Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

November 9, 2012

New courthouse museum hosts history talk

EFFINGHAM — Tom McDevitt spent a lot of time in jail while he was growing up.

    It wasn’t like McDevitt wasn’t a miscreant. But as the son of a three-term Effingham County sheriff, McDevitt spent 12 of his first 24 years in jail, because the sheriff’s family was allowed to live there.

    Thursday, McDevitt recalled the years he grew up in the jail, which was located across Washington Avenue north of the old courthouse. Tom McDevitt Sr. was sheriff for three non-consecutive terms between 1938 and 1958. At that time, county sheriffs in Illinois could not serve consecutive terms.

    McDevitt was the first speaker in the seasonal series of history presentations sponsored by the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association and the Effingham County Genealogical and Historical Society.

    Thursday’s presentation was the first held in the first floor courtroom at the old Effingham County Courthouse, site of the county’s new historical museum. More than 100 people crowded the courtroom, spilling over into an adjacent hallway.

    McDevitt said growing up at the jail during the mid 20th century wasn’t any big deal.

    “I really enjoyed living in the jail,” he said. “It was just home to me.”

    McDevitt painted a verbal picture of the scene surrounding the old courthouse at mid-century, bringing up long-departed businesses like the Benwood Hotel, Laue Ford, Zehner Shell, Heart Jewelry and Barlage’s Grocery.

    He recalled crowds sitting on the courthouse lawn to listen to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games on hot summer nights. And, the old pro baseball player recalled how he fell in love with the game in the years preceding World War II on a makeshift diamond on the northwest corner of the courthouse square.

    “We had my brother John, Jack and Ron Ealy, Maurie Mansfield and David Loy,” he said. “We played from nine in the morning to noon and from one to four in the afternoon every day.

    “Grass did not grow there for many years.”

    While the young boys didn’t hit the ball hard enough to break any windows, the crew did influence entry into the old courthouse.

    “People got to where they wouldn’t use the north door,” he said.

    McDevitt also described the scene inside the courthouse. His dad’s office was in the southwest corner of the building. Also on the west side were the circuit clerk and county school superintendent offices.

    Across the hall, still on the first floor, were the treasurer’s and county clerk’s offices.

    Upstairs was the main courtroom, flanked by the road commissioner and state’s attorney’s offices.

    McDevitt said his dad made $150 per month when he was first elected in 1938 and had to buy his own squad car. Meanwhile, mom Louise cooked for the prisoners, as well as her own family.

    “They got the same food we got,” McDevitt recalled.

    McDevitt said his mother, a native of Italy, was known for her Sunday spaghetti and meatballs.

    “We had vagrants who would get themselves locked up Saturday night,” he said. “Dad would let them go Monday morning.

    “They came for the meatballs.”

    McDevitt admitted that times have changed dramatically since his boyhood more than a half-century ago.

    “Things were different then,” he said. “The county probably had about 20,000 people, and Dad knew a lot of people in the county.”

    McDevitt recalled his dad only pulled out his gun twice in 16 years as either the sheriff or a deputy.

    Some people would turn themselves in voluntarily without the security measures that police take nowadays. McDevitt recalled a Mason man named Jack Henry who was accused of creating a disturbance at a tavern in that community.

    McDevitt said his dad didn’t arrest Henry that night. But he knew that Henry would come by Zehner’s Shell station near the courthouse at precisely 10 a.m. Saturday.

    Young Tom recalled the conversation.

    “Dad would say, ‘Hello Jack.’ Jack Henry would say ‘Hello Tom. I guess you’ve got to take me in.

    ‘Yes Jack, somebody filed a complaint.

    “Well, can I go to the bank first?”

    That was fine with the sheriff. Henry would draw his bail money out of the bank and report promptly afterward to the jail.

    McDevitt, a middle infielder, eventually signed a professional baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. After three years of pro ball, he began a teaching and counseling career.

    He eventually landed at Eastern Illinois University as an academic adviser. Shortly after arriving at Eastern, he became the baseball coach and headed the program for more than a decade before retiring on Jan. 1, 1989.

    Series moderator Delaine Donaldson said the next presentation was set for Dec. 13 with Teutopolis High School German teacher and local historian Phil Lewis. Donaldson was not sure, however, where the December meeting would be because of the turnout at Thursday’s presentation.

    Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • $500K coming to sports complex

    In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Effingham City Council narrowly approved $500,000 in hotel/motel tax revenue to help fund the construction of the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Center during a meeting in which the council approved funds for other entities as well.

    August 20, 2014

  • Shimkus not taking anything for granted despite past electoral success

    U.S. Rep. John Shimkus  hasn't had a serious election challenge in more than a decade. But the longtime congressman said he's not taking anything for granted, even though his sprawling district appears tailor-made for continued Republican representation.

    August 19, 2014

  • Power out in Effingham subdivision; cause not yet known

    A small number of Ameren electric customers on the west side of Effingham were out of power this morning.

    August 19, 2014

  • Unit 40 presents $57k deficit Thanks to a series of personnel moves, Unit 40 officials have estimated a $57,136 deficit for the school year — much less than the $834,000 deficit the previous year. With this year’s expected revenue at $28,695,717 and expenditures coming in at $28,

    August 19, 2014

  • 8-16 bank robber 2.jpg Police seek suspect after Marshall bank robbery

    Police from several agencies were seeking a man suspected of robbing a bank in Marshall Friday morning.

    August 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Church Briefs

    Centenary UMCCentenary United Methodist Church, Effingham, will host the following activities: • Saturday, Aug. 16: Pick It Up Effingham at Menards, 8 a.m.• Sunday, Aug. 17: Connection Time, 10 a.m.; Glenwood Worship, 10:30 a.m.; Lavender Ridge Worsh

    August 15, 2014

  • tony- rural health pic 'A more urban nation' The demographic of those in need of health care in rural areas of the heartland are changing. While those native to the Midwest are moving to the south, east and west coast for better climate and employment, the number of immigrants and elderly is on

    August 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Making preschool possible

    A quarter of children starting kindergarten in Effingham have no preschool experience. Studies say this lack of prior school experience is a disadvantage, but a group of community members intend to change that.

    August 14, 2014

  • Thankyou Dear T-town residents,To all of you who were in any way responsible for the perfect roll-out of our Terquasquicentennial, I want to say a public thank you. I know I speak for many.The planning for such an event must have consumed your lives for the p

    August 14, 2014

  • State board recommends license suspension for local lawyer

    August 13, 2014

AP Video
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.