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Grundy County Historical Museum celebrates anniversary

MORRIS – The Grundy County Historical Museum was honored with an anniversary bash Tuesday night, celebrating the fifth year in its new building in the CanalPort Community Center in Morris.

Members of the Grundy County Historical Society stationed themselves at various displays throughout the museum, telling visitors tales of the old days and showing off the museum’s collections.

Although the society was founded in 1923, it was only in 2009 that it was able to purchase space for itself. Before moving into its current building, the museum rented a much smaller space on the corner of Liberty Street and Illinois Avenue in Morris.

“It’s been a long-held dream for years to have our own space,” said the society’s president, Donna Sroczynski. “We just didn’t have the money. To have this space is a wonderful thing. It gives people a chance to touch the past.”

Arthur Hornsby Jr. was stationed at the photograph exhibit, where he shared the history of downtown Morris retail through photos. He was the one to tell the stories: The Hornsby family has a strong business history in town. His father, Arthur Hornsby Sr., first worked for Hertz Variety Store on Liberty Street.

Fred Hertz later sold the store and went in business with his brother John, who founded Yellow Cab in Chicago. Both also went on to establish Hertz Rent-a-Car.

In 1922, Hornsby Sr. established his own nickel and dime store at the current site of Ebbey George’s. His son showed museum visitors a photo of Hornsby Sr. with his first customer, Mrs. Walter Hanley.

Hornsby Jr. said retail was much different in those days.

“There wasn’t a lot of shelving,” he said. “The merchandise was on countertops. It was unpacked and marked in the basement.”

Only a few items were on the main floor, and the girls at the counter would send notes to the boys in the basement when items needed to be brought up. Hornsby Jr. also worked in the store and said that circa 1955, he designed a counter for the store that went from the floor up and could hold more merchandise. That’s about the time self-service in stores came around, he said.

Hornsby Jr. said the museum is a nice addition to the community.

“It’s good to get to know the history of our county and the work our forefathers did on our behalf,” he said. “Back then, the business owners talked to the public, worked with the public and were the backbone of the community. They made the community better.”

He and Diane Rooney swapped downtown stories at the event. Rooney’s father, “Riz” Chouinard, owned Riz’s Grocery.

Volunteer Joan Bledig and visitor Zan Higgins also swapped stories at the fossil exhibit. Bledig told of an area around the Mazon Creek known as Francis Creek Shale where many fossils of ancient plants and animals have been unearthed.

Higgins said it’s a spot of world interest. Her family twice hosted a visiting Yale University Ph.D. student who used the Higgins farm as access to the site for her research.

Volunteer Ginny Bellamy of Morris, hosted the schoolhouse and gave visitors questions from a 1895 eighth-grade final exam that included grammar, arithmetic, U.S. history, orthography and geography. She also read from a McGuffey’s Third Reader, a donation from Morris resident Diane Lucas.

Mary Warrick, who worked at Baum’s store in Morris for 31 years, hosted the museum’s dry goods store, which is typical for a 1900-era store, she said. Warrick said the antique cash registers were still used up to 1976 when she worked there.

Dan Dransfeldt was one of the volunteers who remodeled the museum five years ago, along with Ken Sereno and Ed Cunnea. He hosted the old time tool shed exhibit Tuesday night.

“We’re very proud of it, and the people who come here are pretty amazed,” he said of the museum. “I wish we had more room because we’re a little limited for storage.”

Sroczynski said the evening’s celebration also was a fundraiser. The museum needs more storage space, she said.

“We are out of space now,” she said. “We need to do an addition to this building. We are delighted with all the donations we’ve received, but we need a climate-controlled area for them.”

Many of the museum’s items, such as textiles, military uniforms and glass plates, need carefully-controlled temperatures and humidity levels, she said.

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