I spent a happy few days visiting my family in southern Illinois last weekend, and squeezed in a first-time trip to the History Museum of Monroe County. Like many Monroe County locals, my family has lived in this area since our ancestors emigrated from Germany in the 19th century. As you can imagine, pride in the community’s culture and history runs deep.
The museum documents a broad timeline of Monroe County history, from prehistoric times to current life, and has an extensive collection of geological artifacts, historical tools, antique furniture, clothing, and more. Here are a few highlights from the museum’s transportation-themed collection.
On display was a red stagecoach with replica horses. Painted on the side is “St. Louis Waterloo Kaskaskia Stage Line” indicating this coach transported travelers up and down the Kaskaskia-Cahokia trail that runs along the Mississippi River. What would be a quick trip in a car today would’ve been a much longer journey when this coach was used.
Here we have a cheerful cart used by postal carriers to deliver mail in the 1920’s. While some postal workers were using vehicles to deliver mail as early as 1912, horse drawn carts like this one were more commonly used for rural routes (as indicated by the “RR”). Nevertheless I think anyone would be delighted to receive a letter delivered from a cart as pretty as this!
This Waterloo Milk Company wagon was of special significance to me, as my paternal grandfather worked for the dairy as a milk man for several years. While this horse drawn wagon was before his time (he drove a milk truck), it is still meaningful. Sadly the company closed in 1969 after 72 years of operation, and the buildings were torn down.
I was very impressed by the condition of this Chummy Roadster. This model was the first V8 Chevrolet made, and the next wouldn’t be until 1955.
Another Chevy in the museum- this one a Corvette from the 1950’s (I *think* 1954, but am not certain. Add a comment if you know for sure!).
For me, the star of the collection was the cast iron storefront from a general store that once operated in the area. Facades like these became popular beginning in the 1850’s once architectural cast iron and glass panes became readily available and affordable. Cast iron store fronts set commercial businesses apart from residential buildings, and as their popularity grew, designs became more elaborate and inspired by architectural movements. And the most amazing aspect – business owners could purchase them from a catalog! Just flip through the pages until you find the look you want and send in your order.This one is from the early 20th century – staff thought perhaps around 1912, and most likely ordered from an iron foundry in St. Louis. The interior was designed to resemble the business owned by H. Schrieber and Sons, a general store that would’ve sold everything from canned peaches to farm tools. I’m happy to see that small towns and historic communities are working to preserve old storefronts like these, and many can be seen in historic downtown areas throughout Monroe County.