Small museums, big impact: Historical societies shed light on where we've been

  • Lindsay Judd is the executive director of the St. Charles History Museum.

    Lindsay Judd is the executive director of the St. Charles History Museum. Courtesy of St. Charles History Museum

 
 
Posted5/27/2022 6:00 AM

You are helping your mother make butter. It's a child's chore that has vanished with time. Can you imagine that?

It was fairly common some 150 years ago -- and it will be again this summer at the St. Charles History Museum. Kids will have the chance to make butter to take home when participating in a June 10 program focusing on what role a child once had within a family and the everyday chore of making butter.

 
Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum, with a cash book from 1922 that shows the first sales at The Little Traveler.
Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum, with a cash book from 1922 that shows the first sales at The Little Traveler. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

It's one of many summer programs or exhibits being offered at area history museums, shedding light on these important community sites that offer a vast knowledge about where we've been and how we got to where we are.

Museum directors have their fingers crossed during this important summer, hoping for a far better season in the wake of coping with COVID outbreaks the past two years and again in recent weeks.

"We really shut down to the public for only a month in 2020, but we opened back up by appointment only and followed the mask requirements until the beginning of this year," said Lindsay Judd, executive director of the St. Charles History Museum.

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Through the end of the year, Geneva History Musesum is showing an exhibit celebrating 100 years of The Little Traveler store on Third Street in Geneva.
Through the end of the year, Geneva History Musesum is showing an exhibit celebrating 100 years of The Little Traveler store on Third Street in Geneva. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

The museum recommends masks when expecting a major influx of people, like during the Scarecrow Festival, said Judd, who has headed the museum since April 2020.

But there was an upside to the pandemic as well.

"During 2020, everyone was home, so what were they doing?" Judd asked. "They were cleaning stuff out of their closets, so we had quite an influx of artifact donations that year."

After being closed for 16 months, the Geneva History Museum opened last July.

The caboose at the Batavia Depot Museum. A program this summer with the library will feature a librarian reading from the back of the caboose.
The caboose at the Batavia Depot Museum. A program this summer with the library will feature a librarian reading from the back of the caboose. - Courtesy of Dave Heun
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We went by the state mandates on masks, but our attendance was amazing," said executive director Terry Emma. "We didn't have a major exhibit because of COVID, but people just wanted to get out."

Emma noted that to create "a great way to greet people back," the museum decided to go with free admissions for some time.

The Batavia Depot Museum was shut down for a large portion of the pandemic. It operates through the Batavia Park District and follows the guidelines of the state's parks and recreation associations.

"We are mostly back to normal operations at this point," said director Kate Garrett. "We are still doing some remote programming to accommodate patrons who want to be involved with the museum but don't want to be on site. Still, we are back to normal programming, so that's been wonderful."

An exhibit at Batavia's Depot Museum highlights the history of the railroad depot.
An exhibit at Batavia's Depot Museum highlights the history of the railroad depot. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

It's wonderful news for families looking for summer activities, as the exhibits and programs at all museums are back to full schedules.

They all participate in the "Passport to Adventure" program through the Kane-DuPage Regional Museum Association. The program encourages people of all ages to visit as many of the 50-plus museums in the association, with the opportunity to win prizes for the number visited.

But what might catch visitors or area residents by surprise when it comes to the local history museum?

"I think it's the exhibits," Geneva's Emma said. "When people come into the museum, they may come in to go to the gift shop or stop at the front desk. They really can't tell about the vastness of the building behind us at the desk."

An exhibit at the Batavia Depot Museum details Mary Todd Lincoln's time at the Bellevue center in Batavia.
An exhibit at the Batavia Depot Museum details Mary Todd Lincoln's time at the Bellevue center in Batavia. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

For Geneva History Museum, that vastness includes a 3,000-square-foot main gallery and another 900 square feet, which has a special display celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Little Traveler, a mainstay of the city's Third Street retail sector.

In St. Charles, area residents may not know that the history museum has a new program that gets people far more involved in the artifacts.

"In addition to helping people with research, which we can do, we also have a new program called 'Adopt an Artifact,'" Judd said. "We set a price for an artifact, anywhere from $10 all the way up to $300, and a person can adopt it."

An exhibit at the Batavia Depot Museum shows Mary Todd Lincoln's bed during her stay at Bellevue; museum officials confirmed it as her actual bed.
An exhibit at the Batavia Depot Museum shows Mary Todd Lincoln's bed during her stay at Bellevue; museum officials confirmed it as her actual bed. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

Those who adopt receive details and photos about the artifact and their names on display with that artifact, Judd added.

"In that way, we connect people with what we have in our collection and also help fund the collections."

At Batavia Depot Museum, the most common surprise for residents is that the museum is so closely connected to the park district.

"A lot of people don't know this museum is part of the park district and that we also work with the Batavia Historical Society," Garrett said. "They may not know to look at the park district guide or site to find our programs."

They'd find out that the museum has two new exhibits, one called "Refraction," which highlights the city's history with the LGBTQ community, and another called "Finding Expression," which examines the history of Batavia's artists.

In addition to the butter-making program, St. Charles will also offer a session on making berry vinegar ink and another about how to keep diaries and journals as historic keepsakes that would interest youths of all ages.

On display at the Batavia Depot Museum is a Newton Wagon from the Newton Wagon Works in Batavia around 1854.
On display at the Batavia Depot Museum is a Newton Wagon from the Newton Wagon Works in Batavia around 1854. - Courtesy of Dave Heun

In Geneva, kids can expect to learn some interesting things from the "Building Geneva" Children's Exhibit from June 18 through Aug. 20.

When you visit a local history museum, one facet remains consistent. You can't change the past, but it's all on display to educate, entertain and fascinate us.

Members of the Pottawatomie Garden Club recently planted seasonal flowers at the St. Charles Municipal Center.
Members of the Pottawatomie Garden Club recently planted seasonal flowers at the St. Charles Municipal Center. - Courtesy of Dave Heun
Planting in rain or shine

They were out in full force on a recent rainy day in downtown St. Charles.

But it was the scheduled time for the ladies in the Pottawatomie Garden Club to do their spring planting of seasonal flowers -- and they showed up.

In downtown St. Charles, the city's Municipal Building planting beds and the flower boxes along the Illinois and Main street bridges got plenty of attention from this collective green-thumb effort.

"We coordinate with the city (so city workers can prepare the beds) and order the flowers far in advance, so the date is set early in the year," said club spokesperson Christie Slack. "The ladies are a hardy bunch, so a little rain doesn't deter them."

In addition to making the city look so much nicer, the sight of these ladies at work has another positive result.

"We get a lot of interest in new memberships when people see this group out working," Slack added.

It could be Andy's

I've never done a cartwheel in my life, at least not one I am aware of. But upon reading the latest news about development on the east side of St. Charles, I was about ready to try one.

St. Charles planners are considering a proposal for an Andy's Frozen Custard to be built in a spot that is currently an empty bank building near the Foxfield Commons retail strip.

We've been to the Andy's on Randall Road in South Elgin and the one in Naperville on Ogden Avenue. It has caused me, on more than a few occasions, to wish there was one in the Tri-Cities area.

This comes from a guy who has high regard for Dairy Queen, Culver's, Colonial, Kilwins and any other custard or ice cream operation. But I can say this about Andy's: It would be a welcome addition to the tasty treats landscape because it is really, really good.

Let's hear music

If you drove past Lincoln Park in downtown St. Charles last night (and it wasn't raining), you might have noticed the St. Charles Park District kicked off its Concerts in the Park series.

These excellent outdoor music shows unfold every Thursday during the summer at the park in front of St. Patrick's church. However, there will not be a concert on June 30 because of the upcoming July 4 concert at 6 p.m. in Pottawatomie Park featuring the "Feel Good Party Band."

Batavia gets in the summer concert mood when it begins the River Rhapsody Concert Series on Wednesday nights at the Peg Bond Center bandshell on Batavia's Riverwalk. Those shows start June 15 and take place through Aug. 3. There will not be a show the week of July 4.

Geneva's Cultural Arts Commission and the park district are offering two sets of 7 p.m. summer shows at the unique RiverPark setting along the Fox River at 151 N. River Lane for those seeking a smaller venue.

The arts commission sponsors the Sunday night concerts on July 3, 10, 17 and 24, while the Geneva Park District brings shows to RiverPark on Wednesday nights, July 6, 13, 20 and 27.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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