A railroad from Carbondale to Johnston City was the next step. Most of the investment was made by O. L. Garrison, a partner in the Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company and part owner of the mine at Fredonia. The railroad company was named the Chicago and Carbondale, and their line was built in 1895. That autumn it was sold to a larger system, the Chicago and Texas railroad. But the Illinois Central leased the line October 1, 1897 and obtained ownership December 15, 1902.
Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Mr. Garrison assigned Hiram Wilson the work of developing mine number 7 of the Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company. The shaft was sunk in section 20, just east of the present Herrin city limit, by workmen who were paid $1.25 for a ten hour day. Many new ideas were incorporated in the mine, some the suggestions of Fred W. Richart, who had just graduated from the engineering college at the University of Illinois and was hired to design the mine. But with all the new equipment, their expectation of capacity was fifteen hundred tons in ten hours.
Mine number 7, developed in 1896 and 1897, was still being operated in 1939. It was purchased in 1920 by the Consolidated Coal Company of St. Louis, who developed the Buckhorn Mine. Other mines were opened in rapid succession. J.D. Peters was employed by D.R. Harrison to sink the first mine of the Chicago and Carterville coal company, which became mine A when the company’s second mine, B, was sunk a few years later. Theodore Roosevelt “went below” to inspect mine A on one of his campaign trips. Sunnyside mine was also developed in 1899. In a few years more than thirty mines were operating within six miles of Herrin.
In the summer of 1896 the railroad station and the first buildings at mine 7 were the only forecast of a city on the prairie. Mr. Harrison moved his store and post office to a building on Walnut Street just east of Park Avenue. The post office was officially named Herrin on May 8, 1896. Platting of a town site followed. The Chicago and Carbondale engineer who constructed the west half of the railroad was Baxter L. Brown, the 1939 president of the public service board for the city of St. Louis. He was offered any lot in the new town for $25, but the price seemed high. His counter offer was to pay the fees for recording the deed, if the lot were given him. Mr. Herrin and Mr. Harrison had more faith in their town, and Mr. Brown did not become a Herrin real estate owner.
But others saw the opportunity, miners and business men flocked in. Daniel Perrine built the first new residence for Henry Wilson, who ran a saw mill. Albert K. and Edward A. Elles bought a frame building from W.A. (Alex) Stotlar, and opened a branch of their Carterville store. That small shop became the extensive department store of the Herrin supply company.
Increased business promoted the post office to first class status, and Alex Stotlar was appointed postmaster March 15, 1898. He handled the mail in his own store on West Cherry Street, where Henry P. LaMaster and Gus Sizemore were his partners.
Former Postmaster Harrison had long been the community banker in an informal way, but about this time he organized the Exchange bank, a private institution. The First National Bank succeeded in 1900, into which Mr. Harrison and Ephraim Herrin brought their sons, George and John. The Bank of Herrin organized in 1937 has the third generation, Fred R. Harrison, as President.
Herrin was incorporated as a village March 21, 1898. Ephraim Herrin, “Uncle Eph” to the entire town, was the first president of the village trustees. Mr. Herrin was born on the prairie, and as a young man of nineteen enlisted in the Union army. He fought at Resaca with General Sherman, and marched on to the sea and to the Grand review at Washington as a private in the 9th Illinois infantry. He married Fatimma Brown, daughter of the builder of Brownville School, and they made their home on a farm near the corners of the North and Northeast public roads, now the northeast residential section of Herrin. There Mrs. Herrin lived until January 7, 1939, the honored oldest citizen of the city named for her husband’s family.
Charles E. Ingraham (1865-1838) brought the first newspaper press to the new village and on Saturday, January 21, 1899 issued the first number of the Herrin News. Although ownership passed to Hal W. Trovillion with the issue of November 14, 1904, Mr. Ingraham continued his interest in the city of his adoption. One of his first editorial policies was electric lights for Herrin, in support of Fred W. Richart’s efforts. The Interurban Electric Company was formed by the two in partnership with Dr. H. A. Berry and Bert Bollinger. Ten arc lights turned night into day along Herrin’s business district for the first time on March 31, 1899.
Many Italians came to Herrin among the miners who had been working in surrounding counties. Among their leaders were Bart Colombo, Joseph Berra, and Louis Dell’Era. As a man established himself, and grew certain the future held good work and a good home, he sent for his family or his brother or some friend. Many came from homes in Cuggiono, Lombardy. Natives of Lombardy organized at Herrin in 1898 the Lombard Society, at first a branch of a similar group at Murphysboro, later the headquarters. In 1899 the Rome club was organized along similar lines.
The city of Herrin was incorporated April 17, 1900.
M.P. Zwick, who once sold merchandise from house to house on Herrin’s prairie, opened his first store in 1900. In 1939, he and his family operated four in Herrin and other stores in other cities.
Vince Walker came to Herrin in 1901 to open a branch of his store in Carterville. In 1911 his son, J.V. Walker, opened the firm’s clothing store for men.
Churches on Herrin’s prairie had been Christian and Baptist. The First Methodist Episcopal church was organized in the city April 13, 1900 after a revival conducted by Lawrence Smith and John D. Shadrick. The latter became the first pastor. Father Bernard Hilgenberg came to say mass at intervals that summer. In the spring of 1901 the first Catholic Church was built, now succeeded by the beautiful replica of a Lombardy cathedral that is Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. The Presbyterian Church was organized at Christmas time, 1904, and the first pastor was R. C. Townsend.
Schools were added and improved as churches grew, the old Stotlar School becoming the first of the city schools. A high school was opened in 1903 with H.T. McKinney as principal and Miss Crow, his one assistant. The first class of eight graduates completed their work in 1906, but the next term a four year course was offered. The township accepted responsibility for the high school in 1913.
Entertainment in the early days was offered by the opera house on Park Avenue, built by Louis Dell’Era and Joseph Berra. DeLeon’s comedians opened the theater October 4, 1904 for a week’s run. One of their plays was “Whose Baby Are You?”
More mines and more business brought more railroads to the city. The Coal Belt electric railroad company started building its street car lines in 1901, and offered a combination passenger and baggage service in the latest type of car. This route became part of the Missouri Pacific system. The Northern and Southern railroad built a line from Centralia to Herrin junction that was finished in January 1906 and bought by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroad December 1, 1908.
The largest shipping coal mines in the world are in the Herrin area, but this wealth of natural resources would have meant nothing without the strength that union organization has brought the city. The Herrin trades council was organized December 31, 1903 with six local unions: the miners, carpenters, clerks, painters, and teamsters. Every citizen reflects the spirit of co-operation that organization fosters, and the nickname, the Gateway City, marks Herrin as the gateway to opportunity.
(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places by Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939)