Although humans have inhabited Jackson County as far back as 11,500
years ago it was not until the early 19th century that European settlers
began occupying the area to take advantage of the inexpensive land along
the Mississippi River and in the forested hills with its
one-hundred-foot trees. When the European settlers arrived the area was
occupied by the Kaskaskia tribe. The Federal government set aside land
in the northwest portion of the county for the Kaskaskians and in the
early 1800s there were about sixty lodges on the reservation. By the
time of the War of 1812 there were enough people in the region of the
Big Muddy to constitute a company of Rangers. Such a company was
commanded by Captain William Boone.
first industries in Jackson County were the manufacture of salt and coal
mining. Salt springs on the Big Muddy River were discovered in 1814 and
1815 and salt works spring up to extract the salt from the water.
Jackson County was organized in 1816, having been carved out of Randolph
County. The county was named after General Andrew Jackson, the hero of
the Battle of New Orleans who would later become the seventh President
of the United States. The community of Brownsville, which has grown up
around the salt works was chosen as its first county seat. Jackson
County is under laid with a very fine quality of coal and the quantity
is in abundance. The first coal mine in Illinois opened in 1811 along
the banks of the Big Muddy River.
Murphysboro became the second county seat of Jackson County after a fire
destroyed the courthouse in Brownsville. The town site was platted on a
20-acre tract of land which comprised the boundaries of Murphysboro was
donated by Dr. John Logan and Elizabeth Logan. In the early 1850s the
Illinois Central was built through Jackson County. In 1852 a group of
businessmen bought 360 acres of land along the right of way for the
railroad and founded Carbondale. The site chosen was conveniently
located between Marion and Murphysboro and between proposed railroad
stations at Makanda and De Soto. The first train came through the town
on the main line north from Cairo on Independence Day, 1854.
General John A. Logan was a successful Civil War military commander and
politician from Murphysboro. Shortly after the war, General Logan led a
parade of veterans from Murphysboro to Carbondale. General Logan invited
the Confederate veterans, of which there were many in Jackson County, to
march with him. Thus, what might have been another celebration of the
Union victory became a memorial to the war dead on both sides. This is
considered the origin of the Memorial Day holiday. A museum dedicated to
Logan’s accomplishments is located in Murphysboro.
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). Carbondale won the bid for the
new teacher training school for the region and Southern Illinois Normal
University opened in 1874. In 1947 the college had obtained full
university status and the name was changed to Southern Illinois
University. Today the University has an enrollment of approximately
23,000. Being the home of SIUC has given Carbondale the cultural
activities usually available only in larger cities.
section of the Shawnee National Forest is located in Jackson County.
Much of the Shawnee National Forest was exhausted farmland purchased by
the Federal government in the 1930s that was planted with pine trees by
the Civilian Conservation Corps to prevent erosion and help rebuild the
soil. The purchased land was designated as the Shawnee National Forest
in 1939. Jackson County also features Lake Murphysboro State Park,
Kinkaid Lake, Cedar Lake, and Giant City State Park. Giant City State
Park is one of Illinois’ most popular parks. It gets its name from
unique Makanda sandstone features that have been cut by water for
centuries to create narrow “streets” between stone “buildings” giving
rise to the sense that the area is a city populated by giants. Other
features at the park include hiking, picnicking, hunting and fishing,
rock climbing and rappelling, horseback riding, camping, and lodging and
dining. The Shawnee Hills area is home to a number of wineries and B&Bs
that are nestled among the scenery of the Shawnee National Forest.