Sparta Area
Chamber of Commerce
Sparta, IL.

Historic Interest

Misselhorn Art Gallery

The City, originally known as “Columbus” when it was incorporated in 1837, adopted the name Sparta in 1839.  When the first settlers came to the area about 1812, they found almost three quarters of the land was covered with timber.  The remainder of the land was a rich prairie.  Early settlers came to Southern Illinois by way of South Carolina.  These immigrants were of Scottish and Irish heritage.  By 1859, the city had grown immensely. It boasted three churches, 10 dry good stores, three schools and several industries.  It was at this time the city was officially incorporated by a special act of the state legislature.   It was then incorporated under the General Law of the State of Illinois in 1873.

Sparta had connections to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The Burlingame House still stands in the small rural community of Eden just outside of Sparta.  It is a towering two story brick home that is in dire need of repair and restoration.  Slaves fleeing to freedom were hidden there and later transported to the next stop on the “Underground Railroad”.   This was accomplished by the delivery of farm equipment by Mr. Burlingame.  A little further north, another home, owned by Mr. William Hayes, offered the same protection to slaves seeking freedom.  However, in 1844, Mr. Hayes was tried and found guilty of transporting four slaves northward.  Today, the Hayes home is still occupied by members of the Hayes family.

In 1930, two young Sparta men broke the world aircraft endurance record of 427 hours.  The Hunter Brothers, John and Kenneth (Kenneth only 16 years old), flew the plane “The City of Chicago” and their brothers Albert and Walter flew a support plane called “Big Ben”.  Fuel, home cooked meals, and laundry was lowered into the “Chicago”.  After the historic flight, the brothers were able to procure distribution of the Midwest airmail route, which they hoped would be the basis for a future airline.  Three of the brothers lost their lives in tragic accidents.  John lost his life at the age of 29 while “cat-walking” over Rosedale, Missouri and he fell into the airplanes whirling prop.  Albert died when he fell off the roof of a barn.  Kenneth was killed in a weather related flying accident in 1975.  Walter Hunter left the airmail company and became a pilot for American Airlines.  Today, the Sparta airport, known as Hunter Field, is the base for emergency medical helicopters, air cargo and crop dusting services. 

Hollywood came to Sparta in the mid 1960’s. The producers for the film “In The Heat Of the Night” found Sparta to be representative of the small Mississippi town portrayed in the movie.  Rod Steiger and Sydney Poitier were the main stars of the crime mystery.  Several old businesses and homes were used during the filming.  Later, a T. V. series was formatted after the movie. 

Today, you can take a drive down South St. Louis Street and West Third and see several of the city’s oldest homes.  The historical area is known as Bricktown.  The Old G. M. & O. Depot is also located on Second Street.  It is now the home of the Misselhorn Art Gallery.  The depot features the work of the late Roscoe Misselhorn as well as gifts, books and prints for railroad buffs and “In The Heat Of The Night” fans. Open on weekends.  Special tours are available.  Admission is free.