Welcome to the Madison County Historical Society

Along the Mississippi River, across from St. Louis, Missouri, lies Madison County, Illinois. Part of the Metro-East region comprising various counties on both sides of the Mississippi River, Madison County is home to a number of cities, villages, and townships that speak to the larger history of the state of Illinois and the land on which it stands. Established on September 14, 1812, the county was named for President James Madison and initially included the modern state of Illinois north of St. Louis as well as all of Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Over time, this enormous jurisdiction would be reduced to its present size of 741 square miles. An industrial region since the late 1800s, the area was first populated by the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Native American Mississippian culture – Cahokia. Containing about 80 humanmade earthen mounds near Collinsville, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is now a National Historic Landmark and one of the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States.

In the last 250 years, Madison County’s advantageous position next to the Mississippi River has allowed it to bear witness to a variety of notable people and events in United States history. Camp Dubois, the winter camp and launch-point for the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, lies within the county, as did the original City Hall in Alton, which hosted the last of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates on October 15, 1858. The Madison County Historical Society seeks to preserve the wonderful history of the county through their mission of “Opening Doors to Madison County History.” The digital collections shared with the IDHH certainly fulfill this mission, as they provide insight into the lives of 19th-century women through a series of private letters (Private and Real), the experiences of an American nurse serving in France during World War I (In Her Own Words), and the ways in which Madison County has changed over the years (Picturing the History of Madison County).

Join us in offering a warm welcome to the Madison County Historical Society, and enjoy a few of our favorite items from their collections below:

Alton City Hall. n.d. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Madison County’s Tallest Man. 1940. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Catsup Bottle. July 17, 1995. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Mrs. Mary Lusk. September 14, 1912. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Madison County Centennial Arch. 1912. Published by the Edwardsville Intelligencer. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Horse Thief Detective Society. 1873. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).
Excursion Steamer. n.d. Madison County Historical Society. Picturing the History of Madison County – Selected Snapshots. Courtesy of Madison County Historical Society (IL).

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items from the Madison County Historical Society.

Start Near, Go Far: the Prairie State College Archive Collection

With summer just around the corner, the IDHH is pleased to feature the Archive Collection from one of our newest contributors, Prairie State College. A two-year community college founded in 1957 as Bloom Township Junior College, the college offered its first classes in 1958 in the basement of the First Christian Church in Chicago Heights. From these humble beginnings, Prairie State College has emerged as a vital part of the Chicago Heights community, now spanning 130 acres and serving over 20 different communities in the diverse area once known as “the Crossroads of the Nation”. The first community college in Illinois to guarantee that all credits would transfer to other colleges and universities in the state, Prairie State College now offers degrees and certificates in more than 100 fields of study, from liberal arts subject areas to technical and career disciplines. 

The extensive Archive Collection at Prairie State College provides a look at the rich history of the community college, from its earliest days as Bloom Township Junior College and into the 21st century. Of particular note are items in the collection that focus on the various technical and career programs available at the college. Images of students working under car hoods, on dental patients’ mouths, and with nursing equipment reflect the practical experiences of students in the Automotive Technology, Dental Hygiene, and Nursing programs respectively. In addition to these photographs, the Archive Collection contains items featuring the expansion of the campus and construction of campus buildings, the day-to-day events and happenings of the college, and the achievements and recognition of Prairie State College students. 

The IDHH warmly welcomes Prairie State College, and we hope you enjoy perusing their collection as much as we do! Here are a few of our favorite items:

Prairie State College Welding Students Working at the Welding Shop 1981. 1981. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College EMT students are performing CPR in class, ca. 1987. 1987. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Student Working in autoshop 80’s. 1984. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Dental Hygiene student is working on a patient. 2004. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
Prairie State College Mechanical technology and manufacturing program, ca. 1987. 1987. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.
PSC Main Campus Fall 1998. September 1, 1998. Prairie State College. Archive Collection. Courtesy of Prairie State College.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to view even more items from Prairie State College.

Continued Growth: the IDHH Passes Half a Million Items!

With our latest harvest, the IDHH now has 510,614 items from 548 collections. Thanks to our 150 Illinois partners and contributing institutions for making this possible!

Some of our newest collections and contributors include:

Keep checking back here at Illinois Highlights as we promote new collections, highlight older ones, and feature materials relevant to Illinois and national history.

Don’t forget to check out the IDHH Exhibits site as well!

Want to see more in the IDHH?

Browse the collections by select topics and people

Search all items or Browse by select facets

Browse by Contributing Partner

Welcome to Dixon, the Petunia Capitol of Illinois

Nestled along the picturesque Rock River in northwestern Illinois, the city of Dixon bears a fascinating history in the early nineteenth century as a fledgling outpost in the newly incorporated state of Illinois. Established in 1828 by Joseph Ogee, who operated a ferry along the banks of the Rock River, the city would take its name from a “Father” John Dixon after coming to the area in 1830 and purchasing the ferry operation from Ogee. With its advantageous position on the Rock River for trade and commerce, the settlement prospered from the abundance of the significant waterway and quickly grew into a thriving community. 

Fifty years later, the thriving city of Dixon saw the creation of Dixon College, a private college that operated with a teacher-training institution, the Northern Illinois Normal School. Dixon College advertised itself as an institution that taught “practically everything” and offered courses in such subjects as civil and electrical engineering, typewriting, and law. Though Dixon College closed around 1914 after only 35 years, the city of Dixon has a number of attractions that keep visitors coming to the area year after year. Designated the “Petunia Capital of Illinois” by the Illinois General Assembly in 1999, the city holds an annual Petunia Festival every summer featuring a parade, carnival, and fireworks show. In preparation for the festival, volunteers and citizens plant thousands of pink petunias along main streets, such as Galena Avenue with its iconic Dixon Arch. 

The IDHH is pleased to welcome the Dixon Public Library to the IDHH and feature their collections with this Highlights post. Here are a few of our favorite items:

Beautiful Galena Avenue Dixon, (the petunia city), Illinois. 1960. Photograph by Ralph-Lois Pierce Studio. Dixon Public Library. Dixon History Documents and Photographs. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Petunia lined Galena Avenue. 1980. Photograph by Ralph-Lois Pierce Studio. Dixon Public Library. Dixon History Documents and Photographs. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Dixon Theatre. 1922. Photograph by Brooks Photo. Dixon Public Library. Dixon History Documents and Photographs. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Dixon College Main Building sepia photograph. n.d. Dixon Public Library. Dixon College. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Eighth Annual Commencement of the Scientific Class 1889. 1889. Dixon Public Library. Dixon College. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Dixon College Staff. 1881. Dixon Public Library. Dixon College. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.
Illinois Central crossing Rock River, Dixon, Ill. 1907. Photograph by E.C. Kropp. Dixon Public Library. Dixon History Documents and Photographs. Courtesy of the Dixon Public Library.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to explore even more items from the Dixon Public Library.

The Electric Way: Streetcars, Trolleys, and Trams

Imagine the wonder of one day being able to ride a new-fangled machine powered entirely by electricity that could whisk passengers between cities at a brisk speed of up to 20 miles per hour. Such was the excitement and delight with the invention of the streetcar in the mid-1880s by American engineer Frank Julian Sprague (1857–1934). Before the arrival of streetcars, also known as trolleys or trams, the fastest mode of interurban transportation was the horse-drawn tram, a much slower way to travel within or between nearby cities. The convenience that the streetcar provided facilitated a boom in urban populations as citizens could move to suburban areas and become the first commuters. 

The area of East St. Louis in Illinois experienced a surge in population growth and urban expansion in the late 1800s as the East St. Louis & Suburban Railway extended its reach in the St. Clair and Madison counties of the state. Stretching from the town of East St. Louis in Illinois to St. Louis in Missouri and beyond, the Great East Side Railway moved passengers and freight between the two states, becoming a transportation hub and spurring industrial development in the area. The IDHH is pleased to welcome the St. Clair County Historical Society to the Illinois Digital Heritage Hub and to feature their Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection, which contains images of the streetcars and transportation infrastructure of the East St. Louis & Suburban Railway and the St. Louis & Belleville Electric Railway. Passed down through generations from a longtime employee of the Union Electric Company, which provided the power for the electric railways in the area, these photographs offer a glimpse at the historic influence of this novel mode of transportation. 

Here are a few of our favorite items from the collection:

East St Louis RR, Car #24. November 4, 1929. St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Track scene, IL Central Car Derailment. [n.d.] St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Trolley Car 25. [n.d.] St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Suburban Railway. January 11, 1932. St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Miner’s Extra Train. [n.d.] St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Inside of Trolley with car operator. [n.d.] St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.
Eads Bridge Trolley Station. [n.d.] St. Clair County Historical Society. Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection. Courtesy of the St. Clair County Historical Society.

Want to see more? 

Browse the full Metro East Streetcar Photographic Collection from the St. Clair County Historical Society. 

Visit the IDHH to explore even more items related to streetcars.

Welcome Des Plaines Memory!

The IDHH welcomes the Des Plaines Public Library as a new stand-alone contributor. For years, the Des Plaines Public Library has contributed content through the Illinois Digital Archives. Now, Des Plaines provides over 1200 additional items through their own digital library, Des Plaines Memory, including hundreds of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and more that document the diverse history, people, and cultures of the city.

Des Plaines Memory includes a range of artifacts documenting life, history, and culture in the town of Des Plaines. This includes a big arts scene, local musicians, painters, writers, dancers, and many others. Many artists celebrate rich, multicultural heritage.

Des Plaines’ collection boast a rich record of the distant past as well, including diaries from the Civil War. This collection boasts several objects, including journals and images and is growing, and is a truly remarkable addition to the many Civil War artifacts available in IDHH collections.

Black and white photograph of Charles E. Bennett, bearded, wearing a dark overcoat.
Portrait of Chester E. Bennett. 1890. Des Plaines Public Library. Des Plaines Memory. Permission to display was given by Des Plaines Public Library.

In addition to the Civil War diaries, Des Plaines Memory holds a host of content related to wartime in the U.S. The collection includes images and documents from both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts and commemorations. There are also numerous images and documents pertaining to the McDonnell Douglas factory once located in Des Plaines. The images below depict men and women who served in World War I and World War II.

Finally, Des Plaines memory includes selected works of local artist, Edward Dougal (1937-2016). Dougal was a versatile artist with expertise in several forms and a host of media. He was a painter, sculptor, wood worker, and a writer and illustrator of children’s books. His pieces incorporating mirrors are among the most interesting, some of which are featured below.