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History Museum

YOUR CITY. YOUR HISTORY. YOUR SENSE OF COMMUNITY.

The St. Charles History Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating the St. Charles History Museum and historical archive. The Museum holds more than 10,000 photographs in its library and 15,000 artifacts in its collection.

The Museum is located in the 1928 McCormack Oil Company building at 215 East Main Street. The building served St. Charles as a gas station from 1928 until 1990. After renovations, the Museum opened to the public in May 2001. Prior to 2001, the Museum was located in the St. Charles Municipal Building.

The St. Charles History Museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits, the Colonial Anderson Room, photo and research archives, the Curious Fox Gift Shop, administrative offices, and the storage-preservation repository for the Museum’s collections.

Come visit us today and don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter for the latest news, events, and Museum happenings!

Voted 2021 One of the Finest Museums in Kane County

The St. Charles History Museum has been nominated as one of the Finest Museums in Kane County Magazine’s Finest Reader’s Choice contest! Thousands of readers set their favorite businesses from various categories, including pet care, dining, personal services, etc.

Thank you to all who voted for the St. Charles History Museum. This recognition follows two 2020 Reader’s Choice Awards in the Daily Herald Newspaper and Glancer Magazine.

Visit the St. Charles History Museum to explore our Excellence in Education Exhibit. Our museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Your City. Your History. Your Sense of Community!

VISIT THE MUSEUM

Located on Main Street in downtown St. Charles, the St. Charles History Museum offers rotating temporary exhibits and a permanent display on the history of St. Charles: The Makings of St. Charles

In addition to our exhibit space, the Museum also features the Colonial Anderson Room, The Curious Fox Gift Shop, administrative offices, and storage for the Museum collections.

JOIN US FOR SPRING BREAK - HISTORY HAPPENS HERE!

Who: Children ages 6-12

Watch a Junior Historians video about a history topic in St. Charles and make a take-home craft that goes along with the theme.

Where: St. Charles History Museum, 215 E. Main St., St. Charles, IL 60174

Cost: $5 suggested donation

Craft Schedule:

Tuesday, March 29th: History of St. Charles Dams & Water Power and make your gears!

Wednesday, March 30th: History of Hotel Baker and make your washcloth animal!

Thursday, March 31st: History of Pottawatomie Park and go on a scavenger hunt with your family!

Friday, April 1st: History of postcards and learn to make your berry ink!

Saturday, April 2nd: History of farm life and learn to make your butter!

Note: This program is NOT a camp. The program will last 1-1.5 hours.

Permanent Exhibit - The Makings of St. Charles

The Makings of St. Charles showcases the origins of St. Charles and the many components of its growth. The exhibit traces the city from its roots as a small settlement mile outside of Chicago, from its time as a Civil War training ground to its growth as a getaway destination for city residents, all the way up until the present day. The exhibit highlights the people, places, and things that have helped make St. Charles, Illinois “The Pride of the Fox.”

This project was made possible by generous grants from the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley and Grand Victoria Riverboat Grant and the hard work of our dedicated staff and volunteers.

WHAT IS THE CENTRAL HISTORIC DISTRICT?

Designated by the City in 1995, the Central Historic District encompasses the downtown area and includes the original town of St. Charles as laid out in the 1830s. The District contains the classic Main Street storefront buildings, as well as St. Charles’ most notable architectural icons: the Romantic Revival style 1928 Hotel Baker, the Art Moderne style 1940 Municipal Center, and the Spanish Colonial Revival style 1926 Arcada Theater, all of which are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

The Central District Architectural Survey was completed in 1994. Its purpose was to record each of the 380 primary structures and sites within the area. A survey page was created for each system and site, including a photograph and information about the architectural style, construction date, the integrity of the system, and significant changes or alterations. (Information provided by the City of St. Charles)

ILLINOIS CLEANERS

Illinois Cleaners
315 E. Main St.
Built 1911

Illinois Cleaners was founded in 1911 by George Neumark, who also served as St. Charles’ mayor (1961-1969 mayor). This business flourished until the 1960s when the “polyester years” negatively impacted dry cleaning began, and dry cleaning became a less lucrative industry.

Eventually, William Marberry and his four sons bought not only Illinois Cleaners but also several other Chicagoland dry cleaning businesses.

The new, combined business, starting the company that still inhabits, occupies today’s building. (marberrycleaners.com)

MINARD HALL & JUDGE BARRY'S LAW OFFICE

Minard Hall & Judge Barry’s Law Office
201 E. Main St.
Built 1840’s

Mansard Hall was the city’s first opera house. It featured local entertainment talent, concerts, and political speeches. William and Alonzo Barry also had a law office in the building, and it Is believed that Abraham Lincoln visited the Barry’s here.

This building also functioned as the first St. Charles Public Library from the 1880s until 1906.

ST. CHARLES PUBLIC LIBRARY: CARNEGIE ROOM

St. Charles Public Library
1 S. 6th Ave.
Built 1908

For over 125 years, the St. Charles community has supported and benefited from a library. In 1888, a dozen citizens met to make plans for the first Library Association, legally incorporated in 1889. This subscription library had an annual membership fee of $2.00.

The library location and size have changed over the years. With its first location in rented rooms at 203 E. Main Street, the collection grew to 3,000 volumes by 1900 and circulated approximately 200 books per week.

In 1906, the Association members decided that the Library should become a public institution to serve the entire community better. The township residents voted to form a tax-supported general township library, and the first Board of Directors met on April 18.

After becoming a township library, a letter was sent to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie requesting funds to build a new library. Mr. Carnegie’s secretary responded with a letter dated December 13, 1906, to inform the Library Board that “Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Dollars to erect a Free Public Library Building for St. Charles.” Local donations funded the remainder of the total cost of $15,000.

The site selected for the building was formerly a city refuse dump which later was used as an ice skating rink. Residents on the west side of St. Charles criticized the location due to the Library’s “great distance” from their homes. Chicago architects Phillips, Rogers & Woodyat designed the building, which opened to the public in 1908. The St. Charles Library Association turned over its books to the new Library.

The Library Board asked the voters in 1978 to convert from a township library to a district library that would operate independently from the township government. This change offered the ability to extend the library boundaries beyond the township limits and provide services to unserved neighboring communities and portions of the school district.

Courtesy of the St. Charles Public Library

ROCKWELL HOUSE

Rockwell House
405 E. Main St.
Built 1841

Dr. Thomas Whipple initially constructed them as a residence and medical office in 1841.

Shortly after, Dr. Abel Dewolf purchased the residents and added the second floor in addition to the Italianate features in 1856. Dr. DeWolf took over Dr. Whipple’s medical practice and, for the next 40 years, could be seen traveling throughout Kane and DuPage counties via horseback or buggy.

This was the home of H.T. Rockwell, local postmaster, alderman, and two-term mayor of St. Charles (1885-89).

In 1950, your Funeral Home purchased the property. What is now the parking lot for Yurs Funeral Home is where Col. Edward Baker’s house once stood. That home was moved to State Avenue in 1985.

MCCORNACK OIL CO. BUILDING

McCornack Oil Co. Building
215 E. Main St.
Built 1928

Charles McCornack founded the McCornack Oil Company in 1904. He started the business with ten oil tanks, three wagons, four horses, and several sleighs. The company delivered kerosene to homes and businesses all around the Fox Valley area.

In 1911, McCornack began supplying gasoline and the Excelene brand motor oil to meet the demands of the automobile era. As the business grew, McCornack opened a gas station at 300 West Main Street in 1920 and then spread this gas station on East Main Street in 1928.

The McCornack Oil Co. Gas Station, located at 215 E. Main Street, was the premiere gas station at its construction in 1927. Most stations were small buildings fitted with a restroom, minimal inventory for the attendant, and no indoor service bays for vehicles. The McCornack Oil Co. Gas Station was constructed with an overhead canopy, two heated indoor service bays, separate restroom facilities, and a corporate office overseeing five service stations and bulk plant deliveries.

The building was adapted for use by the St. Charles History Museum in 2001.

Learn about the history

Go online to the museum, and maybe 5 to 6 hours later, you have to take a break but know you have to come back to learn more. 

I remember what St. Charles was like in the 1950s, and the City has certainly come a long way since then. But it is important to remember that this community belongs to all of us, whether you are a lifelong resident like me or a recent transplant. If you are new here, we encourage you to stop by the Museum and learn a bit about the story of St. Charles and get acquainted with “The Pride of the Fox.”

 

157 Years Later: The Battle of Gettysburg

The circumstances leading up to the greatest battle ever fought in the western hemisphere made July 1st-3rd, 1863, some of the most pivotal days in American history. The first shot of the Battle of Gettysburg is credited to Lt. Marcellous Jones, an 8th Illinois Cavalryman who mustered and trained here in St. Charles, IL, at the site of Camp Kane (Langum Park today).

A replica of the First Shot Marker at Gettysburg lies at the southern end of St. Charles’ Langum Park. Lt. Marcellus Jones, who fired the first shot of the battle, trained at this location with members of the 8th Illinois Cavalry before being mustered into service.

Charlemagne

As the story goes, “Charlemagne” is the father of the four foxes who resided on the banks of the Fox River along with the Fox, Potawatomi, and Sac Native American Tribes. Charlemagne learns of the arrival of new settlers to the area and designates his four sons to remain in the Fox Valley to carry on the spirit of civilization into the new era of St. Charles’s settlement.

The four bronze foxes were initially a gift from Herbert T. Crane of the Crane Plumbing fortune. The statues were cast in France and placed to complement the barriers of the Main Street Bridge, designed initially by Lester J. Norris in 1927 and based upon ancient Roman bridges.

As the story reads, the four Foxes symbolize the following:

“I have never given you names, preferring that you be known only as of the four sons of Charlemagne so that there shall always be unity among you for the great tasks ahead. This has been our happy home. The settlement that arises on this river’s banks must develop a character unique among other communities that the white man will settle. I would like you, my four sons, to be the guardians of this growing settlement, to see that it does become a great community in which men can live, work, be educated, worship, and play.”

“You, my firstborn, are to be the guardian of the civic, the business, the industrial life of this community.” “Education will become important in the life of this growing community.

And you, my second son, are to be the guardian of this educational and cultural expression.”

“Soon after this community has been settled, men will band together to worship, and you, my third son, are to be entrusted with the guardianship of this religious expression.”

“Amid this beautiful setting, it is only natural that recreation flourish. You, my last-born, shall be the guardian of this natural expression of a man living in these surroundings.”

“As for me, I shall now leave you to join my Indian friends.” Finishing his talk, Charlemagne then bade farewell to his four sons and walked out of the den into the night and westward.

Today, St. Charles is truly a great community, the Pride of the Fox, located in the Beauty Spot of the Fox River Valley. It is a community where men can live, work, be educated, worship, and play. The guardianship of his four sons is now testamentary to the will of Charlemagne. These four sons of Charlemagne are now represented on the Main Street Bridge, monumental guardians of this community.

If you are a lover of St. Charles’s history, you are likely familiar with the story of the Richards’ Riot. On this date in 1849, the sleepy settlement of St. Charles was turned on its head by an angry mob of protesters who had descended on the town from nearby Sycamore in of the most tragic, wild, and mysterious events in St. Charles’ history.

The building that housed the Franklin Medical College, pictured c. 1900. The building exists as Riverside Pizza and Pub today. SCHM Archives

The building that housed the Franklin Medical College, pictured c. 1900. The building exists as Riverside Pizza and Pub today. SCHM Archives

In 1842, Dr. George W. Richards was part of the early waves of new settlers arriving in St. Charles from New England. Opportunistic entrepreneurs and professionals came out in droves upon learning of these new settlements in the prairies of Illinois, and less than a year after arriving in town, Dr. Richards helped open the new Franklin Medical College at 1st Avenue (Riverside Dr.) and Main Street. The institution was one of the first Medical Colleges in Illinois, and Dr. Richards was selected to serve as its director.

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