HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – White County, Illinois started out as a mostly agricultural county, until the discovery of oil in the early 20th century.

Carmi, the county seat of White County, was founded in 1814, and incorporated in 1816. County officials say White County was organized from Gallatin County in 1815, and was named after Captain Leonard White, a Gallatin County legislator who is credited with the idea of extending the Illinois-Wisconsin border a few miles north of the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

According to the Illinois State Historical Society, Carmi was also the home of four members of the US House of Representatives: Colonel John M. Crebs, James Robert Williams, Orlando Burrell and Roy Clippinger. The historical society says other sites of historical interest in Carmi include the Ratcliff Inn, where Abraham Lincoln stayed in 1840 while campaigning for Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison. Illinois historical officials say there is also a house built in 1871 by Colonel Everton J. Conger, commander of the troops which captured John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin.

The official website of White County says that agriculture was the primary industry of White County until the summer of 1939, when oil was discovered in the Storms and Stinson fields in the Wabash River Bottoms. Officials say this caused a population boom, and many of the workers migrated from previous oil booms in Texas and Oklahoma.

White County officials say besides oil and agriculture, county industries include auto parts manufacturing, plastics and a convenience store distribution center. Officials with the Chamber of Commerce say there used to be an underground mine a few years ago, but it’s no longer in operation. According to a 2019 document, the Illinois Petroleum Resources Board says that White County is Illinois’ top oil production county with a total of 2,049,462 barrels.

According to the United States Census Bureau, as of the 2020 census, the population of White County was 13,877.

This is the second of a weekly twenty-one-part series that will help educate about each of the counties in the Eyewitness News viewing area. Check in every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for the next one! Last week’s story can be found here.