Illinois, The Prairie State

Illinois, The Prairie State

by Sandra Merville Hart

Illinois’s nickname is The Prairie State for the prairie grasses that once covered its plains. The prairies of North America are now considered one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems (environments.)

The state’s early history

In 1673, French explorer Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette traveled the Mississippi along Illinois’ western border. In 1699, the French built the first permanent settlement in the Illinois area, a mission in Cahokia.

The French planted farms and traded with Native Americans. British settlers came and won the territory east of the Mississippi River after the French and Indian War. The region became part of the United States after the American Revolution.

Illinois becomes a state

Illinois became a state on December 3, 1818. The capital is Springfield.

president-391128_960_720A house divided

Abraham Lincoln quoted Jesus (Mark 3:25) in a speech when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln believed that a nation could not be “half slave and half free” forever.

Lincoln debated with Stephen A. Douglas in Ottawa, Quincy, Alton, Galesburg, Charleston, Freeport, and Jonesboro to represent Illinois as Senator in 1858. Lincoln lost but impressed many with his “House Divided” speech. He became president in 1860.

The Great Chicago Fire

Patrick and Catherine O’Leary owned a barn with at least one cow. Rumors say that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a kerosene lantern and started a fire on October 8, 1871. What followed isn’t a rumor.

Surrounding wooden buildings quickly caught fire. The Great Chicago Fire burned for two days and left over 200 dead and 100,000 homeless. Fire destroyed about 18,000 buildings.

chicago-116818_960_720Sears Tower

Originally known as Sears Tower, the Willis Tower in Chicago was North America’s tallest building until 2013. The skyscraper is 108 stories tall. (“Freedom Tower” or One World Trade Center in New York City is now the United States’ tallest building.)

Other fun facts about Illinois

The Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station were the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

Green dye is added to the Chicago River on St. Patricks’ Day.

The State Folk Dance is square dance.

popcorn-1085072_960_720The State Snack is popcorn – thanks to Cunningham Elementary School 2nd and 3rd graders in Joliet. Popcorn is grown by 333 Illinois farms.



Gutman, Bill. The Look-It-Up Book of the 50 States, Random House, 2002.

“House Divided Speech,” Abraham Lincoln Online, 2016/06/26

“Illinois,”, 2016/06/26

“Illinois,” State Symbols USA, 2016/06/26

“Illinois Facts and Trivia,” 50, 2016/06/26

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