Best Museums in Illinois

The state of Illinois has some of the nation's finest museums, numbering in the hundreds. Many of them are world famous; others are well-kept secrets, yet offer visitors fascinating information, excitement, and entertainment. The following are our choices for 25 of Illinois' best museums you've never heard of; they're located throughout the state and are arranged alphabetically within categories. Illinois offers so many excellent museums that we could easily have selected 25, or 50, or even 100 others. We hope you enjoy visiting these; and when you do, please consult for nearby accommodations, restaurants, and other attractions. Also, please send us your reactions and tell us your own choices for great unheard-of museums.


History Museums and Historic Homes


Blackberry Historical Farm/Village

Aurora, IL (630) 892 1550

This living museum preserves Northern Illinois' domestic and agricultural history between 1840 and 1920. The 54-acre site includes a farm, a village with shops and craftsmen, and an arboretum with more than 200 varieties of trees, historic agricultural gardens, and floral displays. It also offers rides and classes. (Open daily May 1-Labor Day; Fri-Sun Labor Day-Oct 1)


Bronzeville Children's Museum

Evergreen Park, IL (708) 636 9504

The first and only African-American children's museum in the United States, this facility offers a "child-friendly" environment that gives knowledge, hope, and self-esteem to children, especially African-American children ages 3-11. Its collections celebrate the history, culture, and contributions of Americans of African origin, with programs including storytelling, film festivals, poetry workshops, and quilt-making. (Open Tues-Sat; tours on the hour)


Dana Thomas House State Historic Site

Springfield, IL (217) 782 6776

This Frank Lloyd Wright home, designed and built in 1902-04, provides an outstanding and well-preserved example of Wright's early Prairie-style residential work. The house contains the original windows and art-glass doors, more than 200 art glass light fixtures and sconces, and some 100 pieces of Wright-designed furniture and decorative art. (Open Wed-Sun)


DuSable Museum of African-American History

Chicago, IL (773) 947 0600

This museum preserves and interprets the historical experiences and achievements of African-Americans. The oldest museum of its kind in the United States, its exhibits, programs, and activities provide information about the history and culture of Africans and African Americans. (Open Mon-Sat; Sun except in winter)


Great Lakes Naval Museum

US Naval Station, Great Lakes, IL (847) 688 3154

This museum is designed to entertain and inform visitors about the history and importance of US Naval recruit training, especially at the Great Lakes Naval base. It tells the story of "boot camp" and exhibits uniforms, maps, photographs, and archives. (Open Fri-Sun; group tours by appt. Due to security precautions, please bring photo ID; if driving, bring driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.)


Homestead Prairie Farm

Decatur IL (217) 423 7708

Homestead Prairie Farm surrounds the Trobaugh-Good House, built as a one-room log home in 1850 and named for the first two families to live there. Today the house and grounds are restored and furnished to reflect the 1860 rural life of people on Illinois' Grand Prairie, whose lives would soon be changed by the Civil War. The farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Open Sat-Sun, June-Oct)


Lincoln-Douglas Debate Museum

Charleston, IL (217) 348 0430

This East-Central Illinois museum is the only site in Illinois that commemorates one of the historic 1858 senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. The museum is computer operated, with exhibits that describe the Charleston debate through audio-visual selections, artifacts, and photos. It also offers a children's hands-on area, sculpture courtyard, and gift shop. (Open daily, including holidays)


Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site

Petersburg, IL (217) 632 4000

This living history outdoor museum is a reconstruction of the 1830s pioneer village in which Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man from 1831 to 1837. It includes a Conestoga wagon, a famous nine-foot bronze sculpture of Lincoln, and artifacts. Most of the buildings are reconstructions furnished with period antiques, including those from the original settlers. (Open Wed-Sun)


Art Museums and Centers


Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

Mt. Vernon, IL (618) 242 1236

This 90-acre estate in southern Illinois celebrates the arts throughout the year. The Center includes a 19th- and 20th-Century American art collection, three galleries that host traveling exhibitions of contemporary art, and an outdoor sculpture park. It also offers chamber music, a performing arts series, a dinner theatre, summer concerts, and an annual craft fair. (Open Tues-Sun, closed holidays)


Elmhurst Art Museum

Elmhurst, IL (630) 834 0202

This museum specializes in late-20th-Century American art. Its award-winning building was constructed around the McCormick House, one of only three homes in the United States designed by the world-renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The museum includes four art galleries, an education center, and a variety of outdoor sculptural works. It offers tours, programs, lectures, and classes. (Open Tues-Sun)


Southern Illinois Art Gallery / Artisan Shop

Illinois State Museum, Whittington, IL (618) 629 2220

This 15,000-square-foot Southern Illinois facility is dedicated to the tradition of artisans and craftsmen. The Art Gallery displays decorative, industrial, and cultural arts and offers a wide variety of changing exhibitions. The Artisans Shop showcases the works of more than 850 Illinois artisans and gives visitors the opportunity to purchase from an outstanding selection of unique handicraft. The shop also hosts workshops, demonstrations, and seasonal festivals. (Open daily)


Specialized Museums


Chester Gould/Dick Tracy Museum

Woodstock, IL (815) 338 8281

This museum displays and honors the art, achievements, and life of cartoonist Chester Gould, creator of the "Dick Tracy" comic strip. It also promotes the "Crimestoppers," a youth-development program inspired by Gould. Located in Woodstock's historic Old Courthouse, the museum displays original artwork, photos, and hundreds of other documents, along with Gould's drawing board and chair. (Open Thurs-Sun)


Fox River Trolley Museum

South Elgin, IL (847) 697 4676

This museum preserves the transportation heritage of the Fox River Valley during a time when electric trolley cars played an important role in American life. It displays a variety of antique trolleys, including the only existing street-railway post-office car. Visitors can enjoy nostalgic four-mile trolley rides, picnic facilities, and boat and fishing ramps along the Fox River. (Open Sun May-Nov; Sat July-Aug, Oct; Summer holidays)

Harris Agricultural Museum

Atwood, IL (217) 578 2231

To commemorate the agricultural heritage of Central Illinois, this museum displays authentic farm equipment and tools used between the early 1900s and 1940s. Its exhibits include antique tractors and engines, harvesting and planting equipment, and a 1919 Model-T Ford grain/dump truck. It also shows replicas of a farm kitchen, barbershop, chicken and milk houses, grocery counter, blacksmith shop, a child's room, and toys. (Call for appt)


Illinois Railway Museum

Union, IL (815) 923 4391

Visitors of all ages to this Southern Illinois museum enjoy an interactive, educational experience that demonstrates the vital role railroads played in Illinois and US history. The facility preserves and operates railroad and mass transit cars and materials in a realistic setting. Displays include steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, passenger and freight cars, streetcars, trolley buses, and the nation's largest collection of full-size antique railroad equipment. Its main tracks follow the former right-of-way of the Elgin & Belvidere Electric Railway. (Open daily Memorial Day-Labor Day; Sat-Sun Apr-May, Sep-Oct)


Museum of Broadcast Communications

Chicago, IL (312) 629 6000

Home to the Radio Hall of Fame, this museum collects, preserves, and presents historic and contemporary radio and television broadcasts. Visitors can hear and see old-time radio and TV shows, tape newscasts in a TV studio, and tour the radio and television galleries. The museum is scheduled to move into a new, 70,000-square-foot location in downtown Chicago in 2006. (Open daily; closed state & local holidays)


Science, Technology, Natural History Museums


Burpee Museum of Natural History

Rockford, IL (815) 965 3433

This museum's mission is to inspire a lifetime of learning about the natural world. It specializes in four areas of the natural sciences - Paleontology, Anthropology, Biology, and Geology, offering three floors of exhibits and a lower-level viewing lab. A Children's Gallery on the third floor offers a special hands-on place for children and families to discover nature. (Open daily)


Children's Museum of Illinois

Decatur, IL 62521

The 10,000-square-foot Children's Museum offers two floors of exciting hands-on exhibits with which children and their families can discover the arts, humanities, and sciences. Among the many interactive opportunities - visitors can stand in a life-sized bubble, play a variety of virtual-reality games, visit places around the world, and learn how electricity affects us every day. (Open Tues-Sun; Mon from Memorial Day to Labor Day)


Discovery Center Museum

Rockford, IL (815) 963 6769

This is a participatory museum for children and families. It provides two floors of hands-on learning experiences relating to science and technology. Displays and programs offer a challenging and enriching environment designed to stimulate thought and curiosity. The museum also includes Rock River Discovery Park, an outdoor hands-on science park and playground, and offers classes, camps, and overnights. (Open daily)


Health World

Barrington, IL (847) 842 9100

Dedicated to promoting children's health and safety, this health education museum and learning center uses state-of-the-art hands-on programs, activities, exhibits, and discovery zones to teach youngsters the importance of healthy life-styles. Its structured programs for children in grades K-8 support the Illinois Health & Science standards. (Open daily)


Museum of Holography

Chicago, IL (312) 226-1007

Holography is a three-dimensional laser art form whose images appear to move. This 10,000-square-foot museum displays holographic art, offering one of the most extensive collections in the world. Its School of Holography has served thousands of students and conducts ongoing research on Holography's potential. (Open Wed-Sun)


Oriental Institute Museum

University of Chicago, Chicago, IL (773) 702 9520

This facility offers an extensive collection of artifacts showcasing the history, art, archaeology, and culture of the ancient Near/Middle East. Exhibits provide major antiquities from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. The museum offers tours, lectures, and programs. (Open Tues-Thurs, Sat-Sun)


Orpheum Children's Science Museum

Champaign, IL (217) 352 5895

Located inside Champaign's historic Orpheum Theatre, this enjoyable science museum appeals to children and their parents. Hands-on exhibits offer a variety of leaning experiences, such as designing a dinosaur, using plastic parts to create a human body, and creating ghost images with light changes and a one-way mirror. It also displays live "critters," among them a tarantula, an ornate box turtle, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, and Australian bearded dragons. (Open Tues-Sun and some school holidays)


Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Chicago, IL (773) 755 5150

This nature museum helps visitors of all ages to learn and care about the natural world through its extensive collections and educational programs. One of its goals is to build an understanding of the global environment by demonstrating its effects on the Midwest. Exhibits include some 250,000 objects and specimens, 250 species of butterfly, wetlands environments, and ecosystems. An accurate replica of a real butterfly habitat features about 1,000 live butterflies, with as many as 75 different species on view each day. (Open daily)


SciTech Hands On Museum

Aurora IL (630) 859 3434

Children and families can explore and discover the modern world by participating in this museum's more than 200 hands-on exhibits. The museum's goal is to enhance people's understanding of science and help them discover its effects on everyday life. Interactive exhibits encourage visitors to experience the excitement of science and technology by experimenting and exploring. It also offers a variety of traveling exhibitions and special programs. (Open daily)