Hamilton County Museum
2nd Floor, McCoy Memorial Library
McLeansboro, Illinois 62859
by Doris Nelson
March 20, 1997
HOURS: Monday, Wednesday, Friday 1:00-4:00
ESTABLISHED: 1975 by the Hamilton County Historical Society
(NOTE: Click on photos of inside areas to see an enlarged photo)
McCoy Library houses the
Museum on it's
This beautiful building, with its white gingerbread and black iron trim, was the former home of Mary Ellen and Chalon Guard McCoy. Her father, Aaron Guard Cloud (1818-1893) had the house built by the Reid Brothers of Evansville, IN, in 1882-1884. He also owned the Cloud State Bank on the lot next to the house, built in 1880-1882 by the same contractors. The McCoys had no children or close relatives, and when Mary Ellen, then a widow, died in 1921, she left the building and its contents to the City of McLeansboro for use as a public library. Mrs. McCoy also left an endowment fund of $5,000 for the operation and upkeep of the library. She also specified that the upper rooms could be rented or leased to supply needed funds. Shortly after she died, a stairway was added from the south entrance to the second floor, so that people using the second floor would not have to go through the library. This second floor now houses the museum, but the south stairway is closed. Rooms on the second floor have been used as city offices, professional offices, Chamber of Commerce, oil company offices, a photographer's studio, and apartments. One of the first tenants was Hungate's Studio. The last tenant was Dr. Ralph Hall, D.D.S. Rooms were used by the Red Cross as an emergency hospital after the tornado of 1925.
When the library building was built, there were no paved streets, no running water systems, no sewer lines or central heating systems in McLeansboro. Very few homes had clothes closets. The Cloud mansion was provided with running water by having a large cistern at the northwest side of the building. An iron pipe led to the kitchen, then to the attic to a hand pump. Water was pumped to a 500 gallon tank to supply water with a gravity flow.
Fireplaces adorn the mansion throughout the structure.
The Clouds made their own gas for the gas lights throughout the house. A large metal tank was buried on the lot which the bank occupies. Carbide was placed inside and water was added. This created a combustible gas which was piped to the chandeliers. The gas pressure was controlled by a regulator called a carburetor which was on or near the tank. Cloth mantles were used as are sometimes seen in the oilfield homes. In the late 1890's, when electricity came to McLeansboro, Mrs. McCoy had a number of her gas chandeliers wired so both gas mantles and electric bulbs could be used. Most homes at this time were heated only be fireplaces. The Cloud home was constructed with seven chimneys and nine fireplaces, all of them different and quite decorative. All rooms had a fireplace except two servants rooms, the bathroom, kitchen, and halls. In the center of the basement is an area like a large oven with a chimney where wood and coal were burned for hot air gravity heat. There are outlets in the rooms of the first and second floors. Later steam radiators were added and a coal stoker-fired furnace. Now a gas-fired boiler heats the water for the steam radiators.
Visitors are always amazed by the elaborate fireplaces.
The museum is accessed through the library by a massive stairway, which is unusual in that there are no upright supports for the stairway. At the top of the stairway is a large hallway where hangs the picture of John H. Stelle, former Governor of Illinois (1940). Governor Stelle, known as the "Father of the G.I. Bill," is from McLeansboro. Under the picture is a showcase containing original light globes and fixtures from the McCoy house and the Cloud bank. There is another showcase in the hallway which houses a large collection of arrowheads.
Turning to the right, there is a smaller hallway leading back to two small rooms which were once the servants' quarters. This hallway and the back room contain military memorabilia. Several uniforms from various wars line the hallway wall. One mannequin wears a uniform from the Spanish American War and another a WWI Army nurse uniform. The other small room is now a bathroom. In it is an article of furniture resembling a wooden chair, which is a portable toilet on wheels that can be rolled from room to room. There is also a shell-shaped tub, with a ledge for sitting on. Next to these rooms is the "servants' stairs". This is a small staircase leading from the 2nd floor all the way to the basement, where the summer kitchen was housed. In the wall a few steps down, one can see the door to the dumbwaiter, in which food could be sent from the kitchen to all floors of the house.
The middle west room (originally the McCoy's bathroom) is now the art room. Many pictures painted by local artists hang on the walls. Scrapbooks of World War II and old pictures grace the tables.
Art donated by local artists completes the art room located on the second floor.
The southwest room is now the genealogy library, which is used quite extensively by researchers. This was originally one of the bedrooms. You can still see the intercom system they used just inside the door. It is a small round porcelain device in the wall in which a person could speak.
The large southeast room was once two bedrooms, but the middle wall was taken out when City Hall occupied the rooms. Therefore, this room has two fireplaces. In this room you will find the first piano brought to Hamilton County. It is a "square" baby grand and does not have a full keyboard (only 82 keys, rather than 88). It was purchased in Cincinnati by Charles Heard for his daughter and was shipped by boat down the Ohio River to Shawneetown, then brought to McLeansboro by wagon. Also in this room is a spinning wheel and showcases containing various items which have been donated to the museum.
A "square" baby grand with only
82 keys (instead of 88).
First piano in Hamilton County.
Outside this room, at the east end of the hallway, is one of the first pieces of coal ever mined in Hamilton County. Also several frames of pictures can be turned to view both sides. These are old pictures of churches, businesses, paths, railroads, farms, homes, county beginnings, prominent people, the first airmail flight, the 1908 baseball team, a 1909 motorcycle, a 1918 fire truck, the Behme hanging, etc.
Going on into the northeast room, there is a very interesting desk, called a Wooton desk. It was named after its designer, W. S. Wooton, a Quaker minister and cabinetmaker. His patent was for a desk which allowed "no excuse for slovenly habits in the disposal of valuable paper". Wooton desks were manufactured by the W. S. Wooton Desk Manf. Co., Indianapolis, IN, from 1874 to 1884. They were advertised as "the most complete desk in the world." In 1876, the plainest desks sold for $100-$120, while the "Superior Grade" had a price tag of $500-$750. The Wooton desk found its way into some of the finest homes and offices of the era, such as Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the New York World newspaper, John D. Rockefeller, the well known wealthy business tycoon, President Ulysses S. Grant and England's Queen Victoria. The Wells Fargo Company also made good use of Wooton desks as mobile offices for its stage and courier services. Also in this room is a painting done by Mary Ellen McCoy. She was a fine artist and her pictures may be seen throughout the library and museum.
Wooton desk designed by
W. S. Wooton, a Quaker
minister and cabinetmaker.
The middle room on the north is the only one furnished as a bedroom, complete with its chamberpot. In this room, one can imagine what it was like to have lived in this mansion, one of the finest in the country.
A furnished bedroom complete with chamberpot is still available for viewers to imagine what life was like living in the mansion.
One of the interesting things about this house is all the different types of wood which were used. Two of the rooms on the second floor are done in chestnut wood, one is finished in cherry wood, and two were originally finished in white enamel. The two servants rooms and the bath were pine and walnut. A large storage room is furnished with cabinets of clear pine, and the large hallway woodwork is of handcarved walnut.
The McCoy Memorial Library building is listed in the Illinois and the National Register of Historic Places. Many visitors pass through this building every year and are struck by its history and ornate structure. It's unique architecture has become one of the most identifiable sites of McLeansboro.
Just one of the many artifacts visitors see.
(NOTE: Click on photos of inside areas to see an enlarged photo)
The paper prepared by Marie Hamilton, Ellis Stafford, Mike Harre, Jo Bonan, and Marie Skinner for use during tours at Fall Festival Open House on September 15, 1984 entitled McCoy Memorial Library was used as a reference source for preparing this feature article for distribution on the world wide internet.
(3/20/97 - Copyright 1997 by Doris Nelson)