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
  • Complex support divides council All indications at Tuesday’s special meeting of the Effingham City Council indicates Effingham Park District will not get the $1 million it is asking for to help build the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Center.In fact, Mayor Merv Gillenwater

    July 30, 2014

  • Correction It was incorrectly reported in Saturday’s Effingham Daily News that federal sex crime suspect Nathan Maphis was at large. Maphis is being held in Madison County Jail. The newspaper erred. Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, at bill.

    July 30, 2014

  • tony- community garden 2 Learning and growing together The installation of a Effingham Community Garden sign marks the growing success of a common place for Effingham residents to cultivate plants and produce.“We have 23 large plots and two small plots out here this year,” said University of Illinois Mas

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • 7-30 kitchen fire pic Kitchen fire damages home An unattended kitchen stove led to a full-still fire call at 507 Park Hills Drive Tuesday afternoon.A passerby made a 911 call and reported visible smoke from the eaves of the home at 1:16 p.m. Arriving on scene, Effingham firefighters entered the ho

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Man fatally shot in Pana standoff, officer wounded

    Illinois State Police(ISP) and Christian County Sheriff's Office are investigating a shooting that occurred on Tuesday, July 29, in rural Christian County that involved ISP SWAT, a Pana Police officer and an armed offender.

    July 29, 2014

  • City to determine contribution A request by Effingham Park District representatives for a million dollars to help construct the Richard E. Workman Sports and Wellness Center is being considered at a special Effingham City Council meeting this evening.Some commissioners questioned

    July 29, 2014

  • 7-29 Filming PRIMARY Effingham grad returns to make film Travis Long says he learned a lot from directing his first full-length feature several years ago.“Kill Me Now was a learning experience, both in shooting and distribution,” the 1998 Effingham High School graduate said.With a full production crew and

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • McCarter.jpg Some lawmakers donate pay

    Illinois lawmakers restoring their pay after years of furlough days has prompted some state representatives to give back to their communities — a move some local lawmakers call a political one.

    July 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • Distance learning catching on in area

    In what appears to be a growing trend among rural school districts, a third area school district may join an existing academic cooperative.

    July 27, 2014

  • Joshua Robison.jpg Opinion: God doesn't care about party affiliation

    Reflecting on what we politely refer to in this country as “political discourse,” I am often struck by how convinced many people seem to be that their sides' specific policies and personalities are the only way to save us all from utter ruin.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

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.