PRINCETON – If you have ancestors who lived in the Princeton area, or even Bureau County, then you just might find their images in the safe hands of the Bureau County Historical Society.
The Society’s Newell-Bryant House Museum and Research Library are treasure troves of local history, stretching back more than 150 years.
The research library houses a pair of photo collections of the Princeton are and its people. Henry Immke began taking photos in the Princeton area and its people in 1866. His glass plates number about 20,000 and cover up to the year 1923. Prints are available; do call for information.
The Bill Lamb Collection is even more impressive, in terms of the sheer number of photos. The collection features more than 100,000 negatives and photos of special events in Princeton throughout the years. His photos cover the 20th century.Lamb was involved in the Princeton High School yearbook for years and was the school’s principal from 1974 to 2001. While you’re there, don’t miss his “Out of the Past” archive on local history.
Tours start at the Newell-Bryant House, which was built circa 1853-55. Curator David Gugerty gave me the tour. He told me the research library, which is in the house, has a wide range of records, including the previously mentioned photo collections, as well as records on churches, schools and local celebrities.
The original house had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a front room that served as a store to outfit area settlers.
Of particular interest to me was the display on the Cherry Mine disaster. Gugerty told me about the 1909 event, during which 259 of 400 miners died when a fire broke out after embers from a kerosene lantern fell into a coal car filled with hay for mules. Not only was it heart-breaking for the families involved, it dealt an economic blow to the region when it all but destroyed the mining industry there.
After looking over the first house, Gugerty and I made our way to the Clark-Norris Home. Stepping into its foyer, you know something special awaits.It was built circa 1899-1900 by Sam and Anne Clark of Dover, a small farming community 5 miles north of Princeton where Sam farmed and also bred championship horses and cattle.
The Clarks led the good life and the home shows it. The three-story brick home’s interior is full of beautiful woodwork – oak, walnut and sycamore trim, molding and stairs; and floors of maple, oak and walnut. It also features three indoor bathrooms, quite a luxury at the time. And let’s talk about the light fixtures: They’re set up to use both gas and electricity. The gas fixtures face upward and the electrical face downward. As my guide and I went through the house, I was jealous of the not one, but two pantries, one of which held an ice box.
This was a farmer’s retirement home, and what a home it is. Even if there were no collections to be viewed, the house would still awe.
While there, I saw an amazing Native American collection with items going back to the time of the Mississippians, the mound-builders. I also looked over a birch-bark canoe and a woolly mammoth tooth, things I didn’t expect to see.
The dining room was particularly enchanting and I was still pondering this as we reached the second floor, which had five bedrooms and an upstairs parlor. Upstairs can be found a Civil War collection focused on locals and the Illinois 93rd Regiment. Another display featured the various branches of the service in later wars. The roles of women are not forgotten.
Other upstairs displays included a music room and Abraham information. Lincoln visited Princeton in 1856.
The third floor contains two dorm rooms – one that looks like the inside of a log cabin – and an elevator good for getting trunks upstairs. It functions much like systems in haylofts. I also took a close look at the international bell collection, to see whether they had any of the same ones I have in my collection at home.
While upstairs, Gugerty pointed out the slate roof, and as we headed back to the front door, he told me the house also has a full basement, which isn’t open to the public.
Across the street stands the Matson Library building. After the library moved, this building found its way into the hands of the Society. Gugerty said eventually it will hold the Society’s research materials.
There’s much to see and learn by visiting the Clark-Norris Home and the Newell-Bryant House, while you’re in town, grab a bite to eat in Princeton. The city’s website bills the downtown districts as “a step back in time,” filled with specialty shops, restaurants and businesses. With all of this history only a half-hour or so away, it’s easy to enjoy a not-too-distant past.
IF YOU GO ...
What: Bureau County Historical Society’s Newell-Bryant House Museum and Research Library; Clark-Norris Home
Where: 109 Park Ave. West, Princeton
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday for tours (research, too)
Cost: $5 adults and $3 students and seniors; call ahead to schedule a tour
Distance: About 33.06 miles from Dixon
Accessibility: Only the Newell-Bryant House Museum and Research Library are wheelchair accessible at this time
Information: 815-875-2184, Facebook or bureaucountyhistoricalsociety.com