Columns | Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Land of a thousand (and counting!) museums

In this space, we celebrate Illinois.

Since launching in May 2020 I’ve invited readers to share their favorite restaurant menu items, “Made in Illinois” holiday gifts and off-the-beaten path tourist spots. In August I wrote about “Fresh Air Friendship,” the joint venture of two Chicago women documenting their journey to all 132 state parks.

Today we bring a new challenge: visiting every one of the state’s museums. Hitting one a day means checking off the whole takes more than three years.

Yes, the Illinois Association of Museums lists 1,088 member institutions, from the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum to the Zion Historical Society. At, users can browse an alphabetized list, break down options by county or search a chosen radius from a given ZIP code. That’s not a comprehensive roster, as some museums aren’t members, and it’s not done growing.

Scott T. Holland

Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf recently interviewed John Mars, who wants to develop three new museums at the old Pheasant Run Resort property on Illinois 64 just north of the DuPage Airport. The ideas include a Chicago Sports Hall of Fame and a physical home for Mars’ Yes To Vets service organization, where a “museum would pay homage to our veterans and military … as well as our dedicated first responders and volunteers.”

The goals are lofty, but ideas are free and there are thousands of Illinoisans hard at work every day trying to preserve history for public enjoyment and education.

Consider another weekend story, Bob Okon’s report in the Joliet Herald-News of a presentation at the Joliet Area Historical Museum marking the 65th anniversary of the disappearance of Molly Zelko, a reporter for The Spectator who wrote about organized crime and corruption.

Zelko’s nephew, James Zelko, said he would’ve been thrilled with a dozen attendees, but about 200 turned out to hear from speakers, including Lonny Cain, himself a former Herald-News reporter and the managing editor who hired me at The Times in Ottawa in 2007.

You don’t know Lonny without understanding his passion for solving Molly’s mystery, but the museum is doing great work to bring the story to a larger audience, which includes producing a podcast and hosting events like Saturday’s discussion.

Thousands of other stories stay alive through museums and historical societies statewide. Maybe it doesn’t take all day to fully experience the Amboy Depot Museum in Lee County or Oswego’s Little White School Museum, but think of the enrichment available just by visiting even one-tenth of these institutions. Many cost little or nothing to visit, though almost all gladly accept donations.

What’s your favorite Illinois museum? Maybe you know of an uncovered niche. Send emails. Select responses printed as space allows.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at