MARION, Ill. — For a number of years, Williamson County has been in transformation from a rural, agriculturally diverse area to one marked by steel, concrete and asphalt.

While farming still is big business here, it now is overshadowed by commercial and residential development. Longtime county Farm Bureau manager Garry Jenkins has witnessed the changes through the years.

“Williamson County is pretty much an urban county now,” he said. “Probably one of the biggest things we’re growing nowadays is subdivisions.”

Marion’s location at the juncture of Interstate 57 and Illinois Route 13 makes it a coveted commercial location. Farmland has been swallowed up by “miniature urban sprawl” spreading westward from the county seat here to nearby Herrin.

Between the two small cities lie a mall, regional airport, numerous commercial outlets and even a baseball stadium — Rent One Park, home of the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners, a semi-pro team.

Marion’s Robert Butler, first elected in 1963, is the longest-serving mayor in Illinois.

The county also is home to John A. Logan College at Carterville, which has become one of the biggest community colleges in the state.

Despite the urbanization, Williamson County still has strong agricultural ties, though not centered as much on typical corn and soybean operations common throughout much of its neighboring counties to the north. Those who do nothing but farm are a distinct minority.

“We have only about five or six full-time farmers in the county,” Jenkins said. “There are some bigger farmers, but they’ve all got outside jobs. On my board there are nine men, and they all have another job off the farm.”

The county is home to some unusual agriculture-related operations.

Among them is Timberline Fisheries, one of the largest producers of crickets and red wigglers in the Midwest. Much of the product goes to businesses feeding animals, including pet stores and zoos. The waste from the crickets is used by farmers as a protein supplement.

There also are a few sizable beef and pork operations in the county. Jenkins said there are no dairies, however. Horses are big in the region. There is an equestrian center in Marion and a number of horse camps throughout the county.

The Williamson County Fair is one of the oldest continuously operated county fairs in Illinois and has a rich history. During the Civil War the fairgrounds served as a resting place for soldiers.

While there is virtually no fruit production in the county today as there is in neighboring Johnson and Jackson counties, one vineyard and winery — Walker’s Bluff — has quickly become a major destination spot.

The winery is a complex of several buildings, with a general store, tasting “cave” and large outdoor stage that has hosted national music acts, including Sheryl Crow, Heart and the Charlie Daniels Band.

The county also is dotted with hunting clubs, as it is home to the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and nearby Crab Orchard Lake.