We ventured into Bloomongton-Normal today in search of a couple Route 66 attractions, what we found quite by accident was the McClean County Museum of History. It’s housed in the old McClean County Court House, completed in 1903 in the American Renaissance style. It served as a courthouse until 1976 and was renovated between 1989 and 1991 and converted to a museum to house the artifacts collected by the McClean County Historical Society. The Society has been around since 1892. The museum's collection documents the growth and development of McLean County from the prehistoric times through recent history. The materials represent McLean County's cultural history, how people lived, political and economic activity, the history of institutions and organizations, and civic culture. Exhibitions come from the museum's own collections of approximately 18,000 pieces. The exhibits that describe the people of McClean County look at the immigrants that populated the area. Early immigrants were from the colonies/states on the east coast while later waves of immigrants were mainly form Germany and Ireland. These immigrants played a key role in the growth of the county and the state. I had particular interest in the German immigrants as my grandparent were rather late immigrant to the US from Germany. For example there was an active Turners organization in Bloomington. The Turners was a German gymnastics club. In the town I grew up in, Riverside, NJ, there was a strong German immigrant heritage. They established a Turners club that we attended as kids to learn gymnastics and to learn how to dance. Neither stuck with me though. The Turners Club still exists, but it appears to be soley a social organization these days.
Bloomington is steeped in national politics with Abraham Lincoln serving as a circuit lawyer in the area and starting his presidential campaign nearby in Springfield. Adlai Stevenson, candidate for president twice in the 1950’s was from Bloomington and launched his campaigns here in 1952 and 1956.
While farming has always been the mainstay of the economy of this area, manufacturing and retail have also played an important role over the years. Mitsubishi operates a huge auto assembly plant in the area. It used to be a joint venture with Chrysler until they went bust in 2009. Nestle and GE both have a presence in the county. If you’ve ever spent any time in a bar partaking of an adult beverage, you’ve probably munched on Beer Nuts. The product was born in Bloomington in 1937 in the Carmel Crisp Shop and is still made here.
In the farming section of the museum we found Kossuth Flour that was manufactured in a “Hungarian Mill’ in the late 19th Century. The name caught our interest because both Sue and I grew up on Kossuth St. in Riverside. We always though Kossuth was a polish general who helped the Colonies in the Revolutionary War. In reality he was a Hungarian lawyer, journalist, politician and Regent-President of the Kingdom of Hungary during the revolution of 1848–49. He is considered the “Father of Hungarian Democracy”. With all that being said, the flour got it’s name form the rolling process that crushed the wheat to flour not the patriot. It was developed in Hungary and used steel rollers instead of mill stones.
In the basement of the museum is the Tilbury Flash, a tiny racing plane designed by Bloomington resident Owen Tilbury in 1932. It was the smallest plane in the world when it was built, and won many aircraft racing competitions.
On the way home we passed a building that Sue had asked me to a take a picture of because of its unique shape. It was an oval corn crib made out of slotted cement tiles. It’s in the small town (pop. 550) of Carlock near the campground and is no longer in use as it is in someone's yard. We stopped and took a picture, but Sue wasn’t satisfied and need to know more about the crib. She asked a women working in her yard next to the corn crib. She had no idea what it was or any of its history. So much for local knowledge. On the way back, we noticed a cat perched in the window of the attached building. It made a great picture.
We got back to Winnie for beef stew that was in the crock pot all day. We were ready to sit at the picnic table for stew and a baguette. The only problem was that the baguette we had just bought at Wal-Mart was no where to be found. We realized that we must have left a couple of bags of groceries in the carousel at the check out so I had to hop in the Fit and drive 10 miles back to the store. There were 3 bags waiting for me at the Customer Service desk. The stew was still hot when I got back and we savored the baguette. That’s enough for today.