County Historical Museum

County Historical Museum & Archival Library 

County Historical Museum and Archival Library

Visit the Archival Library
801 North Main Street
Edwardsville, Illinois 62025
Wednesday–Friday: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.–4 p.m.
Closed Sunday October 10 and Sunday October 24, 2021

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

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

News from the Museum Department

September 2021 Staff Pick
posted 22 September 2021

Wedding shoes

Shoes worn by bride Erin at her September 1994 wedding. MCHS object 2009-001-0007.

Marriage, wedding . . . when we think of them we think about “tradition.” “Something old, something new, something borrowed, a sixpence in the shoe” dates back to the 1600s. A beautiful white dress, etc. Well white was NOT the color to select in previous centuries. White was sometimes not affordable so you selected blush, mocha, black, grey, etc. According to some internet sources, a blush dress was associated with playful femininity and a flirtatious nature. Mocha was associated with a steady, conservative, reliable nature. Black connoted power, sophistication, wealth, and an air of mystery, and grey represented composure, organization, and glamour.

Let us take a look at a wedding that will take place in the nineteenth century, in 1892 or 1893. The young bride, named Ellen, is preparing for her special day. We’d like to think she has looked through some publications for brides and or weddings. Perhaps it was Godey’s Lady’s Book. This would be comparable to today’s magazines like Bridal Guide, Modern Wedding, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, or Southern Bride.

Wedding dress
Ellen’s wedding dress. MCHS object 1999-040-0001.

Now it’s time for Ellen to make her selection. She is most likely a very practical person. White may not be affordable, and to wear it only one time would not be practical. Ah—she found a dress for the wedding as well as being something she can wear again and again. This may be what she would wear to a party or her Sunday best. The color may even say something about her, as I mentioned before. She selected a dark blue silk faille. It is two-piece, bodice and skirt. The bodice has a stand-up collar with light brown lace and blue lapels on each side at the front. There are seven stays around the sides of the bodice. The leg-of-mutton sleeves are trimmed with brown lace. There are three rows of dark blue ruffles at the hem of the skirt and a small train at the back. The color blue is considered the color of good luck and signifies peace and purity and a connection to the Virgin Mary.

We now move let’s say about 100 or so years ahead, into the 20th century. It is now 1994—we have a young bride, Erin. She just happens to be Ellen’s great-great-granddaughter. Erin, like her great-great-grandmother, has most likely gone through those bride magazines, most likely has had a lot of help from family and friends. Erin, unlike Ellen, can now go into a bridal store and make a selection and even try on a wedding dress.

Besides selecting wedding attire, Erin has to think about where to get married, where to have the reception, the food, decorations, band, etc. Thinking in simple and practical terms (like Great-Great-Grandma), she could see if she could fit into her grandmother’s dress or even her mom’s dress. That would take care of “something old . . .  something borrowed.”

Because today’s dresses are expensive, she went with her idea and tried on her mom’s dress. We have to keep in mind as generations went on people grew taller, and our bride-to-be is TALL. Having tried on her mom’s dress, she found the hemline was WAY too short, almost like shorts. She also tried on her grandmother Bernice’s dress, but couldn’t get it over her shoulders. Erin is about four inches taller than Bernice.

Back to looking for the wedding dress. She did find one, even met with Dad’s approval. Her selection is a white, long-sleeved, off-the-shoulder dress with a drop waist and a train. Floral embroidery, lace, pearls, and sequins cover the front and back of the bodice, which zips in the back. Lace, pearls, and sequins decorate the hem. A petticoat made from netting is built into the dress.

Wedding dress
Erin’s wedding dress. MCHS object 2009-001-0005.

Being a bride looking perhaps for comfort in the footwear department, she made a wise selection: a pair of white canvas high-top tennis shoes. “Converse All-Star Chuck Taylor” appears on the side. “All-Star, Made in USA” appears on the back sole, and “Converse, Made in USA” appears in blue on the inside sole. A white ribbon is used for laces, and silver sequins are hand-glued to the grommet areas. The sides of the shoes are covered with clear sequins. The left shoe has a dark blue stripe of sequins in the back, and the right has a red stripe. Erin customized her shoes to represent where she and her husband met. Red and blue are the Kansas University colors. Erin did all the sequin work herself. She wore the shoes for both the ceremony and the reception at her September 1994 wedding. According to some internet sources, September is the most popular month for getting married.

As you can see, great-great-grandmother and great-great-granddaughter seem to have been very practical ladies. The Madison County Historical Museum artifacts include the wedding gowns from four generations of this family . . . oh yeah, and the shoes.

Wedding shoes 

Written by Carol Frisse.

Send us your comments.

Voices and Votes: Democracy in America
Ending August 21

This is your LAST CHANCE to visit the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit at the Madison County Administration (next to the Courthouse in Edwardsville). The interactive exhibit explores the various freedoms and responsibilities of citizenship in our American democracy.  For more information about the Voices and Votes exhibit, visit our Voices and Votes webpage.

While you're in the exhibit-visiting mood, you might also like to check out the traveling Illinois Freedom Project exhibit at the Wood River Museum. The exhibit teaches about black Illinoisans' struggles for freedom from the French Colonial era to early 20th-century Chicago. The exhibit ends August 22.

Superintendent Parkin interviewed on St. Louis Public Radio

A recent episode of St. Louis on the Air featured our own County Museum Superintendent Jon Parkin! Parkin and SIUE Associate Professor Anthony Cheeseboro discussed the controversy over Edwardsville's Ninian Edwards statue with host Sarah Fenske. The show aired live at noon on Tuesday, June 29, on 90.7 KWMU. You can listen to the show online here.

Suzanne portrait
The members of the Madison County Museum Department staff are mourning the loss of our past director Suzanne Dietrich. Suzanne retired as the director of the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library in 2016, after 17 years at the helm. She died on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Suzanne had a deep connection to Madison County and history, making her especially well-suited to her role as the museum director. She was born here. Her maternal grandfather lived in the restored Godfrey Mansion and entertained Charles Lindbergh for dinner. Both of Suzanne's parents were college graduates. After graduating from Edwardsville High School, Suzanne earned a bachelor's degree in broadcasting from Northwestern University and a master's degree in public communication from Boston University. An internship at WGBH in Boston turned into two years as the station's assistant director.

Suzanne returned to Madison County and enrolled in the doctoral program at the SIUE School of Education. In the early 1990s she starting getting more actively involved in local history. She became president of the Goshen Preservation Alliance in 1992. She was the historian for St. Mary's Catholic Church and School. She was on the research and advisory committee for the 1997 book Edwardsville: An Illustrated History. She served on the Madison County Historical Society board of directors for a year or so before becoming interim museum director in 1999. The temporary assignment turned out to be a 17-year career.

Suzanne did a lot for the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library. As the museum's spokesperson, she gave presentations at various local organizations. She usually brought along her favorite museum object: a metal mechanical seesaw toy. But arguably her biggest achievement was the construction of the new archival library and plaza. Suzanne wrote grants, organized fundraisers, and solicited donations to make it happen. She oversaw the transition to the new building, which opened in 2002.

Library opening
Opening of the new archival library on March 3, 2002. Left to right: Evelyn Bowles, Sharon Helms, Janet Duthie Collins, and Suzanne Dietrich (at right, leaning against the door jamb). An unidentified man holds the end of the ceremonial ribbon. Ruth Murray is in the library foyer, behind Collins and Dietrich. MCHS photograph 2012-012.

Another thing that Suzanne did for the museum and for the county as a whole was to represent us at the state level. She was elected secretary of the Illinois State Historical Society (ISHS) in 2011 after several years of service in the organization. She was the first Madison County resident elected to an official position with the ISHS. On behalf of the county, she applied for and received the ISHS Illinois Centennial Award in 2012. In 2016, ISHS recognized Suzanne with a Lifetime Achievement award.

These are only some of Suzanne's many achievements. For instance: in her younger days she was a competitive figure skater, and was still skating at the East Alton rink when she was in her 60s. Those of us who worked with her remember her as elegant yet approachable, gentle yet determined. Her love of history and respect for others was always evident. She will be missed.

June 2021 Staff Pick
posted 8 June 2021

Work on the Madison County Railroad commenced in 1867. Prominent local men like A.W. Metcalf, Thomas Judy, and Joseph Gillespie were among the group of early leaders and fundraisers associated with the project. Local residents raised 50,000 dollars for the construction. The Alton & St. Louis Railroad contributed funding and helped with construction allowing for the two lines to connect at Edwardsville Crossing. A February 27, 1868, article detailed the first train's arrival weeks earlier:

We had the pleasure yesterday of making our first trip over this new railroad, and found it a very great improvement over the old mode of getting to and from the county seat by buggies and carriages, both in reference to time and comfort. We left Alton about nine o'clock, and arrived safely in Edwardsville a little after ten.

During the Madison County Railroad's tenure, this switch lock fastened to the plaque held a railroad switch in place. The pin lock was part of a link and pin coupler that connected two railroad cars. According to the label, both items were used or made in 1868, at the start of the rail line.

Gift of Bill Hurteau. MCHS items 2010-098-0001 and 2010-098-0002.

Eventually the line was purchased by Jay Gould who held onto it for 16 years until the Wabash Railroad gained control in 1894. In 1899, the Illinois Terminal Railroad leased the line from Edwardsville Crossing to Edwardsville. The track was later extended from Edwardsville Crossing to Alton. The next year, the line was extended again. The Illinois Terminal Railroad operated the line until it closed in the 1960s. Madison County Transit (MCT) purchased the line in 2000 with plans to make it part of the rails to trails program. Send us your comments.

May 2021 Staff Pick
posted 7 May 2021

This month's Staff Pick is selected from a recent donated. In February, the Madison County Historical Society received a sizable collection (approximately 7 cubic feet) of archival documents and artifacts from the Edwardsville Fire Department. The collection includes sprinkler heads, badges, ledgers of fire calls, photographs of firemen and fires, and more.

Future firefighters?  Children line up excitedly for a turn to hold and spray water from a fire hose, assisted by an unidentified firefighter in full uniform. MCHS photograph 2021-002-0305 (5 inches x 7 inches).

Send us your comments.


Calling all Citizen Archivists, handwriting sleuths, or anyone looking for a momentary mental diversion. Your staff here in the Museum Department have been scratching our heads trying to decipher this note scrawled on the back of an 1848 letter:

GF2-17-PG2 closeup
Closeup of MCHS document 2016-026-GF2-17 (verso): "By the ?ness of Mrs. S?" (what looks like an "fs" at the end of the first line is a 19th-century way of writing "ss.")

In this time period, one-page letters were folded up to create their own "envelope." The recipient's address was written on the verso of the letter, and the overlapping folded edges were sealed with hot wax. The torn and discolored portions on our example (overall view shown below) indicate where the wax was removed to open the letter.

GF2-17-PG2Overall view of MCHS document 2016-026-GF2-17 (verso).

Samuel W. Barrett of Charlestown, Massachusetts, wrote this letter to Gershom Flagg of Paddock's Grove (Madison County). In it, Barrett asks Flagg to foreclose on a house "if the Widdow [widow] will consent to give the place up." The front of the letter is shown below, to give you a better understanding of Barrett's handwriting patterns.

Recto of MCHS document 2016-026-GF2-17, showing the contents of the letter.

If you figure out what that phrase in the closeup at the top of this post says, please let us know!

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.

 montage catsup bottle    Advertising: The Art of Persuasion 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."