Franklin County was platted in 1818, the year Illinois became a state, at twice its current size. It included the territory that is now Williamson County. In 1839 the county was split roughly in half and the county seat was permanently fixed "at a hill at the south end of Rowling's Prairie," the site of the future city of Benton.
The Franklin County Courthouse sits in the center of the Public Square. It is the third courthouse that has served the people of Franklin County. The Italianate building was constructed in 1874-75 at a cost of $27,500.00
Much of Benton's growth in the past can be traced to the abundance of high sulfur coal, the presence of multiple railroads, rich soil and the industry of her people.
On April 19, 1928 Benton was the site of the last public hanging in Illinois, when local gangster Charles Birger was executed on the gallows next to the county jail for the December 12, 1926 murder of Joe Adams, mayor of nearby West City, Illinois. A replica of the gallows and hangman's noose were built by Carpenter Birchard Wampler and his late son Birchard Neil Wampler. They remain standing today next to the old Jail turned Museum.
In September 1963, George Harrison of The Beatles visited Benton while on vacation. He stayed at the home of his sister, Louise, at 113 McCann Street. The bungalow is now the Hard Day's Nite Bed and Breakfast. Harrison also performed with band at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Eldorado, Illinois. In an interview, Harrison's sister Louise said "his real first visit to America was when he came to the midwest in September of 1963 and he met these wonderful, warm, friendly, real warm Midwesterners... school teachers, retired miners and all kinds of just wonderful people... and a little band. He had a fantastic time. He thought they were just wonderful people."
Benton is also the hometown of actor John Malkovich.
Benton is the hometown of NBA coach and player, and Olympic basketball player Doug Collins.
Benton is the hometown of humorist author Gordon Wayman
Benton was the home of game show host Gene Rayburn, of Hollywood costume designer Brad Loman, of Grand Ole Opry Star Billy Grammer, comedian Tommy Johnagan, automobile and ATV historian Chase Malkovich (subject of an upcoming documentary, partially produced and narrated by cousin John Malkovich) and Rock Group Revis.
Benton is the hometown of Reathel Odum Ms. Odum was Senator Harry Truman's secretary (1936-1945) and Bess Truman's personal secretary (1945-1953). She was a Truman family confidante and lived with the Truman's in the White House. Later, she traveled with Truman's daughter, Margaret.
Benton is the hometown of Georgia Tech's all-time scoring record holder Rich Yunkus with 2,232 points. Freshman were not allowed to play in his day and there was no 3 pt. shot.
Benton is the home of Lin Bolen, former Vice President of NBC. Lin was raised up in Benton and attended Benton High School. Lin Bolen was head of daytime programming for the network in the 1970s. She was one of the first women executives in network television. According to an article in TIME MAGAZINE (Sep. 18, 1978) Faye Dunaway's character in the movie "Network" was actually based on Lin Bolen. Lin was executive producer of a TV Show which was a spinoff to "Network" called "W.E.B." which was based on Lin's life. Lin is also credited with the idea to change soap operas from thirty mintues to an hour. As VP of NBC she made the decision to expand "Days of Our Lives" to an hour beginning April 21, 1975.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.5 square miles (14.2 km²), of which, 5.3 square miles (13.9 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.4 km²) of it (2.55%) is water.
Interstate 57 intersects State Highway 14 at Benton.
There were 2,938 households out of which 26.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.7% were married couples living together, 11.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.9% were non-families. 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.24 and the average family size was 2.86.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.0% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 24.7% from 25 to 44, 23.0% from 45 to 64, and 22.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 86.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,177, and the median income for a family was $35,339. Males had a median income of $27,323 versus $19,403 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,787. About 15.6% of families and 17.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.6% of those under age 18 and 11.4% of those age 65 or over.