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Southern Illinois, the earliest settled and once the wealthiest part of Illinois, is known for its rich history and the abundance of antebellum architecture remaining in its small towns and cities.

The earliest inhabitants of Illinois are thought to have arrived about 12,000 BC.

With the rise of the Mississippian culture in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, tribal leaders organized thousands to build complex urban areas with numerous large earthworks – pyramidal, ridgetop and conical mounds used for religious, political and ceremonial purposes.

Cahokia, located in present-day Collinsville, Illinois, was the major regional center of this culture.

The first European settlers were the French in the part of their empire called Illinois Country.

Later settlers migrated from the Upland South of the United States, traveling by the Ohio River, and the region was affiliated with the southern agricultural economy and rural culture.

As increasing Indian unrest and warfare began in Northern Illinois over the lucrative fur trade along the Great Lakes, the French concentrated on building outposts in Southern Illinois.

The earliest European settlers were concentrated along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash rivers, which provided easy routes for travel and trade.

Some settlers even owned slaves before the territory was organized and it was prohibited.

Many areas developed an economy based on coal mining. Louis MSA, much of Southern Illinois is still culturally affiliated with the Mid-South: western Kentucky, southwestern Indiana, West Tennessee, and the Missouri Bootheel, and the people speak with similar accents.

Southern Illinois' most populated city is Belleville at 44,478.

Other principal cities include Alton, Centralia, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Effingham, O'Fallon, Harrisburg, Herrin, Mt.

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