Suburban museums educate about history, art, transportation

What can you learn at suburban museums?

How cornmeal is made, the value of a blacksmith shop to 1830s white settlers, the kinds of weapons soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division used in four wars and what Batmobiles look like up close.

You can also learn about the Holocaust, rail transportation and the life of one of America's most beloved preachers.

Trains, planes, automobiles

The Illinois Railway Museum in Union features trolleys, diesel engines, steam locomotives and more. It also has railroad memorabilia, such as the china used in dining cars. It is open from April through October, plus there are two Christmas-holiday exhibits in December. Visitors can ride on much of the equipment.

For planes, try the Air Classics Museum at the Aurora Municipal Airport in Sugar Grove, or the Illinois Aviation Museum at Clow International Airport in Bolingbrook.

If automobiles are more your speed, there is the Volo Auto Museum in Volo and Military Experience in Volo. You can see Batmobiles from the 1966 television show and the 1989 Michael Keaton movie; one of the Dodge Chargers that played the General Lee on "The Dukes of Hazzard" television show; armored personnel carriers, Jeeps and other vehicles from several wars; and a disabled improvised explosive device from the Iraq War.

19th Century life

Naper Settlement features 20 buildings depicting 19th-century life, on 12 acres near downtown Naperville. Some are original historical buildings, while others are modeled after buildings of their times, such as the blacksmith shop. It hosts many special events, including a Civil War encampment and battle re-enactment, a summer day camp and Christmastime tours of the Martin Mitchell Mansion. It is open year-round for tours and other presentations. And its Century Memorial Chapel is a popular spot for weddings.

Billy Graham

In Wheaton, learn about the effect of Christian evangelism, in North America and worldwide, at the Billy Graham Center Museum on the grounds of Wheaton College. Historical artifacts and contemporary artwork, including Frederick Hart's "The Cross of the Millennium," are featured. The center also has materials chronicling the career of its namesake, legendary 20th-century evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham and the history of evangelism in the United States. The current main exhibition is "Messiah," calligraphy artist Timothy Botts' take on Handel's oratorio "The Messiah."


An unfortunate part of life - war - is the focus of the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Winfield. The museum focuses on the weapons and battles of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, from its roots in the Revolutionary War to its official start in World War I through the Iraq War. It includes the 11-vehicle Tank Park.

The finer things

You can get your culture on at two places in Elmhurst: The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, and the Elmhurst Art Museum.

The Lizzadro Museum is dedicated to the art of cutting and polishing stones, such as jadeite and topaz. The stones are used in works of art, such a Chinese jade hanging vase that inspired an Elmhurst resident to start the collection.

It shares a park with the Elmhurst Art Museum, known for its exhibits of contemporary art and for the Mies van der Rohe-designed McCormick House.


The world's largest collection of postcards - about 400,000 of them - can be found in the Curt Teich Postcard Archives at the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda. The Teich Co. produced postcards for 80 years for hotels, businesses, cities and other attractions worldwide.

"The Cross of the Millennium" at Billy Graham Center Museum at Wheaton College. Daily Herald file photo
A view inside the McDonald's Store No. 1 Museum, a replica of the first McDonald's store, in Des Plaines. Daily Herald file photo
A museum educator at Naper Settlement demonstrates forging for school kids. Daily Herald file photo
Jason Maxwell, a steam department volunteer at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, starts the day by removing a cap, which is used to keep rain out of the exhaust stack of Frisco 1630. Daily Herald file photo
The World War I trench warfare exhibit at the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton. It chronicles the history of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. Daily Herald file photo
The World War I trench warfare exhibit at the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton. The museum focuses on the weapons and battles of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. Daily Herald file photo
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