200 Years of Illinois: Town of Steel

western district of columbiaOn January 21, 1972, DC Comics declared the largely misnamed Metropolis, Illinois the official home town of Superman. Metropolis had already adopted the Son of Krypton, and as we all know the local paper famously called itself the Planet as a tribute to the superhero.

Today, stores sell super-kitsch and a bronze (not steel) statue of Superman stands downtown. So does the Super Museum, home to an immense collection of Superman memorabilia. By virtue of a lucky name choice, Metropolis found that thing essential to any small town’s prosperity: a gimmick to sell itself.

Though Metropolis dates to 1837, European settlement began when the French put up a fort on the site eighty years earlier. Access to the Ohio River made it a popular place for Native American peoples, too. Settled mainly by upland southerners, Metropolis was home to slaves and slaveholders until the 1840s despite Illinois’s status as a free state. In the years before the Civil War, the town became prominent in a scheme to create a “western District of Columbia” that propsed the surrounding area and part of Kentucky as a new national capital. Though never really considered, the idea made a certain amount of sense, as it placed the seat of government in the young nation’s less vulnerable interior. It also meant that the government, and the military, might influence the so-called border states to remain in the Union if a conflict broke out between north and south.