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Illinois State Museum History

  Illinois State Museum History   

Beginning with a relatively small but creditable "cabinet" of geological specimens in 1877, the Illinois State Museum has grown to be one of the major state museums in the country, with extensive collections in the natural sciences, anthropology, and art. The history of that notable geological collection which became the nucleus of the ISM dates back to 1851 with the formation of the first State Geological Survey.

By the 1890s, the natural history and anthropological collections had grown significantly as the result of numerous donations of private collections. Exhibits, for the first time, began to be developed as a discrete program. In 1903 the collection was moved from the State Capitol to the new State Arsenal where the exhibits were more accessible to the public. Over the next ten years, efforts were made to properly house the collections which had doubled in size during this decade.

Dr. Alja R. Crook was hired as director in 1906 and over the next two decades was a major force in the professional development of the Illinois State Museum. Through his efforts the Illinois State Academy of Science was founded in 1917. This organization has a close association with the ISM to this day. That same year, state government was reorganized into code departments and the museum's official name was changed to the Illinois State Museum; the new statutes also provided for a Museum Board and set forth the purpose of the museum - to collect items of natural history and to use these for public education. Anthropology and art departments were added in the 1920s.

In 1923 the ISM was moved to a newly completed building to commemorate the state's centennial. Occupying twelve rooms of this building, the museum was considered one of the best-housed in the country. The first generation of large habitat groups was installed. During the war years planning began for a new museum building that would have a major educational impact on Illinois. This plan was finally achieved during the early 1960s when on February 4, 1962, a new facility was opened. Two floors were devoted to exhibits, the first floor to geology and natural history and the second to anthropology and art.

In 1945 the state acquired the Dickson Mounds Site, a 162-acre tract in Fulton County, one of the richest archaeological regions in the country. The Dickson excavation, located on the property, had attracted the attention of archaeologists from many universities. University of Chicago archaeologists who excavated in Fulton County in the 1930's established many of the methods and field techniques there that are now used in modern archaeology. Dickson Mounds Museum was opened in 1972 as the ISM's branch facility. Controversy over the display of Native American remains resulted in closure of the burial site in 1992. The State of Illinois agreed to invest in major improvements and the museum was closed to the public in 1993 so that the work could commence. After extensive renovations, the museum was rededicated on September 14, 1994.

The Illinois State Museum was first accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1972. Two years later the museum was elected into membership by the Association of Systematics Collections.

Several branch facilities have been added in the last decade. In 1985 the Illinois Art Gallery opened in Chicago. The Illinois Artisans Program was also created in 1985. Together with the Museum Society, the ISM began managing three artisans shops: the Illinois Artisans Shop, Chicago, in 1986; the Southern Illinois Arts and Crafts Marketplace, Rend Lake, in 1991; and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site Artisans Shop, Springfield, in 1991. The Lockport Gallery, Lockport, opened in 1987. The Southern Illinois Art Gallery opened in 1993 at SIACM, Rend Lake.

In 1988 the Illinois State Museum acquired a 97,000 square-foot facility to renovate for use as a Research and Collections Center. ISM began replacing the mechanical systems, refurbishing rooms for offices and laboratories, and bringing the building up to museum standards. The new environmental control system closely monitors and controls temperature and humidity levels. The State of Illinois also committed funds for equipment to upgrade collections cabinetry, data processing equipment, and research equipment. This new center provides the underpinning for the main museum facility which is now devoted to exhibition and educational programming. The Research and Collections Center was officially dedicated in 1994 and is gaining recognition as one of the top such facilities in the world.


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