Metro-East News

Where is Southern Illinois? What does ‘downstate’ mean?

Gateway Municipal Park fountain in Belleville, which denotes Belleville as the “capital” of Southern Illinois.
Gateway Municipal Park fountain in Belleville, which denotes Belleville as the “capital” of Southern Illinois.

A writer at ProPublica Illinois needs help with what might be, at first glance, a rather basic definition.

Where exactly is “Downstate Illinois?”

Well, ProPublica, we’re the experts on matters not-Chicago. Belleville is, after all, the “Capital of Southern Illinois.” It says so, in stone, right there on the fountain welcoming us to the city along Illinois 159.

Back in 2002, when the fountain was new, Mayor Mark Kern said Belleville “Capital of Southern Illinois” slogan has been around “for many, many years.”

The real question isn’t what is “downstate” — that could be anything south or west of Chicago and its suburbs — but what differentiates “Southern Illinois” from the rest of the state?

Is there a clear line or indicator that denotes downstate and Southern Illinois? Maybe an interstate or waterway that serves as a dividing line?

According to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which divides the state into five regions, St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties are not “Southern.”

Nope. Madison, St. Clair, Monroe and even Randolph are “West Central” according to IDNR. Wikipedia however, has a map clearly showing “central” as being from Macoupin to Stark counties.

Perhaps the Illinois State Police can clarify.

Nope. The ISP divvies up the state into seven “zones” and 22 districts. None of them get a directional word in the name; all zones and districts are numbered. St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties are in Zone 6, District 11.

OK then. IDOT?

The Illinois Department of Transportation also neatly ducks using directional words in favor of five numbered regions and nine numbered districts. Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties are in Region 5, District 8. IDOT’s Region 5 District 9 goes to the southernmost tip of Illinois.

Perhaps Jaffe, who moved to Chicago in 2012, could do as others have in the past.

Take a cue from state government agencies and forgo the divisional nomenclature. Accept all as sharing status as “Illinois” residents.

“The fact is we’re stuck with each other,” wrote Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times in 2016, of any consideration of splitting the state.