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Illinois is an area with a rich American Indian heritage. Paleo-Indians were in this area before 5000 B.C. Large city areas have been located from around A.D. 900 and many huge burial mounds may be found, especially in the Collinsville area. The name origin for Illinois comes from an Illinois and Peoria Indian word, “iliniwok” that means men or warriors.  The Illinois River was named by explorer La Salle in 1679 and the state was named for the river.

The late 17th century brought explorers, Jolliet and Marquette to the area which opened it up to settlers, trappers and missionaries. During this time the Indian population was greatly reduced due to disease and battles amongst themselves. Several treaties between the settlers and the Indians were made. The last one was in 1832 following the Black Hawk War.

During the Civil War, Illinois was designated as a "northern" state. President Lincoln, who was from Illinois, was a source of pride to the people of the state. Over 250,000 Union soldiers came from Illinois. After the war, Illinois experienced major growth with many European immigrants. During the second half of the 19th century, labor unions emerged with much conflict and turmoil as shown by the Haymarket Riot of 1886 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. The rail lines for this region all seemed to converge at Chicago which allowed it to become a major center for all types of business and marketing. It also allowed Chicago to grow by leaps and bounds. As with most rapidly growing cities, Chicago, at the beginning of the 20th century, had its share of growing pains. Labor unrest was prevalent here as well as a great deal of crime, especially that of the notorious gangsters of the era, such as Al Capone, Bugs Moran and others. By the 1930's, however, the government was able to halt the rise of crime and slow down the problems in this area.

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Illinois has been known as the “Prairie State” for many years.  During the 1800’s, Illinois was covered mainly with prairie grass.  The nickname is a remembrance for how the state used to be.  The other well-known nickname for Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln.”  This has been the official slogan for Illinois since 1955.  Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but eventually moved to Illinois where he began his political career. 

With corn as a major crop for Illinois, it is not surprising that another of the nicknames for the state is the “Corn State.”  Because of the many farmlands on the prairie, Illinois was also known as the “Garden of the West,” or sometimes as the “Garden State.”  The southern portion of the state was supposed to resemble the area around Cairo, Egypt.  Many equated the fertile soil of this area with that of the Egypt area, so called this portion of the state, “Egypt.”

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Illinois is a fairly level state. As noted its highest place is only 1,235 feet above sea level. Ice Age glaciers smoothed out the area with a slightly southwestern slope. The far southern portion of the state has very fertile farming land and is known as "Little Egypt" because of its similarity to the Nile Delta region. Several of the towns in this area are named after cities in the Nile delta.

Major rivers in the state are the Illinois, the Rock, the Sangamon and the Kaskaskia which all flow into the Mississippi. The Vermilion and Wabash Rivers feed into the Ohio River. Man-made lakes are more prevalent in the south of the state. The largest is Carlyle Lake. Other larger lakes are Rend Lake and Lake Kinkaid. Lake Michigan and the Chain O-Lakes in the northeast corner are the larger natural lakes.

Longitude: 87° 30' W to 91° 30' W
Latitude: 36° 58' N to 42° 30' N
Average elevation: 600 feet above sea level
Highest Point: 1,235 feet above sea level at Charles Mound
Lowest Point: 279 feet above sea level at the Mississippi River

Length: 390 miles
Width:  210 miles
Geographic Center: A village in Logan County, Chestnut, located about 28 miles northeast of Springfield at Longitude: 89° 18.4'W Latitude: 40° 0.8'N

Borders: on the west lie both Iowa and Missouri.  To the east is Indiana and also Lake Michigan.  On the South is Kentucky and Wisconsin is on the northern border.

Total land area: 55,593 square miles
Total water area: 2,325 square miles
Total area: 57,918 square miles, the 25th largest state

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Climate and Weather

Average monthly high temperatures: 87.1
Average monthly low temperatures: 9.8
Record high temperature: 117 degrees, F. on 14 July 1954 at East St. Louis
Record low temperature: -36 degrees, F. on 5 January 1999 at Congerville

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Illinois Bureau of Tourism
100 W. Randolph St., Suite 3-400
Chicago, IL 60601
Toll-free: 800-406-6418
Visit our website at or call 1-800-2CONNECT for information on events and places where you might just want to rendezvous

Southwestern Illinois Tourism & Convention Bureau
10950 Lincoln Trail
Fairview Heights, Illinois 62208
Phone: 618-397-1488
Toll-free: 800-442-1488
Fax: 618-397-1945

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State Parks
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
One Natural Resources Way
Springfield, IL 62702
Phone: 217-782-6302

Government Links page for Illinois
Great links page for all levels of government in Illinois

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Illinois State Historical Society
210 1/2 South Sixth Street, Suite 200
Springfield, IL 62701
Phone: 217.525-2781

Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS)
PO Box 10195
Springfield, IL 62791-0195
Phone: 217-789-1968 (Business office only)
ISGS is a nonprofit organization that provides services to the genealogical community around the world.

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This page was created 5 July 1999

This page was last updated 16 September 2006 at 5:52 pm

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