Smile Politely

A new chapter in the Champaign County History Museum history book

The Champaign County History Museum has a record almost as varied as its collection and recently, has been as elusive. Since its incorporation in 1970, it has amassed a collection of artifacts numbering in the tens of thousands, has had two locations, and has closed three times. However, thanks to a number of dedicated volunteers, this Saturday, April 29th, at 10 a.m., Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen and museum Board of Trustee members will cut the ribbon on the latest chapter in its history book.

The museum will reopen at its current location, the historic Cattle Bank at the corner of First Street and University Avenue, with new exhibits and events to support its mission “To discover, collect, preserve, exhibit, study and interpret objects relating to the history of Champaign County, and to provide educational programs about the County’s heritage and the Museum’s collections.” They are off to a flying start. There are numerous events planned and four new exhibits debuting.

The activities planned for Saturday will include a visit from Abe Lincoln and crafts for kids, such as making clay marbles and learning the 1929 rules for shooting them. There will be demonstrations of how the vintage corn husker works and how to construct rag rugs. The 1919 Cretor Popcorn Wagon, parked behind the museum in the closed parking lot, will have free popcorn and free balloons. There will also be continuous tours of the historic Cattle Bank and four new exhibits debuting:  When We Went to War, A Second Home, Champaign County Uncrated, and The Art of Louise Woodroofe.

When We Went to War

This exhibit hits close to home, viewing the war from a local perspective. It tells the story of Chanute Air Force Base building up prior to the war and includes how county natives played various roles during the war from the home front to the front lines. Artifacts representing local heroes, such as soldier Chick Bruns, who documented the war through his diaries and pictures and Jill Pitts Knappenberger, Red Cross worker, who was trapped behind enemy lines for seven days in 1944 are included in the exhibit. There is also a “Day in the Life,” showing typical objects of life in the 1940’s.

A Second Home

The University of Illinois has played a large role in the history of Champaign County. The new exhibit, titled “A Second Home – 150 Years of Student Living,” explores the ways student life has evolved over 150-years. Featuring reconstructed student rooms from 1867, 1917, 1967 and 2017, this exhibit shows the advances made, from coal fired heaters to computers, during that time.

Champaign County Uncrated

This unusual and interactive exhibit features a look at what a museum must do to acquire, maintain, and exhibit its collection. It encompasses everything from collecting items to preserving artifacts and, since the majority of the collection remains in storage across the street, choosing items to display. Children can engage with objects in the Children’s Conservation Lab.

The Art of Louise Woodroofe

This exhibit highlights the works of one of community’s most notable artists by showing the evolution of her craft over the course of her life.

After 18 months of renovation, the museum will also debut several new additions including a community room, formal lobby, and gift shop. The museum has also made improvements in accessibility, making the oldest standing commercial building and its historic contents available to all county residents. First Street will be closed from University Avenue to Park Street for part of the morning but free parking is available in the Police Station lot across the street and north of the museum.

Stop by and join the celebration of Champaign County’s heritage. Aside from fun and education, perhaps the best reason to come out is to support this important institution that chronicles our community and shows just how far it has come.

Photos from Facebook.

More Articles