One of the most exciting components to the new exhibition is the restoration and opening up of Jane Addams’s bedroom on the second floor of the house. As we’ve thought about how to present a fuller story of Jane Addams, we knew there would have to be a pilgrimage to her hometown. So, on Tuesday, November 17, Amy, Teresa and I (Naomi) headed out to Cedarville, IL. Cedarville, population 750, is about 120 miles northwest of Chicago. There’s very little to see en route, mostly miles and miles of flat farmland. We got slightly diverted (due to my less than perfect navigating) and drove through Freeport, which is small town, but was quite a hub in the mid-nineteenth century. People traveled frequently between Freeport and Chicago 150 years ago, and the second debate between Lincoln and Douglas took place there in 1858. My favorite fact about Freeport is that its high school football team is named The Pretzels!?! I’ve done a little research since our trip, and it turns out Freeport is known as “The Pretzel City.”
After driving up a picturesque country road, we pulled up to the Cedarville Area Historical Society at about 12:45 and were greeted at the door by Jim Bade. He is the director of the Society and was eager to invite us in for some coffee and brownies. As we entered the building, the first thing we noticed was a plaque dedicating the site to Jane Addams. We felt right at home!
Over brownies baked by Jim’s wife and some coffee, Jim told us all about the activities of Cedarville and the role the Historical Society plays in the lives of the citizens there. One interesting tidbit he told us was that their Memorial Day Parade, a big event for the town, is the shortest one in the country… something like 1 minute and 30 seconds long. At least he has a good sense of humor about small-town life.
He told us that they are continuously raising money to continue restoration of the old school house the Society inhabits and rely heavily on volunteers and donations in order to operate. They have a free, outdoor film series in the summer and Jane Addams Day festivities every year, among other programs. The museum exhibition occupies only one room of the building, but the plan is to expand into the room next to it which is currently used as a meeting space and move the meeting space upstairs to a beautiful space waiting to be restored.
Jane Addams and her family are only one component of the museum exhibition, though definitely the most extensive. We discovered some beautiful and charming artifacts related to Jane, like a small chemistry set, some items she knitted, a series of letters she wrote as a young girl (many bearing illustrations with captions and always with a backwards “J” in her signature- click on the photos to see a larger image).
The letters were the most striking artifacts to the three of us. We’d never seen them and were excited to gain some insight into Jane as a child. She was certainly precocious! No surprise.
The other exhibits revolved around other citizens of Cedarville, some of whom were connected to the Addams family and some who were significant in different ways. Many Cedarville citizens that they’ve represented there fought in the Civil War. Jim showed us all of the publications they create there and the recordings of their public programs. We also got a look at their small research center, which had some really interesting, but as of yet, unstudied rare books. Jim is a one-man-show and desperate for a researcher and an archivist/librarian. We told him we’d keep our ears open for him.
On our way out of town, we drove by the old Addams Homestead, which is beautiful, but now privately owned, so we could only take a look from the outside. It was an impressive sight, though, and made us realize how much more impressive it must’ve been when John Addams built it in 1854 (just two years before the future Hull-House was built). Just up the road was the cemetery in which Jane and her family were buried. We stopped by and paid our respects and took in the scenery.
All in all, a productive and useful trip. We will definitely incorporate in our new exhibit some of the interesting ideas and bits of information we picked up while we were there.