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Columns

Picturing the Past With ... the St. Charles History Museum

As we end 2017 and plan for 2018, we at the St. Charles History Museum are looking back at the past 85 years.

In 1933, St. Charles residents set out to mark the centennial of the city’s founding. A portion of that work involved organizing an exhibit of artifacts, documents and antiques illustrating St. Charles history. It wasn’t long before they realized that this exhibit could become the foundation for a historical museum.

After the centennial celebration, the collection was displayed and stored at Colson’s Department Store at the corner of Main and Second street. However, on Christmas Day 1933, a fire swept through Colson’s. Anything in the collection that was paper or wood was destroyed. But literally from the ashes, the St. Charles Historical Society was born to preserve what remained.

Col. Edward J. Baker and Lester and Dellora Norris appreciated the heritage of their hometown. When they commissioned R. Harold Zook and D. Coder Taylor to design the new Municipal Building in 1938, Baker, Lester and Dellora Norris directed the architects to create a safe haven for the museum. When completed in 1940, the Municipal Building included 1,800 square feet of space for its collection, complete with 16-foot ceilings and display cases that were designed to match the interior of the building.

The historical society eventually changed its name to the St. Charles Heritage Center in early 1996. The center moved in 2000 from the Municipal Building to the 1928 McCornack Gas Station and began operation in 2001. Executive Director Alison Costanzo and staff rebranded the organization as the St. Charles History Museum in 2015 and set their sights on refreshing the permanent exhibits. Since 2015, the St. Charles History Museum has been able to secure grants and gifts to fund the permanent exhibit project, which will be finished by early 2018.

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