Barrington Park District joins village in raising concern about donations to history museum

Controversy continues to surround the nonprofit Barrington History Museum as a second village government raises concern about the whereabouts of its donations.

Barrington Park District commissioners Monday night voted 5-0 to send a letter to history museum President and CEO Michael Harkins to relay "the taxpayers' interest in knowing" where the agency's Jewel Tea Co. items are being stored and under what conditions. Harkins, a history professor at Harper College in Palatine, didn't return messages seeking comment Tuesday but previously spoke of plans to build a Jewel visitors center on museum property.

The letter is Barrington park commissioners' first official request regarding the status of the unspecified Jewel donations.

In April, the Barrington village board authorized a letter seeking answers from the museum after receiving complaints, including allegations some visitors have not been allowed to examine documents. Some current and former Barrington families claimed in correspondence to the village that they have been denied access to historic items they donated.

Barrington park commissioners said in the letter the district donated the Jewel memorabilia in 2003 and 2004 after acquiring the company's property near Northwest Highway and Lake Zurich Road. The land became the 45-acre Citizens Park that was officially dedicated in 2007.

Park officials said the museum should address questions about access and other issues that have been raised by the village, residents and others. The letter to Harkins suggests that he contact park board President Linda Hovde to discuss whether the museum would be interested in finding a mediator because of a lack of progress with the village and residents.

"It appears that an impasse has occurred," the letter states, "and the impasse has generated even more concern. Perhaps if the parties could agree to an impartial mediator to step in and assess the situation, both on the part of the museum and the concerned citizens, it would be a big step in alleviating these concerns and bringing all parties to an amicable resolution."

The museum on Main Street features historic photographs, Jewel memorabilia, old newspapers, themed exhibits such as vintage wedding dresses and documents from families who settled the Barrington area. There are four buildings on the site, including the Wichman Blacksmith Shop donated by the village and moved there in 1999.

Harkins has said the facility isn't denying access to anyone, and that items and documents are cared for properly. The museum also provides trunks of historic items for sixth-grade classes in Barrington Area Unit District 220.

During a museum campus tour for the Daily Herald in the spring, Harkins spoke of a plan to build a Jewel national visitors center on the property that would have rotating exhibits and pay homage to Barrington being the grocery company's headquarters from 1930 to 1984.

Harkins also showed a Jewel collection that includes vintage Autumn Leaf china the company once sold door to door. He said the museum attracts many visitors for Autumn Leaf.

Peer Lykke, who chaired the 2015 Barrington Sesquicentennial Committee's history work group, has raised questions about the museum's finances and other matters since April. He spoke during public comment time at Monday's park board session.

"Our (Barrington area) history is there, but you can't see it, you can't get to it," Lykke said.

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  This is part of the Autumn Leaf collection that used to be sold by Jewel Tea Co. and is part of the Barrington History Museum collection. Jewel had its corporate headquarters in Barrington on a site that became Citizens Park. The Barrington Park District has raised concern in a letter about items from the Jewel building it donated to the museum in 2003 and 2004 after acquiring the business' property. Bob Susnjara/
  Michael Harkins, president and CEO of the Barrington History Museum, has said the nonprofit is welcoming to visitors and has taken good care of area artifacts such as this old Barrington Fire Department blazer. Bob Susnjara/
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