Carlinville’s historic district has been on the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois since 1976. The elegance and architectural quality of the homes and buildings within the district, which covers most of the west and central sections of the city, is well worth visiting. Among the most significant sites are the 1876-vintage “Million Dollar” courthouse and the 1867 “cannonball” county jail, the Loomis House (St. George Hotel) on the square; St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 415 S. Broad; The Federated Church at 122 E. Second South; the Saloon at 407 S. West St.; and the Old City Jail (also called “The Calaboose”) located at 115 N. Plum Street.
Carlinville's downtown is part of a large historic district, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois since 1976. Although the square has many wonderful buildings, probably the most significant is the Loomis House. Built by Judge Thaddeus L. Loomis, it was designed by architect E.E. Meyers who also designed the “Million Dollar” Macoupin County Courthouse and 1869 Macoupin County Jail. When it was completed in 1870, the Loomis House was opened as a hotel with fifty rooms on three floors and a large dining area. Eight years after it opened Judge Loomis sold the building due to financial problems and the name was changed to the St. George Hotel. The building is used today by a variety of businesses.
In addition to the historic buildings, the square is complimented by a beautiful gazebo which has become a popular site for a variety of local activities. Donated by the Millard family, the gazebo is a centerpiece for the community visible from all directions as you approach the square.
Historic County Jail
E.E. Meyers, the same architect who designed the county’s controversial courthouse, designed the Historic Macoupin County Jail. Built as part of the Macoupin County Courthouse project in 1867, using the “cannon ball” method, which stopped jailbreaks by making it nearly impossible to remove the blocks to make an escape, this unique medieval inspired fortress housed many law-breakers during its 119 year history. The Macoupin County Jail is said to look more like a fortress than a small town jail. Its Gothic Revival design features a scalloped parapet with multiple arched windows. It includes a jailer's residence in the upper floors of the parapet, which served as home to the sheriff and his family.
Completed in 1869, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, Meyers incorporated a unique design feature that would make escape from the new jail almost impossible; leftover cannonballs were placed in the walls between the layers of stone. The cell block’s ceiling walls, and floors are constructed of one-inch iron plates with 20 inches of solid stone above and below. This made escape by removing sections of the stone wall a virtual impossibility. The jail was originally designed to hold 17 prisoners but at times saw twice that many, and lacked any of the amenities found in modern facilities. The jail was in operation as recently as 1988, and inmates lived and slept in the original cellblock constructed 119 years earlier.
The historic structure was finally retired when the new county jail was built and dedicated in 1988. The old jail is currently being rehabilitated and is not available for tours.
Macoupin County Courthouse
A visit to Carlinville isn’t complete without a tour of one of its star attractions, the Macoupin County Courthouse. Completed in 1870 at the-then staggering price tag of $1,342,226.31, it was aptly nicknamed the “Million Dollar Courthouse” by area residents. According to legend, city fathers at the time decided to “go big” with the courthouse because they thought that Carlinville was in the running to become the state capital. Also according to legend, the cost may have been inflated by misappropriation; the Loomis House was constructed of limestone “left over” from the courthouse project, while the county clerk boarded a train out of town one night in 1870, never to be heard from again.
The Renaissance Revival masterpiece boasts an exterior constructed from gold-colored blocks of stone and a portico with 40-foot Corinthian columns. Inside you’ll find elaborate woodwork, including finely carved walnut seating; a judge bench of Italian marble; and ornately decorated rooms with arched doorways. Abraham Lincoln occasionally practiced law in Macoupin County (although it was at the current courthouse’s less glamorous predecessor). Court documents with his signature are on display in the courthouse.
Guided tours of the historic courthouse are available by contacting the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee at (217)854-2141 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Macoupin County War Memorial
The Macoupin County War Memorial is a permanent reminder of county men and women who served in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Eight black, granite stones are etched with the names of over 600 county residents who served in all branches of the military. Martin Rogers, a Carlinville native and WWII veteran, spearheaded the memorial project. Completed in 1996, the Macoupin County War Memorial stands in the southeast corner of the Macoupin County Courthouse grounds.
Macoupin County Historical Society & Museum
The Macoupin County Historical Society was organized in March 1970, and is dedicated to the study of the area’s history and the collecting and preserving of memorabilia of its people. In 1973, through the staging of a number of fundraising endeavors, the members were able to purchase a fine house and outbuildings located on seventeen acres in northwest Carlinville.
Outer buildings include an authentic schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and a print shop. There is also an herb garden. In addition to tours, the grounds are available for weddings and other gatherings.
Annual festivals in May and September feature tours of the museum as well as arts, crafts, collectibles, entertainment, and home cooked foods. Both festivals include displays by the Antique Agricultural Association with antique farming equipment and demonstrations of old farming methods that include threshing.
Group tours of the museum and grounds are available by reservation, as well as at both the annual festivals. Those interested may contact the Macoupin County Historical Society, 920 W Breckenridge Street, Carlinville, IL at (217) 854-2850.
This large stone commemorates the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech on August 31, 1858, when he ran against Stephen A. Douglas for U.S. Senate. Visitors can find the stone in front of the United Methodist Church at the corner of South Broad and East First South Streets.