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Looking Back: Marion history and the road most traveled

  • A view of the newly developing DeYoung Street intersection with Illinois 37 (North Court Street) is shown in 1959.

    A view of the newly developing DeYoung Street intersection with Illinois 37 (North Court Street) is shown in 1959.
    Courtesy of Tom Wimberly

  • In the new I-57 clover leaf shown in 1964, note the lack of development on the east side of the interstate, where Town and Country Shopping Center is now.

    In the new I-57 clover leaf shown in 1964, note the lack of development on the east side of the interstate, where Town and Country Shopping Center is now.
    Courtesy of Sam Lattuca

 
 
updated: 2/8/2018 4:10 PM

Since the opening of the interstate in the 1960s, Marion has expanded rapidly toward the west. It's easy to forget that the main travel routes for interstate travelers formerly passed through the center of town on Illinois 37 and Illinois 13.

Old Route 13 began primarily as a buffalo trail that turned into a rough trail for pioneers to follow in wagons, running east to west from Shawneetown and Harrisburg, through the center of what is now Marion to Carbondale, and on to Murphysboro. Portions of this old route were called the Cahokia-Shawneetown Route. The Illinois legislature passed a resolution in 1855 to turn the trail from Marion to Carbondale into a state road and did the same in 1857 for what is now Illinois 37 from Marion to West Frankfort. Of course, when we say road, that means only that it was reasonably flattened out with sleds pulled by mules and that it was probably close to unpassable at certain times of the year.

In 1857, a plank (wooden) road was contracted to be built from Carbondale to Marion. A company was chartered to carry out the job, but it doesn't appear to have ever gotten off the ground, leaving travelers to trudge down the dirt road for decades. Wooden roads were more popular in the wide-open prairie areas toward the north, but never found much favor in our end of the state.

As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome, and so it was in the early days of the county with Marion as the seat of government and housing the main post office. Up until 1872, if a person ordered building materials or large items, the material would have to arrive by riverboat and be carted from there, or they would arrive by the Illinois Central train into Carbondale via the Chicago-to-Cairo railroad tracks that were completed around 1855. Then, one would still have to go pick the items up in a wagon or hire a transfer service to pick up the items, and then finish delivering them via the old road to Marion. With the arrival of the Carbondale and Shawneetown Railroad, which was completed in 1872 and connected Marion to the Illinois Central line in Carbondale, commerce became a lot easier and kept Marion viable.

Today, new Illinois 13 is a wide corridor to travel and handles thousands of vehicles a day. But in its earliest days, the route would have been wide enough only for one wagon. Old Route 13 between Marion and Carbondale officially became numbered as State Route 13 in 1918 and became a hard road, or made of concrete, on Sept. 11, 1923, just in time for the Williamson County Fair to open in Marion. The newspapers of the day reported the first traffic jams and speeders, even though the concrete was barely dry. So it seems some things never change.

In the days before the Great Depression, Old Route 13 entered Marion from Harrisburg as West Main Street, passed through the square and traveled almost straight due west into the end of East Walnut Street in Carbondale. The creation of Crab Orchard Lake, a public works project in the last half of the 1930s, caused the route to be diverted at South Division Street in Carterville. Parts of the old route continuing into Carbondale now sit under the lake and are obvious today only from satellite view.

Around 1954, the State Highway Department started buying up right-of-ways to expand DeYoung Street, which was originally a very small back street in Marion. It wasn't even continuous from the east side of town to where the interstate is now. Most of the construction on DeYoung occurred between 1959 and 1960 and opened for traffic in October of 1960, bypassing the public square downtown for the first time.

Old Route 13 to Harrisburg was always a windy, narrow treacherous route, passing through the village of Crab Orchard to our east with sharp corners that caused innumerable fatalities over time. With the development of the interstate and the opening of the DeYoung bypass, the route was eventually rerouted to bypass Crab Orchard and straighten the road out, making it a much safer passage. Of course, all of these projects have since been reworked and expanded again since then.

In September of 1961, Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner held a ribbon-cutting ceremony here to open the first section of Interstate 57 south to Dongola, which was followed three years later in 1964 by the interstate being opened north to the south side of West Frankfort.

Today, the constant hum of commerce traversing the interstate has become a part of everyday life and distances us a long way from having to trudge down dirt roads of yesteryear.

 
 
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