by Tyler Dunahee
Everyone has a hometown, likely the place one spent the most time during their developing years and the place where the community and one's friends had the most influence on that person. I feel sorry for those who have a hard time claiming a hometown, those who moved from place to place for whatever reason. I was lucky, although some may say unlucky, enough to spend my first twenty years of life living in the same great town, community, and group of friends. A place where the people of the community, my friends, and my parents helped shaped me and to who I was to become. To everyone reading this, I suggest you take the time to research the history of your town, the land on which your hometown sits is billions of years old, there's surely something interesting you've yet to uncover, and what you may uncover may be great.
The subject of this post came about while doing some research on my hometown of Centralia, Illinois, the subject of my thesis. Centralia was founded as a railroad town, and named for it as well, as the Centralia was built around the Illinois Central Railroad. The railroad was finished in the area around 1852, and Centralia was founded in 1853, officially becoming a town, with a form of government in 1859. The year before, in 1858, Centralia hosted the Illinois State Fair, which both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas both attended, making many appearance as they were campaigning against each other for an Illinois Senate, the vote to take place a few months later.
Another defining event in Centralia's history, although this was not a positive event in any sense, was the Centralia No 5 Mine Disaster of 1947. An explosion shook the mine right at quitting time on March 25th, 1947 and 111 of the 142 men who were working below were killed. The Centralia Mine No 5 had been operating for 40 years when the disaster took place. The coal mining disaster is the second worst in United States history since 1940 and signaled the end of the coal industry in Centralia.
Possibly the most interesting story to me, because of the proximity to where I actually lived, was the oil boom that took place in Centralia in the late 1930's to early 1940's. Oil was struck northwest of Centralia in 1937 and would be a great producer of oil over 6,200 barrels of oil daily on the field covering 1,000 acres. Although good for the city, when the Texas Oil Company struck oil east of Centralia in 1938, less than a half mile from where I grew up, the area wouldn't be the same. At its peak the field was the largest producing oil field east of the Mississippi River in the United States. 2400 wells spotted the area producing over 300,000 barrels of oil and 250,000,000 cubic feet natural gas daily. These fields and the product they produced made significant contributions to military efforts in WWII. Today, the fields are still in use, used and owned by Citation Oil and Gas.
That last story is what gained most of my attention, to have grown up next to and drove past those fields hundreds of times and to never have known what took place there 70 years ago blew my mind. Hundreds of men would have lived and worked there over several years, and today it stands pretty barren, a very rural area with houses speckling the landscape, I doubt they even know what took place on the land they own. That being said, take the time, do the research, you never know what you may find.