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January 8, 2008

Williamson County Jail, Litchfield’s Brown Shoe Company Building featured in latest issue of Historic Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Williamson County Jail and some of the notorious criminals who were housed there, and the Brown Shoe Company Building in Litchfield are featured in the latest issue of Historic Illinois, a publication of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA).

The history of Illinois includes chapters on crime and lawlessness. Criminal activity haunted Williamson County, the southern Illinois region dubbed “Bloody Williamson” for the violent and murderous events that occurred there in the early 20th century. Many of the area’s outlaws spent time at the Williamson County Jail, a three-story Prairie-style structure that looks from the outside more like a home than a hoosegow. Of course, it was a residence for both the jailed and the jailer – built in 1913, the structure also served as the sheriff’s residence. The jail held 125 men following the deadly “Herrin Massacre” of 1922 where a clash between union and non-union miners left 23 people dead. Members of the infamous Shelton Brothers and Charlie Birger gangs, who fought a deadly war over bootlegging supremacy, were also inmates at the jail. The old Williamson County Jail was vacated in the 1970s when a new courthouse and jail were built, and the 1913 facility is now a museum operated by the Williamson County Historical Society.

City officials, business leaders and citizens in the Montgomery County community of Litchfield banded together in 1916 to build a factory for the St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company. The company moved in a year later and operated there for 50 years, producing 3,000 pairs of shoes per day at its peak. The company closed the plant in 1967 due to economic factors and building occupants have come and gone since then. But the current owners are working on a plan to convert the factory building into apartments. Once again, the shoe company may be a perfect fit for Litchfield.

Both articles were written by IHPA Publications Editor Cynthia A. Fuener.

Another article highlights the IHPA’s award-winning “Upstairs Downtown” Program that persuades building owners in many communities to take a look at underutilized downtown space. The program received the prestigious National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Launched in 2005, Upstairs Downtown includes workshops that address bringing upper floors back into active use. It’s estimated that there are more than 40,000 downtown buildings in Illinois that have unused upper floor spaces.

Historic Illinois is a bimonthly IHPA publication that features historically significant sites in Illinois. Subscriptions are $10 per year, which includes six issues of Historic Illinois and one full-color Historic Illinois Calendar. For more information, call (217) 524-6045, visit www.Illinois-History.gov, or write: Historic Illinois, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701-1507.

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