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West Frankfort

"Frankfort Heights", “The Heights”
Old City Hall
A Rich Past, A Bright Future
Location of West Frankfort in Franklin County, Illinois.
Location of West Frankfort in Franklin County, Illinois.
Location of Illinois in the United States
Location of Illinois in the United States
Country United States
State Illinois
County Franklin
Township Denning, Frankfort
Founded 1810
City Charter 1906
 • Total 5.02 sq mi (12.99 km2)
 • Land 4.98 sq mi (12.90 km2)
 • Water 0.04 sq mi (0.10 km2)
404 ft (123 m)
 • Total 7,275
 • Density 1,460.84/sq mi (564.05/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Code(s)
Area code(s) 618
FIPS code 17-80333
GNIS feature ID 420843
Wikimedia Commons West Frankfort, Illinois

West Frankfort is a city in Franklin County, Illinois. The population was 8,182 at the 2010 census. The city is well known for its rich history of coal. The city is part of the Metro Lakeland area.


Although one might associate the name "West Frankfort" with the cities named "Frankfurt" in Germany or Frankfort in Kentucky, the truth is far more local. Around 1810, Francis Jordan, an early settler from Tennessee, with the help of his seven brothers, began construction of a fort atop a hill in present-day Franklin County. Completed in 1811, the fort was named "Frank's Fort", in Jordan's honor.

The name Frankfort is from a French trapper's hutte built on the hill long before the arrival of the Jordan brothers. Frank's Fort (Frank Jordan's fort was built in today's Williamson County, IL near Corinth. Thomas Jordan's fort, "Jordan's Fort", was in Cave Township, Franklin County, IL, near the town of Thompsonville. The forts were built by the Jordan family with the help of the Illinois Militia for safety of the civilians.

Jordan also built a fort a few miles to the east, at Jordan's Settlement, near modern Thompsonville, Illinois. This fort was called "Jordan's Fort". The construction of these forts was in response to the danger of attack during Tecumseh's War, which culminated in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Then-governor of the Illinois Territory, Ninian Edwards, actively encouraged the construction of these forts and offered the services of the Saline Militia in their erection.

Since the Shawnee Trail, an important trading route linking Kaskaskia, Illinois and Old Shawneetown, Illinois ran along the high ground in the vicinity of the fort, this area became an attractive destination for settlers in search of cheap land made available by the recently passed Bit Act of 1805. The resulting settlement took the name of the nearby fort, which was subsequently shortened to "Frankfort". Frankfort grew quickly during this period, its population rivaling that of Chicago at that time.

Frankfort was Franklin County's first county seat until 1839, when the lower half of the county was set off as Williamson County.

After railroad tracks linking Chicago, Paducah, and Memphis were laid 4 miles (6 km) west of Frankfort, many businesses and residents migrated to the new commercial center which formed near the tracks. This new community came to be known as West Frankfort for its location west of Frankfort. The two cities eventually merged and retained the name of West Frankfort.

The area of West Frankfort formerly known as Frankfort is still sometimes referred to locally as Frankfort Heights or, more commonly, simply as "the Heights", due to its higher elevation relative to the rest of the city. A post office was maintained in Frankfort Heights until its destruction by fire in 2004, making West Frankfort one of the smallest cities in the United States to have two ZIP codes (the other zip code is designated as "Frankfort Heights, Illinois").

West Frankfort's population dwindled but was never without its few diehard citizens. Little did the residents know that around the turn of the century they would multiply their population many times. Beginning in 1904 the Deering Coal Mine Company took Franklin County and West Frankfort from no coal production in 1900 to the number one coal producer in the state by 1917. Once the mines opened, the population increased 3,500 in seven years. By 1927 West Frankfort's population reached 19,896. In the late 1940s, four theatres and a minor league baseball team marked the downtown area.

Tri-State Tornado of 1925

See Tri-State Tornado.

1951 coal mine explosion

The Orient No. 2 coal mine exploded on December 21, 1951, killing 119 men. The mine, located outside of West Frankfort, was one of the major employers of the area. Everyone in West Frankfort was affected by this tragedy according to life-long residents including grade schoolers of the time who remember their own losses or the suffering of classmates - many saying they could never celebrate Christmas again. The United States Bureau of Mines called the explosion avoidable. The disaster resulted in Congress passing the Federal Coal Mine Safety Act of 1952.


West Frankfort is located at 37°53′55″N 88°55′24″W / 37.89861°N 88.92333°W / 37.89861; -88.92333 (37.898545, -88.923315).

According to the 2010 census, West Frankfort has a total area of 5.011 square miles (12.98 km2), of which 4.97 square miles (12.87 km2) (or 99.18%) is land and 0.041 square miles (0.11 km2) (or 0.82%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 2,111
1920 8,478 301.6%
1930 14,683 73.2%
1940 12,383 −15.7%
1950 11,384 −8.1%
1960 9,027 −20.7%
1970 8,854 −1.9%
1980 9,437 6.6%
1990 8,526 −9.7%
2000 8,196 −3.9%
2010 8,187 −0.1%
2020 7,275 −11.1%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the 2000 census, there were 8,196 people, 3,596 households, and 2,207 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,726.8 people per square mile (666.2/km2). There were 3,973 housing units at an average density of 837.0 per square mile (322.9/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.55% White, 2.13% African American, 0.23% Native American, 0.31% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 0.12% from other races, and 0.66% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.77% of the population.

Of the 3,596 households, 26.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.1% were married couples living together, 12.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.6% were non-families. 34.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 18.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.86.

The city's age demographic was 22.3% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 26.0% from 25 to 44, 22.1% from 45 to 64, and 20.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.4 males.

The median household income in the city was $25,358, and the median family income was $34,432. Males had a median income of $32,621, versus $18,765 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,671. About 13.9% of families and 18.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.0% of those under age 18 and 10.7% of those age 65 or over.


Each year West Frankfort hosts the Old King Coal Festival. This four-day event is held every May. Now coinciding with Rend Lake Festival, held in nearby Benton. Formerly the Old King Coal Festival was held in the third week of September; to pay tribute to coal miners with a parade, concerts, pageants, carnival rides and a wide variety of food.

Notable people

  • Clyde L. Choate, politician, World War II Medal of Honor recipient
  • William A. Denning, Illinois Supreme Court justice and state representative, practiced law in Frankfort
  • Kenneth J. Gray, politician, World War II Victory Medal recipient
  • Tim Lee Hall, politician
  • Max Morris, athlete, played in both the NBA and AAFC
  • Hal Smith, member of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series championship team
  • Joe Wendryhoski, athlete, former NFL lineman for the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: West Frankfort (Illinois) para niños

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