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The Trail of Tears in Union County Illinois

The Trail of Tears in Union County Illinois
The Trail of Tears in Union County Illinois
Photo by Theresa Leschmann

Whether historical or recreational, Union County offers Trail of Tears enthusiasts many ways to connect with the past and relax in the present. Union County Illinois is home to a large section of the Trail of Tears as it passed through Illinois. There are several historic sites associated the journey made by thousands of Cherokee as they passed through Illinois in the winter of 1838 to 1839 as a result of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. There are also monuments and parks named for the event and stories handed down from generation to generation. It seems nearly every time you travel through the area, you discover some overlooked marker or point of interest you missed before. Whether the sites have been certified as part of the original trail or they simply remain in their natural and relatively unchanged state, each gives visitors a glimpse of what life on the trail might have been like.

Campground Road Cemetery, just west of Interstate 57 off of Illinois Route 146, is on Campground Road. A short drive of a mile or so will bring you to Camp Ground Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the adjoining cemetery. The congregation has been here for more than 160 years, though the current sanctuary is over 100 years old. There are no Trail of Tears signs on Route 146 pointing the way to this spot but once you reach the church, you will see markers indicating the next three miles of the road are part of the original trail. The cemetery has been used since 1836. More than 6000 Cherokee camped at this site and some are buried in unmarked graves.

McGinnis Cemetery Trail Segment is six miles east of Anna near the small community of Mt. Pleasant. The cemetery sits just north of Illinois Route 146 and has a large memorial dedicated to the trail of tears. It is listed on the Trail of Tears list of registered sites, as is the Campground Road Cemetery. Other sites exist but are on private lands and not generally open to the public.

The Trail of Tears Lodge and Resort sits on 425 acres of privately owned land in Jonesboro near the Shawnee National Forest. While the lodge has no known significance related to the Cherokees who passed through the area, it is an interesting place to visit. The resort also operates a restaurant and hosts many special events throughout the year such as Morel Festival, Hummingbird Fete and Mud Racing.

The Trail of Tears State Forest sits five miles northwest of Jonesboro on more than 5000 acres. The Cherokee passed four miles south of its southernmost edge but the forest was named to commemorate their journey and sacrifice. Hiking horseback riding, camping and hunting are offered in the park that contains some of the roughest terrain in the state.