Dunn Museum – A Fun Place for Kids
Lake County now has a larger and more modern museum detailing its history, located in Libertyville. Dubbed the “Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County,” it is located in a modern office building at 1899 W. Winchester Road, rather than in the aging Wauconda barns where the County’s history had previously been showcased for 40 years.
“The Lake County Forest Preserve District did an analysis of its buildings and determined that our previous museum buildings were ‘old’ but not ‘historic’. They were in bad shape; would have been expensive to repair; and there was little of historic significance left,” said Nan Buckardt, the district’s director of education.
So they decided to consolidate forest preserve district offices and the museum into one location, purchasing a Libertyville office building in 2010. In August 2016, museum personnel shuttered the former Discovery Museum in Wauconda and began dismantling it and packing 20,000 artifacts for the massive move.
“We really felt it was important to safeguard our priceless artifacts in perpetuity,” Buckardt said. “Now we have great storage facilities which are efficient and climate-controlled.”
The new museum, named for the county’s first official historian, has double the gallery space for exhibits, dedicated teaching areas and even a research center which is open to the public. The museum features both authentic artifacts displayed in protected cases, and reproductions that visitors can actually touch. “Arrive Curious” is the slogan for the new facility.
The Dunn Museum takes visitors of all ages on a chronological walk through time in Lake County, punctuated by five short, animated films narrated by newsman Bill Kurtis. It starts with prehistoric times and progresses through “The First People,” to “An American Frontier,” “Innovations and Preservation,” which focuses on railroads, industry and agriculture, and ends in the “Woodland Theater,” which showcases the work of the forest preserve district.
“The new museum is very exciting,” said Craig Taylor, Lake County board member for the Lake Zurich area. “It has something of interest for all age levels and is first rate in every detail. It’s located almost in the center of Lake County and is just an easy 15- to 20-minute drive from the Lake Zurich area. There is plenty of parking and once inside there is plenty to see and do. It’s well worth your time to visit. You won’t be disappointed, promise!”
Visitors will see not only a 25-foot long, life-sized replica of Dryptosaurus, a dinosaur which historians believe roamed Lake County 67 million years ago, but also a replica of a saber-tooth tiger skull and an archaeological dig table where children can pretend to be paleontologists. Then they can learn about the county’s first people – Native Americans – and explore a wigwam, created with help from Native American tribe members.
Next they may learn about the non-native people who settled in the County; view a one-room schoolhouse; and learn about life in Lake County during the Civil War. The final exhibit section enlightens visitors about the expansion of the railroad, industry and agriculture and features a very popular train table where children may manipulate trains. The history of the Chain O’ Lakes is also covered.
All of the exhibits also chronicle how Lake County’s landscape has changed over the years. Mapping technology is used to allow visitors to see how various geographic areas looked years ago and how they look now.
Finally, visitors may enjoy the Woodland Theater where the work of the forest preserve district itself is showcased. It is also worth noting that special exhibits will rotate through museum. The current exhibit showcases items gathered by the Lake County History Alliance in honor of Illinois’ Bicentennial. Select objects on display include a vaudeville trunk from Waukegan and Hawthorn Mellody Farm memorabilia from Vernon Hills, Buckardt said.
“We have had fabulous attendance since we re-opened in March. In fact, we doubled our attendance over the last year that we were operating in Wauconda because everyone is curious,” she added. “And we have had very favorable comments.”
The Dunn Museum and its gift shop are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission rates vary but can be reviewed at www.lcfpd.org/museum/.
Visitors may tour free from 5 to 8 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of every month.
Field trips by school and scout groups are welcomed.
Village of Lake Zurich Park and Recreation Department
Village of Deer Park
Village of Hawthorn Woods Park and Recreation Department
Village of Kildeer
Long Grove Park District
Village of North Barrington