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The Heart & Effingham History

As part of my quest to do a little CPR on The Heart, I have had to do a ton of historical research about the property and the community.

Special thanks goes out to all in our community who have worked hard to preserve this history: Delaine Donaldson of the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association, the public library (we love our librarians!), the Effingham Daily News and dozens of other Effingham natives who have shared their stories in print and online.


Did you know that our part of southern central Illinois was home to the Kickapoo Tribe? The Kickapoo are a Woodland tribe, speaking an Algonquian language, and were related to the Sac and Fox. They first came into contact with Europeans in the mid-seventeenth century in southwestern Wisconsin. By the mid-18th century the Kickapoo lived in two communities, the “Prairie Band,” along Illinois’s Sangamon River, and the “Vermillion Band,” east of the Wabash River in Indiana. Most of the Kickapoo tribe today is based in Oklahoma.


What was Effingham first known as? The first known white settler was Griffin Tipsword who arrived to live with the Kickapoo in 1814. More pioneers arrived and the area was first called Broughton. The county was formally organized in 1831 with 51 families. Its county seat, located where the Cumberland road crossed the Little Wabash river, was named Ewington, in honor of Hon. W. L. D. Ewing. It is believed that Effingham was named after General E. Effingham, a local surveyor, although some have speculated that it was named after Thomas Howard, 3rd Earl of Effingham, who resigned his commission as general in the British army in 1775, refusing to serve in the war against the Colonies.


What was Effingham like prior to 1900? The town of Effingham was a small commercial center for the surrounding farmers and homesteaders in the area. There were bankers, lawyers, furniture makers, druggists and everything related to horses and livery was a big business prior to 1900. The old Effingham County courthouse was built in 1872 after a fire destroyed the first one. It sits directly across the street from the Heart Theatre on Jefferson Avenue and was built in the Second Empire style. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Another historic property was founded in the late 1880s, Austin College.


Did you know we provided 70% of all milk consumed for the city of St. Louis? While farming continued to be the main business of the outlying county, by 1926, the city of Effingham had become an important railroad crossing hub with tracks radiating out in six directions. The main line of the Illinois Central intersected the mainline of the Pennsylvania between St. Louis and the East. It also served as a crossroads not just for trains but for roadways as well with the Egyptian Trail crossing the National Trail. Other early industries in the early 1900s were dairy farming (exporting milk to St. Louis) and glove-making.


Where was the first "heart" located in Effingham? Regardless of whether you were coming or going from Effingham in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, visitors coming through the train station were greeted with red brick, wide walks, and a spot that in summer was green with a red heart in it. The red heart had become Effingham’s trademark, thanks to Lawyer and Activist Ada Kepley who referred to Effingham as “The heart of the U.S.A.”


I am sure I will learn even more over the next few years about the place of my birth and The Heart Theatre. But what I do already know is this: Effingham is a community filled with loving and generous people and I know they will be as excited as I am when the The Heart beats again.


"You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving."--Amy Carmichael




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Effingham Chamber Welcomes Heart as a New Member

Effingham, IL, May 31, 2023--Read the full story here. Posted on social media today by the local chamber of commerce: We are excited to announce that The Heart Theatre has joined our esteemed Chamber

1 Comment


Carolyn VanBergen
Carolyn VanBergen
Oct 05, 2022

This is fascinating. Thank you!

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