White County history
Gary W. Edwards of Carmi was elected president of the White County Historical Society at the organization's fall banquet Monday night at the VFW Hall in Carmi.
An Enfield native, Edwards will take over Jan. 1 from Sam Endicott, who is retiring after two years at the helm of the group, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Larry B. Hughes will succeed Edwards as vice president, while Cindy Birk Conley and Barry Cleveland were re-elected treasurer and secretary, respectively.
Elected to the board of directors were incumbents Kent F. P. Boeger, Jim Pumphrey, Janet Armstrong and Pam Drone, along with Ted Matsel, Lecta Hortin and former society presidents Cecil E. Hucker and Suzanne Calvert. Roger Hubele, another former president, chose not to seek re-election to the board of directors.
Edwards told the assemblage of about 90 people that he hopes to extend the organization's preservation efforts to the memories of the county's citizens. "I have a dream," he said, to get people together this winter who are willing to share a few moments in history.
He said people with stories about the railroads and depots, old bridges and oil patch--and many other facets of county history--will be asked to share those memories on tape so that the stories can be preserved for future generations.
He suggested that small groups of people assemble for this purpose.
In his final address as president to the general membership, Endicott looked back on what he said were the society's accomplishments and some areas where its performance could be improved.
He lauded the genealogy committee for its work, as well as the efforts put in by the members responsible for maintaining the society's four museums.
The president said the society is in relatively good financial condition, thanks in part to a generous trust fund established for genealogy purposes by White County native Mary Smith Fay, a noted genealogist.
Endicott looked back on the June house tour sponsored by the society, which drew an estimated 700 people to visit each of the four Carmi homes on the tour.
And he expressed appreciation to the owners of the four houses, who were invited to attend the meeting as guests of the society.
Present were Ed and Pat Finch, Harold and Kay Meriwether, and John and Mary Malnic, but the Austins and Oxfords, who welcomed the public to The Fountains at 311, were unable to attend.
The president said the society has been unable to solve one chronic problem--marshaling the manpower to keep its museums open on a regular basis--and also faces the need in the years ahead to do the regular work necessary to maintain its four 19th century buildings.
The organization also needs to do more to promote tourism, he indicated, adding that the board will also need to step up its efforts to retain and increase membership.
19th century dwellings
One of Carmi's best-known and best-preserved 19th century dwellings was honored Monday night by the White County Historical Society as the 1997 recipient of the organization's Heritage House Award.
Known by some as "The Castle," it is the stately home at Main and Main Cross streets now owned and occupied by John and Mary Malnic.
A bronze plaque symbolic of the award was presented to the Malnics by Sam Endicott, the society president, at the conclusion of a history and tour of the house narrated by Kent F.P. Boeger, a past president of the group. It was the 29th year that Boeger has done this for a Heritage House winner.
The Malnics were gracious in accepting the award. Mrs. Malnic told of the circuitous route by which the former Fairfax, Va. residents settled here (a client of her cousin first drew her attention to the then-vacant house and the fact that it was for sale).
And she called Carmi "a very warm community," adding that "people are very friendly and we're happy to be here." The latest addition to the long list of 19th century White County homes restored in the late 20th century nearly didn't "survive" long enough to be honored by the society.
The James Robert Williams mansion was, just a decade ago, ready to be consigned to the wrecking ball.
The house had been sold in 1985 by its owner, Mrs. Robert Ready (Claire) Williams, to the City of Carmi, which intended to raze the structure to make way for a new public library.
But a "Save the Castle" effort bore fruit, and the three-story, turreted brick mansion was eventually rescued and restored.
The society and Boeger Monday night paid tribute to the building's first and more recent owners as members of the organization gathered in the VFW Hall in Carmi for the fall membership banquet, which traditionally features the presentation of this award.
Boeger, whose home next door (on Main Cross Street) was so honored two years ago, spoke in great detail and with authority of the home and of the family which built it, with whom he was acquainted as a child and as an adult.
The following facts and quotes are drawn from his narrative: The home was commissioned by former Congressman James Robert Williams and his wife, the former Mary D. Shannon. Mrs. Williams was a granddaughter of Dr. Thomas Shannon, a noted Carmi pioneer who settled here in 1818, and the daughter of Albert R. Shannon, a prominent Carmi lawyer-businessman and an original member of the Illinois Board of Education.
Her husband was a son of Thomas and Susanne Rawls Williams, a graduate of Indiana University and the Union College of Law at Chicago who was admitted to the bar in 1877.
He was named master of chancery in 1880 and county judge in 1883. The two were wed in 1884, and Judge Williams first served in Congress from 1889 to 1894.
In 1895, the former Congressman authorized Knoxville, Tenn. architect George F. Barber to design his new home just south of the 12-year-old, two-story Courthouse in Carmi. Barber was one of the most successful mail-order architects in the country (and this is the only brick Barber home in Southern Illinois). David Getax & Co. of Knoxville was chosen to build it.
"The three-story brick house faces north on 2 1/2 city lots.... The side lawn is one of four corner lots platted in 1814 as a public square for the City of Carmi.
The house's exterior is accented by three towers, two round ones with crenelated parapets and one octagonal one crowned by a fourth level cupola. The facade has a variety of fenestration with heavy decorative features including arcaded porches, heavy lintels and stonework, iron balconies, bracketed cornices, ionic columns and pressed tinwork.
The construction cost of the house was $9,000, considered quite a sum of money in 1896." [A brick and wood structure already located on the site was moved east to make way for the mansion. It was torn down around 1940 and replaced by the Samuel Ready Building (named after a grandfather of Mary Shannon Williams), which is across Main Street from The Carmi Times building.]
Judge Williams returned to Congress in 1899 and served until 1905.
He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1903 and went to the Democratic national convention the next year as a "favorite son" from Illinois.
He received several votes for the party's nomination for vice president but was not ultimately chosen. Not long after that, he moved to California (where he spent most of the rest of his life), leaving the Carmi mansion largely in the hands of caretakers.
He died in 1923 and his wife in 1934, and they are buried in Maple Ridge Cemetery.
The Congressman and his wife had two sons, Thomas Shannon Williams (1887-1955) and Robert Ready Williams (1898-1948).
The former spent much of his life in institutions, while the latter lived for many years in California but often summered here with his family after 1940.
Mrs. Robert Ready Williams lived in Carmi after 1955 and contributed much to the community, paying for years for the care of what is now known as Veterans Memorial Park and adopting the Old Graveyard as a special project.
She produced a high-quality book about the burial place of Carmi's pioneers a decade ago.
Mrs. Williams moved from the old mansion in the late '60s, after an earthquake shook the area, and she lived the remainder of her years in an apartment in the nearby Ready Building.
She died in 1991, and her son, Bob, and his wife, Dodi, returned to Carmi to live in the "big house" on the "Williams section," a 640-acre, family-owned tract of land in southwestern Carmi Township.
He died a few years ago of a heart attack, and his wife's life was taken two years later by cancer.
The City of Carmi held title to the property for only a couple of years, as the council retreated from its earlier decision to raze the building in the face of a public outcry against its destruction.
The building was placed on the National Register, largely through the efforts of Cindy Birk Conley, in 1987, and it was sold in 1988 to Mitchell Bailey of Chicago.
Bailey, with roots in Edwards and White counties, proceeded to renovate much of it and to put his stamp on the rest.
The house was purchased in 1993 by John and Mary Malnic of Fairfax, Va., who have continued to restore and beautify the century-old mansion. They offered a Christmas tour of the home in 1996, and it was one of four Carmi homes featured on the June 1997 historical society benefit house tour.
"The house is an ornate and imposing structure, an excellent example of the 'Romanesque' style of architecture.
The National Register of Historic Places recognizes two types of significance, architectural and historical. Architectural--as a unique example of the work of an important architect; and historical, for it was the home of an outstanding political and government leader of his day." [Using color slides of the home, the narrator took his audience on a visual tour of the mansion, lingering in its drawing and living rooms, its bedrooms and library, admiring its chandeliers and wall coverings, paneling and paintings.]
We continue to be comfortably busy with letters and visitors to our Genealogy Library. We're open from 11 to 5 on Wednesdays. Come join us.
Posted with permission from
THE CARMI TIMES
and CHARLENE SHIELDS
Return To~~ White County Historical Society Library~~by Charlene Shields
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