In the beginning of Effingham county history, Ewington was the seat of government. At that time the town was booming; while today it is but one of countless dozens of Illinois ghost towns. The first courthouse in the village was completed in 1838; the second one was built by 1844. Because area residents decided in 1859 to relocate the governmental seat of Effingham county to the community of Effingham, on December 12, 1860 the new location was officially declared to be the county’s governmental center.
By 1869, the court house at Effingham was declared to be unsafe. Plans were ordered for repairs to the building; however, before anything could be done to improve the building, a fire broke out on March 17, 1869, completely destroying the building. It was not until April of 1870 that plans were put in place to construct a new building. On June 16, 1870, the county board adopted a resolution to invite members of the Effingham Masonic lodge to perform the ceremony of laying the cornerstone for that structure.
Friday, July 15, 1870, a day filled with a variety of activities witnessed the placing of the cornerstone in the courthouse. Gathering for the event was a crowd of three or four thousand people composed of many delegations from area Masonic lodges such as Mason, Kinmundy, Vandalia and Sigel, according a report in the Effingham Democrat newspaper. There was a grand procession, led by local dignitaries, Colonel John J. Funkhouser, Grand Marshal; and the Honorable I. L. Leith, Captain J. S. Dobbs, and Justice Joseph B. Jones, as Assistant Marshals. Groups such as the Effingham Band, and the Effingham Deluge Fire Company No. 1, whose members being dressed in complete uniform were favorites of the large crowd of spectators.
Other groups in the procession included The First German Agricultural Society, from Summit Township, numerous Masons and Odd Fellows, attired in full regalia, a group known as the “Red Men” from Mason, were in Indian costume.
The ceremony of laying the cornerstone was performed with Masonic rites, and “was witnessed with intense interest by all whose position permitted a view of its proceedings.” Twenty-two different items were deposited in the cavity of the stone: There were several paper articles from the Masons, as well as a Bible, a square and compass. There were many paper items related to County and City government, along with copies of local newspapers, a list of members of the Bar of Effingham county, papers related to the German Agricultural Society of Summit township, a copy of new Constitution of Illinois., the History of the County Seat, and Court House question in Effingham county, the list of officers and members of Edgewood Good Templar Lodge., the list of the officers and members and constitution and by-laws of Effingham Deluge Fire Company, and the list of the members of the Effingham Cornet Band.
The 1870 newspaper article concluded with this description: “Masonic rites observed in the laying of corner stones of public buildings by that order, concluding with an eloquent appeal for all present to contribute by their good conduct, to the strict observances of the laws of God and our country, and to the impartial administration of justice, to which end the edifice of which the cornerstone had just been laid, was being constructed. Thus ended the demonstration of the day, which had passed off without the least …to mar any of its proceeding, in the best possible order.” After the conclusion of this ceremony the Procession re-formed and proceeded to a location to listen to a speech focused on the history of the County and the County courthouses.
By February of 1871, in an era during which the Civil War still the center of political discussions and when the President of the United States was General U.S. Grant, the building committee received in the courthouse in the name of the county. From that time until 2007, courts were held in the historic location at the same time that County officers shared the various office spaces in the building
By 2009, Effingham had a new courts building and had moved other offices to the former Benwood hotel. The county reached an agreement in 2010 with the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association, Incorporated. After much renovation work, on November 11, 2012, the Effingham County Museum was formally opened to the public. At first, only the first floor contained exhibits since work still had to be done on the second floor. By 2016, the Museum group decided it was time to celebrate the Courthouse and its wonderful history. The former main courtroom, located on the second floor of the building, was the perfect place for the celebration.
This year the celebration will take place on Saturday, October 13, with a special presentation focused on period music from 1-2:30 p.m. as Fred Johnson provides an interesting talk about the history of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, followed by period music by the Annable Sisters. The event which takes place on the Museum’s second floor is free and open to the public.
The ticketed evening program, beginning at 6:30, consisting of period music provided by the FACE Orchestra; a vocal solo, “Hail Columbia,” by Larry Lappin; remarks by Scott Whitney as he depicts President Grant; and, then, the Grand Ball with music provided by the Salt Creek String Band, with dance caller, Deborah Hyland. A good time will be had by all. Come celebrate with us! For more information, or to reserve your place, call (618) 267-7914.