In 1845, Capt. Daniel Wright, Lake County's first permanent nonnative settler, bought three yards of fabric, a dozen buttons, six skeins of thread, tea, a dipper, a shovel and other items at Easton's general store.
Researchers know that because the transaction is elegantly scripted in a store ledger -- considered one of the jewels among the Lake County Discovery Museum's varied and highly-regarded collections.
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"Besides the census, this is the only known document that establishes that Captain Wright lived here," said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, which runs the museum.
The log is one example of the variety of objects -- from a 420 million-year-old fossil unearthed in Lindenhurst to the Hazeltine 1500 computer used in the 1970s at Barat College -- that comprise a priceless historical past.
What happens next with the museum in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda is being reassessed. Will all or some of the collections and exhibits be moved to the district's general offices in Libertyville, and when will that happen? How will the museum and its offerings be connected to other district amenities? These are among the questions officials must answer as they consider the future of one of the district's greatest assets.
Hamilton-Smith's observation was made last week during one in a series of presentations for forest board commissioners as district officials consider what's next for the nationally accredited museum, operated since 1976 in former dairy farm buildings at Lakewood.
"You only get to do this once and we want to do it right," forest board President Ann Maine said.
To that end, elected decision-makers have been getting a refresher on the actual and intrinsic value of the museum as they consider how best to leverage those strengths to inform people of the district's broader palette of offerings.
"We want to figure out the best way to preserve and display both our cultural and natural resources," Maine said. "What is engaging people? What do we change? How do we set something up to engage them and keep them engaged in Lake County history, cultural resources and the environment?"
And there is fertile territory to mine. In the past 20 years, the district said, the museum has served 742,101 people through exhibitions, programs, events, research services and other activities.
Executive Director Ty Kovach said he will be working on a business plan for the museum.
"How can we leverage our museum to make people understand what else is out there in the forest preserves?" he asked.
A condition assessment of the structures at Lakewood -- part of a detailed study of facilities districtwide -- could affect the answer. Results are expected to be presented in coming months.
"We really need to look at the numbers to see if there are other options, maybe not just one spot," Kovach said. "We need to go through a discovery process to see how we want to do that."
The district in early 2010 announced plans to consolidate operations in a three-story, former Motorola office building at 1899 W. Winchester Road in Libertyville. The intent was to eventually relocate the Discovery Museum there and increase the number of offerings on public display.
Operations were moved in fall 2011, but the disposition of the museum essentially has been on hold since former Executive Director Tom Hahn announced his retirement, and the search for a replacement and eventual hiring of Kovach ensued.
Since he took over last June, Kovach has been examining the district and its facilities from top to bottom and has formulated a 100-year vision with the idea that projects, including the museum, are revisited through a long lens. All individual departments are being examined to determine how they fit in the strategic vision.
In this case, that involves educating forest district commissioners on the value of one of its major assets as they determine its best use going forward.
"Now we're working on strategic direction -- 'This is what you have. Here are the opportunities.' Is there another way of thinking about that? It's circling back to make sure everybody is on board," Kovach said.
Earlier this year, commissioners were told that depending on inflation index, the appraised value of the 35,500 objects and a portion of the world renowned Curt Teich Postcard Archives, is between $10 million and $83 million.
But that's not the bottom line that matters.
"It's the one place you can go to find out all the (historical) information about Lake County. It's consolidated, we're unique in that respect," Kovach told commissioners. "The value is we're recognized nationally and we have the responsibility of safeguarding it."
One clear direction is relocating the Teich archives and the museum's archival collection of objects to the Libertyville office. With 3 million postcards and related items, it is "widely regarded as the largest and most comprehensive public collections of postcards in the world," Hamilton-Smith said.
The district has applied for a $750,000 state grant to be used to prepare a space there for the archives and expects to learn the outcome this summer.
"It would be a permanent location for it and this is where people would come to use it," she said.
Meanwhile, the archives building at Lakewood has been temporarily closed because of a structural issue and 104 filing cabinets of postcard art files are being stored in Libertyville.