If the walls of the old Effingham County courthouse museum could talk, they would tell of a rich local history. Delaine Donaldson and his group of tireless volunteers want to the give the historical structure a renewed voice, one that will preserve the county’s shared history for years to come.
“It is a grand history that we have to tell in Effingham County, and we are showcasing that,” said Donaldson.
After a lengthy battle to save the historical structure built in 1870-71, the courthouse reopened on Nov. 11, 2012 as a museum. Since that day, the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association has showcased the transformation of the main floor from a functioning courthouse into a functioning museum.
“The thing that I have noticed is whenever people look at our museum, they say, ‘This is really nice’,” said Donaldson. “They say, ‘Who put this together for you,’ and we say, ‘This is all volunteer, we did it ourselves.’ People are amazed.”
First-floor features share the history of transportation through a large model train and roadway display; the prominent history of military service by area veterans; historical figures like Ada Kepley, who was the first woman in the country to earn a law degree; the 1949 St. Anthony’s Hospital fire; Effingham native George Bauer, who helped write the G.I. Bill; and many other stories and displays.
Donaldson and the 50 or so volunteers who make the operation of the museum possible have now set their sights on the second floor of the old courthouse. Donaldson hopes to repurpose what was originally the main courtroom into a meeting area to hold everything from class reunions to wedding receptions.
“We want to make that second floor a place where we can generate funds to run the courthouse,” said Donaldson. “From day one we have had people say, ‘My daughter is getting married. Can we have the wedding in the courthouse?’”