6 Dedicated Institutions Preserving History In Illinois

With a storied and diverse history, Illinois is home to several groups that make it a priority to compile and share the stories of a previous time, in order to learn, progress, and help shape the present. From restorers of important documents, to societies paying homage to famous individuals, each shares an important role in the study of local history. In no particular order, here are some valued foundations protecting the past within the state.

Starting off our list at #1, the Hieronymus Mueller Museum in Decatur is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the history of Mueller Company, and of the family and descendants of the eponymous patriarch, entrepreneur, and manufacturing mogul. Founded in 1995 by the family's foundation, the Museum houses and curates a vast collection of physical artifacts, memorabilia, and library materials.

Visitors may view many of Hieronymus Mueller's inventions, promotional items, and company literature. Also on display are some family heirlooms, photographs, and clothing. The inventor's first patent, the water tapper, is still the standard in the industry. Mueller and his sons went on to obtain hundreds of other patents for water pressure regulators, faucet designs, and the first sanitary drinking fountain. Finally, the family's Benz automobile highlights various improvements and innovations the inventor made to the vehicle.

In at #2 is the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located in Skokie. The institution's self-stated mission is to "Remember the Past, Transform the Future." Dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust, the Museum honors the memories of those who were lost and teaches universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference. It fulfills this mission through the exhibition, preservation, and interpretation of its collections, and through education programs and initiatives that foster the promotion of human rights and the end of genocide.

Many permanent, traveling, and special exhibitions are housed within the building. The Zev and Shifra Karkomi section, for example, displays artifacts, documents, photographs, and a German rail car of the type used in Nazi deportations. The Museum's collection consists of thousands of items that belonged to victims and survivors. These artifacts, donated by individuals who directly experienced the Holocaust, relate the tragic and inspirational stories of the local survivor community.

Next at #3, the Illinois State Museum inspires exploration of the state's past and present in order to inform and enrich everyday life, and to promote stewardship of cultural and natural resources for the future. Extensive collections, in addition to the organization's primary research activities, provide a foundation for exhibitions that tell the story of the local natural and cultural heritage.

Collections focus on the Midwestern US, with an emphasis on Illinois. Items displayed cover a wide range of subjects, including anthropology, history, arts, botany, zoology, and geology. Guests can also make an appointment to explore the Museum's library, which contains a variety of monographs, serials, rare books, archives, and manuscripts.

At #4 is Graphic Conservation Company. Situated in Chicago’s South Loop, the business uses specialized tools and equipment to treat paper items suffering from various types of damage. The lab works with artifacts of all sizes, from miniature ephemera to large artworks. With an extensive library of antique papers and boards, the Company also has the ability to match repairs when appropriate.

Since 1921, Graphic Conservation Company has preserved rare and historic items of all kinds. With a portfolio that includes family documents, valuable fine art, collectibles, and artifacts of national significance, the team of conservators strives to maintain the highest professional standards set forth by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Coming in at #5, the Chicago History Museum, operated by the Chicago Historical Society, is home to millions of objects, images, and documents that represent the rich multicultural background of the city, as well as selected portions of American history. The organization interprets a story of the area and its people through exhibitions, programs, publications, and digital media. Hosting several educational field trips a year, the Museum is a resource for school projects, dissertations, and documentary research.

The Museum maintains a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits. Remembering Dr. King: 1929 - 1968 invites visitors to walk through a winding gallery that features images depicting key moments from the legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, with a special focus on the leader's time in the city. Another exhibition, Lincoln's Chicago, features portraits of Lincoln’s contemporaries with 19th-century lithograph views of Chicago. These pairings provide a glimpse of the city the president knew as a second home and political headquarters.

Lastly, at #6 is the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society. Dedicated to preserving and sharing the story of the diverse communities of Chicago's far North Side, the Society has been serving the vicinity through its publications, neighborhood tours, Living History programs, and other educational and outreach efforts since 1975. The organization provides a number of exhibitions and talks every year, as well as a catalog of photographs, papers, and objects that document the development and progression of Rogers Park and West Ridge.

Locals and visitors may participate in walking tours of the neighborhood, including the Annual House Walk, where guides relate the story of a given property and highlight the features that make the residence unique. Owners of historic homes in the area can even commission the Society to research a property using census reports, chain of ownership, and other tools.