|Townships||Charleston, Hutton, Lafayette, Seven Hickory|
|Founded by||Benjamin Parker|
|Named for||Charles Morton - Postmaster|
|• Type||City Manager|
|• City Manager||R. Scott Smith|
|• Mayor||Brandon Combs|
|• Total||9.59 sq mi (24.83 km2)|
|• Land||8.88 sq mi (23.01 km2)|
|• Water||0.70 sq mi (1.82 km2)|
|Elevation||699 ft (213 m)|
|• Density||1,945.75/sq mi (751.23/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−6 (CST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−5 (CDT)|
|Area code(s)||217, 447|
|Wikimedia Commons||Charleston, Illinois|
Charleston is a city in, and the county seat of, Coles County, Illinois, United States. The population was 17,286, as of the 2020 census. The city is home to Eastern Illinois University and has close ties with its neighbor, Mattoon. Both are principal cities of the Charleston–Mattoon Micropolitan Statistical Area.
Native Americans lived in the Charleston area for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived. With the great tallgrass prairie to the west, beech-maple forests to the east, and the Embarras River and Wabash Rivers between, the Charleston area provided semi-nomadic Indians 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 such as 'Indian Creek' and 'Kickapoo Creek' mark the sites of former Indian settlements. One village is said to have been located south of Fox Ridge State Park near a deposit of flint.
The early history of settlement in the area was marked by uneasy co-existence between Indians and European settlers. Some settlers lived peacefully with the natives, but conflict arose in the 1810s and 1820s. After Indians allegedly harassed surveying crews, an escalating series of poorly documented skirmishes occurred between Indians, settlers, and the Illinois Rangers. Two pitched battles (complete with cannon on one side) took place just south of Charleston along "the hills of the Embarrass," near the entrance to Lake Charleston park. These conflicts did not slow American settlement, and Indian 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.
First settled by Benjamin Parker in 1826, Charleston was named for Charles Morton, its first postmaster. 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, Lincoln helped him move, then left to start his own homestead at New Salem in Sangamon County. Lincoln 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 on September 18, 1858, and is now the site of the Coles County fairgrounds and a small museum. Lincoln's last visit was in 1859, when the future President visited his stepmother and his father's grave.
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, by then a young railroad lawyer, 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 attack half-drunk Union soldiers preparing to return to their regiment.
In 1895, the Eastern Illinois State Normal School was established in Charleston, which later became Eastern Illinois University. This led to lasting resentment in nearby Mattoon, which had originally led 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 history museum where historical re-enactors depict life in 1840s Illinois. Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln are buried in the nearby Shiloh Cemetery.
On May 26, 1917, a tornado ripped through Charleston, killing 38 and wounding many more along with destroying 220 homes.
According to the 2021 census gazetteer files, Charleston has a total area of 9.59 square miles (24.84 km2), of which 8.88 square miles (23.00 km2) (or 92.68%) is land and 0.70 square miles (1.81 km2) (or 7.32%) is water.
The data below were taken from 1893 through January 2020, when this chart was made. They were accessed through the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC).
|Climate data for Charleston, Illinois (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1896–present)|
|Record high °F (°C)||71
|Average high °F (°C)||37.9
|Daily mean °F (°C)||29.3
|Average low °F (°C)||20.7
|Record low °F (°C)||−27
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||2.54
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||8.1
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||10.2||8.3||10.7||12.0||12.9||10.4||9.2||8.1||7.8||9.5||10.4||10.6||120.2|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||4.1||2.6||1.4||0.1||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.5||3.2||11.9|
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the 2020 census there were 17,286 people, 7,847 households, and 3,850 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,803.25 inhabitants per square mile (696.24/km2). There were 8,319 housing units at an average density of 867.83 per square mile (335.07/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 79.65% White, 8.39% African American, 0.27% Native American, 2.54% Asian, 0.13% Pacific Islander, 3.88% from other races, and 5.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.84% of the population.
There were 7,847 households, out of which 20.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.06% were married couples living together, 12.18% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.94% were non-families. 36.05% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.57% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.68 and the average family size was 2.13.
The city's age distribution consisted of 12.7% under the age of 18, 32.5% from 18 to 24, 24.6% from 25 to 44, 18.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27.7 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $41,436, and the median income for a family was $52,521. Males had a median income of $24,609 versus $16,650 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,901. About 16.8% of families and 27.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.5% of those under age 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.
Charleston is home to Eastern Illinois University, which has roughly 8,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, Eastern Illinois hosts the Illinois High School Association's Girls Badminton, Journalism, and Girls and Boys Track and Field State Finals.
The establishment of an enterprise zone on the northern edge of Charleston has helped attract some manufacturing and industrial jobs, including Vesuvius USA, ITW Hi-Cone, and Dietzgen Corporation.
Jimmy John Liautaud founded the first Jimmy John's restaurant in Charleston in 1983, occupying premises near the corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Charleston is home to the annual Coles County Fair, which typically runs for a week in the summer. The fair includes animal showings, carnival rides and attractions, a demolition derby, and more. The fair is held at the fairgrounds located at 603 W Madison Ave.
Charleston has seven parks (one of which is a state park) and six trails, only one of which is not part of Lake Charleston (the Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail).
Lake Charleston lies approximately two miles (3 km) southeast of the city center. It covers 330 acres of surface area, and has a maximum depth of 12 feet (3.7 m) and average depth of 5.7 feet (1.7 m). Fishing and boating are allowed, although there is a no-wake regulation. There are five trails in the park area around the lake, with the longest trail looping around the lake with a length of 3.6 miles (5.8 km).
Charleston's Parks and Recreation Department offers a variety of services, including before & after school clubs, a day club, dog training classes, and children sports leagues.
Charleston is run under a City Manager style of government, where the City Manager is the city's chief administrative officer and oversees the City Council. The City Manager is an appointed position. As of September 18, 2003, R. Scott Smith, a former Parks & Recreation director, officially became Charleston's City Manager after serving as interim manager since August 9, 2003 and continues to hold that position as of January 2022.
The City Council is an elected legislative body of the City of Charleston, of which the mayor is a part. They make policy decisions based on recommendations and information from the City Manager. Brandon Combs was appointed mayor of Charleston June 30, 2015 and continues to hold the office.
Charleston is served by Charleston Community Unit School District 1, one of three school districts located in the county of Coles. The district itself is composed of six schools: Ashmore Elementary School (PreK-4), Mark Twain Elementary School (PreK and K), Carl Sandburg Elementary School (1-3), Jefferson Elementary School (4-6), Charleston Middle School (7-8), and Charleston High School (9-12).
Eastern Illinois University is a public university in Charleston and has served the community since 1895.
Lakeview College of Nursing has a campus located in Charleston.
Charleston is served by the JG-TC (Journal Gazette & Times Courier) local newspaper and Eastern Illinois University's daily newspaper The Daily Eastern News
Charleston is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) east of Interstate 57's Mattoon exit. Illinois Route 16 serves as the city's main east-west road, titled Lincoln Ave. within city limits.
Charleston is served by the Coles County Memorial Airport (MTO), which is approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Charleston. Established in 1953, the airport received commercial service until 2000, and now serves as a public general aviation facility.
Charleston is serviced by two transit providers: the Charleston Zipline run by Dial-A-Ride which serves the general city area with a deviated fixed-route and demand-response service, and the Panther Shuttle, which mainly services the Eastern Illinois University campus.
Charleston does not receive direct passenger rail service, however Amtrak's Illini and Saluki and City of New Orleans routes stop in neighboring Mattoon. Freight-wise, Charleston was serviced by the Eastern Illinois Railroad, which was acquired by the Decatur & Eastern Illinois Railroad, which now services businesses in the region.
Charleston is serviced by the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, whose main campus is approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) west of Charleston. There is a Walk-In Clinic located within the city itself.
See also Eastern Illinois University#Notable alumni for a list of people who lived in Charleston while attending EIU.