Vermilion County is a county located in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Illinois, between the Indiana border and Champaign County. It was established in 1826 and was the 45th of Illinois' 102 counties. According to the 2010 census, it had a population of 81,625, which is a decrease of 2.7% from 83,919 in 2000. It contains 21 incorporated settlements; the county seat and largest city is Danville. The county is also divided into 19 townships which provide local services.
Vermilion County is part of the Danville, Illinois, Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Vermilion County is named after the Vermilion River, which passes through the county and empties into the Wabash River in Indiana near Cayuga; the river was so named because of the color of the earth along its route.
The area which became Vermilion County was under the flag of France from 1682 to 1763, as part of New France. It was owned by Great Britain for fifteen years after the French and Indian War; it then became part of the colonies after the Revolutionary War when the area was ceded to Virginia and was known as "the Illinois County of Virginia". Later it was part of the Indiana Territory, then the Illinois Territory, and finally the state of Illinois. The county was officially created on January 18, 1826 from a portion of Edgar County. There was an unorganized territory to the north and west which was attached to the county; Champaign and Iroquois counties were formed from part of this territory in 1833. The remainder was used to create Ford County in 1859; this was the last county to be formed in the state.
The existence of saline springs in the county proved to be a strong attraction to early white men, and were mentioned as early as 1801, when Joseph Barron, an interpreter fluent in a number of Native American languages, stated in an affidavit that he was present at the "Vermilion Salines" that year. The production required 100 gallons of water for one bushel of salt and proved to be profitable from the first run 1822 to 1829, when salt became less expensive and the venture was no longer economical.
The saline springs were also the site of the first settlement, made by Seymour Treat in 1819, along with the Beckwith and Whitcomb families. James Butler, from Ohio, followed in 1820 and settled in the Catlin area; within a few years, the settlement grew to encompass several families and became known as "Butler's Point". About the same time, the southern area of the county also attracted an early settler named Henry Johnson, who built a cabin approximately two miles west of Georgetown; this area later became known as "Johnson's Point". The southern portion of the county soon became populated with a number of cabins and small settlements. The majority of those coming to Vermilion County originated in the American South and left because of their opposition to slavery.
Some of the early settlers were of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Some of these settlers founded the settlement of Vermilion Grove in the south part of the county; it is not only one of the oldest settlements in the county but also the site of the second school in the county.
The county has strong ties to Abraham Lincoln. He practiced law in Danville from 1841 to 1859 with Ward Hill Lamon, who later served as his bodyguard. Lincoln also gave a brief speech in Danville in 1858 while campaigning for U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas; Lincoln gave the speech in his stocking feet while standing on the balcony at the home of Dr. William Fithian, a prominent local physician. Today, the Fithian home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the Vermilion County Museum; visitors can see Lincoln memorabilia including a bed in which Lincoln slept.
The maps below illustrate the various stages in the evolution of Vermilion County.