The Champaign County Museum is in the heart of downtown Champaign. The town is known for the University of Illinois, Illini country, but if in town, consider learning a bit about some of the past grandeur of this Big Ten College Town.
Part of the fun of this stop is the building itself which is called the Cattle Bank. The historical museum is located at 102 E. University Ave. and was built in the late 1850s. The oldest building is town, it began as a branch of the Grand Prairie Bank, which was Urbana, Champaign’s sister city’s first bank. The name Cattle Bank made sense at the time because Champaign was the southern terminus of a railroad line to Chicago and this was where cattle raisers from the surrounding area drove their cattle to ship to the Chicago market.
After its life as a bank, the building became a grocery store and inside the museum is a wonderful replica of the 20th century grocery store that occupied the Cattle Bank building back in its day. Highlights of the grocery store can be seen in person or if you are unable to travel you can take a trip from your desk chair by viewing it on their online virtual tour. A few of the items include an original typewriter and a turn-of-the-century stove.
The store also includes a very neat old scales and a beautiful wooden ice box. Shelves are stacked with items that might have been found on early 20th century shelves. In the room adjacent to the grocery store there is a display of clothing, which is a recent one put together by a group of students who did some hands on work at the museum. Lovely gowns catch attention offering a glimpse of dance type outfits of days gone by.
One of the outfits in the museum with a local link belonged to the amazing Alison Krauss, a famous blue grass singer that hails from Champaign. The outfit denotes an early award that Krauss won.
Military history is always interesting and the Champaign County Museum has its own Military Room that tells of the history of several wars through the eyes of a central Illinois town. They offer artifacts ranging from a large collection of suits that soldiers wore, to weapons used in combat.
One rather fascinating and very sad item with a local story to do with military is the World War II Airforce uniform on display. This leather jacket and pants with the wool collar and cuffs were to keep the young men from freezing at high altitudes. The owner of the uniform never made it back from a mission and his family donated his extra.
Machinery and technology play a part at the museum, there is a very cool machine they called the Millionaire Calculator on display. The unwieldy looking machine is encased in a mahogany case and this was the first machine capable of making direct multiplication. They were built between 1899 and 1935. Only 4,655 handmade machines were built and the machine was donated by the University of Illinois. Information about the machine says although they were built for business that they were quickly used by scientists.
Children that visit the museum always want insight into what their compatriots were playing with during the early 20th century. The Champaign County Historical Museum features children’s toys, books, and clothing and a large collection of toy soldiers and dolls. Another local link is the artwork of Louise Woodroofe, a prominent local painter and an art professor at the University of Illinois. Information from the museum supplies, “She was especially famous for her paintings of circus life — she traveled with the Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1930s. See several of Woodroofe’s paintings at the Toy Room!”
While only out on special occasions, another traveling exhibit is the gas-powered 1919 popcorn truck that they use to pop popcorn at local events around Champaign County. For more information about this charming museum, log onto http://champaignmuseum.org/.