ROCHELLE – I tried out tools, sat in a jail cell and wore a wedding hat, all under one roof at the Flagg Township Museum – and those are only a few of the highlights, and also only a few of things that have been under that roof.
At one time, the building, which dates back to 1884, was home to City Hall. In the hall’s heyday it also housed a jail, community area and fire station. Today, it’s just plain fascinating.
Guided tours are available or you’re free to wander on your own. I chose to wander. The exhibits are well-labeled and I was armed with information from a museum guide’s introductory talk.
I started with a look at the Partin-Palmer car, which cost $675 when it was new, and came with its own water bag. In the same room, I learned about Rochelle’s canning industry. With that, I found out that German prisoners of war were brought in from Camp Grant in Rockford and camped around what is now the country club.
Visitors can re-live the town’s pea season, but they may want to hold their nose. Of the annual pea-packing ritual, Nancy Babb, a local historian and volunteer at the museum who died in 2016, said: “You couldn’t sit outside if the wind was blowing from the pea field into town. There’s nothing quite like the smell of the canning plant or of rotting pea vines.”
Moving on from peas to Playboy (how’s that for a segue?) …
Did you know that Rochelle was involved in the first issue of Playboy magazine – the iconic issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover in December 1953? The magazine’s first five issues were printed at the now-shuttered Rochelle Printing Co., which opened in 1946 and closed in 2012.The Linotype machine used to produce the first issues’ articles and short stories.
From there, I looked at toys, and then arrived at the jail, where a prisoner mannequin resided. Visitors can go into one of the cells, have a seat and take some photos. Some of the crimes folks were arrested for when the jail was still housing prisoners included stealing wood and whisky in 1878, and horse thievery in 1835. There was also a daring theft – of 38 pairs of women’s silk hose and other clothing from railroad cars in 1926.
In the basement, I found an area where visitors can try their hands at a number of hand tools. Perhaps it was meant more for kids than for an adult, but I gave them all a try and it was fun. I hammered a nail, drilled a hole and hoisted heavy rocks in a pail.
Also in the basement were farm equipment, a barbed wire display, and a phaeton (carriage) that was advertised as being able to, “with care … last a lifetime.” It must have that care because it looked in great shape.
Back on the main floor, I decided to take the stairs to the second floor, but there’s a stairlift for those who need it, and a wheelchair at the top for use by guests.
Walking around the exhibits upstairs was a pleasure. I found myself arriving at small glimpses of the past, from a kitchen scene to a dentist to a general store to a school. This is where the dress-up station was, and where I tried on a wedding hat that fit nicely. They didn’t provide a groom though.
Among the displays was a 1950s’ swimsuit by Jantzen designed so that there was no need for a girdle. Information there said a woman could accessorize with a skirt or fabric drape over the suit for modesty. What would they think now?
I discovered chore days, washing on Monday and ironing on Tuesday, and looked at a kitchen scene with plenty of gadgets, such as a slaw cutter and a potato ricer.
A theater came into view and then I was at the dentist display, where I learned about two Rochelle dentists before moving on to look at men’s clothing.
From there, I marveled at a teal Edwardian dress worn in the early 1900s, and found a paper doll dress-up station where you could try clothing on the dolls from a variety of eras.
When I left, I was happy I’d visited and wouldn’t hesitate to return. Be sure to visit this Ogle County jewel. You’ll be glad you did.
If you go …
What: Flagg Township Museum
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Where: 518 Fourth Ave., Rochelle
Cost: $3 for adults, $2 for those 6 to 12, free for those 5 and younger and free on Thursdays; family rate $7
Distance: About 27 miles from Dixon
Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs, except in basement
Information: flaggtownshipmuseumrochelle.org, Facebook or 815-562-3040