Illinois State Institutions

As listed in the "Making of Illinois" by Irwin Mather

Published in 1900

©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy

Below is a listing of Illinois State Funded Institutions.  It is our goal to provide you with data for each of these Institutions in the near future.

State Penitentiaries 

A state prison, containing 24 cells, was erected at Alton in 1827. In a few years it proved inadequate and the state erected at Joliet a building that would accommodate 1,000 prisoners. The convicts were moved from Alton to Joliet in 1860. As the population increased, another similar institution was built upon the banks of the Mississippi River near Chester.

The County Poor

In nearly every county is to be found an almshouse located upon an ample farm. Here the poor or sick who have no other home are kindly cared for. Charity is dispensed to others through the County Court or by the Board of Supervisors.

The Deaf and Dumb


It was discovered that some of these dependent classes could be made self-supporting citizens by a careful system of education. To Orville H. Browning of Quincy, who had made an exhaustive study of the subject, belongs the honor of inaugurating a movement to establish an "Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb." The school was located at Jacksonville and opened on January 26, 1846, with only four pupils. As the work of the school became known, its numbers rapidly increased, until at the present time [c. 1900], it is the largest school of the kind in the world. Here have been trained to lives of usefulness nearly 4,000 persons, who otherwise would have been a burden to society. The boys are taught typesetting, broom-making, carpentry and other useful trades. The girls learn to do housework, to draw, to pain and make many kinds of fancy work.

Asylums for the Insane

No class of unfortunates appeals to us more strongly than the insane. Miss Dorothea Dix early applied herself to the bettering of their pitiable condition. When the State legislature met, she addressed to them an eloquent and convincing argument favoring the establishment of an asylum for the care of the insane. Accordingly, such a hospital was located on a beautiful stretch of prairie-land a mile south of Jacksonville. From 1851, the year in which the first patient was received, the institution has grown and prospered. In 1869, the legislature provided for the erection of two other hospitals: One known as the Northern Home for the Insane, located on the banks of the Fox River, near Elgin [Kane County] the other established at Anna. Although these hospitals are very large, in a few years, the State was compelled to build another, which was located near Kankakee. Illinois now has nine hospitals (or asylums), for the insane. They are located in Elgin, Kankakee, Jacksonville, Anna, Watertown, Peoria (South Bartonville), Chicago (Dunning), Chester (for insane criminals). One of the nine hospitals provided for by law is not yet fully established.

Institutions for the Blind

Yet another beneficent institution had its beginning at Jacksonville. Samuel Bacon, a blind man, in 1847 opened a private school in that city for those who were afflicted like himself. This gave the people the idea of a school for the blind, and in 1849, a bill for the establishment of such an institution passed the Legislature. It was opened during the same year.

An act passed in 1887 provided for the establishment of an industrial home designed to promote the welfare of the blind by teaching them trades and afford them employment that will best tend to make them self-supporting. No steps were taken toward it until 1893. It is located at Chicago.

Other Institutions

School for Feeble Minded Children

In 1875 the School for Feeble Minded Children, which had been an outgrowth of the Deaf and Dumb Institution at Jacksonville, was removed to Lincoln, where it was provided with ample and beautiful buildings. This school, under the management of Dr. Chas. T. Wilbur and those who have followed him, has done noble work in fitting feeble minded children, as far as possible, for earning their own livelihood.

Home for Union Army Soldiers' Children

At Normal, the state has established a "Home for the intellectual, moral and physical development of children whose fathers served in the Union army or navy during the war." The idea of founding this home originated in a "most patriotic impulse on the part of the people to fulfill the pledge made to the gallant soldiers who imperiled their lives on the field of battle during the dark days of the Civil War, that if they fell in the fight, the widows and children should be cared for." This pledge is being sacredly kept by the State and nation.

Home for Soldiers and Sailors

In 1885, the General Assembly established a Home for Soldiers and Sailors. This institution, built at a cost of $200,000, was located at Quincy. It has proved a boon to many a brave veteran, who, without its comfort, would be compelled to spend his old age in poverty and want.

State Reform School

In response to a movement set on foot by the State Teachers' Association, the legislature in 1867 passed an act providing for the establishment of a State Reform School. This institution is located at Pontiac. It is for the confinement, education and reformation of boys between the ages of 10 and 16 years who have been convicted of crimes. Male criminals between the ages of 16 and 21 years, who have not before been sentenced to a penitentiary, may also be sentenced to the reformatory instead of a penitentiary at the discretion of the court.

The Eye and Ear Infirmary

The Eye and Ear Infirmary is located at Chicago. Its object is to provide gratuitous board and medical treatment for all indigent residents of Illinois who are afflicted with diseases of the eye or ear.

Soldiers' Widows' Home of Illinois

In 1895, the Soldiers' Widows' Home of Illinois was established. It is located at Wilmington, Will County.

Illinois State Colony for Improvable Epileptics

The Illinois State Colony for Improvable Epileptics is located at Lincoln. The nature of this institution is disclosed by its title.

The State Training School for Girls 

Established in 1893. Its permanent location is at Geneva (Kane County). It is for the confinement, education and reformation of girls between the ages of 10 and 16 years who have been convicted of offenses punishable at law.

The St. Charles School for Boys

The St. Charles School for Boys is located at St. Charles [Kane County]. It was established as a home for delinquent boys.

The Illinois State Archives does hold institutional records. Search their Descriptive Inventory Section for more information.

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