Illinois : Safety by City
- Arlington Heights
- Crystal Lake
- Des Plaines
- East St Louis
- Fairview Heights
- Granite City
- Mount Prospect
- Oak Lawn
- Rock Island
- Tinley Park
At first glance, Centralia, Illinois, looks like a typical small Midwestern town where everyone knows everyone and you never meet a stranger.
It’s really important to take a second glance.
Centralia is located in what Chicagoans call “downstate” and sits 60 miles east as the crow flies from St. Louis, Missouri.
This small town is actually in three different counties, but the largest section is in Marion County.
It was once a blossoming railroad and mining town, until March 25, 1947, and it seems to have all gone downhill from there.
That day in the 40s, a coal mine nearby exploded and 111 people lost their lives.
Folk singer Woodie Guthrie wrote a tribute to the tragedy called “The Dying Miner.”
By many reflections today, Centralia is a dying town.
The population keeps getting smaller and nearly a quarter of the 12,000 residents live in poverty.
This paved the way for gangs and drugs to overrun the town, a pandemic hitting many Illinois cities.
Your research of Centralia might also lead to reports of it being “The Devil’s Playground” after a series of missing people and suspicious deaths.
While we’re not going to dive into the intricacies of this, it was worth giving you a heads up.
However, I don’t think you need to have an outstanding fear that devil worshippers are waiting to slaughter people.
There is a little truth, a little folklore, and a lot of questions connected to the Devil’s Playground theory.
It’s not all scary news in Centralia.
There’s an annual Balloon Fest that brings 40,000 people to the city.
The city is bright with murals painted locally and there are several parks with unique activities for the whole family.
The downtown area still holds on to that charming image of years gone by.
Can Centralia get back to being a charming small town with plenty to do, even a community barbecue that brings out all the residents?
Time will tell, but at this moment in time in 2022, there’s a lot to learn about safety and tourism in Centralia, Illinois.
Warnings & Dangers in Centralia
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's medium overall risk. The violent crime rate is two and a half times the national average. In a city this small, a few crimes in one direction or the other can really influence the actual crime rate, so we'll try to go by the actual numbers instead of just a highly inflated crime rate easily subject to skewing.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
South Central Transit is a shuttle system that goes around the region. You can also rent a trolley (yes, rent a WHOLE trolley). You might be able to get a taxi or rideshare, but this is a very small town, so don't depend on that for all transportation. Having a car would be ideal. Any option is a low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
The theft rate here is one in 35, but the data provided doesn't break down how many of those were pickpockets. Given the lack of crowds here, there's a low risk of getting pickpocketed. However, car break-ins will definitely be a concern.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
You're going to get a little bit of everything here as far as risks. Winter brings ice or snowstorms. Spring brings tornado season. Summer gets more thunderstorms with tornado potential and extreme heat. There's also an ongoing risk of an earthquake. Be weather aware when you visit here as there's a medium risk when storms are approaching.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
There's a one in 529 risks of being a robbery victim with 23 robberies reported in 2020. It's important to note that the way crime numbers are calculated, if a crime starts as a robbery but ends in a fight, then it gets reported as aggravated assault and there were 113 of those in 2020. We're going to have to call this a medium risk because of the potential for violent crime here.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low risk. This is a city where the biggest dangers come from the criminals within, not the terrorists on the other side of the world. It's far enough away from St. Louis that it wouldn't feel the impact of an attack there.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There's a water utility scam going around, but nothing that would impact a tourist. One thing to be wary of, and while it's not a scam, it's still dangerous, is drugs for sale. The newest trends in drug sales are pills that look like prescription drugs but are made by drug dealers. Be sure any prescription you get comes from a licensed pharmacy.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
There were 23 sexual assaults in 2020, making the sexual assault rate five times the national average. Of course, with a small population, the exact numbers can skew the results. Generally, in a town like Centralia, if you don't go looking for trouble you probably won't find it, but with such a high rate of sexual assault, we need to call this a medium risk.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Annual Water Quality Report shows no violations from the previous year and all water meets the required standards. There is a low risk of using it.
Safest Places to Visit in Centralia
Make sure when you are researching things to do in Centralia that you are looking for the one in Illinois.
Missouri and Washington state also have a Centralia.
Foundation Park is the place to be for a casual stroll, morning run, or big event.
Festivals like the Balloon Fest happen here throughout the year.
Fairview Park is a great place to see historic vehicles, like a military plane from the Vietnam War and train engines from the railroad days of Centralia.
At Bicentennial Park, you can see an old, wooden water tower with a history of how it worked when first installed.
There are several lakes nearby, including Raccoon Lake and Lake Centralia.
The lakes are stocked with fish and open to boaters and kayakers.
Downtown there is one of the largest bell towers in the world.
Concerts are played throughout the week, but check locally when you arrive because the times change through different seasons.
While you’re visiting downtown, try one of the many locally owned and operated restaurants.
There’s everything from pancakes the size of a pizza to incredibly barbecued ribs.
There are several coffee shops too.
Stop by the Centralia History Museum before doing some antique shopping.
Places to Avoid in Centralia
This isn’t really a big enough town to have a good side and bad side, at least according to the crime distribution map.
It shows a fair share of crime throughout the main populated part of the city, with the west side of Poplar Street having a slightly increased crime rate.
The first glance of Centralia might give you a more comfortable approach to a small town, possibly letting your guard down.
This is the wrong approach.
There are sure to be panhandlers with 23% of the community living in poverty.
It’s not a fancy town, even in the most charming parts.
You’ll also notice there are a lot of churches in Centralia, and some businesses might be closed or have reduced Sunday hours.
Even with a high crime rate, this is still the Bible Belt.
You are welcome to attend any church, but be prepared to make many new friends and have discussions about religion.
This is not a town where strangers are unwelcome.
Avoid pronouncing the “S” in Illinois.
It’s “Ill-in-oye” and they’ll be quick to correct you or at least give you an eye roll if you say it wrong.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Centralia
- This is less safe and more about a city in motion, but in the past few months the Police Chief, Fire Chief, and City Manager have all resigned after extended tenures in their respective roles. This means you should check the city website before visiting to see if there’s updated safety information or new ordinances that come from the new leadership.
- If you are visiting in winter and snow is on the way, the city might issue a Snow Emergency. This is less about the intensity of the snow and more about parking restrictions so snowplows can get through. You can see a detailed listing of which streets have been impacted by the Snow Emergency. You won’t be allowed to park on those streets and risk being towed if you do.
- It is against the city code to climb a tree in any of the parks. Centralia is a designated “Tree City” and wants to keep the trees in a tip-top shape. I’m not sure if anyone has ever gotten fined for climbing a tree, but let’s not find out if it can really happen. Just keep your feet on the ground.
- There are a lot of festivals in Centralia throughout the year. Remember that annual balloon festival that brings 40,000 people to town? Hotel rooms might fill up for miles around. Be sure to book early or check the activities schedule on the city website to see if your trip coincides with a major event that could drive up hotel prices.
- To help fight crime in the area, if you have non-urgent information about illegal activity, call 1-800-499-UTEL(8835). This call is anonymous. There’s also a place on the city website where you can fill out a form with information as well.
- If you want to boat on a lake in Centralia, you need a State Watercraft Card and a City Boat License. That’s on top of the Fishing License required in the state of Illinois. This only applies to motorized boats. You can kayak or rowboat all you want without a license.
- The trolley that is for rent throughout the year becomes a shuttle trolley during the big events. You can park and ride the trolley to avoid being in the thick of traffic.
- Centralia is known for its excellent sports teams. It would be great if you could show support for the city by attending a sporting event. You’ll get to meet new people and see some incredible athletes at the dawn of their careers. This is a safe place to enjoy a good old game of American baseball or basketball.
- It is illegal to drive distracted in Illinois. You must keep the phone out of your hands. You can only use Bluetooth technology if you are 19 or older. The only exception is when you are stuck in traffic that isn’t moving to the point where you have the car in park.
- Mobile phone service in rural Illinois could be hit or miss. You should check with your mobile phone provider to see service coverage maps in and around Centralia.
So... How Safe Is Centralia Really?
Centralia is suffering the same gun violence that many other small towns and big cities are in Illinois.
This isn’t just a Centralia problem.
There’s also an opioid epidemic going on and small towns have drug dealers too.
Add to that poverty and economic struggles in a town ripe with coal and train lines that aren’t as in demand as they used to be, and it’s just a mix of dangerous circumstances.
The violent crime risk is one in 76.
Obviously, when the city is filled with visitors during an event, that risk is going to go down, but then the theft risk will go up as thieves look for crimes of opportunity.
The theft rate is at one in 35.
That could include everything from a pickpocket to a car break-in to shoplifting.
Every city is going to have crime, even small Bible Belt towns.
It’s a challenge the city is trying to overcome.
There are fun things to do here, but nothing that is going to amaze you aside from the festivals during the year.
This is a simple town with complex problems.
You aren’t unsafe walking down the street, but you certainly shouldn’t be walking around this sleepy town alone at night.
How Does Centralia Compare?
- Visas - You need to get the Visa process started about four months before you visit. You'll only need to show it at the airport when you go through Customs.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. Many places, like the parks, are free. There's no need to carry around large sums of cash. Use a credit card for all purchases to keep track of spending and monitor for fraud.
- Weather - You'll definitely feel the four seasons here. Winter will require a full coat, gloves, hat, etc. Bring snow boots if snow is in the forecast. Make sure they have a good grip because it's not uncommon for snowstorms to have some ice accumulation here. Summers are going to be hot and muggy. You'll need bug spray, sunscreen, and a hat to keep the sun and sweat out of your eyes.
- Airports - The best airport option is St. Louis Lambert Field International Airport, which is about 90 minutes away by car. You can also take Amtrak to the airport. Even though Chicago is in Illinois, that's still going to be a five-hour drive through some really boring, flat land.
- Travel Insurance - You'll want to get travel insurance for your trip to Centralia since the weather can be very sporadic and dangerous throughout the year.
Centralia Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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