Charleston, Illinois

From Academic Kids

Charleston is the county seat of Coles County, IllinoisTemplate:GR. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 21,039. The city is home to Eastern Illinois University and has close ties with its neighbor Mattoon, Illinois.


Native American and Pioneer History

Native Americans lived in the Charleston area for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. With the great tallgrass prairie to the west, beech-maple forests to the east, and the Embarras and Wabash Rivers between, the Charleston area provided semi-nomadic Native Americans access to a variety of resources. Indians may have deliberately set the "wildfires" which maintained the local mosaic of prairie and oak-hickory forest. Streams with names like Indian Creek and Kickapoo Creek mark the sites of former Native settlements. One village is said to have been located south of Fox Ridge State Park near a deposit of flint.

The early history of European settlement in the area was marked by uneasy co-existence between Native Americans and European settlers. Some settlers lived peacefully with the natives. But in the 1810s and 1820s, after Native Americans allegedly harassed surveying crews, an escalating series of poorly-documented skirmishes occurred between Native Americans, settlers, and militias known as the Illinois Rangers. Two pitched battles (complete with cannon on one side) occurred just south of Charleston along "the hills of the Embarras," near the entrance to modern Lake Charleston park. These conflicts did not slow European settlement. Native American history in Coles County effectively ended when all natives were expelled by law from Illinois after the 1832 Black Hawk War. With the grudging exception of Indian wives, the last natives were driven out by the 1840s.

Post-Settlement History

Charleston was named after city founder name Charles Morton and was a combination of both of his names. The city was established in 1831, but not incorporated until 1865. When Abraham Lincoln's father moved to a farm on Goosenest Prairie south of Charleston in 1831, Abe helped him move, then left to start his own homestead at New Salem in Sangamon County. Abe was a frequent visitor to the Charleston area, though he likely spent more time at the Coles County courthouse than at the home of his father and stepmother. One of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was held in Charleston. Lincoln's last visit was in 1859, when the President-elect visited his stepmother and his father's grave before setting out for Washington D.C..

Although Illinois was a solidly pro-Union, anti-slavery state, Coles County was settled by many Southerners with pro-slavery sentiments. In 1847, the county was divided when prominent local citizens offered refuge to a family of escaped slaves brought from Kentucky by Gen. Robert Matson. Abe Lincoln himself appeared in the Coles County courthouse to argue for the return of the escaped slaves under the Fugitive Slave Act in a case known as Matson v. Ashmore ( As in the rest of the nation, this long-simmering debate finally broke out into violence during the American Civil War. On March 28, 1864 a riot- or perhaps a small battle- erupted in downtown Charleston when armed Confederate sympathizers known as Copperheads arrived in town to attacked half-drunk Union soldiers preparing to return to their regiment. Newspaper accounts ( at the time said the Copperheads stated intention was to burn the town and "cut out the hearts of the 'd---ed abolistionists.'" Even the county sherriff is alleged to have fired on the soldiers. By the time the “Copperhead Riot” had ended, nine were dead and twelve had been wounded, mostly Copperheads.

In 1895 the Eastern Illinois State Normal School was established in Charleston, which later became Eastern Illinois University. This lead to lasting resentment in nearby Mattoon, which had originally lead the campaign to locate the proposed teaching school in Coles County. A Mattoon newspaper printed a special edition announcing the decision with the derisive headline "Catfish Town Gets It."

Thomas Lincoln's log cabin has been restored and is open to the public as the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, 8 mi. south of Charleston. The Lincoln farm is maintained as a living museum of life in 1840’s Illinois by historical re-enactors. Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln are buried in the nearby Shiloh Cemetery.

Charleston was the hometown of Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland.

Charleston Today

Modern Charleston is dominated by Eastern Illinois University, which employs almost 2000 full-time faculty and staff and has 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The establishment of an enterprise zone on the northern edge of Charleston has helped attract some manufacturing and industrial jobs.

Charleston's city motto is "the friendly city."


Charleston is located at 39°29'19" North, 88°10'44" West (39.488721, -88.178976)Template:GR.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 22.5 km² (8.7 mi²). 20.7 km² (8.0 mi²) of it is land and 1.8 km² (0.7 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 7.84% water.


As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there are 21,039 people, 7,672 households, and 3,329 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,016.7/km² (2,632.2/mi²). There are 8,148 housing units at an average density of 393.7/km² (1,019.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 92.50% White, 4.25% African American, 0.24% Native American, 1.34% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 0.50% from other races, and 1.08% from two or more races. 1.76% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 7,672 households out of which 20.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.9% are married couples living together, 7.3% have a female householder with no husband present, and 56.6% are non-families. 34.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.5% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.22 and the average family size is 2.88.

In the city the population is spread out with 13.8% under the age of 18, 44.1% from 18 to 24, 18.7% from 25 to 44, 13.7% from 45 to 64, and 9.7% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 23 years. For every 100 females there are 86.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 84.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $24,140, and the median income for a family is $44,312. Males have a median income of $30,906 versus $21,822 for females. The per capita income for the city is $14,522. 30.1% of the population and 10.3% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 8.7% of those under the age of 18 and 11.8% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

These figures may be somewhat skewed as 10,000 residents of Charleston are students at Eastern Illinois University, many of whom have their primary place of residence in other cities though they spend nine months of the year in Charleston.

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