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updated: 6/24/2014 9:02 AM

Revived Wauconda Township Historical Society looks to future

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  • Video: Andrew C. Cook House

  • Items are being readied for display by the Wauconda Township Historical Society in the revamped Andrew C. Cook House.

       Items are being readied for display by the Wauconda Township Historical Society in the revamped Andrew C. Cook House.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Pat Oaks, president of the Wauconda Township Historical Society, shows some of the 2,000-plus items in the collection.

       Pat Oaks, president of the Wauconda Township Historical Society, shows some of the 2,000-plus items in the collection.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Bicyclists zip past the Wauconda Township Historical Society, which is experiencing a revival.

       Bicyclists zip past the Wauconda Township Historical Society, which is experiencing a revival.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 

By definition, the Wauconda Township Historical Society is all about the past in an area that has changed considerably since 1850, when Andrew C. Cook replaced his log cabin near Bangs Lake with a brick home.

But these days, the future is a favorite topic as a revitalized organization looks ahead with renewed energy and purpose.

"The historical society was in a hibernation period," said Pat Oaks, the group's new president and Wauconda Township's assessor.

That old brick house at 711 N. Main St., has served as home base for the organization since the 1970s. And as the first interior makeover since 1978 nears completion, the group is ready to re-emerge as an accessible public resource.

"We're trying to get the community involved," to add to the collection and promote and utilize the museum, Oaks said.

During the renovation, which began in March, more than 2,000 artifacts were removed and since have been organized, itemized and inventoried.

"That's huge because people want information but if they can't find the information, there's no use having it," said Lynn McAlister, the historical society's immediate past president. She'll remain as a liaison to the Wauconda Area Library, just a block away from the Cook house, where she works in the reference department.

Volunteers are working to have the refreshed quarters open to the public Sunday, June 29, during Wauconda Fest and plan a grand reopening Aug 24.

The building had been used as a home until the 1970s, when it was acquired by Wauconda Unit District 118. At the time, the historical society presented the school board with a petition signed by 261 township residents to provide space for a museum.

The historical society also presented its mission to Wauconda Township officials. An agreement was reached to lease the building to the township, with the society operating the museum.

Years passed and board members died, moved on or lost interest and the society began to drift. It became hard to reach and did not maximize its offerings despite having two open houses a month during spring and summer.

"We had a lot of good things going on but nobody knew about it," said McAlister, who has a master's degree in history from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. She joined the organization about 10 years ago, not long after moving to the village.

"During my time here, it has not been terribly active. They struggled," she said. "It wasn't any one person's fault. By the time Pat (Oaks) came on, everybody was burned out."

Last fall, McAlister turned to Wauconda Township Supervisor Glenn Swanson, who said he has had a goal to "get it (the Cook house) back up to a place to be shared, used and enjoyed by the residents." He made the case to the township board, which budgeted $38,000 for interior work. This will complete the package. Last year, the township and society split the cost of replacing the roof, and the exterior was painted for the cost of materials through a public service program.

For this upgrade, 14 windows have been replaced, plaster repaired, fresh paint and wallpaper in historical color and styles applied, electric upgraded, floors sanded and refinished, a bathroom installed and picture rail hung in every room.

The plan is to have the parlor, kitchen, dining room and two upstairs bedrooms staged with period items to look as they did in the 1800s. A community room will be available for various public purposes.

After six years as historical society president, McAlister stepped away from that position but is excited for the society and museum going forward.

"It's looking fantastic. It's better organized. I think it will be a good thing," she said. "For it to be better used is ideal."

Swanson has a special event in mind.

"The first township board meeting was held in that house and it has a lot of sentimental value," he said.

"Within the next year, we'll have a real township board meeting in the house again."

For information on the society, visit wauconda-history.org, call (847) 526-9303 go to its Facebook page.

@dhmickzawislak

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