History of Goreville

In 1854 John Gore bought 40 acres of land from the U.S. Government atop a high ridge in northwest Johnson County. The area that would become Goreville had been in the 1850’s a voting and trading place. Mr. Gore owned and operated a general store at this location. Soon after the Civil War on June 12, 1866 a post office was established and name in honor of Mr. Gore. Ambrose Caruth, become Goreville’s first postmaster. Twice a week over a muddy and hilly road the mail would come from Tunnel Hill to the post office. In October 1869 John Gore’s son Wesley become the second postmaster. Goreville grew slowly and by the late 19th century had several stores, a doctor’s office and a blacksmith shop just to name a few.

The arrival of the C & EI railroad would have an enormous impact on the small village. In 1898 the C& EI railroad started to lay down tracks about a mile northeast of town, through land owned by Mike Jones and Joel Hubbard. Lots were surveyed and soon businesses began to move closer to the tracks. One of the first businesses to move was the Hudgens and Bradley General Store. What was then called New Goreville began to grow. The Village of Goreville was incorporated on April 18, 1900, at that time the population was 406. Soon after, all the businesses had relocated closer to the railroad. Unlike other towns that moved in those days, the old part of town did not die. The area become a residential neighborhood and is today still known as Old Town.

The new village soon had eight general stores, three blacksmith shops, a bank, three hotels, a tin shop, a drug store, three doctors, a livery stable, a furniture store, and a weekly newspaper. It was not until around 1936 that electricity reach Goreville. The Goreville Masonic Lodge was charter on October 3, 1860 and is still going strong.

On May 7, 1907 a destructive fire occurred. The fire started on the east side of Main Street. Because of the intense heat, the men fighting the fire had to leave their new fire truck, and forced to use buckets of water to fight the blaze. After the fire had died the new fire truck, which had cost $800.50, and almost all of the business area were gone. Hudgens and Bradley General Store was the only business remaining.

The Goreville Telephone Company was founded by William Guy Pearson Terry. The company started in the family home in what is now old town. In 1908 the family along with the business moved to a new two-story brick house on Broadway, this house is still standing and is in good shape. The telephone customers’ monthly bill in those days was one dollar. The Goreville Telephone Company sold to General Telephone Company, where it was later called GTE. The year the company sold is unknown.

As Goreville moved into the 1920’s, a second bank opened, as well as several new businesses including a barrel making business and a hoop shop. These and other new businesses made use of the timber in the area and made timber for the coal mines in Franklin and Williamson Counties. Goreville’s population reached 700 which was the highest number for sometime. 1920 saw the organization of the Nipper and Gould American Legion Post, this post no longer exist.

The Great Depression had an impact on Goreville just this like the rest of the country. A number of businesses closed, several fires broke out destroying some of the older buildings and a community center. The railroad was still in operation and the men working for the railroad always had a steady pay check. The depression left Goreville with no banking facility. It would not be until 1963, when the Goreville State Bank opened, that Goreville had another banking facility.

The history of Goreville can not be written, with out talking about Ferne Clyffe State Park. The park is just south of town and offers camping, picnicking, hiking, hunting, fishing and sightseeing.

The Following is from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

History of Ferne Clyffe

Two Cairo brothers purchased a part of the park known today as Hawks’ Cave/Big Rocky Hollow in 1899 and called it Ferne Clyffe because of the ferns that grew in such abundance. The area soon became known for its beauty and was eventually sold to Miss Emma Rebman, a local school teacher and Johnson County school superintendent. Miss Rebman opened the park to the public on Sundays for a 10-cent admission. Ferne Clyffe soon became a popular attraction, and local entrepreneurs began to provide transportation from the Goreville train depot for an additional 10 cents.

In 1929, Miss Rebman offered to sell the park to the state of Illinois. Additional efforts by conservation and political groups such as the Greater Egypt Association and the Illinois Redevelopment Board resulted in the state’s purchase of Miss Rebman’s 140 acres in 1949.

The history of Goreville can not be talked about with out talking about Mrs. Mexico Kelley, because she lived through most of it. Mrs. Kelley was born on May 9, 1869 in Goreville to James and Julie Ann Jackson Ollis. Mrs. Kelley passed away on May 17, 1975 at the age of 106 and eight days old. On November 25, 1891 she married William Presley Kelley. Mrs. Kelley did not see her first train until she was 30 years old and she did not ride in an automobile until she was past 50 years old. Her life started in the days of the horse and buggy and ended in the jet age.

The citizens of Goreville have always enjoyed getting together to help their neighbors and their community. The annual Chicken Fry dinner was one of those events that allowed the community to come together to raise money for the betterment of the town. Community members donated and prepared the food for this event. Almost everyone in town helped in someway. This tradition ended in 1956; however, the memories lives on.

The annual Fox Hunt was held at Ferne Clyffe for several years. Longtime mayor Brad Durham who was also the president of the Southern Illinois Fox Hunters Association for many years, was the driving force in bringing the Fox Hunt to the area. The Fox Hunt was a four-day event held in August. The event would attract upwards of two thousand people. There were gospel singing, square dances, church services, food, and many different contests. Some of the contests were the Fox calling contest, a hog calling contest, and a husband calling contest. In the late 1960’s the annual event move to Ceder Lake and the days of the Fox Hunt a Ferne Clyffe came to an end.

The population in the 1940’s and 1950’s stayed about 500. During the 1960’s-1980’s Goreville grew to a height of 1000 in population. The 1960’s would provide changes and population growth to Goreville and the surrounding area.

The Southern Illinois Power Cooperative dammed the south fork of the Saline River to create the 2,300 acre Lake of Egypt in 1962. The lake was built, so the coal-burning power plant would have a supply of cooling water. Lake of Egypt has 93 miles of shoreline, the average depth of the lake is 18 feet and has a maximum depth of 52 feet.

A United States Penitentiary located between Marion and Goreville opened in 1963 as a replacement for Alcatraz. From 1978 to the mid 2000’s the prison was the nation’s highest security prison. The prison provided much needed jobs to the region.

On June 29, 1956 at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D. C., President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. The very pen, President Eisenhower used to sign that p iece of legislation, now resides in a private collection, here in Goreville.

The creation of the Interstate Highway System has been both good and bad for Goreville. With the interstate highways, people were able to drive to bigger towns to do there shopping. People traveling did not have to drive through each and every town along the way. As a result a lot of small town’s economies suffered. Goreville was no different; people were able to do all their shopping in towns like Marion, IL. or Paducah, KY. Unlike most other towns in Southern Illinois, Goreville has two major interstates close by. Interstate 57 west of town and Interstate 24 east of town, with both being about three miles from the center of town. Both I57 and I 24 provide Goreville with two interstate exit ramps, exit 40 on I57 and exit 7 on I24.

Goreville has sent some of her brave young men and women off in harms-way. These brave men and women have fought in every conflict since the Spanish American War. Sadly a few have become Gold Star Boys.

Several attempts were made to host an annual 4th of July Parade; however, none would last very long. That all changed in 1978 when the Goreville Ruritan Club started the event. The Ruritan Club has since folded; therefore, the Village has taken over the 4th of July Celebration. On February 8, 2010 a group of citizens mostly from Goreville formed a Celebration Committee in order to plan and to expand the 4th of July Celebration and others events.

In May of 2000 Goreville celebrated its centennial with a week long celebration. Some of the activities held were; gospel singing, a vintage car show, a quilt show, a flea market, an art exhibit, pet show and a style show with styles from the late 1800’s through 2000. Several different contests were held, including a baby contest, beauty contest and a beard contest. People enjoyed looking at a display of old pictures and memorabilia. Just like all celebrations there was food; people could eat at a number of different food booths, old-fashioned pie supper, chicken and dumpling dinner and a community potluck dinner. One of the best parades that Goreville had seen wound its way through town. The theme for the parade was, “The Way We Were”. The celebration concluded with a grand fireworks display at the City Park.

On May 31, 2005 Southern Trust Bank opened its Goreville facility at 101 N. Broadway, making the first time in over 70 years that Goreville had two banking facilities. In the fall of 2009 the 1.2 million dollar Goreville facility opened replacing a temporary facility that had been used since the banks opening.

In November of 2007 Village Officials and Remington LLC broke ground on a $5 million dollar development project on the south edge of town. The development sets on 8.5 acres. Two businesses have now located there, the Goreville Professional Pharmacy opened in the fall of 2008 and The Old Home Place Restaurant opened on January 7, 2009.

As 2010 begins, more businesses announce locating in Goreville. In late January 2010, Pony UP Enterprises LLC broke ground at 400 S. Broadway on Jo Jo’s Pizza and Wings. The business is owned Matt Camarato (owner of Goreville Professional Pharmacy) along with brothers Andrew and Robert. The restaurant is projected to open in late April.

As Goreville heads into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the citizens and community leaders look to the future, while staying mindful of the present and remembering the past.