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Free Illinois Local History Books PDF – Illinois Towns and Cities

Free Illinois Local History Books PDF - Illinois Towns and Cities

Get to know the cities of Illinois better with these free books! Dive deep into its history, culture, cuisine, and places of interest.

Are you looking for free online books about cities in Illinois? Whether you are curious about the bustling city of Chicago, want an encyclopedia of the state, or want to explore other cities or Illinois counties, you can rely on these resources to help you learn more.

County Histories Collection

Online Illinois County Histories Website

This website has links to numerous free online histories and biographical collections published in the late 19th and early 20th century. For Illinois there are dozens of titles of local histories and biographical collections.


In addition to the books below, you’ll find books about Chicago history on most of the other ‘Illinois’ subject pages on this site.

Chicago Collection

Free online books about Chicago Illinois. Be patient as the page loads.

See the Menu at the top of every page for Directories of Free Online Fiction and NonFiction Books, Magazines, and more, on 400 pages like this at Century Past

Encyclopedia of Chicago

Chicago Historical Museum, The Newberry Library and Northwestern University

This online encyclopedia was produced in 2005 and contains much the same content as a print version produced about the same time. There appear to be thousands of subject entries as well as numerous maps and a number of videos.

The Railroads, History and Commerce of Chicago

Chicago: Democratic Press. 1854

This booklet consists of three articles previously published in the Daily Democratic Press newspaper. The first article contains descriptions of every existing and prospective railroad in the Chicago area or the region; at least 35 companies. The tone is promotional, repeatedly stressing the advantages of railroads for local economies, and in some cases providing revenue figures.

The second article is a 20-page “History of Chicago”. The third article, entitled “Historical and Commercial Statistics; Manufactures, Banking, etc.”, contains sections on the rising value of real estate, labor costs, the Chicago Water Works, descriptions of manufacturing companies, and others. The fourth article, “Commercial Review for 1853” contains economic data for agricultural and other commodities.

See also: Illinois Economic History

Chicago Illustrated in Albertype

Albertype Company
NY: Albertype 1890

Numerous photos and drawn illustrations of Chicago public buildings, monuments, residences and attractions.

See our Illinois biographies and memoirs

History of Chicago (3 vols)

Volume 2

Volume 3

Andreas, A. T.
NY: Arno. 1884

Volume 1 carries the history up to 1857. Volume 2: From 1857 to the Fire of 1871. Volume 3: From the Fire of 1871 until 1885.

At the beginning of the volume is a detailed subject and name index, and an index to the many illustrations, but no Table of Contents. This book is based on other secondary works of the 19th century, rather than substantial original research. It is the author’s practice, common in many county histories of that era, to include throughout the volume long lists of names and many portraits.

See also: Illinois General History

“The Annals of Chicago”

Fergus Historical Series No. 1-10

Balastier, Joseph N.
Chicago: Fergus 1876

“A lecture delivered before the Chicago Lyceum, January 21, 1840”. This covers the early history of Chicago, as seen by a resident and early settler in 1840. It is preceded by an introduction written 36 years later by the same author.

Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois; Cook County Edition, Vol 1

Volume 2

Fergus Historical Series No. 1-10

Bateman, Newton, ed.
Chicago: Munsell 1905

All of Volume 1 and the first part of Volume 2 are devoted to the history of Illinois, in encyclopedic form. Cook County History, in a more traditional chronological narration, begins on page 617 of Volume 2. The remainder of Volume 2 (pages 802-1030) is devoted to biographies and portraits of Cook County men.

Read free magazines online in Sports, News & Business

Chicago Telephone Directory 1892

Chicago Telephone Co.
Chicago Telephone Co. 1892

This directory lists mostly businesses; it appears that few residences had telephones at this early date. Included are instructions on how to make calls. There are separate directories within the volume for the various exchanges that cover different areas of the city.

Chicago and the Great Conflagration

Colbert, Elias, and Everett Chamberlin
Cincinnati: Vent 1872

“The first part is devoted to a history of Chicago, its inception and growth. Statistics of the city in 1870 show its condition prior to the fire. The latter half of the book gives an account of the conflagration of 1872, made up largely of the descriptions of eye-witnesses and from newspaper reports. The story of the relief sent to the city widens the interest of the book, although the whole has now become an incident.” – Literature of American History; a bibliographical guide (1902)

Bygone Days in Chicago; Recollections of the “Garden City” of the Sixties

Cook, Frederick Francis
Chicago: McClurg 1910

An intelligent, well-written and reflective memoir-history of the era of the Civil War and after, by a career Chicago newspaperman.

Fergus’ Directory of the City of Chicago, 1839

with city and county officers, churches, public buildings, hotels, etc.,; also list of sheriffs of Cook County and mayors of the city since their organization

Fergus, Robert, comp.
Chicago: Fergus 1876

Also a list of voters for Mayor, and a historical sketch of Chicago from the 1843 edition of the Fergus Directory.

Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893

The White City and the Birth of a Modern Metropolis

Gustaitis, Joseph
Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University 2013

1893 was not only the year of Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition. “An almost endless list of noteworthy achievements took place in Chicago in 1893. Chicago’s most important skyscraper was completed in 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright opened his office in the same year, and a trio of Chicago authors practically invented urban literature. African American physician and Chicagoan Daniel Hale Williams performed one of the first known open-heart surgeries. Sears and Roebuck was incorporated, and William Wrigley invented Juicy Fruit gum. The Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry all started in 1893. Author Joseph Gustaitis rectifies this overlooked history, revealing Chicago as a modern metropolis that rivaled the world’s greatest cities.” – Book cover.

See our free books on Illinois cultural topics

“Chicago in 1833: Impressions of Three Britishers”

Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society Vol. 47 No. 2 Summer 1954 pp 167-175

Jones, Dallas
Springfield: the Society

The author of this paper, a history graduate student, describes the visits and observations of three British writers who were in Chicago in 1833. Charles J. Latrobe was a wealthy English author who published a popular book about his trip, The Rambler in North America. Patrick Shirreff was a farmer from England who visited Illinois to examine farm lands. Charles Cleaver immigrated to Chicago in 1833 with his wife and nine children and became an early Chicago businessman.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

Marx, Christy
NY: Rosen Central 2004

Describes the 1871 fire that destroyed much of Chicago, Illinois, examining its causes, the resulting devastation, and its aftermath.

Early Days of Peoria and Chicago

McCulloch, David
Chicago. 1904

This address was read before the Chicago Historical Society in 1904.

Reminiscences of Chicago during the Forties and Fifties

McIlvaine, Mabel
Chicago: Donnelley. 1913

In an effort to characterize Chicago in the 1840s and 1850s, the publisher selected extracts from the published reminiscences of three Chicagoans. To throw light on the rapid economic growth Chicago experienced during this era, a chapter on the first railroads was included.
Table of Contents:
William Bross, “What I Remember of Early Chicago”
Charles Cleaver, extracts from articles in the Chicago Tribune
Joseph Jefferson, reprint from his autobiography
A. T. Andreas, “Chicago’s First Railroad Systems” [from his History of Chicago, found on this web page.]

Reminiscences of Early Chicago

McIlvaine, Mabel
Chicago: Donnelley. 1912

This is a collection from observers of Chicago, mainly before 1840.
Table of Contents:
Hoffman, Charles Fenno, Selection from “A Winter in the West”
Martineau, Harriet, Selection from “Society in America”
Wentworth, John, Lecture before the Sunday Lecture Society
Wentworth, John, Address at the Reception to the Settlers of Chicago Prior to 1840
Caton, John Dean, Address at the Reception to the Settlers of Chicago Prior to 1840
Scammon, Jonathan Young, Address at the Reception to the Settlers of Chicago Prior to 1840

Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673-1835: a study of the evolution of the northwestern frontier, together with a history of Fort Dearborn

Fergus Historical Series No. 1-10

Quaife, Milo M.
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago. 1913

This volume by history professor Milo Quaife was intended as a readable popular history and also an up-to-date (early 20th century) scholarly explanation of the significant place of Chicago in the struggle for the Northwest.
Contents: – The Chicago Portage – Chicago in the Seventeenth Century – The Fox Wars: A Half-Century of Conflict – Chicago in the Revolution – The Fight for the Northwest – The Founding of Fort Dearborn – Nine years of Garrison Life – The Indian Utopia – The Outbreak of War – The Battle and Defeat – The Fate of the Survivors – The New Fort Dearborn – The Indian Trade – War and the Plague – The Vanishing of the Red Man
There are nine appendixes containing accounts of the Fort Dearborn massacre, and a 20-page annotated bibliography.

Chicago by Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America

Thomson and Zimmerman
Chicago: Thomson and Zimmerman 1892

Includes many illustrations.

Other Areas of Illinois

A History of the City of Cairo, Illinois

Lansden, John M.
Chicago: Donnelley. 1910

This history was written by a lawyer and long-time resident of Cairo. Unlike many local histories of that time period, this does not appear to be mainly biographical, but is a wide-ranging history of city institutions, economic development and political issues.

SangamonLink Online Encyclopedia

Sangamon County Historical Society
Sangamon County Historical Society

This website has hundreds of entries on a wide variety of topics related to the history of Sangamon County.

Detroit travel guide

Cahokia Records, 1778-1790

Alvord, Clarence W., ed.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library. 1907

This is a volume in the series “Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library”. It begins with a 150-page history of Cahokia by Professor Clarence Alvord, which provides some historical background about this old French-Canadian town, and covers in detail the period of General George Rogers Clark’s rule during the Revolutionary War. This is followed by a wide variety of transcribed court records from the district of Cahokia. All records appear to be both in French and English.

Kaskaskia Records 1778-1790

Alvord, Clarence W., ed.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library 1909

Like the book Cahokia Records, 1778-1790, found on this page, this volume is from the series “Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library”. This book follows a different plan from that one, however. This has only a very brief introductory chapter, and the remainder of the book consists of chapters on fairly specific topics, telling the stories of those topics through the use of documents. All documents that were originally in French appear in the original, followed by English translations.

See our Illinois historic documents

The Old Kaskaskia Records: An Address Read before the Chicago Historical Society

Alvord, Clarence W.

In this address Professor Alvord announced to the Chicago Historical Society that the long-lost 18th century records of Kaskaskia had been found. Kaskaskia was founded in 1700 by French Jesuit missionaries. There was little orderly government until the erection of Fort de Chartres in 1723. From that date French civil officials at the fort kept minutes and records, and from 1737 a French court in the village also was active. In this address Alvord describes the history of Kaskaskia, the history of its archived government records, and the story of their discovery.
To read some of the records, see Alvord’s volume on this page, Kaskaskia Records 1778-1790.

Galena Guide

Federal Writers’ Project (Illinois), Works Project Administration
City of Galena 1937

Contents: – General Information – Galena, Profile of the Past – Jo Daviess County: A Glacial Caprice – Burial Ground – Many Mines – Many Miners – Boom Border – Lead and Grain – The Fermenting Fifties – A Middle-Aged Clerk in a Faded Army Coat – Armed years – Landmarks and Watermarks – Strolling our Streets – Points of Interest – Environs – Chronology – Galena Bibliography – Personal Interviews – Views of Galena

Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois; [editions for various counties]

Bateman, Newton, ed.
Chicago: Munsell

This search results list has links to many versions of this ‘encyclopedia’ of Illinois history, each containing at the end of the volume the history of an Illinois county, and biographies and portraits of some of the county residents.

Travel and Description, 1765-1865

together with a list of county histories, atlases, and biographical collections and a list of territorial and state laws No. 1-10

Buck, Solon
Springfield, ILL: Illinois State Historical Library 1914

This is Volume 2 in the Illinois State Historical Library’s Bibliographical Series. It contains annotated bibliographies of books that are significant in Illinois history for the following subject areas:
Travel and Description, 1765-1865
-County Histories, Atlases and Biographical Collections
-Historiography of Illinois Counties
-Territorial and State Laws

Legends and Tales of Homeland on the Kankakee

Burroughs, Burt E.
Chicago: Regan 1923

The author was a native of Kankakee County; his parents being among the earliest pioneers. However, the author points out that this is not a conventional local history, but rather a collection of legends and tales in the Valley of the Kankakee, “touching upon many things curious, unusual and out of the ordinary”. It is also a literate and valuable account of ‘daily life’ in rural Illinois in the early 19th century.

Read entire books online free at our fiction page

History of the English Settlement in Edwards County, Illinois founded in 1817 and 1818 by Morris Birkbeck and George Flower

Flower, George
Chicago: Fergus 1909

The completed manuscript of this history of the English Settlement, written by the founders, was presented by Flowers to the Chicago Historical Society in 1860. Flowers was a wealthy Englishman who bought some 26,000 acres (40 sq. miles) in the vicinity of present-day Albion, Illinois, and brought about 200 English settlers to farm upon it. Birkbeck and Flowers went on to play important roles in preventing Illinois from becoming a pro-slavery state in 1824.

The County Archives of the State of Illinois

Pease, Theodore Calvin, ed.
Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library 1915

This is Volume 12 of the series Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library. It is an inventory of records found at the county courthouses of each of Illinois’ 102 counties.

Fifty Years Ago, or, Gleanings Respecting the History of Northern Illinois, a few years previous to, & during the Black Hawk War

Woodruff, George H.
Joliet, ILL: Joliet Republic. 1883

This volume was assembled from a number of articles published in a newspaper in Will County just prior to an 1882 reunion of old pioneers. The articles were mainly based on a variety of published histories, including county histories, but also included many details and stories collected from old pioneers. Most of the content is related to the Black Hawk War or smaller-scale conflicts with Indians.

History of the Illinois River Valley, Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Conger, John Leonard
Chicago: Clarke 1932

The author was a Professor of History at Knox College. Volume 1 is a general history of the valley, which makes up about one quarter of Illinois. Volumes 2 and 3 are entirely biographical, and each has an index at the end for individuals profiled in that volume. Many photos.

The Rock River Valley. Its History, Traditions, Legends and Charms, Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Way, Royal Brunson
Chicago: Clarke 1926

Covering Jefferson, Dodge, Dane and Rock Counties in Wisconsin; and Winnebago, Stephenson, Boone, Ogle, Lee, Whiteside, Henry and Rock Island Counties in Illinois. The editor was a Professor of History and Political Science at Beloit College. Volume 1 has all the history. Volumes 2 and 3 are entirely biographical, and each has an index at the end for individuals profiled in that volume. Many photos.

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