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Will Rogers Theatre and Commercial Block
Will Rogers Theatre and Commercial Block
Location of Charleston in Coles County, Illinois.
Location of Charleston in Coles County, Illinois.
Location of Illinois in the United States
Location of Illinois in the United States
Country  United States
State  Illinois
County Coles
Townships Charleston, Hutton, Lafayette, Seven Hickory
Founded 1831
Incorporation 1865
Founded by Benjamin Parker
Named for Charles Morton - Postmaster
 • Type City Manager
 • Total 9.59 sq mi (24.83 km2)
 • Land 8.88 sq mi (23.01 km2)
 • Water 0.70 sq mi (1.82 km2)
696 ft (212 m)
 • Total 17,286
 • Density 1,945.75/sq mi (751.23/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Code(s)
Area code(s) 217, 447
FIPS code 17-12567
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.


Coles County, IL, USA courthouse
Coles County courthouse

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 River 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 Embarrass," 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.

First settled by Benjamin Parker in 1826, it 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. Newspaper accounts at the time said the Copperheads stated intention was to burn the town and "cut out the hearts of the '[damned] abolitionists.'" Even the county sheriff is alleged to have fired on the soldiers. By the time the Charleston 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 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 deadly tornado ripped through Charleston, killing 38 and wounding many more along with destroying 220 homes.


Charleston is located at 39°29′05″N 88°10′41″W / 39.48472°N 88.17806°W / 39.48472; -88.17806 (39.4846183, -88.1779604).

According to the 2010 census, Charleston has a total area of 9.63 square miles (24.94 km2), of which 8.92 square miles (23.10 km2) (or 92.63%) is land and 0.71 square miles (1.84 km2) (or 7.37%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 849
1870 2,849
1880 2,867 0.6%
1890 4,135 44.2%
1900 5,488 32.7%
1910 5,884 7.2%
1920 6,615 12.4%
1930 8,012 21.1%
1940 8,197 2.3%
1950 9,164 11.8%
1960 10,505 14.6%
1970 16,421 56.3%
1980 19,355 17.9%
1990 20,398 5.4%
2000 21,039 3.1%
2010 21,838 3.8%
2020 17,286 −20.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2010, there were 21,472 people, 7,972 households, and 3,329 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,632.2 people per square mile (1,016.7/km2). There were 8,794 housing units at an average density of 1,019.4 per square mile (393.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.4% White, 5.7% African American, 0.1% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 0.9% from other races, and 0.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.2% of the population.

There were 7,972 households, out of which 20.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.9% were married couples living together, 7.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 56.6% were non-families. 34.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.75 and the average family size was 2.44.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 9.8% under the age of 18, 44.1% from 18 to 24, 18.7% from 25 to 44, 13.7% from 45 to 64, and 7.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21.9 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $21,849, and the median income for a family was $49,625. Males had a median income of $30,906 versus $21,822 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,544. About 17.4% of families and 41.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.7% of those under age 18 and 11.8% 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.

Original Jimmy John's Shop
Original Jimmy John's Shop

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.


Eastern Illinois University participates in NCAA Division I athletics, with 21 varsity teams. The teams all compete under the name Eastern Illinois Panthers.


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 Sandberg 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 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.


  • Illinois Route 16 (Lincoln Ave.)
  • Illinois Route 130 (18th St./Olive Ave.)
  • Illinois Route 316 (Madison Ave./State St.)


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.

Mass Transit

Charleston is serviced by two main transit routes: the Charleston Zip Line ran by Dial-A-Ride which services the general city area, and the Panther Shuttle, which mainly services the Eastern Illinois University campus. The Zip Line has been suspended until further notice due to COVID-19.


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 services 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.

Notable people

  • Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls, IFBB pro bodybuilder
  • Ronald W. Davis, director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center, biochemist, geneticist, highly awarded, lately working to cure ME/CFS and other illnesses
  • Frank K. Dunn, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court
  • Jim Edgar, governor of Illinois from 1990 to 1998, was raised in Charleston and graduated from Eastern Illinois University
  • Stan Royer, former Major League Baseball player. Graduated from Charleston High School
  • Jeff Gossett, longtime journeyman punter who played in the NFL for 16 years
  • George Hilton Jones III, historian and author
  • Joshua Scott Jones, Big Machine Records recording artists (country music) and one-half of the duo "Steel Magnolia"
  • Tom Koch, longtime comedy writer for Mad Magazine and Bob and Ray
  • Lee Lynch, Illinois newspaper editor and politician
  • James John Liautaud, founder of the Jimmy John's restaurant franchise
  • Rex Morgan, basketball player
  • Marty Pattin, pitcher for the California Angels, Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals
  • Sir Curtis Price, the Principal of the Royal Academy of Music and a professor of music at the University of London was raised in Charleston
  • Zeke Rosebraugh, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates; born in Charleston
  • Willis R. Shaw, Illinois state senator; born in Charleston
  • Larry Stuffle, member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1977 to 1985. He was born in Charleston and represented the area in the Illinois House of Representatives.
  • Gregg Toland, cinematographer of Citizen Kane and Wuthering Heights (for which he won an Oscar), was born and raised in Charleston.
  • David Lamb, musician and songwriter for Brown Bird; born in Charleston 1977
Black History Month on Kiddle
Famous African-American Inventors:
Valerie Thomas
Frederick McKinley Jones
George Edward Alcorn Jr.
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