Carrier Mills, formerly Carriers Mills and Morrilsville, also known as Catskin, is a village in Saline County, Illinois, United States. The population was 1,886 at the 2000 census. Carrier Mills was named after George Washington Carrier and his saw and grist mill, and was one of the early Cairo and Vincennes Railroad boomtowns. Carrier Mills has lost 44% of its population since the 1920 census high of 2,943. The village has a large African American population at 13%, compared to neighboring communities in the region, due to migration from the nearby community of Lakeview.
The city has been nicknamed "Catskin" due to both an abundance of stray cats in town, and a late-19th century story of the first local merchandise and liquor store owner, Wes Cole, who was tricked by local kids into thinking a skinned cat hide was a mink stole in trade for a jug of whiskey. To this day Carrier Mills is host to the annual Catskin Days town fair and parade. The township's school mascot is the Wildcat.
Carrier Mills is located seven miles (11 km) southwest of Harrisburg, Illinois, where most of the town's citizens do their business and shopping. It was platted in November 1872 for William Housely as Morrillsville, named after H. L. Morrill the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad superintendent who sealed a real-estate deal with Mill owner G. W. Carrier. It was commonly known and eventually renamed Carrier's Mills after inventor G. Washington Carrier ("Uncle Wash") who helped found the town when he built an elaborate steam powered saw and a grist mill just to the south of town on the Saline River watershed, near the old Tuller Mansion farming and property site. Carrier's Mills was the farthest north Cypress Trees grew at the time, which made lumber milling in the town quite profitable. Carrier was the first of many to set up wood working factories within the city limits. The mills were first used for the making of lumber to construct bridges and ties for the Cairo and Vincennes Railroad, then later the business and homes in the town soon followed.
Carrier and Morrill closed a real-estate deal to build a train depot there. The town was platted adjacent and north of the newly completed Cairo and Vincennes Railroad. In 1873, the first postmaster was appointed to Carrier's Mills (the name the railroad had assigned to the new stop). The town's name changed again to Carrier Mills when several more wood working factories were built. The village was incorporated on September 18, 1894. After an influx of settlers from the south, due to the Civil War, the tiny village amidst timber and farms grew quickly. Today, in legal documents its name remains Morrillsville. Carrier Mills did not have a single brick building and the sidewalks were of boards. The business district was mainly from the First National Bank west to the Texaco Gas Station, and all of frame construction. A disastrous fire in February 1908 burned everything on the north side of the street. In the next month, March 1908, fire burned everything on the south side of the street, from Main to Mill, except the Old Woolcott Mill Exchange. The businessmen began immediately to rebuild, all of brick construction.
Tuller Mansion, or "Tuller Place" was a Victorian, 1910, two-story manor, constructed of red brick from the Terre Haute Block Company built on the outskirts of town. There was a grand entry staircase with marble floors, clawfoot tubs, built-in china cabinets, and fine mahogany wood throughout. A large elegant patio served to entertain guests in hosting social dances, and even a carport existed for the two vehicles that Mr. Tuller owned. The mansion was built on the Carrier-Vennum estate, nicknamed "Inland Farm", by Arthur V. Tuller, inlaws of George Washington Carrier, The town's founder. The house burned in the 1990s.
After the lumber boom died out, Coal mining had a great influence on Carrier Mills. Some dozen coal mines privately and publicly owned were located around the town. Carrier Mills, from 1913 to 1933, was the southern terminus of the Southern Illinois Railway & Power Company's Interurban Line. The trolley would take residents from downtown, and along Carline Street toward Harrsburg. During the town's heyday, some 3,000 people bustled around the busy streets. After the coal mines closed the population dwindled to nearly 1,500 according to the 2010 census. The entire county has suffered dearly from the closing of the coal mines, making Carrier Mills a near ghost town. In 2009 Carrier Mills ended a 70 year long prohibition. During the 2012 Leap Day tornado outbreak an EF-4 tornado touched down just north of Carrier Mills at 4:51 a.m. on 29 February 2012, destroyed a church and damaged homes along Town Park Road and then traveled ENE toward Harrisburg, where it damaged and destroyed entire neighborhoods of the city.
Local School History
The first school in Carrier Mills was a large, two-story wooden structure with a bell tower. It was built in the early 1820s and located near the old Sahara Coal Company preparation plant (now abandoned), just northwest of the village. The little structure was made of logs and had a clay chimney. School year began in August and ended in October because of the extreme cold. A typical school in 1850 was a subscription school - a fee of $2.50 was charged for a two-month period. From the Civil War period until 1875, the only formal school was located near Salem.
In 1887, the first school building in Carrier Mills Village was purchased for the purpose of being a prescription school at the corner of Walnut and Main St. The first major public school in the town was opened in 1903 on Furlong St. The first recognized two-year high school course was started in 1915. In 1917, the high school became a registered three-year high school until 1926 when it became a community high school fully accredited by the state of Illinois.
Around 1940, the Carrier Mills Public School building burned down after a disastrous fire starting during a Boy Scout meeting in the basement. A much larger school was built a year later as a grade school around the frame of the first burnt school.
On February 4, 1938, the present building was completed and occupied, with the gymnasium and auditorium added in 1940. The current enlarged gym was built in 1950-1. At the beginning of 1963, the small town of Stonefort joined the Carrier Mills school district creating the Carrier Mills-Stonefort Unit 2 School District.