The Lake County Discovery Museum may have seemed smaller to some who hadn't been there in awhile, but the memories remained clear as visitors had a last look Wednesday.
The museum, which has been a destination since it opened 40 years ago at a former dairy farm at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, is now closed as the Lake County Forest Preserve District is preparing to relocate and reopen it in a year or so at its headquarters in a Libertyville business park.
"We used to come here all the time when we were growing up," said Jena Matuszak, who was visiting her friend Casey Benning. "This was such a huge part of our childhood."
So it has been with generations of visitors to the serene setting in the woods off Route 176.
Matuszak and Benning grew up in Wauconda, and though they live in different communities, decided one more visit was in order. They were joined Wednesday by a steady but modest stream of others who had heard this was it for the museum at Lakewood.
"When I heard it was going to an office building, I said, `Really?' I'll be interested to see how they make that appeal to the public," said Dodi Durgin of Antioch, who made an impromptu final visit.
"A museum in a business building doesn't have the same feel," she said.
While patrons said they would visit the new location, the loss of the country setting was a common sentiment.
District officials say the museum is moving to provide an appropriate environment for tens of thousands of items and greater public access to a broader selection of materials than currently can be displayed.
"We can't try to recreate Lakewood in Libertyville," acknowledged Andrew Osborne, superintendent of educational facilities.
Osborne, whose office has been at the museum complex at Lakewood for 18 years, described the move as bittersweet but added the exterior of a building doesn't define what's inside.
"The museum, at its heart, is its collections," he said. "At the end of the day, I think we'll have a much better museum in Libertyville than we have in Wauconda."
Collections feature 20,000 individual objects, which include everything from an iron lung to a full-size saddle maker's horse and the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, the largest public collection in the world. Ownership of the postcard collection is expected to be transferred to the Newberry Library in Chicago, which was among the adjustments to the scope of the museum plan made after a $750,000 state grant was suspended as part of the state's financial woes.
The move has been planned and discussed for five years, but some residents feel the district has not been open and are concerned with the future of the 80-year-old dairy buildings. The disposition will be determined as part of a pending master planning process for the entire preserve, district officials said.