The Lake County Museum opened in 1976, the United States bicentennial year. It was a year when many community museums opened across the country to celebrate local history, said Katherine Hamilton Smith, director of cultural resources for what is now the Lake County Discovery Museum.
It’s 35 years later and the museum has grown from an organization largely run by volunteers to a professional, accredited institution. As the museum plans its move to a larger facility in Libertyville, which is about two years in the future, it is asking county residents for their views with an online survey.
“We want to hear from public. The survey has a link for people who have been here and those who haven’t. We want to make this the community, the people’s museum and we want the engagement of public. We want them to tell us what they want,” Hamilton Smith said.
Hamilton Smith explained that the new facility would provide better storage space for museum collections, more space for exhibits, and a central location that has visibility.
She stressed that the museum isn’t totally leaving Lakewood Forest Preserve.
“Our major programming – the Civil War Days, Farm Heritage Days – will still be here at Lakewood. This site is absolutely beautiful and it will remain beautiful,” Hamilton Smith said.
The new museum space is located off Winchester Road, east of Route 45, in Libertyville, in an office building purchased by the Lake County Forest Preserve in May 2010. The forest preserve is consolidating its staff and departments into the new site. The museum, which is part of the forest preserve district, would use the main floor for exhibits and the second floor for storage, Hamilton Smith said.
The museum would more than double its exhibit space by moving to the new site, Hamilton Smith said. Between exhibits, the museum at Lakewood Forest Preserve has two to four weeks of downtime, which could be eliminated with more gallery space.
The central location is viewed as more accessible for and more visible to residents throughout the county.
“It makes sense to move to a central location. It’s fair whether you live in Barrington or Zion,” Hamilton Smith said.
Perhaps one of the most important arguments for moving the museum is to better preserve its collections.
The museum is home to the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, which is the largest public collection of postcards in the world. The museum is also the keeper of the Lake County History Archives. “Collections should not be in this type of building, where it’s hard to regulate temperature and humidity,” Hamilton Smith said.
“In a way, the move offers us the best of both worlds. Lakewood Forest Preserve isn’t going anywhere, but we can move our collections into a better situation for their care,” Hamilton Smith said.