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The Wilmette Historical Museum Is Preserving History

By Elisha Neubauer

The village of Wilmette, Illinois is ripe with history. Shortly after World War II, the village began to experience rapid changes as new construction began to rage through the community. Wanting to preserve the history they so treasured, the village strived to protect it. Knowing they had something special, the village banded together in 1950 to begin collecting items that would become the focal point of the Wilmette Historical Museum.

The village began to accrue and catalogue items which were representative of the town's past with the intention of making them available to the general public through exhibits and events. In 1951, the museum officially opened, calling the basement of the Village Hall home.

The small museum was only open on Sundays and staffed completely by volunteers. This continued for approximately 17 years, when the organization relocated to a village-owned building, a former police and fire station, in 1968.

In 1977, the building was scheduled to be demolished due to dilapidation. To keep the museum going, the village leased space for the exhibits in the then-closed Hillcrest High School. At this point, the museum required a paid staff to continue its upkeep. The high school seemed a great fit for the historical exhibits, however, in 1994, the high school was reopened and the museum found itself homeless once again.

As luck would have it, the former Gross Point Village Hall was placed on the market. At the time of the high school's reopening announcement, an out of area developer was attempting to purchase the property, which was built in 1896, and convert it to modern condos. Residents of the village were having none of it and launched a protest against the development.

After thousands of signatures poured into the board of trustee's office. Wanting to preserve the historical site, it was agreed that the village would purchase the site, with the help of the Wilmette Historical Society, and create a permanent home for the museum.

Today, the museum provides three galleries of revolving exhibits. These temporary exhibitions change routinely, allowing residents to see something new and exciting on just about every visit. There are several long-term exhibits as well, which focus on the direct history of the Wilmette area. These include Wilmette Stories, Native Americans and Early Settlers, and the Gross Point Village Hall Jail.

"My favorite long-term exhibit is the Wilmette Stories gallery. It features seven topics about village history, events, and people that visitors often ask us about," Kathy Hussey-Arntson, Director, said. "There are many fun objects to see and great stories to learn about."

The museum continues to promote historical education, knowing that it is vital for the youth of the community to understand the history of the village. It offers a variety of special programs for school groups that visit the museum. It also provides many exhibits to explore, as well as a hands-on area, and a scavenger hunt through the exhibit galleries for school-aged children who are simply visiting with their families.

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About The Author

Elisha Neubauer is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, book reviewer, and author. She is...

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