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Marion, Illinois is a small city in Southern Illinois, and the county seat of Williamson County. As of the 2000 census, the city had a population of 16,035. However, a special census in November of 2006 showed that the city had grown to approximately 19,200, making Marion the fastest growing city in Illinois south of St. Louis. While this may not seem like much, it makes Marion the second largest city in the area. Marion and neighboring Herrin make up a U.S. Census Bureau Micropolitan Statistical Area, defined as an urban area centered around a core population of 10,000 to 50,000 people. Like much of Southern Illinois, Marion lies near Shawnee National Forest. The slogan of Marion is "Hub of the Universe".


History

Marion was founded in 1839 as the county seat of newly formed Williamson County. It was named for Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War Brigadier General in the South Carolina militia. Francis Marion was commonly known as the Swamp Fox and served as part of the inspiration for Mel Gibson's character in the Hollywood movie The Patriot. Williamson County itself was named for Hugh Williamson, a physician who also served in the war.

The people of Southern Illinois were sympathetic to the Confederate cause during the American Civil War. As such, a resolution was passed by Marion in April, 1861 seeking to secede Williamson County from the Union and join the Confederacy, with the intent of taking the rest of Southern Illinois with it and splitting the state. It was repealed shortly after, largely due to the actions of local Congressman John A. Logan.

In the 1920's, Williamson County earned the nickname Bloody Williamson. Mob action relating to Prohibition and the union employed coal mines in and around Marion lead to the deaths of dozens of people throughout the decade. The Herrin Massacre, the Ku Klux Klan activity, and the Charlie Birger/Shelton Brothers gang war all garnered national attention. I will not provide a detailed account of all the activities during this time, as they pertain to the Williamson and the surrounding counties as a whole, and are not specific to Marion. Those who wish to learn more should consult Paul M. Angle's excellent book on the subject, Bloody Williamson: A Chapter in American Lawlessness.

On May 29, 1982 Marion was struck by a devastating F-4 tornado. Ten people lost their lives and 200 were injured. Many lives were doubtlessly saved by the ten minute advance warning the city received. The tornado caused extensive property damage estimated at as much as $500 million including destruction of the county courthouse. The Marion Tower Square Plaza was built on the site of the former courthouse, including a clock tower using wreckage from the courthouse, and a memorial to those killed in the tornado.

Ah, I have been enlightened on the courthouse bit. Apparently the some of the local legends I was told as a child were not entirely accurate:

Tommy1977 says the courthouse in marion was demolished after the current one was built in the late mid to late 70s it was nowhere near the path of the 1982 tornado.

Tommy1977 says Sorry early 70's (it was before I was born) From http://www.lth6.k12.il.us/enternet/Marion/town1900.htm - "November 19, 1971 -- The city of Marion bought the old courthouse from the county for $1.00, tore it down, and replaced it with the 93-foot brick tower which now stand in the public square. The bell and weather vane on the tower are the ones taken from the old courthouse, but the clock is new. The clock had been converted from a weight operated model to an electric model several years earlier. The tower cost the city $100,000 and is the height of the old courthouse. I can vouch for this info as I was born and raised in Marion

Thanks to Tommy1977.


Transportation

Marion is the major stop along Interstate 57 in Southern Illinois. Also passing through the city is State Route 13, the major east-west highway of the region, stretching from Harrisburg in the east to Murphysboro in the west. Interstate 24 intersects with Interstate 57 just 10 miles south of Marion, providing access to Western Kentucky. The number of major highways intersecting at Marion make it a major economic and commercial center in Southern Illinois.

Marion and the surrounding area is served by Williamson County Regional Airport (MWA). MWA provides daily, non-stop flights to Lambert International Airport in St. Louis and Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago. Two airlines, AmericanConnection and Mesa Airlines, provide this service. Aeroflight Sales and Charter provides basic flight instruction, aircraft rental, fuel and maintenance to the airport.


Commerce and Culture

Marion's commercial growth over recent years is staggering. One of the largest Wal-Mart Supercenters in the world opened in September, 2006. Menards and Home Depot also have recently opened stores in Marion. The city has been home to a regional shopping mall, the Illinois Centre Mall, for the past fifteen years. The mall was a large factor in attracting much commercial interest to Marion in the past decade.

Beginning in May, 2007, play will begin at a new minor league baseball stadium in Marion. The Southern Illinois Miners will play in the Frontier League west division, along with the Evansville Otters, Gateway Grizzlies, and River City Rascals.

If in Marion for any reason at any time, your first stop should be Tequila's. It is located off Route 13 east of Interstate 57. Order the Pollo Loco. If it happens to be Thursday, this is the lunch special. DO NOT leave Marion without eating Pollo Loco at least three times. If your car has crashed just passing through on I-57, stop and get some on the way to the hospital. You will thank me for this. Other popular local restaurants include Walt's pizza, Pulley's BBQ, and the 17th Street Bar and Grill. Pulley's served President George W. Bush during a campaign stop in Marion, and the 17th Street Bar and Grill is the only three time world champion in barbeque.

The historic Orpheum Theater opened in Marion in 1922. It enjoyed great success until the advent of television in the 1950's, eventually causing it to close in 1971. The city of Marion purchased the building in 1973, restoring it as the new Marion Cultural and Civic Center. The endeavor was successful until a fire gutted the building on March 10, 1997. The building was razed and a new center was built on the site, using the salvaged façade from the original theater. The building was awarded the Frank Lloyd Wright Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2004.


Prison

The United States Penitentiary Marion was originally built in 1963 as a replacement for Alcatraz, which closed that year. In response to the deaths of two prison guards at the hands of inmates in 1983, the prison went into permanent lockdown. Inmates were kept in solitary confinement for over 20 hours every day. It thus became the first Supermax prison in the Federal Prison system. Notable inmates have inclued John Gotti, head of the Gambino crime family in New York City, and John Anthony Walker, Jr., one of the most destructive Soviet spies in the Cold War.


Author's Note

I was born and raised in Marion. Much of the information of this article comes straight from memory. Wikipedia and Paul Angle's Bloody Williamson filled in the gaps. Thanks for reading.

 

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