Virden, Illinois

Virden is a city in Macoupin and Sangamon counties in the U.S. state of Illinois. The population was 3,425 at the 2010 census, and 3,354 at a 2018 estimate.

Location of Virden in Sangamon County, Illinois.
Location of Virden in Sangamon County, Illinois.
Location of Illinois in the United States
Location of Illinois in the United States
Coordinates: 39°30′N 89°46′W / 39.500°N 89.767°W / 39.500; -89.767Coordinates: 39°30′N 89°46′W / 39.500°N 89.767°W / 39.500; -89.767
CountryUnited States
CountyMacoupin, Sangamon
 • Total1.87 sq mi (4.85 km2)
 • Land1.87 sq mi (4.85 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
681 ft (208 m)
 • Total3,425
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,812.50/sq mi (699.69/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Code(s)
Area code(s)217
FIPS code17-78149
Wikimedia CommonsVirden, Illinois

The Macoupin County portion of Virden is part of the St. Louis, Missouri–Illinois Metropolitan Statistical Area, while the Sangamon County portion is part of the Springfield Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Virden was the scene of an 1898 coal miners' strike, during which Mary Harris "Mother" Jones played a major role.


Virden is located at 39°30′N 89°46′W / 39.500°N 89.767°W / 39.500; -89.767 (39.504, -89.768).[3] Most of the city lies in Macoupin County, with a small portion extending into Sangamon County. In the 2000 census, 3,378 of the city's 3,488 residents (96.8%) lived in Macoupin County and 110 (3.2%) lived in Sangamon County.[4]

According to the 2010 census, Virden has a total area of 1.83 square miles (4.74 km2), all land.[5]


Census Pop.
Est. 20183,354[2]−2.1%
U.S. Decennial Census[6]

As of the census[7] of 2000, there were 3,488 people, 1,455 households, and 934 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,032.6 people per square mile (783.0/km²). There were 1,609 housing units at an average density of 937.6 per square mile (361.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 98.80% White, 0.32% African American, 0.40% Native American, 0.09% Asian, 0.06% from other races, and 0.34% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.46% of the population.

There were 1,455 households out of which 29.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.8% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.8% were non-families. 31.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.87.

In the city, the population was spread out with 23.9% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 26.5% from 25 to 44, 21.3% from 45 to 64, and 19.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $31,905, and the median income for a family was $41,511. Males had a median income of $30,824 versus $22,121 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,541. About 7.4% of families and 10.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.0% of those under age 18 and 9.3% of those age 65 or over.


Virden sits atop a large seam of coal. After the 1850s, when the Chicago and Alton railroad was completed, it became possible to mine Virden coal and ship it long distances for a profit. Throughout the second half of the 1800s, Virden prospered and grew as a coal-mining town.

A bitter coal strike broke out in 1898. The Chicago-Virden Coal Company, fearing loss of key business in Chicago, refused to allow its Virden mines to be unionized, nor would it pay the nonunionized miners union-scale wages. Instead, the coal company built a timber stockade around its mine head, adjoining the railroad tracks, and hired African-Americans from Southern states as coal miners. The Chicago-Virden Company knew that African-Americans, who were attempting to escape Jim Crow labor conditions, would not request union-scale wages. Instead, the Company promised to pay their new workers by the ton. The new miners were promised only 30 cents per ton of coal mined.[8]

The appearance of the African-American miners infuriated the strikers. They were motivated by racism, by labor solidarity, and by the desire to create decent lives for their own families. Some of the striking coal miners were themselves African-American, and black coal miners who were union members in good standing were apparently accepted by their unionized white comrades. However, this acceptance did not extend to strikebreakers.[8]

Battle of VirdenEdit

On October 12, 1898, a northbound train, loaded with potential strikebreaking miners, pulled into Virden and stopped on the tracks just outside the minehead stockade. The mine manager and train operator, knowing there would be trouble, had reinforced the train with a troop of security guards, armed with Winchester rifles. It soon became clear that the security guards had been either ordered, or allowed, to shoot to kill. As the strikers attempted to surround the train, the guards opened fire.[8]

As a gun battle broke out in and around the strikebreakers' train, there were dead and wounded on both sides. Of the thirteen dead, six were security guards. Furthermore, had the strikers won the battle, their intentions toward the Alabama strikebreakers were not friendly. After twenty minutes of firing on both sides, the train's engineer accepted defeat and the engine and part of the train pulled away from the minehead and continued northward to Springfield, Illinois.[8]

A monument in the Virden town square commemorates the coal strike of 1898 and the battle of October 12 that was its bitter end. The monument contains a large bronze bas-relief that includes the names of those killed, and a copy of a mendacious recruiting handbill distributed by the Chicago-Virden Company in Birmingham, Alabama, to recruit the African-American miners. The body of the bas-relief is made of symbolic representations of the Chicago & Alton tracks and the assault on the strikers. The guards are shown pointing their Winchesters at the strikers and their families. Atop the bas-relief is a bronze portrait of Mary Harris Jones ("Mother Jones"), who is buried in nearby Mount Olive, Illinois.

Notable peopleEdit

Further readingEdit

  • David Markwell. "A Turning Point: the Lasting Impact of the 1898 Virden Mine Riot," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume: 99. Issue: 3/4. 2006. pp 211+. online edition
  • Rosemary Feuer. "Remember Virden! The Coal Mines Wars of 1898-1900." Illinois History Teacher, Volume 13:2, 2006, pp. 10–22. online edition


  1. ^ "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jun 30, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  4. ^ "Subcounty population estimates: Illinois 2000-2006". United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 2007-06-28. Archived from the original (CSV) on 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2008-05-28.
  5. ^ "G001 - Geographic Identifiers - 2010 Census Summary File 1". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2020-02-13. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
  6. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  7. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  8. ^ a b c d "Remember Virden! The Coal Mine Wars of 1898-1900". Northern Illinois University. Retrieved 2010-08-08.