Our Town Effingham: Local Historian Working to Restore Courthouse

EFFINGHAM - In the heart of downtown you'll notice a majestic building some would consider a national treasure.

"We think we have an architectural gem here," explained Delaine Donaldson, historian and president of the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association.

The Effingham County Courthouse was completed in 1872.  It used to be a busy building, but now it sits quietly in it's old age. It moved in 2007 down the street to the new Effingham Government Building.  The old courthouse was small and getting to old to work in.

"There are those who would raise the building and turn this into a parking lot, we don't want to see that ever happen," said Donaldson.

The courthouse is known for it's architectural structure, including it's second empire style which was commonly used in the late 1800's.  Famous politicians like William Jennings Bryan, spoke on the front steps in the late 1890's attracting thousands of people.

It was put on the National Register of Historical Places Sept. 11 1985.
"There are mysteries in the building we want to uncover," explained Donaldson.

At every turn, you can find hidden rooms that were used as storage.  The three story building has a secret though.  If you go to the top floor and climb stairs to the clock tower, you'll notice a dome.

"They looked through one spot shined a light and long and behold a plaster dome, a beautiful tin ceiling, we want to bring back to the way it was originally," explained Donaldson while looking up at the structure.

A University of Illinois Architectural class did a study on the courthouse in the fall of 2009.  They used the historical preservation as an example for the project.  From outside you can't tell the dome is there because someone built a box around it, and there are dropped ceilings.

"At one time there were people who dealing with this building who said it's old cover it up it doesn't have any significance," explained Donaldson who disagrees and now wants the building to breath in it's original skin.

He along with the association want to restore the clock tower to how it was constructed originally.  They also want to restore the entire building, and get rid of the dropped ceilings to show the high doors and ceilings.

Restoring the clock tower would cost around $220,000 which is part of an estimated $3 million for restoring the entire building.

The association has received a pledge from Landmarkers Illinois for $70,000 for a grant and they would have to match the grant.

Once restoring the building, they want to turn it into a museum and highlight the courthouses interesting storage areas, and other mysteries.

"One of the things I would like for the children of Effingham County and this state of Illinois to know about is the ancestry that established who we are as a people," said Donaldson.

He believes that when the building was renovated in the 1960's a mural was covered up.  Donaldson a newspaper said there was a very large mural in the court room on the 2nd floor depicting the scene of a Native American village.

They are still looking for the mural.

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