SENECA – The village always was known as Seneca, but that was not the official name until 1957. When the town was founded in the 19th century as the Illinois and Michigan Canal was built through it, it was named Crotty, after Jeremiah Crotty, one of the town’s founders.
In those days, towns were recognized by the name on the train depot, and Crotty the man had angered the railroad enough that there was no way they were putting his name on the depot.
The story is one of the many featured at the Seneca Area Heritage Museum, and are featured in the Bicentennial Passport and will be in the Morris Herald-News in the following weeks.
Between July 1 and Nov. 30, participants can receive a stamp in their passport at each site. There are 56 across Illinois. If you mail your passport, postmarked by Dec. 3, you will be eligible for prizes.
“Seneca has a history that is very interesting,” said Sandy Timmons, director of the Seneca Historical Guild. “We want young people to know what saved Seneca through the years.”
The exhibits chronicle the businesses and larger historical movements that have shaped the village. The exhibits are laid out in the fashion of an alphabet, and not necessarily chronologically. The impact of agriculture, the canal, the rails, DuPont and the LST shipyards are all told in the story of Seneca.
The story of Crotty, both the man and the village, are somewhere in the middle.
Crotty, who made his fortune by designing tools to build the canal, owned a plot of land that would connect the proposed railroad from Rock Island to Joliet. He knew what it was worth, and held out until he got what he wanted, guild treasurer Doug Wood said.
It held up construction for months before the railroad finally paid what Crotty asked.
In the end, however, people would get off at the Seneca depot, and that was what the town was called. The museum has the official seal of the village on display.
The museum came about because of the Seneca Regional Port District, a government entity originally set up to allow the local government to make use of the old shipyards that went quiet after the war.
“They wanted to use the funds they’d accumulated over the years,” Wood said. “At first they wanted to turn the depot into a visitors center.”
The old depot had fallen into disrepair. The port district moved it across the street to its present location – west of Main Street and south of the train tracks – and renovated it.
“Everything they did was first class,” Wood said.
The creation of the museum was helped in large part by Chas and Marcy Raleigh, a couple from Elmhurst who had helped set up other local history museums, Wood said.
Most of the exhibits are assembled from donated items. Gwen Williamson of Morris donated the champagne bottle her mother has used to christen the first LST to come out of the shipyards during World War II. Another exhibit includes items from James Andrew Jones, a Seneca resident killed in action in 1967 at Da Nang.
Most exhibits feature individuals from the town’s history. That’s intentional.
“A town’s history is more about its people than its businesses,” Timmons said.
A display shows Timmons’ father as he rode on the Interurban railroad that connected almost all of northern Illinois in the early 20th century.
The museum’s hours during the summer are from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s located at 431 N. Main St., Seneca.