The old wooden floors squeak as George Rowe wanders through the history of his town.
He speaks almost in a whisper as he walks through the Elgin History Museum, as if he doesn't want to disturb the 159-year-old landmark. But as he covers the three floors of the majestic building, his passion for the history of Elgin presented here loosens his control and quickens his pace. He is excited by the City of Elgin and what it once was.
He laughs as he speaks about the 10,000 artifacts owned and maintained by the Elgin Area Historical Society, and housed in the building known as Old Main. For Rowe, even the building imparts a rich sense of history.
"It's a historical thread that runs through (the museum). It's tremendous!" Rowe says.
As president of the Elgin Area Historical Society, he oversees the 15 or so items that are added to the collection every month in the museum on Park Street, on the campus of Elgin Academy.
The building itself is a significant historical item. Built in 1855, it was the first high school in Illinois. It's architecture is largely unchanged.
Rowe started creating displays in the museum when his wife was on the Historical Society board two decades ago. That's when his interest in Elgin history bloomed.
He tells the story of the original six-foot clock hands that were on the clock tower of the Elgin Watch Company for many decades. The company closed after more than 100 years of operation and the tower was torn down.
The significance of the clock hands was perhaps lost, and Rowe remembers seeing them displayed as decoration on a local residential garage before one of the pair came to the museum.
He steps carefully through the third floor of the museum, where most of the artifacts are stored and archived. He points out a civil war drum, decades old clothing and uniforms, sewing machines, watch factory items, the original charter for Elgin Academy, and photographs piled floor to ceiling. All of the items have some connection with Elgin.
"We are trying to be the Elgin Area Historical Society, so if something comes in that doesn't have anything to do with Elgin, we're probably going to just pass it on," he explains.
As closing time approaches on a recent day at the museum, Rowe looks around at the impressive displays before locking the doors.
"Isn't that something?" he laughs.