County Historical Museum

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County Historical Museum & Archival Library 

County Historical Museum and Archival Library

Visit the Library
801 North Main Street

Edwardsville, Illinois 62025
Wednesday–Friday: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.–4 p.m.

Telephone/Email Research Services
Tuesday–Friday: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
(618) 656-7569 / Email

County Historical Museum Closed for Renovation
In the meantime, visit the "Mini-Museum" in the Library Building and/or take in a virtual exhibit.
Information about the revitalization of the historic museum building into a new museum experience can be found on the Madison County Historical Society website.

"Mini-Museum" Exhibit in the Library

Ink to Paper: Exploring the Advancement of Letter Writing and Its Uses

The exhibit looks at the lost art of letter-writing. Various types of letters, the instruments used to write them, and the stamps used to send them, feature in the exhibit.

Ink to Paper was curated by intern David Thompson, a graduate student in Historical Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, under the direction of Madison County Museum staff. The exhibit will run through March 2021.


News from the Museum Department

April 2021 Staff Pick
posted 9 April 2021

This splendid ceremonial sword is the closest most of us will ever get to a secret Masonic ritual. It belonged to Herman Henry Wollbrinck in the early 1900s.

sword and sheath

engraved blade
MCHS item 1989-008-0001. The sword blade is engraved with florid tendrils and Woolbrinck's name in Old English script.

Born in Westphalia, Germany, in 1856, Henry immigrated with his family to the United States when he was about two years old. When he was 20 years old, he married Sarepta Green in St. Louis. They remained there until 1906, when they moved to Edwardsville. Wollbrinck went into the grocery business. He also managed the Leclaire Cooperative Company from 1913 until his death in 1929.

Wollbrinck was a Knight Templar, a member of the Ivanhoe Commandery of St. Louis. The color and decorative symbolism on the sword and sheath suggest that Wollbrinck achieved the highest rank, that of Commander. Museum Department staff tentatively date the sword to circa 1890–1906. If correct, the sword was likely manufactured by the Henderson Ames Company.

Notice that the pommel (the rounded knob on the end of the handle) is shaped like the head of a knight. The black grip sports a Latin cross and the knuckle guard depicts a variant of the cross pattée. The sheath is ornately engraved with scenes of crusading knights.

Send us your comments.

Perfect timing: New IDA collection featuring correspondence between women debuts in Women's History Month
posted 11 Mar 2021

The Museum Department team has contributed a second digital collection of Madison County Historical Society materials to the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA). Private and Real--A Collection of Correspondence Between Women is a small but powerful collection of letters by Anna "Nan" Howell to Hannah "Hallie" Wade spanning 1888–92. The digital collection includes images of the letters and searchable transcriptions.

Born in 1869 in Aurora, Illinois, Nan met Hallie at Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, where they were both students. The Wade family lived on Henry Street in Alton. Nan’s letters are sprinkled with mentions of fellow classmates (notably Nora "Dell" Hatheway).

In her letters, Nan speaks frankly on a number of personal topics. She relates that her future husband Harry has undergone an operation for a sexual disorder. She answers questions from Hallie about pregnancy and recommends a sex education book. Nan writes more than once about struggling with feelings of depression. And in her letter of January 12, 1890, she reports that she has had a lumpectomy.

The last letter in the collection is a brief note dated July 29, 1892. Nan died seven months later.

publicity image rev
Page 1 of Ann Howell letter dated January 12, 1890, in which she reports that she has had a lumpectomy. Read the whole letter.

Send us your comments.

Nellie Friday is "brought back to life" above using the MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia photo animation technology. The moving image was created from a carte de visite photograph of Nellie Friday taken in 1875, when she was about 18 years old. She lived with her parents and two brothers (their little sister had died three years ago). Her father, an immigrant from Hanover, was the Madison County jailer. The original photograph is in the Madison County Archival Library picture files.

Nellie married Herman Ritter two-and-a-half years after this photograph was taken. Herman’s Bavarian-born father was a wealthy lumber merchant. Herman was studying law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he married Nellie. Within a year, Herman had graduated and started a law practice, and the couple had moved back to Edwardsville and had their first child.

The newspapers report that one morning in the summer of 1884, Herman decided to clean his guns. He wrestled with an old rusted breech-loading shotgun, trying to take the barrels off the stock. Most accounts state that Herman was aware the gun was loaded. The gun slipped and discharged, riddling Nellie’s chest with shot. In some versions, Nellie’s heart is struck and she is killed instantly. In others, she is shot below the heart, through her lung, and it takes about 10 minutes for her to die. The coroner immediately held an inquest; the jury ruled that the death was accidental. Nellie was 27 years old and left behind two sons: 6-year-old Frank and 4-year-old Homer. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Send us your comments.

  March is Women's History Month
posted 4 Mar 2021

March is the perfect month to visit our online exhibit on the Women's Suffrage Movement in Madison County.

The exhibition features images and artifacts illustrating the movement that swept the county, state, and country.

Some of our other online exhibits also feature stories about Madison County women. For instance, check out Musical Madison County to learn about bandleader Cordelia Jones, trumpet player Anita Ellsperman, and the Schwarz Sisters Orchestra.

Online exhibits are written and designed by Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library staff, and feature artifacts and images from the Madison County Historical Society collections.

Photo at left: Two piece 1912 "suffragette suit." MCHS object 2005-305-0036-FIC.

Museum Department Contributes First Collection to Illinois State Library Online Repository: Schoolhouses of Madison County

When the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for people to visit museums and libraries, the Madison County Museum Department staff started looking for digital solutions. We soon realized that the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA) presented an opportunity to continue to serve the public and also increase the visibility of the Madison County Historical Society collections statewide. A collaboration between the Illinois State Library and the Office of the Secretary of State, the IDA repository serves as a online archive for digital collections held by libraries and cultural institutions throughout the state.

We wanted our first IDA collection to concentrate on unique photographs in the archival collection that had already been digitized and reflected Madison County broadly rather than just one small section. The result—Schoolhouses of Madison County—became public in early February 2021. The collection of 89 images provides a glimpse at rural one-room schools and early school buildings throughout the county. The photographs in the collection come from a scrapbook affectionately known by staff as the "School Album," full of photographs labelled with school names and township locations. By the year 2000, no one working in the library knew when the scrapbook had been created, or by whom.

New Douglas--Elm 32
Elm School in New Douglas Township. Constructed in 1898; photograph taken circa 1910–1930.

Watch this space for announcements of new Madison County Historical Society collections available in the IDA repository.  Send us your comments.

IDA search tips: To find materials only from the Madison County Museum and Archival Library, click on "By Institution." IDA has sixteen subject groupings, like military history and transportation, if you want a broader search to see what is available at other institutions.

February 2021 Staff Pick

Cora Whittington and Herman Aitch were both born in Union (a small town in Franklin County, Missouri) in the 1860s. They married and raised three children there. After graduating from eighth grade, the Aitch siblings attended private boarding school in Jefferson City: Union did not offer any high school options for African American students.

19791210001-2 Cora Whittington wore this two-piece wedding outfit when she married Herman Aitch in 1894. The ivory silk bodice has leg-o-mutton sleeves and lace trim. Grosgrain bows adorn the ruffled skirt. MCHS object 1979-121-0001.
  Middle child Alma went on to earn a teaching certificate and got a job at Lincoln School in Edwardsville. Cora left Missouri to join her daughter in Edwardsville after Herman's death in 1937. Alma's teaching career ended in 1951 when the Edwardsville public schools were integrated and Lincoln School teachers lost their jobs.

Cora's children—Alma Aitch Jackson, Ethel Aitch Shaw, and Uncas Aitchdonated Cora's wedding dress to the Madison County Historical Society in 1979. Send us your comments.

This real photo post card (cropped) dates to circa 1920–1925. Based on information about the origin of the photograph and comparison to other photographs, Museum Department staff believe it depicts Cora and Herman Aitch. MCHS photograph 2001-096-0003.
 montage catsup bottle    Advertising: The Art of PersuasionOur latest online exhibit explores textual and textual-visual advertising in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Click here for more online exhibits.
  Superintendent Jon Parkin explains the origin of the idiom "Lock, Stock and Barrel."

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157 North Main Street,
Edwardsville, IL. 62025
618-296-6200 | Click HERE to Email
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Business Hours:  Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
89°57'28.758"W 38°48'47.095"N