JONESBORO — Duane Hileman wore a red and white checkered shirt that was opened at the neck, slate grey warm-up pants and dark boots, completing his period look as he sought to portray John Grammer, the man credited with donating 20 acres to build the county courthouse in Jonesboro.
Had guests to yesterday's celebration really been around in 1818, they may well have seen Grammer shoeless. It seems he did everything barefoot, Hileman explained.
In his period dress, Hileman and Lillian Milam, who also donned period dress to portray Grammer's wife, Julia, entertained the crowd as they talked about their lives and the land donation and Grammer's eventual election to the state legislature. It seems when he was elected to office, several people in the county came together to buy fabric to make clothes for him.
This bit of history about Union County was shared and celebrated at the Bicentennial celebration of the county, which several at Saturday's event were quick to share was formed slightly before the state of Illinois was; Union County was founded on Jan. 2, 1818; the state of Illinois on Dec. 3, 1818.
This past Tuesday, Union County turned 200 and kicked off its bicentennial celebration on Saturday.
"They will learn about the people who set up our local government," said Hileman, a retired educator from Anna district schools. "These people were also instrumental in setting up our state government, because they became representatives to our state capitol."
To celebrate the county's birthday, here is a look-back at some notable events and accomplishments through the decades.
• Decade 1: 1818 to 1828
Jan. 2, 1818, Union County is founded, created from adding a part of Pope County to Johnson County. The population was estimated to be about 1,800. The creation of the county precedes the founding of the state, which comes months later, on Dec. 3, 1818.
• Decade 2: 1828 to 1838
Around 1835, Union County is beginning to grow, spurred on by agriculture and mills and the businesses they generated. The first steam saw and grist mill in the county was built in 1836 by Willis Willard, according to "History of Union County." The county included five shoemakers and saddlers; one tailor; two wagon makers; two carpenters; one cabinet maker; two hatters; 11 blacksmiths; and three tan yards, 12 distilleries, and one horse and ox mill.
• Decade 3: 1838 to 1848
As the white settlers continue to move into Union County, the Cherokee Indians are forced to leave their homeland and travel to set-aside government land west of the Mississippi, in Oklahoma, in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.
• Decade 4: 1848 to 1858
The town of Anna was platted in; it was founded in 1854 by Winstead Davie, and named after Davie's great-great-granddaughter, Anna Willard Davie, according to the book "100 Years of Progress: The Centennial History of Anna, Illinois."
• In 1859, brothers Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick started Anna Pottery in Anna. Their work became well-known and later, collectors' items; one of their most descriptive pieces was a pig from which wine could be consumed. The business ran until 1900, according to an exhibit at the Union County Historical Society Museum in Cobden.
• Decade 5: 1858 to 1868
On September 15, 1858, presidential hopeful and native son Abraham Lincoln traveled to Jonesboro for a debate with challenger Stephen A. Douglas; the debate is credited with helping Lincoln "gain momentum" for his fight, according to the Mr. Lincoln and Freedom website .
• The Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865, and the county had its fair share of residents fight in the conflict. In the end, Union County lost one-sixth to one-seventh of its population to the Civil War.
One of the most noteworthy groups in the battle was the 109th Volunteer Infantry regiment — comprised mainly of Union County residents — which had several officers arrested and dismissed, Patrick Brumleve told The Southern. Eighteen percent of the regiment — some 171 soldiers — was recorded as having deserted. Though Brumleve said that note could make one think that Southern Illinoisans were not loyal to the Union, there was a great deal of support for the Union among Southern Illinois and among the men who served in the war.
Some officers who were dismissed were later reinstated and paid for their time served, but Brumleve said the humiliation they experienced made a lasting impression.
Guns and other relics from the Civil War are part of the permanent exhibit at the Union County Historical and Genealogy Society and Museum in Cobden.
• Decade 6: 1868 to 1878
Union County is known for its agricultural production. One of those most known today got its start in 1873, when John and Isabelle Rendleman started Rendleman Orchards.
The farm evolved with each subsequent generation, according to the company website, with the couple's youngest son Grover, and his wife, Iva, taking over the farm in 1906. They raised asparagus, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and corn, according to the company's website. Grover also started a fruit-growing operation. The Alto Pass-based operation is now run by Grover's grandson, Wayne Rendleman "Ren" Sirles and great-grandson, Wayne and his wife, Michelle, and their children.
There are other fruit orchards and vegetable farms and vineyards in the area, including Blueberry Hill Farm and Flamm Orchards and Rancho Bella Vista (of Darn Hot Peppers fame), all in Cobden.
• Decade 7: 1878 to 1888
Chicago White Sox rightfielder Albert Michael "Red" Kelly is born in Union County in November 1884. He is a football and baseball standout, going to Notre Dame University, where he helped his 1909 Fighting Irish team defeat University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, 11 to 3, according to the book "Notre Dame: Baseball Greats: From Anson to Yaz." The next year, he is playing for the Chicago White Sox.
• This is also the decade that the Union County Fair starts; in 2017, the fair celebrated its 137th edition.
• Decade 8: 1888 to 1898
This decade saw the birth of Frank Henry Willard (1893), who grew up to become a cartoonist for the syndicated newspaper comic strip "Moon Mullins." At its peak, the cartoon was carried by more than 250 newspapers, according to a page link for the Frank Willard Cartoons collection at Syracuse University. After his death, one of his long-time assistants took over the cartoon, working it until 1991. He died in 1958 in Los Angeles.
• Decade 9: 1898 to 1908
Union County enters the 20th century with a population of 22,610 people The county's estimated population, as of July 2016, was 17,212, according to census.gov.
• Decade 10: 1908 to 1918
• This decade dawns, in 1909, with whites in the town reportedly driving out the 40 or so black families who lived in Anna, after the lynching of a black man in a nearby town for the rape of a white woman, according to James W. Loewen's book "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism."
• This decade also saw men from Union County, in addition to other parts of the country, joining the U.S. forces to fight in World War I, from 1914 to 1918.
• Decade 11: 1918 to 1928
Lewis Bakeries, the makers of Bunny Bread, is founded in 1925.
Lewis started the company with a $300 loan against his mother's house, and by 1987, the company was reportedly earning $80 million in annual sales. Founder Jack Lewis died in September 2001 at the age of 91.
Bunny Bread itself was created in 1947, according to the Bunny Bread website.
• Decade 12: 1928 to 1938
This decade ends with the beginning building of the historic 111-foot Bald Knob Cross, a majestic cross arising from Bald Knob Mountain in Alto Pass, the highest point in Southern Illinois. The cross becomes a beacon of hope and invites people of all faith to visit, especially for its historic Resurrection Sunday sunrise services on the hillside.
• Decade 13: 1938 to 1948
After he expressed his concerns about the industry of coal, Clyde L. Choate was encouraged by President Harry S. Truman to run for office. He did, and in 1946 won, serving 30 years until he left the state legislature in 1976. He was the Illinois Democratic chairman for the 1972 presidential elections and a decorated soldier from WWII, from which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
• Decade 14: 1948 to 1958
The decade opens with Union County, traditionally Republican-leaning, being among those voters to return President Truman, who'd been Vice President when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office in 1945, back to the Oval Office.
• Decade 15: 1958 to 1968
Codben's Appleknockers, called a "Cinderella Dream Team," advanced to the 1964 state basketball championship, losing by five points to their competitors. Nine of the team's basketball players were taller than six feet, according to a 2014 online article in "Humanities," the magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2014, the team's members were the first inductees into the Cobden High School Hall of Fame.
• Decade 16: 1968 to 1978
This decade opens with Union County turns 150 years old, celebrating its sesquicentennial with a special souvenir medallion, embossed with the county's name, the years 1818 to 1968 and the county’s seal.
• Decade 17: 1978 to 1988
In 1984, the first of what will eventually become a series of wineries opens in Union County, Alto Vineyards. Over the next few years, other vineyards start — Pomona Winery in 1991 and Owl Creek Vineyard — all of whose owners are credited with helping to open up the county as a tourism stop with the Shawnee Wine Trail in 1995. Today, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail has 11 member wineries.
• Decade 18: 1988 to 1998
The 1990 census reveals that Union County's demographics now reflect the presence of Hispanic population: 182 people who identify as Hispanic in a county of 17,619 people. Almost 25 years later, the county Hispanic population has increased to five percent (897 people) of the county's total population of 17,447, according to the Pew Research Center's report "Hispanic Trends."
• Decade 19: 1998 to 2008
Union County's Cobden area has began to attract artistic types and art shops and is becoming known as an artists' enclave, a place where people can make and sell their arts and crafts — and find a market.
One of those businesses that opened up near the end of this decade was the anthill Gallery, created by a couple who wanted to showcase others' art, as well as their own. Sadly, those owners announced that they would be closing their gallery at the end of 2017 to pursue their own art projects.
• Decade 20: 2008 to 2018
• Some say a more youthful leadership and a more open government begin to be ushered in in Union County, with the election of Tyler R. Edmonds as State's Attorney; The 27-year-old Edmonds was elected in 2008, taking office in 2009. Joining Edmonds in the county's leadership are Darren Bailey, the county's treasurer, and Rollie Hawk, an IT specialist who is appointed as the county's Chief Information Officer. The three are credited with helping to push the county's business matters into transparency. In a 2012 review of the county's transparency, the men's work is credited with moving the county's transparency grade from an "F" to "C."
• Union County turned 200 on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, and leaders and residents and friends celebrated the grand bicentennial on Saturday, 6 Jan. 2018.