604 West High Street
The Ahrens Home
The stately brick house on the hill at 604 West High Street was built for William and Katherine Ahrens in late 1910 and was ready for occupancy by January 1911. The architect is unknown, but the contractor, according to a list at the Madison County Archival Library, was John H. Theuer, a popular local contractor.
William Ahrens, the son of Christian and Wilhemina Ahrens, was born in 1879. That same year his father invested in 100 acres of farmland in Venice Township where the family lived until 1892 when William’s father sold the property to the Niedringhaus brothers. The Ahrens family farm became part of Granite City.
Shortly thereafter, the family moved to a home on North Main Street in Edwardsville. William, by then in his early 20s, found work as an agent for the Wabash Railroad in St. Louis before accepting a position at one of Edwardsville’s flour mills where he did clerical and bookkeeping work. In 1917, when the Edwardsville National Bank was founded, he was hired as a cashier. He remained with the bank until his retirement in 1941.
In 1904, William married Katherine Dippold, the daughter of Albert and Barbara Dippold. Prior to her marriage Katherine lived at 329 West Union Street, just a few blocks from the house on High Street.
William and Katherine lived in a number of houses before building the beautiful brick home on West High Street. The architectural style is a Prairie sub-style often called a Prairie Box or American Foursquare. It has a low-pitched hipped roof and symmetrical façade as well as a hipped dormer. The home stands out on the block both because of its architectural style as well as the setting. The property has parts of multiple lots and is set on a hill above the street. The deep back yard adjoins the back of Lusk Cemetery. The large house and elaborate gardens were the perfect setting for the active social life of the Ahrens family who often held entertainments at their home.
William and Katherine had three children, two girls and a boy, born between 1907 and 1914. All had married and left home by 1937 when their mother died suddenly of a heart attack. The following year William married Miss Louise Klein. Louise was Edwardsville’s first telephone operator, a job she continued even after her marriage. After William’s death in 1943, she went to work in the county clerk’s office before going to work for the Madison County Historical Museum, a position she held until her death in 1968.
After William’s death, Louise moved to a smaller home on Scott Street, and the house which was inherited by the Ahrens children was rented for a few years. In 1947 the house was rented to the George Musso family who purchased the house in 1950 and would be long-time owners of the property.
George Musso was by then a celebrity. Born in Collinsville in 1910, he was an outstanding athlete who went on to play football and basketball for Millikin University in Decatur. After graduation he was recruited by the Chicago Bears and played football for them from 1933-1944. In his obituary the Chicago Tribune called him the “Chicago Bears’ Monster of the Midway.” At 6-foot, 1-inch tall and 265 pounds, he played all-pro tackle and guard for the team that he captained for eight years. In 1982 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Musso met his wife, Pauline Hallford Musso, while attending college. She was also a graduate of Millikin University and was working as a teacher when they married in December 1936. They lived in Decatur until George took a job as a Madison County deputy sheriff in 1938.
From that time until the end of his professional football career, Musso worked as a Madison County deputy sheriff. He used vacation time for a couple weeks training in the fall. During the season the Bears flew him to game cities so that he was able to report to his regular job on Monday morning. Although he had contracts in hand from two different teams for the 1945 season, he decided to retire from football after 12 seasons with the Bears.
Musso ran for sheriff in 1946 but lost. The family then decided to invest in the restaurant business. They purchased a building on Purcell Street and in 1948 opened Musso’s Restaurant, which was managed by Pauline. George, although also involved, still held his job as deputy sheriff. Pauline taught accounting and bookkeeping so was able to handle the books.
In 1958 Musso successfully ran for the office of sheriff. At that time, the Madison County Jail on Main Street was attached to a sheriff’s residence where the sheriff and his family were obligated to live. So, in 1958, the Musso family moved out of their handsome home on High Street and into the sheriff’s residence. They rented their home to others for four years until his term was up. Legally, a sheriff could not succeed himself, so after four years as sheriff, Musso ran for County Treasurer and was elected. The family moved back into their home on High Street. Four years later they repeated the process. When he was elected sheriff again in 1966, the family again left their house to live in the sheriff’s residence for four years. In total, George Musso served two terms as sheriff and three as Madison County Treasurer before retiring in 1977.
Life in the sheriff’s residence was not as comfortable as in a residential area. Edwardsville native Dallas Harrell, Jr. knows about that since it was his dad, Dallas Harrell, Sr., who beat George Musso for the job in 1946. The first floor of the building was primarily offices with a back door leading to the jailer’s office where prisoners would be “booked.” The sheriff’s wife was typically appointed jail matron, so if the prisoners were women, she was responsible for processing female prisoners in basement rooms away from the men. Harrell remembers his mother was also responsible for ordering food for the jail kitchen, although the county provided a cook.
The sheriff’s family lived on the second and third floors in spacious rooms with high ceilings furnished with the family’s own furniture. There was a small kitchen where the family prepared their own meals. So on the surface it wasn’t bad, but Harrell describes it as a noisy place with Main Street traffic and night riders (deputies) arriving at all hours. In addition, you could hear the sounds of the cells clanging open and shut in the jail that was attached to the residence. The sheriff’s family did not often have guests, so in that respect alone, life was very different for George and Pauline Musso during the years he served as sheriff.
The Musso Restaurant closed in 1960, not long after George’s election as sheriff in 1958. Many patrons were disappointed to see it close since it was an attraction for celebrities.
Over the years George and Pauline had three daughters who grew up in the house on High Street. The two youngest were in high school when they moved into the sheriff’s residence the first time. One of the daughters was married in the beautiful gardens at the High Street house and two of them held wedding receptions there. Pauline, in addition to working outside the home as a Collinsville High School teacher and at the family’s restaurant, was active in the American Association of University Women and other organizations that met regularly at her home.
Pauline passed away in 1993 and George in 2000, at the age of 90. Their home looks much the same today as when it was built with the exception of a back porch added by the Musso family. The house on High Street, built for the Ahrens family, and a prominent social gathering place for generations of residents, has had few owners, and all have taken great care of this historic property.
Information for this article was obtained from resources at the Madison County Archival Library, the Madison County Recorder and Probate Offices, Edwardsville Public Library and from previous owners. The architectural description is provided by Casey Weeks. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 618-656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Cindy Reinhardt
First published in Edwardsville Intelligencer May 2018