MORRIS — It has been around for nearly 100 years and has had many homes. The Grundy County Historical Society currently resides at 510 W. Illinois Ave. in Canalport Plaza in Morris, and it is getting bigger.
The Historical Society is adding more display room as well as more storage and archive space. That has become a necessity as the donations keep coming, and the Morris Public Library's archive of microfilm, newspapers and birth and death records.
"The library decided it will not be keeping its ephemra, which is anything paper," Historical Society president Donna Sroczynski said. "So, we are going to have it stored here. This is where people will be able to come for research."
There five area sites featured in the Bicentennial Passport, and over the next weeks the Morris Herald-News will profile each one. 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 in, postmarked by Dec. 3, you can be eligible for prizes.
Because of the addition of the archives from the Morris Library, the Historical Society is reviewing its hours of operation, which are currently 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"We are becoming inundated with paper," Sroczynski said. "With the archives from the library, the estate of the late Ken Sereno, and what we already have, we needed to expand the building."
The building is being expanded by 5,000 square feet on the south end.
"We have become the attic of Grundy County," curator Debbie Steffes said.
"Without our volunteers, without our donations and without our members, this museum would not exist," Sroczynski said.
After being housed in the basement of the Grundy County Courthouse, the Historical Society bought a portion of the building at Canalport Plaza, and with the help of such volunteers as Ed Cunnea, Dan Dransfeldt, Ken Sereno and Tim Rice, transformed the space into a walking tour of Grundy County history.
On exhibit are uniforms from World War II, World War I and even the Civil War, as worn by former Grundy residents. There is a collection of old dolls, many glimpses into life throughout history in Grundy County, a model of how the Illinois & Michigan canal worked to transport goods and fossils found in the rich Mazonia area. Included in the fossil collection is an example of the state fossil, the Tully Monster.
"The fossil collection is just gorgeous," Sroczynski said. "Some of it is on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago, so it's only going to be around until April of 2019."
In addition to taking on the library's archives, Srozynski said that the society is regularly contacted by the families of people who have died and left behind a wealth of historical items.
"If the families don't want them or don't have room for them, we will take them and look through them. We get a lot of pictures from albums, we get a lot of old handmade garments, which we will display. We have two 3-ring binders entitled 'Who am I?' Those are pictures that we don't know who the people are. Folks are welcome to come in and look and see if maybe they can identify a relative. These photos go back as far as the 1880s and 1890s."
With the new space coming, the need for new ways to display the items is a big one.
"We are, shall we say, conservative with the money we have," Szroczynski said. "We got some bookcases when Shabbona School closed and was getting rid of them. I went to a Carson's that was going out of business and got three mannequins for $128 each, when one new one costs $495. We don't have a big budget, so we have to spend wisely."
The sifting through of archival material is going to take some time.
"Just because we are merging a lot of collections doesn't mean we are going to be ready with it tomorrow," Sroczynski said. "There is a little of work, and it's messy in the archive room right now, to put it mildly. The word that comes to mind is catywampus."
Sroczynski said that the society raises funds through donations, its gift shop, as well as the Festival of Trees, which is its only fundraiser of the year, and an annual donation from the City of Morris. Also, when folks bring in collections of deceased family members, they sign a waiver allowing the society to sell certain items on eBay. To date, Sroczynski said they have brought in $789 on eBay sales.