Following the creation of Williamson County out of the south half of Franklin County by the Illinois General Assembly, three commissioners appointed by the lawmakers met at Bainbridge, Illinois, on August 19, 1839, for the purpose of locating a new county seat as close to the center of the county as possible. The next day, August 20, they laid out a town of 20 acres (81,000 m2) with a public square about one-quarter of a mile east of the county's center, but a point on top of a slight hill of 448 feet (137 m) above sea level. The site sat in a small open grassland known as Poor Prairie. For a name, they chose Marion to honor American Revolutionary War hero General Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion.
William and Bethany Benson had entered the quarter-quarter section of land that contained the future site of Marion just the previous year on September 8, 1838. He had lived in the county at least since 1817, and was the first settler to enter land in Poor Prairie. At the time the commissioners platted Marion, he had a small crop of corn and wheat growing over what became the public square.
The Williamson County Court organized in Marion on October 7, 1839, at the Benson log cabin. Overflow crowds had to use pumpkins for stools. The federal government established a post office at Marion on January 30, 1840, and the legislature incorporated the community as a city on February 24, 1841.
On May 29, 1982, one of the larger tornadoes in Illinois history, an F-4, hit the city of Marion, Illinois and Williamson County. Ten people died and 200 people were injured after this tornado ripped across a 17-mile (27 km) stretch. The Shawnee Village apartment complex was destroyed, and the Marion Ford-Mercury dealership sustained heavy damage. This tornado caused between $85 million and $100 million in damages. A memorial to the ten people who perished that day was later erected on the Tower Square.
According to the 2010 census, Marion has a total area of 16.217 square miles (42.00 km2), of which 15.99 square miles (41.41 km2) (or 98.6%) is land and 0.227 square miles (0.59 km2) (or 1.4%) is water.
As of the census of 2010, there were 17,180 people. The population density was 1,278.3 people per square mile. There are 8,273 housing units at an average density of 589.0 per square mile (227.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 87.8% White, 7.4% African American, 0.4% Native American, 1.5% Asian, 0.00% Pacific Islander, 2.0% from other races, and 2.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.6% of the population.
There were 6,902 households out of which 28.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.0% were married couples living together, 12.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.1% were non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 2.86.
In the city, the population was spread out with 22.8% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 26.5% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 20.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 87.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $30,364, and the median income for a family was $39,275. Males had a median income of $31,520 versus $22,609 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,073. About 11.2% of families and 14.9% of the population were living below the poverty line, including 22.9% of those under the age of 18 and 10.6% of those 65 and older.
The recent Great Recession impacted Marion in lower sales tax revenues for the city as well as the loss of a Circuit City distribution center, and a proposed second distribution center for another major big box retailer that had never formally been named.
Retail sales also suffered as the recession dragged out. Collected sales tax grew 2.9 percent in 2008 compared with the year before, but growth slowed in 2009 with only a 0.7 percent increase. By 2010 the forward momentum ceased and sales tax collections actually dropped 1/10th of a percent. So far in 2011, January collections (representing December sales) grew by 3/10ths of a percent and February improved by 2.4 percent.
New building permits show evidence for an economic recovery. So far in 2011 builders have started four new homes, three triplex apartments, a $500,000 expansion at Timberline Fisheries, $600,000 for the new Speakeasy Liquors, a $560,000 new office and mechanical building for Clearwave Communications and the $4.7 million Holiday Inn Express. In addition, a new 4-story, 65-unit Comfort Inn broke ground in September.
Marion's location, at the crossroads of Illinois Route 13 and Interstate 57 make it a prime candidate for future growth. One of the largest Wal-Mart Supercenter Stores in the country opened on September 20, 2006. It measures 206,000 sq ft (19,100 m2) in area, with 36 separate departments and over 500 employees. An equally large Menards store opened on The Hill in November 2006, adding to further development of Marion's newest commercial district. Other restaurants, such as McAlister's Deli, Thai-D Classic, Sao Asian Bistro and 17th Street Bar And Grill are also located here, as well as banks, hotels and stores.
Developed industrial parks include the REDCO Industrial Park adjacent to the airport and home to three Aisin plants: AISIN Mfg. Illinois, AISIN Light Metals and AISIN Electronics; and the Robert L. Butler Industrial park, home of the 1,300,000-square-foot (120,000 m2) Circuit City Warehouse now looking for a new tenant, as well as Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance Data Center, Frito Lay Distribution Center and Illinois Tool Works. Both parks also have additional acreage available. Other industrial areas available for development are the Airport Industrial Park between the Williamson County Regional Airport and Illinois Route 148 immediately northwest of the city, and the undeveloped county-owned Williamson County Industrial Park six miles (10 km) east of the city one mile north of Illinois Route 13.
Federal installations in the city include the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Main Street, the Richard G. Wilson U.S. Army Reserve Center on Illinois Route 13, and the United States Penitentiary, Marion located southwest of the city. The Reserve Center is set to move to larger regional facility at Carbondale. When that happens the Marion Police Department is slated to move out of the basement at City Hall to the more centrally-located building.
The newest major attraction is Rent One Park, which opened in May 2007, home to the Frontier League's Southern Illinois Miners.
Marion is also the home of the 1st and only all female roller derby league in Southern Illinois, the Southern Illinois Roller Girls.
Popular local restaurants in Marion include Walt's, Bennie's, 17th Street Bar and Grill (The only 3-time World Champion in BBQ), La Fiesta and Tequilas, Honeybakers, among many others. Easy access to I-57 has made Marion a market of choice for several popular chain restaurants like Applebee's, Red Lobster and Cracker Barrel.
As of March 30, 2009, the largest employers located inside the city limits were as follows:Aisin Mfg., three non-union auto parts plants first established in 2002 employing 820 employees.
Pepsi / Midamerica, soft drinks in operation since 1935 employing 600 non-union workers.
Heartland Regional Medical Center, formerly Marion Memorial Hospital first established in 1953, employing 600 non-union employees.
VA Medical Center, established in 1942, employing 600 workers.
Blue Cross/Blue Shield claims processing center established in 1983 employing 350 non-union employees.
Other major nearby employers include:John A. Logan College in Carterville, established in 1967, employing 850 workers represented by the IEA, Teamsters and AFT.
Herrin Hospital in Herrin, established in 1913, employs 450 non-union employees.
U.S. Dept. of Justice / Bureau of Prisons employs 342 union workers at United States Penitentiary, Marion southwest of the city.
Southern Illinois Power Coop just south of Marion employing 120 at its Lake of Egypt power plant. Established in 1963.
Downtown Marion is home to the Little Egypt Arts Gallery operated by the Little Egypt Arts Association as well as the Williamson County Historical Society museum and the Marion Carnegie Library. The major arts and culture institution though is the Marion Cultural and Civic Center.
In 2004, the Marion Civic Center was awarded the Frank Lloyd Wright Award - Special Recognition from the American Institute of Architects, Illinois Chapter, at the organization's annual ceremony.The 35,000-square-foot (3,300 m2) facility, designed by White and Borgognoni Architects, was completed in June 2004. After a 1997 fire destroyed the city's former civic center, the new facility was crafted using parts of the old Orpheum Theater building.
The grand opening of the Orpheum Theatre was on January 2, 1922. Built in the southwest corner of the downtown square, she was the flagship of a chain of vaudeville and moving picture theaters constructed to tap into the wealth generated by agriculture and mining in Southern Illinois. The Orpheum Theatre sat over 900, and was ornately decorated in a mix of Renaissance and Neoclassical styles, complete with gold leaf, elaborate plasterwork, and a multicolored terra-cotta facade.
The Orpheum was quite successful until the advent of television. Decreasing profits forced the Orpheum to exclusively be a motion picture theater in the mid-1950s and to close in 1971. The City of Marion purchased the building in 1973 with the intent of constructing a parking lot. The Mayor and the City Council reconsidered their plan when they found that their citizenry was in favor of restoring the old theater for use by the community as a cultural and entertainment center.
During the early morning hours, of March 10, 1997, a blaze quickly raced through the Civic Center, and totally gutted the theater, leaving it a smoldering shell after the blaze was put out. The facade of the Orpheum was salvaged, but the remainder of the theater was razed, and in 2000, it was decided that a new Cultural and Civic Center would be built on the site of the old Orpheum and a couple of other demolished neighboring structures.
Tourism promotion and marketing in Marion is conducted at the county level with a county bed tax of five percent. Forty percent of that amount goes to the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and the remaining 60 percent to the Williamson County Events Commission for debt service on the bonds used to build the Williamson County Pavilion, a multi-use meeting and convention center immediately north of the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion. That building also houses the tourism bureau.
Over the last decade Marion lodging operators generated on average 97.4 percent of the lodging revenue for the county. Tourists spent $9.1 million in Marion for overnight stays in 2000. That figure has grown steadily to $15.4 million in short-term rentals in 2009. (Long-term rentals of more than 30 days are not taxed, nor included in these figures). Currently, there are 14 hotels and motels inside the city limits as of July 2010. Since 2000, one hotel has closed - the original Holiday Inn closed in January 2004 having last operated as the Executive Inn - and two new hotels opened, Fairfield Inn in August 2004, and Country Inn & Suites in December 2008. Those two and five other hotels together generate nearly 80 percent of the business in the city. The five are Comfort Suites, Drury Inn, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express (originally Budgetel Inn), and Quality Inn (formerly Comfort Inn).
Overall there are 1050 rooms inside the city limits. In addition, there are two additional motels and three small specialty lodging facilities outside the city limits but within the Marion zip code.
In the fall of 2010, a new bed and breakfast Jasones opened in the historic Queen Anne-style Aikman mansion at the corner of Main and Russell Streets. Prior to the current recession, a new Holiday Inn Express had been planned and semi-announced for The Hill, according to the site map on the developer's website. Site work began early in 2011 and the developer took out a building permit with the city on April 11, 2011. A second new hotel, this one a new 65-unit Comfort Inn, broke ground in September 2011. Both new hotels are located off of the new Morgan Avenue interchange at I-57.
Besides the announced Millennium Development, other tourism projects in the works include a new visitors center currently in the planning stages that would be located next to the Marion Chamber of Commerce near the Main Street (Exit 53) interchange just off of Interstate 57.
Marion's first motel was the World War II era Motel Marion on the western edge of the city limits on what was then Illinois Route 13, now Old Route 13 or West Main Street. Later it was joined by the Courts Motel on South Court Street (since torn down for an auto parts store), and the Uptown Motel just off the public square (also torn down and now a parking lot and part of the new Marion Civic and Cultural Center). For a while after World War II, Marion's major hotel was the Hotel State in the former five-story Marion State & Savings Bank building on the west side of the square. That building still stands and is being renovated for offices and residences. An earlier three story hotel, the Williams Hotel on North Market Street is also undergoing restoration as of the summer of 2010.
Marion's modern history as a tourism center began with the development of Interstate 57 in the 1960s and the creation of three hotels and one motel in short order. They were the Egyptian Sands Motor Lodge (later a Travelodge and finally the Heritage Motel before finally closing) located next to the city's first strip shopping center Westmore Plaza (now the Marion Centre), the Ramada Inn (now the Days Inn), and the Holiday Inn (later a Travelodge and the Executive Inn before finally closing). The fourth facility, the 20-unit Gray Plaza Motel, remains open and still operating under the same name.
The Regal 8 (now the Motel 6), Best Inns (now America's Best Inn) and Super 8 were the next three motels to locate in the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s. All were along Route 13 on the west side of Exit 54. Next came Shoney's Inn (now the Econo Lodge) on the east side. Around the same time as the announcement of the Illinois Centre Mall and the city's first use of tax increment financing districts, Drury Inn built a large modern facility on the north side of Route 13. A few years and another TIF district later, developers built the Hampton Inn immediately west of the Drury. A local developer, Henry Mitchell built the first of three hotels on the west side of Exit 53, around the same time as the mall development, starting with a Comfort Inn (now the Quality Inn), then a Budgetel (now the Holiday Inn Express) and finally a Comfort Suites.
Camping facilities in the city include the Motel Marion and the new Marion Campground & RV Park, both located off of Exit 53 on the east side of the interstate.
Major attractions that fill Marion hotels include Southern Illinois Miners' games at Rent One Park, events at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, The Southern Illinois Roller Girls bouts at the Williamson Co Pavilion, the two dozen wineries within a 45-mile (72 km) radius of the city including those on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail and the Southern Illinois Wine Trail, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the city, Lake of Egypt immediately to the south and the Shawnee National Forest and various state parks that stretch along the Shawnee Hills from river to river.
Marion's city government is led by longtime municipal leader, Mayor Robert L. "Bob" Butler who was first elected in April 1963, and is believed to be the longest-serving Illinois mayor still active. The city operates on a city commission system of government with the mayor and four city commissioners, each elected for four-year terms.
City elections on April 5, 2011, returned Butler for a 13th term with nearly 58 percent of the vote. Butler won his 14th election for mayor on April 7, 2015, with 71.8 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
The council calendar calls for meetings on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month. However, the council generally extends those meetings, and with the exception of major holidays, usually ends up meeting every Monday evening at City Hall.
Following a city referendum some years ago, the city is also a Home Rule community which gives the council greater flexibility to act than a typical city commission form of government.
The Marion Park District is independent of city government. It operates the parks system under a separately elected five-member board. The library board though is appointed by the mayor and city council.
The Daily Republican, a newspaper, is based in Marion.
Illinois Route 13, originally along Main Street, and Illinois Route 37 (Court Street) both opened up in the first round of the hard roads highway system in the 1920s. The state altered 13 with a new four-lane route along DeYoung Street in the late 1950s. Interstate 57 first opened in 1961 and runs through the western portion of the city. It connects with Interstate 24 a few miles south of town.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has started widening Route 13 to six lanes from I-57 west to Carterville. Bids are set to go out this fall to start work on 6-lanes from the interstate east to Route 37. Also, plans are being made to re-place the existing interstate overpass over 13, and completely re-do Exit 54 changing it from a cloverleaf to a single-point interchange.
In addition to the two existing interchanges, a new southbound off-ramp at Morgan Avenue on the north side of the city will be expanded later in 2011 with a new northbound on-ramp from Morgan onto the interstate. When the rest of Exit 54 is reconstructed, two flyover lanes will connect northbound interstate traffic to Morgan as well as southbound traffic from Morgan to the interstate.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is making plans to widen Interstate 57 from four to six lanes from Interstate 24 south of Marion north to the interchanges with Interstate 64 at Mount Vernon. The first work on the project is scheduled at the north end along the stretch that hosts traffic from both interstates.
The Average Daily Traffic Count as of February 2011 for Illinois Route 13 is 15,300 on the east edge of town. It picks up to 22,500 on the east side of the intersection with Illinois Route 37; 25,000 by the intersection with North Carbon Street; 31,100 by the east side of the interstate. Once west of the interstate the count drops to 30,700, then 28,800 in front of Heartland Medical Center and down to 26,400 in front of the Williamson County Regional Airport. Interstate 57 sees an average of 33,700 vehicles making up the traffic county north of Exit 54 at Marion and 26,900 vehicles a day south of Exit 53.
Other major street projects underway at the present time is the extension of Champions Drive south to Halfway Road which will connect Kokopelli Golf Course with Rent One Park and the city's major hotel district; as well as engineering work for widening Morgan Drive, Carbon and Russell Streets to handle traffic expected to be generated in a few years by the Millennium Development.
Williamson County Regional Airport serves the city and is located at the extreme western edge of the city. Cape Air provides daily passenger flights to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
Both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern railroads have lines running through the city. Local service from those lines are provided by the Crab Orchard and Egyptian Railroad headquartered in Marion. Amtrak passenger rail service is available at Carbondale, 16 miles (26 km) west of Marion.Conrad Keene Allen, exploration geologist
Cory Bailey, professional baseball player in minors, majors and China
Babe Borton, Major League Baseball first baseman for Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Terriers and St Louis Browns
Nancy Elizabeth Brown, United States Navy Vice Admiral
Homer M. Butler, Illinois legislator and newspaper editor
Robert L. Butler, mayor of Marion since 1963
Warren W. Duncan, Illinois Supreme Court justice
John Gotti, notorious mobster, was incarcerated at Marion Prison from 1992 to 1998
Ray Fosse, Major League Baseball catcher for Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers
Judith Ivey, Tony Award-winning actress
Dolph Stanley, legendary high school and college basketball coach
Richard G. Wilson, soldier and posthumous recipient of U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for actions in Korean War
David Wong, pseudonym of Jason Pargin, editor of Cracked.com and author of John Dies at the End