Metro-East News

Madison County Courthouse turns 100

Mudge legal family witnesses much of Madison County Courthouse's 100 years

There have been a lot of Mudges in the Madison County Courthouse over the century that the building has graced downtown Edwardsville. Third Circuit Court Judge William "Bill" Mudge and his brother, Edwardsville attorney Steve Mudge, discuss their
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There have been a lot of Mudges in the Madison County Courthouse over the century that the building has graced downtown Edwardsville. Third Circuit Court Judge William "Bill" Mudge and his brother, Edwardsville attorney Steve Mudge, discuss their

The building looks the same, but operations at the Madison County Courthouse have changed dramatically since Alton attorney Ed Moorman was a boy.

“I grew up in Edwardsville, and I used to come up here as a little kid and watch trials,” said Moorman, 78, who now lives in St. Louis. “You don’t see kids doing that anymore.”

Today, courthouse security is tight. Only one of its four main entrances is open to the public, and everyone must go through a metal detector. Purses and backpacks are scanned. Cellphones and other electronic devices are stored in lockers.

In the early days, the elevator was operated manually. There was an elevator operator. None of this pushing buttons.

Attorney Ed Moorman on courthouse changes

Courtroom decor is largely the same: Tall ceilings and massive woodwork. But gone are the shoeshine boys and spittoons, and women can actually work as attorneys and judges.

“In the early days, the elevator was operated manually,” said Moorman, who has practiced law for 53 years and briefly served as an associate judge. “There was an elevator operator. None of this pushing buttons.”

Moorman was sitting in a vacant courtroom this month, reminiscing with Third Circuit Court judges Andy Matoesian and Bill Mudge and Bill’s brother, attorney Steve Mudge. The courthouse is turning 100 this fall.

The building is like a second home to the Mudges. Their father was assistant state’s attorney before his early death in 1959. Their grandfather was a circuit court judge in the ’30s and ’40s, their uncle was state’s attorney in the ’50s and ’60s and their stepfather is an attorney.

“The salary for circuit court judges when my grandfather was a judge was $2,400 a year,” said Bill Mudge, 55, of Edwardsville.

Matoesian has sat on the bench for 50 years, making him the longest-serving judge in Illinois. He presided over one of the courthouse’s most infamous cases, the Paula Sims murder trial, in 1990.

But what stands out most in his mind is the history related to his Armenian immigrant parents, who lived in Granite City.

“I now sit on the same court that swore in my mother and father as U.S. citizens,” said Matoesian, 78, of Edwardsville. “That’s very emotional for me.”

Matoesian also is a woodworker who gives hand-carved gavels to all new judges and hand-carved ink pens to special guests.

Holiday declared for dedication

The fourth Madison County Courthouse opened on Oct. 18, 1915, in downtown Edwardsville. More than 20,000 people showed up for the dedication, which included a band concert and parade.

“Mayors throughout Madison County declared it a holiday,” according to a recent article in the Madison County Historical Society newsletter. “Businesses and schools were closed. Trains added extra cars to the lines running from Granite City and Alton to Edwardsville.”

St. Louis architect Robert Kirsch designed the Classic Revival-style, three-story building, which was constructed of Georgian marble for $250,000.

One of the most interesting things Edwardsville historian Cindy Reinhardt learned during her research was that the building has a hidden half story.

“In this portion is housed the quarters of the jurors, which are quite palatial in their appointments, and includes sleeping rooms, shower and tub baths, toilets and lounging rooms,” according to a 1915 story in the Edwardsville Intelligencer.

The building mostly housed courtrooms and offices. Its three main levels were open, forming a rotunda that served as a community gathering place before tightened security.

“They had political rallies, and schoolchildren sang carols around a Christmas tree,” said Reinhardt, 63, of Edwardsville. “During World War I, soldiers’ bodies laid in state at the courthouse.”

The rotunda will again be filled with music on Nov. 8, when the Madison County Historical Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary with a Dining in History event. It’s open to the public. The reservation deadline is Wednesday.

Activities will include live music, cocktails, dinner and a program featuring Circuit Court Clerk Mark Von Nida, who has been gathering stories for decades.

“There have been plenty of characters who have come through the courthouse in the past 100 years,” said Von Nida, 58, of Edwardsville.

One unusual case involved Bill Burton, a state’s attorney and Madison County Democratic Party chairman. He and his wife went missing in the late ’40s. Their estate was handled by a friend, Dallas Harrell, who happened to be sheriff and Republican Party chairman.

Another notable official was George Musso, who played 11 years in the NFL before returning to Madison County and serving as sheriff and treasurer.

“He’s in the Chicago Bears Hall of Fame,” said Von Nida, who also worked as administrator for former State’s Attorney Bill Haine and served four terms as Madison County clerk.

Mudge family legacy continues

Few families, if any, have a history more intertwined with the Madison County Courthouse and local Democratic politics than the Mudges.

Bill and Steve Mudge have collected all kinds of artifacts, ranging from campaign posters to a wooden shingle that hung outside the law office of their grandfather, D.H. Mudge, who started his practice in 1902.

“I found it in a barn at our family farm,” said Steve, 63, of Edwardsville, an attorney for 37 years. “It had mud daubers nests on it.”

D.H. was Edwardsville’s mayor when the courthouse was built. He became a circuit court judge in 1933. Son John was an assistant state’s attorney when he died in a car accident at 35.

My grandmother used to say, ‘No Mudge has ever failed to pass the bar exam the first time they took it.’

Attorney Steve Mudge on family expectations

D.H.’s other son, Dick Mudge Jr., had a particularly colorful story. He was a World War II pilot who flew 78 missions and spent a year in prison camps after being shot down over Germany.

Dick later practiced law, fought for liberal causes and ran for Madison County state’s attorney, famously renting a plane and “bombing” a gambling joint as a campaign stunt in 1956. He won.

Steve followed in his uncle’s footsteps, serving three years as assistant state’s attorney early in his career. During that time, Bill observed him in the courtroom as part of a college class.

“That sealed the deal when I saw my brother prosecuting a rape case,” said Bill, who decided to study law. He also was influenced by his stepfather, attorney James Gorman.

Bill served as state’s attorney for eight years, prosecuting and winning the first Madison County case based on DNA evidence. He was elected circuit court judge in 2010.

Bill’s favorite courthouse memory goes back to his days as a recent law-school graduate, handling juvenile cases as an assistant state’s attorney. His mother, Beverly Gorman, called to say he had received a letter, probably news on whether he had passed the bar exam.

Circuit Court Judge Lola Maddox called for a break in proceedings so Bill could run home and open the envelope. Good thing he passed.

“My grandmother used to say, ‘No Mudge has ever failed to pass the bar exam the first time they took it,’” Steve said.

Dining in History

  • What: Dinner to celebrate 100th anniversary of Madison County Courthouse
  • Where: Courthouse rotunda, 155 N. Main St. in Edwardsville
  • When: Nov. 8
  • Reservation deadline: Wednesday
  • Cost: $45 for Madison County Historical Society members or $50 for non-members
  • Music: The Lodge Brothers from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m.
  • Cocktails: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. (cash bar)
  • Dinner: Catered by Bella Milano from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
  • Program: Presentation by Chief Judge David Hylla at 7:45 p.m., followed by talk on “Madison County Mysteries and Courtroom Drama” by Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida
  • Self-guided tours: Courtrooms open all evening
  • Information: Visit www.madcohistory.org or call 618-656-7569 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays or 618-656-3493 after hours

Did you know?

  • In 1920, an Oakland vehicle was driven up the courthouse steps to demonstrate the ability of new balloon tires to provide a smooth ride.
  • In 1934, children crowded downtown Edwardsville streets, waiting for Santa to land on the courthouse roof in a dirigible.
  • In 1941, courthouse employees destroyed all Christmas tree ornaments made in Japan to show World War II patriotism.
  • In 1977, scenes from the movie “Stingray” were filmed at the courthouse and other Edwardsville locations.
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