Mt. Pulaski Township Historical Museum104 E. Cooke St.
Mt. Pulaski, IL 62548
(217) 792-3719 Hours: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (April through October) The Mt. Pulaski Township Historical Society began in 1994 when Waneta Stephens took on a project to save the old railroad depot. The effort failed, but that spurred her on to forming the Historical Society to preserve the history and genealogy of the township. The museum began in a small building on the west side of the square. In 1998 the two current buildings where the museum is today, were given to the society by Attorney’s Harris & Harris when they moved their offices to Lincoln. The buildings needed repair and thanks to the hard work of volunteer efforts, this was completed with very little money. Most of the financial support for the museum comes from members of the society, including former residents who no longer live in the area, donations from late members, and from organizations. Other finacial support comes from the "Christmas on Vinegar Hill" Fundraiser, where they sell Christmas items donated by the community. Visitors enter the museum through the old Romer Brothers Saloon. This area features local memorabilia and history of the town. The second room features the old original First National Bank and Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, as well as the genealogy and military sections. There is a period schoolroom, sports and music room, kitchen, sewing room, dining room, parlor and bedroom, all done in period furnishings. Also included is the prized “South Side Poker Club” room, which remained active until the late 1970’s. Presently the Historical Society has about 150 members. Volunteers are responsible for all the operations of the historical society and museum. The Mt. Pulaski Township Historical Society is an Illinois non-for-profit corporation and a 501 c(3) tax-exempt organization. By maintaining this museum, The Mt. Pulaski Township Historical Society hopes to give the generations to come a look into their history and genealogy.
More in depth History...
Mt. Pulaski's town newspaper in September, 1994 reported that the Mt. Pulaski depot, owned by the Illinois Central Railway, was to be torn down. Invitations were sent to fourteen town residents to “talk about” the situation. Twelve people attended the initial meeting. It was the agreement of the group that an organization should be formed to preserve local history, as well as deal with the immediate crisis of the old historic rail depot. The group decided that the rail depot would be an excellent place for the town’s historical museum, but also realized that it would have to be moved from its site.
A committee was formed to prepare by-laws for a local historical society. The following persons served on the original committee: Phyllis Bryson — chairperson. Harry Hild, Jean Martin and John Bates — members. Meetings were scheduled to be held in the First National Bank meeting room on the first Monday of each month. November 7, 1995 was the first meeting. Officers were elected at this meeting and ideas for money-raising projects were discussed.
During this time it was discovered that there was a ”spy” in the Illinois Central Railroad workforce. He informed Elvira Stopher that he wanted to save the depot, and then he sent Waneta Stephens a copy of the letter that he had written to the CEO of the railroad explaining to him about the history of the depot and what the plans were to preserve the structure. Several days later, a call was received from Tom Goodwin, the ICRR general manager. He said he would do what he could to save the depot. The citizens of Latham and Williamsville, who had saved their depots, were very helpful with information to move forward with this project.
At the Historical Preservation organization, an architect was contacted. Also, contacts were made with a coordinator at the National Register and with Congressman Ray LaHood. Mr. LaHood visited our new historical society and promised to help wherever possible. IDOT grants were also investigated.
The first officers of the historical society were: president — Waneta Stephens, vice president — Tom Stephens, recording secretary — Dorothy Curtis, corresponding secretary — Dorothy Curtis, treasurer — John Bates and member-at-large — Jean Martin.
The Canadian National Railway bought the Illinois Central Railroad and gave the Mt. Pulaski Township Historical Society (MPTHS) the depot. The city was unable to help with the move. The plan was to move it across the tracks to the north end of the American Legion lot. Because funds were not available, the depot was eventually torn down.
The MPTHS continued to forge ahead. A small museum opened on April 10, 1999 in the Gupton building (1902 Buckles building — “Meat Market”). Soon, more room was needed. The Harris brother’s lawyer buildings on the south side of the square were for sale (former Mt. Pulaski First National Bank — the Danner building, and the former Romer’s saloon building). Members met with the owners and asked them for the donation of the two buildings. The Harris brothers agreed to donate the building as a tax write-off.
The main floors opened on April 10th, 1999. The second floors opened on December 5th, 2005 after extensive renovation; made possible by Betty Hickey, Jim Irish and many others. These museum buildings are a delight for anyone who stops to visit them. The bottom two floors house the genealogical section, military artifacts, and memorabilia from past businesses and old area families. A special Abraham Lincoln section has been created. Two impressive displays are a period buggy and a wooden vane from one of the original Mt. Pulaski Yankee Windmills. The second floors have eight rooms. Five of them have been decorated and outfitted as a period kitchen, sewing room, bedroom, dining room and parlor. The South-Side club room, a fixture for several generations, has been renovated and re-furnished. The remaining two rooms feature music and sports displays and an early 1900’s school-room setting.
The Historical Society and museum are essential to preserving the history of Mount Pulaski and a compliment to the much-loved Illinois Historic site courthouse across the street where our 16th President of the United States once practiced law on the Illinois Eight Judicial Circuit (1848-1855). And, David Davis was the presiding circuit judge — who later went on to serve on the United States Supreme Court as well as in the United States Senate.