History of Mt Vernon, Illinois – A Brief History
Celebrating our 200th birthday, 2019 is Mt. Vernon and Jefferson County’s Bicentennial. The city and county were both established in 1819. Jefferson County was founded on March 26, 1819, and named after Thomas Jefferson. Following the county, Mt. Vernon became an official city on June 7, 1819. The city was originally named Mount Pleasant but was later changed to Mt. Vernon to pay tribute to George Washington and his home in Mt. Vernon, Virginia.
Major events in Mt. Vernon in 2019, including the Salute to Freedom celebration, Fall Festival and Jefferson County Historical Village events, will focus on celebrating the bicentennial. To document the city and county’s 200th birthday, those on social media are asked to use the hashtag, #MTVIL200 in their posts. Special Bicentennial T-shirts, in assorted colors, are available to purchase for $10 each at the Jefferson County Historical Village and the Mt. Vernon Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.
- Mt. Vernon’s founder, Zadok Casey, was elected to the state senate in 1822 and was elected lieutenant governor in 1833. He served in the U.S. Congress between 1833 and 1843.
- On Feb. 19, 1888, an F-4 tornado tore through Mt. Vernon and paved a 64-mile path across southern Illinois, killing roughly 30. More than 300 homes and 50 businesses in Mt. Vernon were damaged or destroyed leaving over 1,000 homeless. The Jefferson County Courthouse was completely destroyed.
- The 1888 cyclone is still the fourth deadliest tornado in Illinois. Within five years, Mt. Vernon doubled in population and tripled the number of businesses in town.
- Following the 1888 tornado, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton was sent to Mt. Vernon to aide in recovery efforts.
- Barton set up an emergency makeshift hospital at what is now the Appellate Courthouse.
- The Appellate Courthouse in Mt. Vernon is the only courthouse still in operation where Abraham Lincoln argued a case. In 1859, Lincoln successfully lowered the tax for the Illinois Central Railroad.
- While visiting his sister in Benton, Illinois, in 1963, George Harrison of the Beatles bought a Rickenbacker guitar from Fenton’s Music store in Mt. Vernon.
- The guitar was used in the Abbey Road Studios recording of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.
- Mary Jane Chesley became the first female mayor of Mt. Vernon in 2007.
- President George and Barbara Bush, Rosalyn Carter, singer Crystal Gayle and entertainer Ed Sullivan have all visited the Mt. Vernon Outland Airport.