Since the founding of Altamont, our residents have built gorgeous homes. From Victorians to Greek Revivals, here are some of Altamont’s old homes.
Since the founding of Altamont, our residents have built gorgeous homes. From Victorians to Greek Revivals, here are some of Altamont’s oldest houses.
A 38-starred American Flag adorning the Dr. Charles M. Wright House. 1971
The Dr. Charles M. Wright House.
Altamont’s most famous house. It’s one of two Effingham County buildings on the National Register of Historic places. Dr. Charles M. Wright, a traveling doctor and bank owner, had this Italianate-inspired mansion built in 1889. The house is furnished with replicas of Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts along with antique furniture used by three generations of the Wright family.
Dedicated volunteers maintain the house as a museum. (It’s the only house on this list that isn’t a private residence) Tours are held on Sundays from April to October.
This brick house is the oldest built within Altamont’s city limits. Earlier homes existed but were demolished or destroyed by fire.
The house was constructed by Mrs. Elizabeth Ehlers before Altamont was platted in 1871. Mrs. Ehlers owned acres of farmland making up most of northern Altamont and the land occupied by Immanuel Lutheran Church. She sold most of it to assist Altamont’s expansion.
12 South Third. 1920’s
12 South Third
The railroads built Altamont, and railroad companies employed many early Altamont residents.
This house, located on the northwest corner of Third and Lincoln, was built by C.O. Faught in 1897. C.O. Faught was a railroad engineer. He worked at railroad construction sites throughout the Midwest, including projects in Altamont.
While working in Altamont, Faught became infuatuated with the community and moved into town. He was involved with multiple community positions. He served as mayor from 1905-1906, and was a founding member of the Altamont Agricultural Fair Association.
Faught’s house with its narrow tower is one of Altamont’s most unique homes.
102 South Third. 1920’s
102 South Third
Jaspar Orrel was also a railroad man. Starting in 1877, Orrel worked as a station agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altamont. He built the gorgeous, Victorian house, pictured above, in 1895.
Later, Dr. D.G. Huelskoetter, who purchased the home in 1965, built an indoor swimming pool in the backyard. It was the only indoor pool in the area. Huelskoetter demolished the pool in the 1990’s, and the pool enclosure was moved to the high school.
101 South Fourth. 1900’s. Notice 102 South Third in the background.
101 South Fourth
G.W. Gwin was one of Altamont’s most influential citizens. In 1871, he arrived in Altamont and became one of Altamont’s earliest residents. Gwin was a plasterer. But he later opened a furniture store and a farm implement store. He served as President of Altamont in 1885, and he helped create the Altamont Agricultural Fair Association. He also served as Fair president. Gwin built 101 South Fourth in 1902.
Today, the house looks different from the picture above. Later residents lowered the ceilings and removed the chimneys. Bill Wendling, the current owner, put a widow’s walk on top of the roof.
Dr. Charles M. Wright’s first home in Altamont, at its current location on North Main. Date Unknown.
The Older Wright House
It’s difficult to see behind the trees, but this four-columned mansion is one of the most elegant homes in Effingham County.
Dr. Charles M. Wright lived in this house from 1872 to 1888. It was built on the current site of the brick Wright House and was later moved across Main Street where it was transformed into the Greek Revival home pictured above.
The Dr. S. J. Lesemann home on North Main. Lesemann was Altamont’s first dentist. (Picture taken in the 1960’s)
The residence of former Mayor J. E. Rhodes on South Edwards. Early 1920’s.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, like many Americans, my grandfather Bill Wendling was sitting in the living room listening to the radio when the broadcast was interrupted. The radio broadcaster announced that a navy post in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. My grandfather went to find his parents, and they sat together and listened as more details followed. The next day, the U.S. entered World War II, the most destructive war in history.
Before Pearl Harbor, most Americans knew they would eventually enter the war. On September 16, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which established the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. All men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to register with a local draft board. In 1940, 2640 Effingham County men registered. In October, Kenneth Ray Dugan and Maurice Rickelman were the first Effingham County residents to be drafted. William Edwin Fischer was the first person drafted from Altamont.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, (which some Effingham County residents witnessed first hand) patriotism swept across America. Thousands of men enlisted instead of waiting to be drafted. Many Americans preferred the enlistment process because it gave them a wider choice of branches to serve. By 1942, the government made men between 18 and 45 eligible for the draft.
During the war, a rationing system was established to preserve goods for the war effort. Life during this time was dictated by the rationing system. Each family in America was issued a war ration book and tokens, which controlled the number of goods a family could purchase. The purchase of items including meat, sugar, milk, butter, silk, nylon, shoes, and more was limited by local ration boards. Cigarettes were a commodity, with 30 percent of cigarette production dedicated to military production. Alcohol production had similar limits.
Transportation was also limited. Most residents were restricted to three to five gallons of gasoline each week, so residents often hitchhiked to preserve their rations. Tire sales were restricted, so customers had to get their tires capped. Drivers were often told to drive under 35mph. Meanwhile, new auto purchases were banned after 1942, because car manufacturers were focused on producing military vehicles.
Farmers had a higher gasoline allowance. But farm machinery was rationed, and farmers were forced to use worn-out equipment.
Altamont residents lived a self-sufficient lifestyle. My great-grandparents, who lived on the corner of Division and Fourth Street, had a victory garden. (A victory garden was a garden planted to supplement the limited food supply during the war.) They raised chickens and ducks in the backyard, and sometimes my grandfather shot pigeons, rabbits, and squirrels for meat. When short on supplies, they traded vegetables and other goods with the neighbors. Local residents planted peach trees. My great-great grandfather produced his own wine using five, 50-gallon barrels and shared with neighbors in the Blue Point area. Home beer brewing operations were also popular. Clothing materials were rationed, so clothing choices were limited or expensive. Farmers sometimes cut holes in feed sacks for their children to wear as pants, and shoes were often patched up.
According to an angry letter published in the Sunday, June 4, 1944, Decatur Herald, Altamont during the war, resembled a farm. “My work takes me around a lot. Noticed quite an unpleasant smell in Altamont. Soon located its source. A hog lot with 50 or 75 hogs therein, and this within three blocks from the main part of town.” The author also described town lots with dozens of victory gardens and cow pastures.
Assisting the war effort
Residents saved tin cans, used paper, food, and more for the war effort. While some residents took down their iron fences for scrap metal. The Triangle had a wire crate for aluminum collections later sent to factories for raw material. Blood drives, with people waiting in line for hours, were prevalent. Locals went to the First National Bank on the southwest corner of Second and Washington Street to purchase war bonds. Local schools had War Stamp pie suppers. Churches had special prayer services for the soldiers fighting overseas. Congregations wrote letters to members fighting overseas, and neighbors comforted the families of soldiers.
Eight million women in America joined the workforce. Many of them, including women from Altamont, worked in ammunition or military vehicle factories in cities like St. Louis and Chicago. Women also made up the majority of workers at the Pant and Glove factory located on the corner of Division and Third Street. Other local women joined the Women’s Army Corps.
Farms also had labor shortages. Farmers and farm hands went off to war, while elderly men, wives, and children were responsible for running the farms. Later, some men of draft age were able to receive farm-related draft deferments.
After Pearl Harbor, Altamont created a defense council headed by Mayor Klitzing, which made defense preparations in case of an invasion. The defense council duties included blackout tests. Altamont’s first blackout test occurred in February of 1942. (Blackouts were a tactic used to prevent the enemy from bombing cities at night. This was achieved by shutting off all lights so the bombers couldn’t see the city below.) According to the February 13, 1942, Decatur Herald, The blackout test was enforced by air raid wardens with the help of the local boy scout troop, while drivers were stopped and told to shut off their headlights. “The fire alarm siren sounded the alert at 7:37 PM and the all clear at 8:13 PM.”
News from the War
Every week, the people of Altamont flocked to the Main Theater located at the present site of Kull’s Funeral Home. Newsreels played before the feature films, showing our troops fighting in the Pacific and European theaters.
Altamont residents also sat around the radio to hear updates about the war, while families waited patiently for letters from their grandsons, sons, or brothers.
In 1944, word reached Altamont that local man, Sgt. James Greene had been rescued from the Japanese. In 1942, after the U.S. surrendered to the Japanese forces in the Philippines, Sgt. Greene was taken prisoner. He was forced to join the Bataan Death March, a 65-mile prisoner march between two P.O.W. camps. 75,000 Filipino and American P.O.W.s including Greene were forced to take the arduous journey. Soldiers starved and often had to eat live snakes that crawled across the road. Fatigued soldiers were bayoneted or ran over by Japanese trucks. Later, when the Americans invaded the Philippines, the Japanese transported the P.O.W.s out of the Philippines. In 1944, Sgt. Greene’s transport ship was sunk by an American submarine. He was rescued and taken to Australia. On December 4, 1944, by the request of the Secretary of War, Altamont welcomed Greene home with a celebration.
Unfortunately, news from the war wasn’t always positive. A year earlier in 1943, the parents of Sgt. Paul L. Fischer were told their son was killed in the Pacific theater. Sgt. Fischer was the first Altamont resident to die in World War II. (Altamont’s American Legion Post is named after Fischer and Frank Grobengieser, who was the only Altamont resident to die in World War I).
Altamont residents, deployed around the globe, fought bravely against the Axis Powers. Many of them were awarded medals for their bravery, and some of them paid the ultimate sacrifice. 17 Altamont residents were killed in the war: Sgt. Paul L. Fischer, William Tappendorf, Stevenson Jenkins, Merle Gieseking, Sherborne Austin, Reuben Wade, Forrest Morr, Arnold Mueller, Cecil Dammerman, Walter Schwerdtfeger, Rudolph Siebert, Owen Cox, Harold Oliver, Seth McCoy, Hugo Voelker, Glenn Loar, and Granville H. Walling. Other Altamont soldiers, like my grandfather, returned home with injuries.
The soldiers’ return from war led to a period of economic prosperity in America. After years of warfare and rationing, people were ready to spend money, settle down, and raise families. Meanwhile, the G.I. Bill gave thousands of Americans the opportunity to attend college.
The war dictated almost every aspect of life in America. But without the sacrifices made on the battlefield and the homefront, our country would be a very different place today.
Reading through old newspaper articles, many news stories can be classified as bizarre or folksy (especially by present-day standards). With today being April Fools, many of these stories are fitting. However, unlike most April Fools stories, these are real.
The Mysterious Grave.
In August 1906, rumors spread throughout Altamont that a group of gypsies, located on the outskirts of town, had fled after burying a human corpse near their camp.
The city marshal called for his assistants to help find and dig up the body. The frightened search party, expecting to find the grisly body of a murder victim, approached the grave with their shovels, spades, and other digging tools. They soon discovered the fresh, mound of dirt covering the grave, and began digging. The men’s tools hit what felt like a body. In a state of panic, they overturned the remaining dirt and discovered the body of a diseased horse.
The Mattoon Daily Journal ended the article with “The laugh was on the city marshal and his assistants, and they tried to keep the story secret, but it leaked out and now there is very little rest for them in Altamont.”
Source: Mattoon Daily Journal August 27, 1902
The Bird Mishap.
The Daily Review from Decatur, Illinois Mar 23, 1895
In March 1895, a trainmaster from the Wabash Railroad named Jenkins, and a local man named Frank Dorwin, had a quarrel. A Shanghai rooster without feet was delivered to Dorwin. Dorwin blamed Jenkins, saying Jenkins bought the rooster because he thought it was a parrot. But when Jenkins couldn’t get the rooster to swear, he changed the address on the tag and sent it to Dorwin.
However, Jenkins had a different story. Jenkins said Dorwin answered an advertisement for a mockingbird and was fleeced. Too embarrassed to admit he received a rooster instead of a mockingbird, Dorwin publicly blamed Jenkins.
Which man do you believe?
Source: The Daily Review from Decatur, Illinois. Mar 23, 1895
The 91-year-old, Corn-Shucking, Machine.
In 1922, G.W. Higgs, against the advice of everyone, challenged his son-in-law, W.N. Dowds to a corn-shucking contest. Higgs was 91 years old, which was a miracle in those days. (The average lifespan for men in the 1920’s was 50 years old). Higgs beat his son-in-law, shucking a total of 33 bushels of corn. The next morning he challenged Dowds to a rematch, but Dowds refused.