Rockford Area Historical Museum strives to open doors in July

For over ten years the basement of the old museum has been the home of a 2,500 pound safe that came from the Hessler  Building in downtown Rockford. It has now been moved to its permanent place in the new museum. It sits proudly against the south wall and has the honor of being the first artifact to be on display.

For over ten years the basement of the old museum has been the home of a 2,500 pound safe that came from the Hessler Building in downtown Rockford. It has now been moved to its permanent place in the new museum. It sits proudly against the south wall and has the honor of being the first artifact to be on display.

After two years of thinking, planning, and talking about moving and expanding their museum, members of the Rockford Area Historical Society, (RAHS), are finally seeing the new museum take shape in the former 63rd District Courthouse in downtown Rockford.

Last month, a large safe, once housed in several drug stores that operated in the Hessler Building at Main and Courtland over the years, was moved into the new museum. Two weeks ago, a horse drawn mail wagon that was used in Rockford almost 100 years ago, joined the safe in its new home. These two treasures from Rockford’s past are just a sampling of the many items that the RAHS has been unable to display in the original Rockford Area Historical Museum, but will be proudly exhibited in the new museum.

Last week, the first structures that will make up the exciting new and interactive displays were delivered and assembled in their places in one of the museum’s two main exhibit rooms. Within another week, large graphics will transform these structures and others into showpieces for the new museum.

The road to this point has not been an easy one. The effort to create a new museum was originally thought to be much too large of a project for the RAHS. The doubters outnumbered the believers, but those believers just kept working toward raising the $325,000 to $350,000 that would turn their dream into reality. Slowly, the doubters became interested parties. Now, when it is clear that the project will succeed, the many interested parties have joined the believers.

Two years after the active drive to create a new museum began, every Rockford area resident and business can be proud of the fact that Rockford will soon be unveiling a new museum that promises to be the standard of excellence for small city museums everywhere. Volunteers are currently in the process of moving all of the records from the old museum into the Burch Room at the new location. The Burch Room is where a group of volunteers led by Pat Frye, the museum’s Research Director, work on maintaining and building the museum’s extensive collection of archives and records and help area residents with genealogical and other research projects. There is a lot of work remaining. Between $30,000 and $50,000 is still needed to complete all of the new exhibits that are planned, and many more volunteers are still needed. An active volunteer team will help to ensure that the new museum will be properly staffed to uphold its commitment to offer extended hours of operation and an increase in the level of services for the community.

Donations to purchase needed displays, materials, supplies, and equipment are being sought. Other funding options include naming rights for some exciting exhibits as well as the two main exhibit rooms, and a proposed “Learning Center” which, if funding for it is found, would be a small presentation theater within the museum. This unique facility would be used for many museum purposes including puppet shows that will be regularly planned events for our young visitors. It is possible that The Learning Center could also be made available for use by local groups such as scouts and other small organizations that need a place for small group presentations or meetings.

The dream of a new museum is now a reality. The new Rockford Area Museum, (R.A.M.), does exist and is looking forward to opening its doors soon. With all the excitement that has been building, the main question on everyone’s mind is “When will the new museum open?” The answer is that the first of two main rooms is expected to open sometime in early July. An ambitious schedule would have the second room fully open in time for “Museum Weekend” at the end of September, which will include our annual auction and the start of the annual scarecrow building fund raiser. While the dates are not yet certain, it is a certainty that Rockford will have a museum that will be a source of pride for every resident and business in the area. All help is appreciated. No donation is too small. Every dollar counts.

Any individual, business, or organization that may be interested in donating, volunteering, or funding a specific display or exhibit area, are asked to contact the museum by email at rockfordmuseum@gmail.com or by calling Al Pratt at 485-4144 or Terry Konkle at 866-0530 for details.

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