Elgin’s rich history spans over 100 years. During this time, the city’s residents and businesses have left behind a legacy to be proud of. The tradition of creating quality products and encouraging philanthropic endeavors continues to this day.
Two local museums work to represent and preserve the diverse history that defines this continuously growing city: the Elgin Public Museum of Natural History & Anthropology, and the Elgin Area Historical Society and Museum. Combined, these two museums do a fantastic job of showcasing the city’s history along with the individuals who helped build this great town.
Visitors to the museums will undoubtedly be surprised by the rich diversity of the exhibits, as well as the number of pieces that are entrusted to the museums to protect and preserve. The Elgin Public Museum is home to several permanent and rotating exhibits, various educational programming throughout the year, and the ever-popular Touching on Traditions exhibit on display annually in November and December.
Touching on Traditions is a wonderful exploration of winter holidays throughout the world. Cur-rently, the museum features 62 exhibits, each highlighting a different country and culture. This exploration of holidays and celebrations worldwide reaches about 3,000 children every year through school field trips alone.
The annual exhibit has something for everyone and is representative of the hard work that goes into the planning and implementation of programs throughout the year.
Permanent exhibits include the popular Mazon Creek Fossils, a life-size cast of the famous Tyrannosaurus rex skull, and the impressive Native American Hall, which features tools, clothing, jewelry and artwork of Illinois’ first peoples dating back to the Paleo-Indian period.
Exhibits are complemented by seminars and other special programs developed by museum staff. Peggie Stromberg, Elgin Public Museum’s executive director, says there is a naturalist on staff who does all the programming. Summertime welcomes children of all ages to a variety of summer programs for children and families, as well as summer day camps.
Established in 1898 by George Lord, the Elgin Public Museum is housed in a 100-year-old building that was donated to the city along with the land that makes up Lord’s Park. Also housed in a historic building is the Elgin Area Historical Society and Museum. Built in 1856, this historic landmark is home to multiple permanent and temporary exhibits as well. Several of these exhibits feature products that were developed and manufactured in Elgin before making an international debut.
Two such items are the Elgin Sweeper and Sparkle Glass Cleaner. According to Elizabeth Marston, museum director of the Historical Society, “Elgin is an old town and has always been based on manufacturing. This is because it is located on the Fox Valley River.” This history of manufacturing speaks to the hard-working nature of Elgin’s citizens. The quality of the products produced is top-notch, which explains why items such as the Elgin Sweeper can be found in such far away places as Europe.
Elgin has also been known to have an impact on the national economy. From 1880-1920, Elgin set the price for butter throughout the United States because so much of it was produced in the city. Marston explains that this was due in large part to Gail Borden, who set up a condensed milk plant in town. With the plant being easily accessible, farmers quickly began to raise cows and sell their milk to the plant.
Accessibility is key when it comes to manufacturing. Business owners and farmers throughout time have taken transportation costs into account when they set up business, and it is imperative that they do so. Transportation costs affect the cost of the items needed to make a product and transportation costs affect the ability to get that product to potential customers. The Fox Valley River helped keep the cost of transportation down, which helped sustain the manufacturing plants in the area.
The Historical Society offers a variety of ways to learn about the influence that Elgin has had on the world. Crackerbarrel, the society’s newsletter, is published and distributed every other month. History buffs cannot afford to miss this publication, full of fascinating facts and intriguing information.
For dedicated historians, the society broadcasts a daily radio program that takes a look back in time. Elgin 100 Years Ago broadcasts on WRMN 1410 AM every day; listeners can learn about what was happening 100 years ago on the day in question. The program is also available on the radio station’s website for individuals who want to listen on their own schedule: www.wrmn1410.com.
The Society is also home to the Reber Research Library, where visitors will find an abundance of history books, probate and divorce court records for the City of Elgin, and a very large Courier News photo collection that spans from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Temporary exhibits that will be on display until the end of 2007 include Elgin Choral Union: 60 Years of Singing; Elgin Sports Hall of Fame; and Perk Up Your Coffee: A Collection of Percolators.
With so much to see and learn, one visit or one day is simply not enough time to take in and appreciate what these two museums have to offer. When looking back and learning about the past, it is often valuable to also imagine what the present and the future have to gain from knowledge already acquired. Have plenty of time on hand when visiting these museums; they are worth every minute.