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Western Illinois Museum Debuts Front Porch

Rich Egger
The band, Topical!, performing on the front porch during the Celebrate Local event hosted by the Western Illinois Museum.

Visitors will notice a new feature at the Western Illinois Museum. An elevated stage has been installed to look like the front porch of a home. Museum Director Sue Scott said it’s a nod to small town life.

“Porches are the places where people pass down their history, share experiences, news, debate politics, have a piece of pie, and enjoy local music,” Scott said. “It’s just a really good metaphor for what we hope local history can be.”

Scott said she hopes the front porch sets the stage for people to engage in local history and artifacts.

The museum has already scheduled a handful of events in 2018 that will utilize the front porch, such as an oral history project featuring letters written by a World War I veteran who received a Purple Heart.

“If you think about it, maybe that family, when the letters were received, they sat on their front porch and read the letters from their son over in France during World War I. So, the porch is sort of creating an experience for our guests when they come into the museum,” Scott said.

Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer
The Western Illinois Museum at the intersection of S Lafayette and Washington Streets

Scott said the Museum has been soliciting feedback from the community about new features to implement and ways to better engage the public. She plans to explore some of the ideas on a smaller scale before tackling a long term goal for the museum of renovating the back room, which is currently used for artifact storage.

Scott said one idea is to convert the back room into a garage. “This building was a long time automobile garage and showroom and the architecture explains that, so maybe nodding to that past of the building and keeping it as a garage and playing with that idea,” Scott said.

Another idea under consideration is installation of an exhibit to explore the history of moonshine and temperance in the region. That could even include a makeshift bar where patrons could sample moonshine and some of the food from the era.  

Scott said that would allow the museum to examine several different parts of local history.

Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer
The back room features a large collection of artifacts, many of which have been donated to the Museum

“There was a real issue when Temperance was a real cause that had to be addressed. So, looking at cars, economics, the regulations put on liquor to help people and understanding alcohol. All these things go into the mix."

If the back room was converted into exhibit space, Scott said the artifacts currently stored there could be shifted to a different area within the building.  “Local history will always be at the core of our mission. We have a wonderful collection of treasures that people have donated to us,” Scott said.

But she said ideally, she wants to create more events and experiences to expand beyond just having an artifact in a case.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.