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Later that day Lewis issued a statement that insisted that "the loss of the ballots threw the entire machinery of the state into confusion and rendered impossible any official calculation of the votes." It was a strangely apocalyptic view of the day's events which he shared with none of the Illinois leadership. Lewis concluded his statement by announcing that "the officers are of the conclusive opinion that the agreement was ratified by a majority of the membership. Unofficial tabulation heretofore made supports that judgment."
Lewis declared an emergency. In a hurried meeting with representatives of the operators he approved the contract and its hated $5 a day wage. Since it was enacted during Lewis' declared "emergency" the miners were denied a chance to vote their approval. Whether they wanted it or not, Illinois miners had a new contract. The strike was over.
Upon what basis Lewis' "unofficial tabulation" was made was never disclosed. Vote counts phoned in by local union secretaries and published in newspapers around the state showed that, as had been expected, the union's membership had emphatically rejected the proposed new wage pact. The Illinois State Journal, for example, showed that Springfield-area miners had voted against the measure by a vote of 6,164 to 1,296. West Frankfort miners were reported to have been equally unenthusiastic; the vote in that important southern Illinois town went against the proposal 5,029 to 3,153.
The miners' response to their betrayal was quick and unmistakable. In the words of union historian Joseph Finley, "War—not metaphorical, not a writer's phrasemaking, but old-fashioned armed hostilities—was the answer." An estimated 10,000 angry miners swarmed into the little mining town of Benld on August 14 to demonstrate against the new pact. On August 18, four of the Peabody Coal Company's largest mines in Christian County were surrounded by 8,000 picketing miners armed with shotguns and ax handles. On August 24, a caravan of some 800 autos carried miners south along Highway 51 to mobilize strike support among Franklin County miners and was met by a sheriffs’ posse armed with baseball bats and clubs—150 men were hurt in the melee that followed. The governor called out the National Guard to patrol the southern Illinois coal districts and local police were prevailed upon to protect mine owners' property. Lewis expelled any union leader connected with the work stoppages spreading through the fields. The miners, abandoned even by their own union, were left without an ally.
On September 1, 272 representatives from locals all over the state met in Gillespie; their purpose was the organization of a new coal miners' union in Illinois. The move to challenge the mighty UMWA was a rank and file revolt, fueled by hatred of John L. Lewis and led by ordinary miners. (None of the deposed leaders of the RUMWA were present, all of them having apparently decided that further resistance to Lewis was suicidal.) The union was called the Progressive Miners of America, or PMA.
A constitutional convention was set for October in Edwardsville. PMA leaders also invited representatives of Illinois coal operators to attend the meet and initiate wage talks. The survival of the PMA depended entirely on the operators. The mining giants like Peabody Coal (most of whose mines were located in the southern Illinois fields) controlled the Illinois Coal Operators Association. The smaller producers of central Illinois had long chafed under the domination of their more powerful competitors. It was these owners, acting through the newly-organized Coal Producers Association of Illinois, who agreed to meet with the PMA in Edwardsville.
The PMA left the Edwardsville convention with a contract. Mine owners from the Springfield, Peoria, and Belleville areas had recognized the new union and in the process gave the PMA a victory that had eluded every other insurgent movement in Illinois since the start of Lewis' turbulent reign. On the issue of the $5 wage, however, the owners refused to compromise. PMA negotiators had entered the talks promising to win back the old $6.10 a day wage rate, but the owners' adamant refusal to add to their proposed $5 rate forced them to break that promise. It was a failure that might easily have wrecked the young union. Submitting the scale to the membership for approval would have precipitated the same kind of crisis which had so recently split the UMWA, so the contract was approved by the PMA leaders without referendum. The Progressives, who had revolted against the Lewis regime over the issues of union democracy and the $5 wage, were forced to swallow that wage a second time without a chance to vote their opinion.
Though the failure of the PMA to better the terms of the UMWA contract sparked some disaffection within its ranks, the membership as a whole was too firmly united in its hatred of Lewis to abandon the rebellion. Three months after its formation the PMA had captured every local in four counties (Montgomery, Macoupin, Madison, and St. Clair) and had contracts with every major producer except the Peabody Coal Company in Sangamon and Christian counties. Realizing that the strength of the union depended on expanding its influence beyond its central Illinois stronghold, PMA leaders attempted to persuade Illinois statehouse officials to hold an open referendum among the state's miners to settle the issue of union representation. A request to Governor Henry Horner to sponsor such a vote in January of 1933 was refused. In 1934, the Illinois General Assembly, in a formal resolution, urged the governor and the president of the United States to hold a secret vote to determine whether Illinois miners would work under the banner of the UMW or the PMA. Their advice, too, was ignored.
The PMA was to fight many such battles for domination of the Illinois coal fields in the years just after the split with Lewis. A few were won, more were lost, all cost the struggling union money it could little afford to lose.
The fighting was not always done with words. While high-priced lawyers argued fine points of labor law before the bench, while smooth-talking lobbyists buttonholed state legislators in the halls of the state capitol, the miners themselves fought for their unions the only way they knew how. For seven years after the birth of the PMA there was civil war in the state's coal districts, particularly in Sangamon and neighboring Christian counties. Hundreds of men of both camps, most of them out of work for months, set upon one another with bloody vengeance.
On September 25, 1932, a fight erupted when UMW members emerging from a meeting in Springfield's Knights of Columbus hall encountered PMA pickets in the street. In the riot that followed eight men were wounded and one, a city police detective, was killed. Four companies of the Illinois National Guard had to be called out in February of 1933 to quell two nights of fighting between PMA pickets and UMWA employees at Springfield's Woodside, Peerless, and Capital mines; two men were wounded by gunfire and another two dozen hurt by flying bricks and beatings during the outbreaks. On April 21, 1935, a crowd of PMA members and their families leaving an Easter Sunday meeting at their headquarters at Sixth and Washington in downtown Springfield were pelted with small arms fire from a black limousine driven by Ray Edmundson, provisional president of District 12, UMWA. In the shootout that followed the attack eight men were wounded and another died.
In two and a half years when the violence was at a peak, an estimated forty men died as miners of both factions were beaten, shot at, and bombed in the streets, alleys, and coal mines of central Illinois. The number of wounded ran into the hundreds. One survivor remembers what it was like:
It was common for half of the goddam miners in Springfield to be like Jesse James or cowboys, because they packed their goddam gun in their belts . . . . I don't want to brag, but I survived nine bullets, of which I still carry two. There's plenty more around here just like I am. There's plenty more just deader than hell, too.
Charles Mostaka, a Lithuanian who worked as a mule driver, spent his share of time on the PMA picket lines. As he recalls it:
I came near to being shot four or five times myself. In those days whenever you picketed you had your life in your hands. They'd stick a bayonet in your (behind) . . . they had the state militia out all the time. In my day they were known as "scab-herders" because all they did was go out and protect the scabs, the strike-breakers . . .
On April 24, 1935, 120,000 fellow members, friends, and relatives gathered in Springfield for the burial of Edris Mabie, a PMA member murdered in a shootout with UMW rivals at Fifth and Washington in Springfield after Easter services at PMA headquarters.
Mostaka's "scab-herders" spent a record total of 83,958 man-days on active duty. Of that number 10,095 were spent in Sangamon County, while in nearby Christian County, scene of some of the bitterest fighting, guardsmen spent 58,827 man-days trying (usually in vain) to keep the peace.
The confused politics of the union dispute made identification of those responsible practically impossible. In the fall of 1934, for example, the air shaft and fan house of Peabody's Capital Mine at Nineteenth and Capitol in Springfield was ripped apart by the detonation of a huge dynamite charge which sent the 350 miners working below "scurrying out of there like rats." John L. Lewis, seeking to gain an edge in the propaganda battle still waging between the opposing camps, promptly accused PMA saboteurs of the crime and offered a $10,000 reward for their apprehension. Some PMA leaders on the other hand suggested that the fan house, which was in need of replacement, had been deliberately blown apart by the coal company in order to collect the insurance money. Other PMA leaders believed the job to be the fruit of a conspiracy on the part of the company and the UMWA to discredit the PMA. And some people, like one prominent Springfield resident interviewed by a visiting Nation correspondent, also thought the explosion to be the work of Peabody's men, but saw it as part of an effort to force the state to establish (at taxpayers' expense) a state police force to protect mine interests against miners of both factions.
As the fighting dragged on into 1935, assaults on corporate property became more common. Railroads which hauled UMW-dug coal were especially singled out for bombing attacks. Hardest hit was the Chicago and Illinois Midland Railroad, which hauled coal dug from four Peabody mines in Christian County along the "Midland Track" between Taylorville and Auburn. In the two years between 1933 and 1935 there were eleven bombings and six attempted bombings of mines, trains, and tracks in the Springfield area.
Typical of these attacks was the destruction of a C&IM train as it passed through Andrew Station eight miles northwest of the Capital City on February 24, 1935. An expertly-placed dynamite charge set a gasoline car aflame; the resulting blaze destroyed ten other cars in the twenty-three-car train. One summary of the measures taken by the railroads to protect passengers and property noted that ". . . the speed of passenger trains was restricted, and for safety purposes a light engine was run ahead of them as far north as Havana, Illinois; numerous men were employed to guard and maintain a constant inspection of tracks and bridges, and coal trains were followed by railroad agents in automobiles on parallel highways."
Attempts by local authorities to curb the fighting were a failure. In Sangamon County, for instance, law enforcement officials established a special investigative force modeled on Chicago's crack anti-crime unit, but the officers gave up when their identities became known. County sheriffs were often reluctant to arrest known saboteurs in regions in which one union or the other predominated for fear of voter retribution at election lime. An investigative commission charged by the General Assembly to recommend ways to halt the bloodshed noted: "Open law violations were permitted . . . prosecutions were neglected, and in some instances the law enforcing officers gave the support of their office to the faction with which they were affiliated. As a result, cold-blooded murders have gone unpunished, violations of the law have been sneered at, and the controversy itself has been fanned to greater intensity." The only significant prosecutions to result from the Illinois miners' war were undertaken by the Federal government, which tried forty-one men for a series of forty-five bombing assaults on railroad property in 1936.
By then the Progressives' dream of capturing Illinois from the UMWA had all but died. An extended series of recognition strikes against mines employing UMWA workers accomplished little but the gradual depletion of the PMA treasury. There were thousands of men in the Illinois fields to whom the survival of their families meant more than the survival of any union, and it was not difficult for the owners to recruit men to work mines being struck by the PMA. Strikes like the twenty-seven month holdout at Springfield's Mine B saddled the fledgling union with crippling bills for relief payments to strikers' families and only rarely succeeded in breaking UMWA contracts with major shippers.
The PMA also had little success in its many appeals to the Federal government for aid—a series of labor decisions during the Roosevelt administration tended to support the UMWA in representation, contract, and recognition disputes. Finally the public, troubled by the plague of violence, slowly shifted its allegiance from the PMA, a swing in public opinion that was given impetus by Lewis' repeated charges (never proven) that the Progressives were dominated by Communists.
In addition to its other woes the PMA was even beginning to lose its support in parts of its central Illinois stronghold. Between 1936 and 1941, for example, a series of mine closings, changes in ownership, and lost representation votes in Sangamon County left the Progressives with a contract with only one major shipper. In April of 1933 the Progressive Miners of America had boasted a total membership of 30,341. By the end of the decade membership had skidded to 18,654.
Unlike other attempted rebellions against Lewis in Illinois, however, this one did not die. This "minor irritant to the UMW" exists still, serving its members from its international headquarters in Springfield, distinguished not so much by what it accomplished as by the fact that it survived.
* * *
Throughout the Thirties, while news of the mine wars captured the headlines, there were occurring other, less conspicuous events which were to have a far more profound impact on the futures of Sangamon County's mining men than the outcome of any of the union battles then raging across central Illinois. In mine after mine new machines were replacing picks and shovels, machines that could dig faster and work longer than any man in the pits. The mechanized mines in southern counties like Franklin and Williamson were as different from the hand-worked pits of Sangamon County as a modern jetliner is from the Wright brothers' first airplane. Sangamon County had lost its position as leader among Illinois coal counties to these southern Illinois giants during the Twenties—by 1930 Sangamon stood fourth in coal production, and by 1940 had slipped to ninth. The staggering efficiency of the mechanized southern mines was responsible for much of the difference in production; in 1935, for example, only 42 percent of Sangamon County coal had been dug with machines compared to the 97 percent of Williamson County’s output so mined.
The decline in Sangamon County's relative status as a coal producer was speeded by the advent of strip mining in Illinois. In 1919 only 0.7 percent of Illinois coal had been strip-mined. By 1939 that figure had risen to 23.2 percent, and by 1970 more than half the state's production would come from strip mines. Strip mining required fewer men than even mechanized shaft mining and farther spared the owners the necessity of providing elaborate and expensive ventilation, haulage, and safety equipment. Once the feasibility (and profitability) of strip mining in the southern Illinois fields had been established, the fate of the increasingly marginal central Illinois field was sealed.
Sangamon's drop from dominance was reflected in employment figures. In 1932, when the PMA broke with the UMWA in Illinois, 4,099 men worked as miners in Sangamon County; ten years later, only 2,746 men were so employed. Part of this reduction was due to the spreading mechanization of of the mines—in fact, county mines were able to dig more coal with fewer men in 1942 than they had in 1932. But the Sangamon County coal mines were nearly exhausted after eighty years of intensive digging, and it was only a matter of time before mining of any kind in Sangamon County would become unprofitable.
The end of the Second World War signaled a second development which, along with mechanization and strip mining in the southern fields, was to spell disaster for the central Illinois coal industry. Ironically, technological change, which had first stimulated the full-scale exploitation of area coal reserves in the late 19th century, was also responsible for their closing in the middle of the 20th. Petroleum, not coal, was what made America run. More homes and factories were being heated by either oil or natural gas, fuels more efficient, cleaner, and incomparably more convenient than coal. Railroads, whose appetite for coal had made them a principal consumer of Illinois coal for eighty years, were hauling their freight with locomotives powered by the new diesel engines. Coal, though still important to the health of the American industrial economy, was no longer vital to it.
Cancellation of fat wartime contracts after the signing of the peace in 1945 cut the last prop from under the sagging Sangamon County coal industry, and production's downward slide continued until 1952. It was during that year that the county which had been the foremost source of Illinois coal produced a paltry 174,118 tons. The year 1952 also marked the closing of the county's last major shipping mine, the Panther Creek No. 5 mine on the north side of Springfield.
In the ninety years since Jacob Loose had opened Sangamon County's first deep mine in 1867 Springfield, like mining, had changed. Where once Springfield's working people dug a living out of the earth with picks and shovels, their more modern counterparts more likely use pencils or typewriters. Bit by bit even the physical evidence of the era of mining in the capital is disappearing. Atop the entrance to the Citizens Coal Company "A" mine there now stands a spanking new fire station, and Peabody's Capital mine on the city's east side has been converted to a boys' baseball park. Only the battered remains of a few coal tipples and the invisible cobweb of abandoned mine tunnels deep beneath the surface are left as reminders of what was the county's largest industry. Today the mines are forgotten by nearly everyone except the men who worked in them, and the scattered families of those who died in them.
* * *
As was noted, it is ironic that technological change, which was responsible for the birth of mining in central Illinois, should also be the cause of its death. It is doubly ironic, then, to consider the possibility that technological change may soon resurrect Illinois mining. Increases in the cost of petroleum fuels has caused government and industry planners to look again to the Illinois coal fields for the answer to the nation's energy needs. New techniques to extract gas from coal, sophisticated anti-pollution equipment to rid soft coal of noisome sulphur and ash—these and other developments lead many experts to predict that coal will once more achieve a position of economic dominance in the state.
What role Sangamon County will play in the predicted rebirth of Illinois mining is difficult to forecast. There are an estimated five billion tons of mineable coal still buried within the county's borders (out of the state's total reserves of 147 billion tons), much of it contained in Coal Seam No. 6 south of Springfield. In fact, the world's largest coal mine (Peabody No. 10, which lies just across the county line from Pawnee in Christian County) has been hauling more than five million tons of coal per year from the No. 6 seam for some twenty years and production promises to remain at that level for years to come.
Times have changed, however, since small independent operators like Loose and Parley Howlett could open a new mine for the cost of a dozen men and a few mules. The costs of developing a modern mechanized mining facility are staggering, and it was long thought that such costs were a permanent stumbling block to the expansion of the industry in central Illinois during a protracted period of declining demand. But in an era in which the prices paid for energy are rising as steeply as demand, it is possible that utility companies and energy conglomerates desperate to develop new energy sources will no longer balk at the price tag. ●
There is a paucity of printed material relating to the nature and extent of coal mining in Sangamon County prior to 1882, when the state began keeping systematic records of mining activity in Illinois. Sources used in the preparation of this account include such early histories as Sangamon County, Illinois (Inter-State Publishing Co., Chicago, 1881), "Mineral Resources" by A.R. Crook and "Coal Mining" by Frank R. Fisher, Chapters XXX and XXXI respectively of Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Sangamon County, edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby (Munsell Publishing Co., Chicago, 1912), Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincoln's Springfield by Paul M. Angle (Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Chicago, 1971), History of Coal Mining in Illinois by Harry M. Dixon (University of Illinois, Urban a, 1951), and History of Springfield, Illinois: Its Attractions as a Home and Advantages for Business, etc. by J. C. Power (Board of Trade, Springfield, 1872).
Information detailing the origin and extent of central Illinois coal strata may be found in Subsurface Geology and Coal Resources of the Pennsylvanian System by Kenneth E. Clegg (Circular 312, Illinois State Geological Survey, Urbana, 1961) and Robert L. Major's Mineral Resources and Mineral Industries of the Springfield Region, Illinois (Mineral Economics Brief No. 17, Illinois State Geological Survey, Urbana, 1967).
Information on mining technology is somewhat easier to come by. Chief among the sources consulted are Coal Mining in Illinois by S. O. Andros (Bulletin No. 13, Illinois Coal Mining Investigations, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1915) and Arturo Bement's Illinois Coal: A Non-Technical Account of Its Organization, Production, and Preparation (Bulletin No. 56, State Geological Survey, State of Illinois, Urbana, 1929).
Some of the most detailed information concerning Sangamon County mining can be found in the Illinois Coal Reports, published annually since 1882 by the State of Illinois, and "Mined-Out Coal Area Maps" (Nos. 14, 15, 18, and 19), published in 1969 by the State Geological Survey in Urbana.
Information concerning the social and economic conditions among the Sangamon County mining community was culled from Chapter IV, "Wages and Irregularity of Employment," in Industrial Conditions in Springfield, Illinois by Louise C. Odencrantz and Zenas L. Potter (Springfield Survey Committee, Springfield, 1916), The Immigrant and Coal Mining Communities of Illinois (Bulletin No. 2, Immigrants Commission, State of Illinois, Springfield, 1920), Louis Bloch's Labor Agreements in Coal Mines: A Case Study of the Administration of Agreements Between Miners' and Operators' Organizations in the Bituminous Coal Mines of Illinois (Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1931) and An Appeal to Reason: The Illinois Coal Crisis, 1932 (Illinois Coal Operators Association, Chicago, 1932).
The evolution of American coal miners' unions is described in McAlister Coleman's excellent Men and Coal (Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., New York, 1943) and Edward A. Wieck's The American Miners' Association: A Record of the Origin of Coal Miners' Unions in the United States (Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1940). The history of the later conflict between the opposing factions of the UMWA is well-documented. Among the books treating the topic are The Progressive Mine Workers of America: A Study in Rival Unionism by Harriet D. Hudson (Bulletin No. 73, College of Commerce and Business Administration, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1952), Irving Bernstein's The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker, 1920-1933 (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1970), his companion volume, Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941 (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1970), and Joseph E. Finley's The Corrupt Kingdom: The Rise and Fall of the United Mine Workers (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972).
Among the many articles published about the United Mine Workers, the following proved most helpful: "The Illinois Miners' War Goes On" by Louis Adamic (The Nation, Vol. 140, No. 1638); "The Origin of the Progressive Mine Workers of America" by Dallas M. Young (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 40, No. 3); "The Reorganized United Mine Workers Of America, 1930-1931" by Lorin Lee Cary (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 56, No. 4); "How to Break a I Inion" by J.B.S. Hardman (The New Republic, Vol. 68, October .'I, 1931); and "The Miners' Rebellion" by Louis Stanley (The Simon, Vol. 130, No. 3377).
The Illinois State Journal and Illinois State Register of Springfield provided contemporary newspaper accounts of many "I the events described in this account. Of particular interest were accounts of some of these same events as told by area miners and preserved in the files of Sangamon State University's Oral History Project in Springfield. Among the memoirs cited are those of Joe Ozanic, Arthur Gramlich, and Marshall Yohkum. Also cited is an Interview with Charles Mostaka published in the Sangamon County Democratic News, November, 1973.
 The 1932 wage negotiations made clear to the PMA the degree to which the bargaining latitude of a weaker union is defined by the position of the stronger union. The PMA could not ask their membership to sign for a lower wage than that demanded by the UMWA; to do so would cause mass defections from the union. To demand higher wages than the UMWA, on the other hand, would drive the coal operators back into the UMWA camp. Since the signing of that first contract in 1932, no PMA wage proposal has differed significantly from its UMWA counterpart.
 The cost to the taxpayers for this peace-keeping force amounted to approximately $514,000, a burden eased somewhat by the guardsmen's offer to accept a 25% reduction in pay as "their contribution to the economic welfare of the state."
 During the height of the mine wars Sangamon County sheriffs deputies were assigned to protect UMWA miners crossing PMA picket lines. Such decisions prompted the PMA to campaign vigorously (and successfully) in (he 1934 sheriff's election on behalf of Luke Gaule, a candidate who shared the union's opposition to what a PMA paper called "Peabodyism and thuggery in Sangamon County."
 One example should suffice to illustrate just what mechanization meant for miners and mining. Peabody's No. 10 mine in Christian County (which opened in 1951) is equipped with the latest in drilling, blasting, and haulage gear. With it, the mine's 800-odd employees have been able to extract an average of more than five million tons of coal per year for the past two decades. In 1902, during the period during which Sangamon County led the state in coal production, 4300 men working in thirty separate mines were able to dig only a little more than three and a half million tons.
Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.
One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.
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“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered."
The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like.
The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly.
An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than
Southern Illinois University Press 2017
A work of solid history, entertainingly told.
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One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.
Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018
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A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians
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The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more. Of particular note are its Prairie State Books, quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.
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Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.