Rogers Clark was an American surveyor, defense lawyer, soldier, and military officer. Clark was born on November 19. 1752 in Virginia. His brother is William Clark from the famous duo Lewis and Clark.

Prior to the revolutionary war, Clark spent his time in Kentucky surveying the land with the intention of annexing it as a country for Virginia. However, settlers in Kentucky were involved in a dispute about who owned the land. Richard Henderson from North Carolina entered into an illegal treaty with the Cherokee Indians. In June 1776, Kentucky residents asked for Clark to petition to the Virginia assembly to officially include Kentucky in its boundaries.

After the war began, Kentucky was a hotbed of activity. British armed forces at Fort Detroit were attacking Kentucky settlers in hopes to take control over the land. Clark asked for assistance from Virginia to defend Kentucky and attack British controlled villages such as Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes in the Illinois country. Clark’s victories in Illinois reached General George Washington and was praised. Virginia officially took claim of the formerly British controlled land and officially named it Illinois County, Virginia.

As the war dwindled, Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson promoted Clark to the senior military officer of the militia in Kentucky and Illinois counties. He set his sites on taking over Fort Detroit but never had the manpower to take over the British controlled base. When the war ended, much thanks to this conquest, Britain relinquished control of all their strongholds in Illinois County through the Treaty of Paris (1783). This nearly doubled the size of the original thirteen colonies.

After the Revolutionary War, Clark continued to negotiate treaties between Native Americans and Kentucky settlers. However, there were still many skirmishes between the Indians and settlers in the area. Clark led a group of men against the Native American tribes near the Wabash River in 1786. This action was one of the first battles of the Northwest Indian War. However, this fight was not successful and caused over 300 men to mutiny against Clark due to lack of supplies. Many accused Clark of being drunk on duty. Despite asking for an official inquiry, the government of Virginia condemned him and he never served in the military again.

Which Native American Tribes Once Lived In Southernmost Illinois?

There were a number of Native American tribes once thriving in southernmost Illinois before European settlers started to drive them away from their lands. They built surprisingly complex societies, most of which were much bigger and more expansive than we think. North America was home to a vast network of such societies. Sometimes they would war with one another. Sometimes they would set up trade routes with one another. But who were they?

The Chippewa tribe made our history books because they were part of treaties that would give up their claim to the land in southern Illinois in 1795, 1816, 1829, and 1833. They were also found on the outskirts of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, and had settlements in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They were feared as one of the most war-ready and fearsome tribes.

American settlers often knew the Meskwaki tribe as another name: the Fox. They were a part of the Sauk culture in the same region. They too lived in the area around the Great Lakes, especially in Illinois. In the early eighteenth century they were on the defensive because of wars with the French. When the United States was formed, they were once again put on the defensive by our encroaching settlements.

Europeans probably wouldn’t have happened upon the Kickapoo tribe until sometime near the end of the seventeenth century because of their migrations. First contact probably occurred in the midst of the La Salle Expeditions when the French started to establish fur trading outposts near their lands. After the U.S. was formed, the tribe sold much of their land and migrated yet again.

The Illinois tribe was more of an umbrella with other smaller tribes underneath, most of which would comprise the Illinois Confederation. It was eventually destroyed due to a combination of factors. The two most substantial were infectious disease brought by caucasian settlers and war made on them by other tribes. The Illinois survived until then by settling almost-permanent villages. When the weather turned cold, they would transition to hunting camps.

There were likely tens of thousands of Wyandot tribespeople when contact with caucasian settlers was made in the early seventeenth century. First contact actually occurred about a century earlier when they met Samuel de Champlain during his explorative travels. They too suffered greatly due to European diseases.

How Many Casinos Operate In Southernmost Illinois?

There’s more pressure than ever on local authorities and legislative bodies to expand casino gambling in Illinois. It’s a controversial issue because opponents of the practice believe it results in government corruption, addictive behavioral issues, higher crime, and a “regressive tax” on those in poverty. It’s also a restricted industry across the United States, but local economies often benefit from tax revenue generated by gambling, and so governments still continue to allow certain types of gambling.

In Illinois, all casino gambling is conducted aboard riverboats (sort of), seven of which are docked boats that don’t actually go out onto the river. Three of the other casinos are technically operating on land, but they get away with qualifying as riverboat casinos because their foundations were built in pits filled with only a couple inches of water. Loopholes at their finest.

Those ten casinos are the only ones in all of Illinois, and the limit stays capped at ten. Only three of these casinos operate in southernmost Illinois.

They’re a little bit different from the casinos to which you may be accustomed. You can’t smoke indoors, and they don’t stay open around the clock. On top of that–and maybe worst of all!–bartenders won’t give you free drinks just for playing a game of blackjack or yanking the handle on a slot machine a few times. Free drinks at casinos are illegal. You must be 21 in order to drink, as usual.

Plus, there are records that lend transparency to casino gambling in Illinois. All records for payback rates of electronic game machines are reported to the public, and you can easily find statistics online.

Most casinos will offer the fundamentals: poker, Mississippi stud, four card poker, Ultimate Texas hold ‘em, let it ride, three card poker, roulette, craps, and blackjack. There’s more, depending on the casino.

Riverboat gambling was first implemented in 1990 after the Riverboat Gambling Act was put into law. It was the second state to implement such a law. A newer “Video Gaming Act” was put into law in July 2009, and authorizes retail establishments to place a maximum of five video gaming terminals. These terminals are regularly monitored by the Central Communications System.

The casinos are regulated through a five-member Illinois Gaming Board to maintain the integrity of the industry.