Vermilion County is named after the Vermilion River, which passes through the county and empties into the Wabash River in Indiana near Cayuga; the river was so named because of the color of the earth along its route.
The area which became Vermilion County was under the flag of France from 1682 to 1763, as part of New France. It was owned by Great Britain for fifteen years after the French and Indian War; it then became part of the colonies after the Revolutionary War when the area was ceded to Virginia and was known as "the Illinois County of Virginia". Later it was part of the Indiana Territory, then the Illinois Territory, and finally the state of Illinois. The county was officially created on January 18, 1826 from a portion of Edgar County. There was an unorganized territory to the north and west which was attached to the county; Champaign and Iroquois counties were formed from part of this territory in 1833. The remainder was used to create Ford County in 1859; this was the last county to be formed in the state.
The existence of saline springs in the county proved to be a strong attraction to early white men, and were mentioned as early as 1801, when Joseph Barron, an interpreter fluent in a number of Native American languages, stated in an affidavit that he was present at the "Vermilion Salines" that year. The production required 100 gallons of water for one bushel of salt and proved to be profitable from the first run 1822 to 1829, when salt became less expensive and the venture was no longer economical.
The saline springs were also the site of the first settlement, made by Seymour Treat in 1819, along with the Beckwith and Whitcomb families. James Butler, from Ohio, followed in 1820 and settled in the Catlin area; within a few years, the settlement grew to encompass several families and became known as "Butler's Point". About the same time, the southern area of the county also attracted an early settler named Henry Johnson, who built a cabin approximately two miles west of Georgetown; this area later became known as "Johnson's Point". The southern portion of the county soon became populated with a number of cabins and small settlements. The majority of those coming to Vermilion County originated in the American South and left because of their opposition to slavery.
Some of the early settlers were of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Some of these settlers founded the settlement of Vermilion Grove in the south part of the county; it is not only one of the oldest settlements in the county but also the site of the second school in the county.
The county has strong ties to Abraham Lincoln. He practiced law in Danville from 1841 to 1859 with Ward Hill Lamon, who later served as his bodyguard. Lincoln also gave a brief speech in Danville in 1858 while campaigning for U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas; Lincoln gave the speech in his stocking feet while standing on the balcony at the home of Dr. William Fithian, a prominent local physician. Today, the Fithian home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the Vermilion County Museum; visitors can see Lincoln memorabilia including a bed in which Lincoln slept.
The maps below illustrate the various stages in the evolution of Vermilion County.
Vermilion County is located along the eastern border of Illinois; its northern border is about 95 miles (153 km) south of Chicago. The county is bordered on the north by Iroquois County. To the west are Champaign County and Ford County and to the south is Edgar County. The Indiana counties of Benton, Warren and Vermillion lie to the northeast, east and southeast, respectively.
Vermilion County in Illinois and Vermillion County in Indiana are two of twenty-two counties or parishes in the United States with the same name to border each other across state lines. (Note, despite the different spellings, the source of the name is the same for Vermilion County, Illinois and Vermillion County, Indiana—the Vermilion River which flows through both counties.) The others are Union Parish, Louisiana and Union County, Arkansas, Big Horn County, Montana and Big Horn County, Wyoming, Sabine County, Texas and Sabine Parish, Louisiana, Bristol County, Massachusetts and Bristol County, Rhode Island, Kent County, Delaware and Kent County, Maryland, Escambia County, Alabama and Escambia County, Florida., Pike County, Illinois and Pike County, Missouri, Teton County, Idaho and Teton County, Wyoming, Park County, Montana and Park County, Wyoming, and San Juan County, New Mexico and San Juan County, Utah,. respectively.
Vermilion County shares borders with eight other counties, although one of the counties it borders, Douglas County, is at a single point (the southwestern corner of Vermilion County and northeastern corner of Douglas County).
According to the 2010 census, the county has a total area of 901.28 square miles (2,334.3 km2), of which 898.37 square miles (2,326.8 km2) (or 99.68%) is land and 2.91 square miles (7.5 km2) (or 0.32%) is water. The land in Vermilion County consists mostly of various forms of silt loam. Lake Vermilion, a man-made 1,000-acre (400 ha) reservoir, is the largest body of water in the county; it lies on the northwest side of Danville and is the source of the city's water, and also provides recreation opportunities.
Illinois law allows settlements to incorporate as either cities or villages; when incorporated, cities must have a population of at least 2,500, and villages must have a population of at least 500. There are three cities in the county and eighteen villages, along with several unincorporated towns. The three cities are Danville, the county seat and the county's largest settlement with a population of about 34,000; Hoopeston, located in the far north part of the county, with a population of about 6,000; and Georgetown, south of Danville, with a population of about 3,600.
The village of Allerton is in the far southwest corner of the county, with a small portion extending into Champaign County; Sidell is just east of Allerton. Alvin and Bismarck are both located to the north of Danville; further north, Rossville is on Route 1 south of Hoopeston. Going south from Danville, Route 1 passes through Tilton, Belgium, Westville, the city of Georgetown, and Ridge Farm.
West of Danville along U.S. Route 150 lie the villages of Oakwood, Muncie and Fithian; all are just to the south of Interstate 74. Potomac and Henning both lie along an east–west portion of U.S. Route 136 north of Danville. Fairmount, Catlin and Indianola all lie to the southwest of Danville. Rankin is in the far northwest corner of the county, near the intersection of Route 9 and Route 49.
There are at least a dozen communities in the county which are not incorporated.
Several towns were established in the county which no longer survive. In some cases, the coming of the railroads helped to define the best locations for settlements, and as a result some existing towns were abandoned. When Lake Vermilion was created, the old town of Denmark, to the northwest of Danville, was flooded and now lies at the bottom of the reservoir.
Township government was adopted in Vermilion County in 1851, and eight townships were created, listed below.
Eleven more townships, listed below, were created in the following decades. The final total was nineteen townships.
The Vermilion County Conservation District operates four parks in the county: Forest Glen Preserve, the Heron County Park, Kennekuk Cove County Park and the Lake Vermilion County Park. The Kickapoo State Recreation Area, the Harry "Babe" Woodyard State Natural Area and the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area are all managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Vermilion County is in the humid continental climate region of the United States along with most of Illinois. Its Köppen climate classification is Dfa, meaning that it is cold, has no dry season, and has a hot summer. In recent years, average temperatures in the county seat of Danville have ranged from a low of 17 °F (−8 °C) in January to a high of 86 °F (30 °C) in July, although a record low of −26 °F (−32 °C) was recorded in January 1994 and a record high of 112 °F (44 °C) was recorded in July 1936. Average monthly precipitation ranged from 1.99 inches (51 mm) inches in February to 4.70 inches (119 mm) inches in June.
Interstate 74 enters Vermilion County from the west on its way from Champaign–Urbana, and passes just to the north of the towns of Fithian, Muncie and Oakwood before passing through the south edge of the Kickapoo State Park, the north edge of Tilton and the south edge of Danville. Continuing east, it leaves the county and the state on its way to Indianapolis.
U.S. Route 136, which runs across five states, passes into Vermilion County from the west on its way from Rantoul. It passes east through the towns of Armstrong, Potomac and Henning; it reaches Illinois Route 1 south of Rossville and then shares that highway's route as it passes south through Danville. At the south edge of Danville it reaches Main Street and resumes its eastward heading, leaving the east edge of Danville and passing out of the county and state on its way to Covington, Indiana.
U.S. Route 150 enters the county from Champaign–Urbana to the west, running just to the south of Interstate 74 and passing through the towns of Fithian, Muncie and Oakwood. Just west of Danville it crosses to the north side of Interstate 74 as that highway veers to the southeast. In downtown Danville, it meets Illinois Route 1 and U.S. Route 136, and follows Route 1 to the south and continues through the towns of Belgium, Westville, Georgetown and Ridge Farm before entering Edgar County further to the south.
Illinois Route 1 runs from the north to the south through the county, passing through Hoopeston, Rossville, Danville, Belgium, Westville, Georgetown and Ridge Farm. Illinois Route 9 runs from west to east near the north edge of the county and passes through Rankin and Hoopeston; upon reaching the Indiana border, Indiana State Road 26 continues its route to the east toward Lafayette, Indiana. Illinois Route 49 is a north–south highway near the western edge of the county. It passes south through Rankin where it intersects Route 9; further south it passes near Armstrong where U.S. Route 136 briefly shares its route. Crossing Interstate 74, it briefly shares the route of U.S. Route 150, running west for about 2 miles (3.2 km) and leaving the county before continuing south in Champaign County. Illinois Route 119 is a short 8-mile (13 km) east–west road that connects the intersection of Illinois Route 1 and U.S. Route 136 with Indiana State Road 28 at the state line.
Four railroad lines pass through or into the county, all intersecting in the Danville area; this results in many different railroad crossings throughout the city. A Norfolk Southern Railway line enters the county from Decatur to the southwest and passes through Danville on its way to Lafayette, Indiana to the northeast. CSX Transportation operates a north–south line through the county which connects with Chicago to the north and Terre Haute, Indiana further south via Paris. A Kankakee, Beaverville and Southern Railroad north–south line runs to the east of the CSX line, just a few miles from the state border, beginning in northern Iroquois County and running south through Danville, then veering east. The Vermilion Valley Railroad is a 6-mile (9.7 km) line that connects the Flex-N-Gate factory west of Covington, Indiana with CSX in Danville.
The Vermilion Regional Airport is located just northeast of Danville.
For 2014, Vermilion County had a workforce of 35,643 people; 32,584 were employed and 3,059 (8.6%) were unemployed.
There are 12 school districts in the county that provide primary and secondary education. There are two post-secondary educational institutions: Danville Area Community College, a public two-year community college, and Lakeview College of Nursing, a four-year private institution (both located in Danville).
Based on the 2000 census, Vermilion County is part of the Illinois' 15th congressional district; the Illinois Senate districts 52 and 53; and the Illinois House of Representatives districts 104 and 105.
Each township has a supervisor. The township board consists of the supervisor and four members elected at large from the township.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 81,625 people, 32,655 households, and 21,392 families residing in the county. The population density was 90.9 inhabitants per square mile (35.1/km2). There were 36,318 housing units at an average density of 40.4 per square mile (15.6/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 82.5% white, 13.0% black or African American, 0.7% Asian, 0.2% American Indian, 1.5% from other races, and 2.2% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 4.2% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 21.2% were American, 18.9% were German, 10.1% were Irish, and 9.1% were English.
Of the 32,655 households, 31.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.7% were married couples living together, 14.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 34.5% were non-families, and 29.8% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 2.96. The median age was 39.8 years.
The median income for a household in the county was $39,456 and the median income for a family was $49,429. Males had a median income of $40,107 versus $30,104 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,218. About 14.6% of families and 18.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.0% of those under age 18 and 9.1% of those age 65 or over.