Nearly from the time of its beginning, great crowds of people have thronged to the Effingham County seat to attend political, military, religious, and business conventions, reunions, or institutes. Being a town where highways and railways cross has, of course, been the reason for the attractiveness of the location.
The original county seat was the community of Ewington, a place where the first convention in the county met in 1840. On the first Saturday in April of that year, a “Democratic” Convention met to select candidates for the fall elections. A specific focus of the group was Zadock Casey, a candidate for reelection to Congress from Illinois’ Second District. Many party loyalists questioned whether he truly represented the Democrat Party, since he had not voted for President in the last election; however, he did have a good resume for office holding: Member of the Illinois State House of Representatives (1822-1826), the State Senate (1826-1830), and Lieutenant Governor of Illinois (1830-1833); volunteer in the state militia: member of the Twenty-third, Twenty-fourth, Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth Congresses. Nonetheless, many Democrats feared that if Casey were to be reelected it would be only by Whig Party votes. When the results of the 1840 general election were in he was reelected.
In May of 1873, the city of Effingham, county seat since 1860, was the location of a convention held to nominate an Illinois Supreme Court judge. A local newspaper related the divisiveness of meeting: “The few demagogues calling themselves farmers seem to have got the worst of it, and when they discovered their defeat, they bolted.
"At one o'clock. . . the delegates began to assemble, some at the courthouse and some at a private hall. The organization of the forenoon assembled at Wright's Hall with doorkeepers and guards, admitting no one unless they had credentials. A call of counties was made and credentials were produced for one hundred and thirty-eight delegates, but there were not more than forty present.”
A nomination was completed and the vote showed a clear choice, by acclamation, a Mr. A. W. Kingsbury, of Montgomery county was unanimously nominated.
Another portion of the meeting assembled at the courthouse, large and enthusiastic, this group elected Hon. Judge Hanks, of Effingham, chairman, and J. W. Ross, Esq., secretary, then unanimously nominated as a candidate for judge, the Hon. John Scholfield.
Scholfield was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court on June 16, 1873, where he remained until his death on February 13, 1893, having served three times as chief justice – in 1877, 1884, and 1890. Judge Scholfield was offered a position on the U. S. Supreme Court by President Cleveland, but declined.
Scholfield’s death led to another judicial convention in March of 1893. The Democrat Convention of the Second Supreme Court District assembled at Effingham to nominate a successor. After convening in the circuit court room, the group was called to order by R. K. Hamill, of Clark County, who reported on behalf of the acting committee. Following the necessary formalities the convention considered and agree to a resolution which stated: “Resolved, That in the death of Justice John Scholfield the judiciary of the state of Illinois has lost its brightest light and its most eminent exponent, That in his unshrinking courage, his sturdy independence, his incorruptible integrity and his profound learning, be shed luster upon the century and did much to place Illinois in the front rank of states tor the soundness of its judicial precedents. That we deeply deplore his loss and recognize in his death that the people of Illinois have lost one of its purest and best citizens, the bar one of its most distinguished members and the supreme bench one of its profoundest jurists.” From that point on, there was divisiveness on a grand scale.
After creating a slate of six candidates, the convention began voting. Forty-five ballots were taken during the afternoon session; eighty-five more ballots were taken without result. Finally, at 10:30 p.m., the convention adjourned until the next day, continuing until a total of two hundred ballots had been cast at Effingham without a choice. The convention was then recessed to meet at Alton Thursday, the following week at which time a choice was finally made.
Unlike the political conventions, the throngs which gathered in Effingham for military reunions were dominated by congenial attitudes and actions. For instance, beginning on September 10, 1881, a soldiers’ reunion consisting of music, dancing, and campfires filled the city with a patriotic spirit, and with huge numbers of people. Six companies of the Illinois National Guard pitched their tents on the courthouse grounds while the guns of Battery B, of Springfield, “seemed like old fashioned music for the veterans who were there.” Speeches by former Illinois Governors Cullom, Palmer, and Black added to the festive activities.
Ten years later, September of 1891, another reunion brought another type of great excitement. While great throngs attending the soldiers’ event lined the streets, two desperados decided to rob Effingham’s First National Bank. Pointing their pistols at the head of 20-year-old cashier Joseph Partridge, they demanded money. The young man acted as though he was going to comply with the demand, but stepped behind a safe door instead then bravely yelled for help. Unarmed but courageous enough to stand his ground; because Partridge was shielded from the robbers weapons he knew he had them partly foiled at least. At the unexpected turn of events one of the robbers sprang over the counter, grabbed what money he could, then hurried out the building with his colleague. All this occupied but a few seconds and the robbers were gone. After the cashier yelled to the people, telling them what had happened, the large crowd started in pursuit before the robbers got out of sight. Since the fugitives were armed, the pursuers remained at a safe distance. Finally, surrounded and knowing escape was impossible, the outlaws threw up their hands and surrendered. That action probably saved their lives, because an armed body of pursuers had arrived on the scene with weapons sufficient to bring them down. Because the excitement was at fever heat, if the robbers had fired a single shot they would have been promptly lynched.
Many other Civil War reunions occurred in Effingham during the early twentieth century. As late as 1910, on October 12 and 13 of that year, the 26th regiment Illinois veteran volunteer infantry gathered in the town.
World War I vets gathered in Effingham on October 31, 1919, at the Austin Opera House, for the first annual reunion of the 130th infantry of the Illinois National Guard. Called by Lieutenant Colonel J. Lindsay Oliver, military companies from Champaign, Sullivan, Decatur, Paris, Shelbyville, Vandalia, Effingham, Casey, Newton, Olney, Benton, Carbondale and Cairo, came to the town, in conjunction with the homecoming for Effingham county boys. They remained through November 1.
Elaborate plans were made to entertain Veterans of the old 4th Illinois and 130th Infantry, during, the Tenth Annual Reunion of their Association in Effingham on Saturday and Sunday, October 3-4, 1936. In addition to the hundreds of veterans and their families, the general public, from miles around, attended a two-day celebration, to see the parade and to witness the impressive Memorial Services in honor of those gallant World War I vets who had passed on.
Musical and drill organizations included the popular Colllinsville Girls' Drum and Bugle Corps, Effingham School Band, 130th Infantry Band, Springfield Clown Band, Decatur American Legion Auxiliary Ladies Drill team, a part of the 130th Infantry Band, which served in France during the World War and the Effingham Drum and Bugle Corps.
W. W. Austin, Effingham, General Chairman, announced that the Tenth Annual Reunion of the vets had the largest of advance lodging reservations ever made at the headquarters hotel, Hotel Benwood, and at the new Raleigh Hotel.
The vanguard began arriving in Effingham at five o'clock on Saturday morning and entering the community until the individual companies gathered at 7 p. m. for their meetings and banquets. All ladies banqueted together at the same hour. These meetings were followed by the Regimental Meeting and Band Concert at 9 p. m. At 11:30 Saturday night the visitors went to the Effingham theatre to view a pre-showing of a much talked of picture, "Ramona", which was shown in color, a rare occurrence for the time.
The Sunday program was brief: 9 a. m., business meeting at the Effingham Theatre followed by band concerts and, exhibitions from 11 a. m. until noon. In the afternoon the parade began at 1:30, followed immediately by the Annual Memorial Services on the Court House lawn, an event attended by a very large crowd.
Through the years, other gatherings in Effingham have focused on a variety of subjects: Fire safety was the subject of the day when Delegates to the Sixth Annual Convention of the Illinois Volunteer State Fireman’s Association at Effingham, January 9-11, 1894. Religion was the topic for both the November 15, 1898, Catholic Knights of America Ninth Biennial Convention and the mid-May 1907, for the fifteenth annual meeting of the Federation of German Catholic Societies of Illinois when over 1,500 conventioneers gathered in the city of Effingham. This event was an immense undertaking involving numbers of people from nearly all area parishes, with St. Anthony serving as the host congregation. Agriculture was the topic of the day for numerous “Farmers Institutes,” beginning in 1894 and continuing into the 20th Century. At the typically three-day affairs meeting at the Court House, the local agriculturalists heard a variety of speakers talk about the latest research, about every concern related to raising livestock and producing profitable crops. Photography, of course, was the subject for the Illinois Photographers’ Association Convention held May 2-4, 1905, at Effingham’s Illinois College of Photography.
Transportation was the focus of the “Good Roads Convention” on July 2, 1901. The “Good Roads Train” consisting of 11 carloads of road making machinery, arrived on Monday, July 1. Assisted by local workers, the crew spent Tuesday in making a two-mile track of graded road load in and out of the city. During the convention meeting at the Austin Opera House, M. O. Eldridge, assistant director of the Office of Public Roads inquiries, Department of Agriculture of the United States, gave a lecture on roads of the world.
Later in 1901, on September 13, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union convention convened to discuss a variety of social issues: this large women’s group included in its platform calls for labor laws, prison reform, moral purity, women’s suffrage and, especially, temperance.
All the above events are part of the rich heritage of the county which the Effingham County Museum celebrates through its exhibits and programs.