Nestled in the purple hills of the Illinois Ozarks, Union County was at one time the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Limestone caves and underground streams honeycomb the area. Native American tribes used to mine flint near Mill Creek. Union County is part of the National Trail of Tears. The tragic removal of the Cherokees in 1838 – 39 to Oklahoma is a sorrowful chapter in national history.
Union County has many bluffs and wilderness areas scattered among the sprawling Shawnee National Forest and state parks that are ideal for camping, hiking, horseback riding, and numerous other outdoor activities. Wild game species such as deer, squirrel, rabbit, fox, raccoon, and turkey are hunted throughout the county.
Built in 1854, the Illinois Central Railroad was instrumental in converting the river to rail traffic. The railroads were used for shipping apples, peaches, strawberries, peppers, and melons to Chicago and New Orleans in refrigerated cars, first developed in Cobden.
Agriculture continues to be a major economic resource for Union County. Historians are lamenting the disappearance of barns, but in Union County some of these rural icons are preserved as shops and attractions.
Union County is also home to a variety of beautiful wineries and vineyards. Be sure to read over the “Attractions” section of this guide for a detailed list.