Times have changed
By Tony Zehnder
Interested in a 1911 vacuum
cleaner? How about a shingle machine
from 1844, or a ten cent paper bill or
a brick signed by Colonel Baker?
If your interests lie elsewhere, there
is always the first water main in St.
Charles, old keys to the City and a
picture of the 1917 Belgium-American
The St. Charles Historical Society
Museum in the north end of the City
Municipal Building, has a little bit of
everything relating to older times in
St. Charles. The collections of artifacts
and mementos have outgrown the
room they are stored in, but if you
scrounge around, or ask Rev. David J.
Ekstrom, the curator, you can
probably find things you never knew
The museum, which attracts over
100 visitors a week on the average, has
been in the Municipal Building since it
According to Rev. Ekstrom, most of
the items are donated or loaned to the
museum. Nothing is bought or loaned
Pictures are a strong point of the
collections, with over 500 scenes and
events of the City stored in old
There are pictures of most of the
older buildings which have long ago
been replaced, and pictures of once
famous houses such as the mansion of
L.C. Ward which stood on the hill in
Everything in the museum has some
kind of story behind it, even the name
of the City. According to Rev.
Ekstrom, after Shelby and Franklin
first settled here in 1833 the Germans
came in 1839 and the Swedes followed
about ten years later.
The city was called Charleston at
first, but it was discovered that
another Charleston already existed in
Illinois. The name Ethica was
proposed, but the Germans voted it
down. Finally a committee arrived at
the name St. Charles.
Rev. Ekstrom also described a one
day war with Sycamore in the 1840's.
Apparently, the first medical school in
the area was located where the
Borman Hardware store was (the west
wall is the original) on First Avenue.
As the story goes, a medical student
had taken a cadaver from Sycamore to
use in his studies, but the outraged
citizens of Sycamore stormed over to
St. Charles for a battle that lasted one
day and resulted in the student and
one doctor being killed.
The first issue of the first newspaper
in St. Charles, called "The Charles
Patriot and Fox River Advocate",
February 5, 1842, is on display. The
stories in the paper tell much about
the times as evidenced by one notice
offering a six cent reward for
information about a 12 year-old girl
who ran away from home.
The museum also holds a unique
collection of dioramas, scale model
scenes of the city, created by Alice
For those with an interest in the
past, when horses wore mud shoes and
people used foot warmers, the
museum is the place to go.
The visitation hours are from
1-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and
Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on
Saturday. Other hours by
appointment, call 584-0143.