Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Isabel Taylor
In Robinson, Ill., the Crawford County Historical Society
Museum is trying its best to preserve local history despite financial difficulties.
The red-brick building with glass-block windows in the middle of town happens to be the showcase for centuries of family heirlooms and entities that are of significant historical value.
The museum thrives with artifacts, but the building and volunteers face financial challenges; they don’t always make the monthly $1,300 that they need to maintain facilities. Their annual budget is undefined; they take what they can get, sometimes taking out grants, because they want to keep the museum open to the public in any way they can. Constantly looking for volunteers, the number of partakers has drastically depleted over the years.
“It’s a different mindset this year, it’s not like when we were younger, and everybody wanted to be do-ers of the community, said Sue Jones, secretary of the society.
Getting by with donations, monthly member fees and the volunteers’ own money, the society tries its best to keep the museum up and running.
Sue Jones has been a volunteer in the society for 35 years, actively researching family history. On top of being on the board of officers, she also runs the Facebook page on which they post weekly facts about the county.
The society was started in 1925 but didn’t survive long because of financial instability.
It was later started again in 1967, moving place to place, settling at Lincoln Trail College in 1975, only to move again 16 years later. In 2006 the college sold the Schmidt Clinic on South Cross Street to the historical society for only $10.
The building allowed for the society to showcase artifacts in fifteen rooms, and host events in the main display room. Jones says more than 4,700 citizens a year visit the museum. The society has catered party dinners, and is also working to digitize all their archived newspapers, including the Robinson Daily News and Palestine Pioneer.
Most artifacts were found in the county, donated by local families, Jones said. In the 1800s Crawford County made up most of Illinois (the land before it was a state) at the time. State officials came down to Palestine to file their documents as it was the land office for the entire state. The artifacts vary from Native American clothing to early 20th century Victrolas that still work in pristine condition.
Even as a county with roughly 19,000 citizens, the area is built on two centuries of people, towns, and memories. It was home to L.S. Heath, who began making Heath candy bars. His company later was bought by Hershey Chocolate. James Jones, the award-winning novelist of From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line, was born and raised in Robinson. His book Some Came Running was later produced as a movie starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Arthur Kennedy in 1958. The book was based on Jones’ life in Robinson.
Robinson was also home to the Flying Rousch Brothers, who flew a year after the Wright Brothers. Palestine was home to Elizabeth Reed, who was the first woman executed in Illinois.
The historical society maintains the building through donations which are greatly appreciated, Jones said. As they are preserving artifacts and history, she believes preserving the society and what it is standing for is important.