The most enticing exhibits at the Illinois Railway Museum don't sit in glass cases. Instead, they can be found chugging along the five-mile mainline or the one-mile streetcar loop at various points in the day, giving visitors an opportunity to witness these antique machines functioning the way they were meant to do. This emphasis on living history is a key part of the museum's mission to educate visitors about the growth and development of the railroad industry throughout the Chicagoland area as well as the United States in general.
Although it already possesses extensive collections of trolley coaches, electric cars, diesel engines, steam locomotives, and hovercraft, the Illinois Railway Museum is still bent on acquiring more pieces, hoping to eventually represent each major chronological period in the history of rail travel. The museum's technicians do their best to restore antique equipment whenever possible, either by rebuilding original parts or by using modern reproductions and cosmetic touches to fill in the blanks. This ensures that visitors will not only be able to see restored, full-sized versions of historic rolling stock, but can also witness them in motion and even ride some of them.
Beyond the locomotives and cars, the Illinois Railway Museum also features a broad assortment of historical artifacts. Antique signals, telegraph and communications equipment, tools, uniforms, and ticket stubs are all available for viewing for guests hoping to learn even more about America's railroad history.
Staff Size: 2–10 people
Average Duration of Services: 1–2 hours
Parking: Parking lot
Most Popular Attraction/Offering: Guided tours
Recommended Age Group: All Ages
Pro Tip: Wear comfortable shoes.
What are the museum's origins?
The museum has been operating since Mrs. Ellwood donated the mansion and property to the DeKalb Park District; currently, the estate consists of seven historic structures and 10 acres. A guided tour takes 60 to 90 minutes. Guided tours are the only option for seeing the museum.
What is one fun, unusual fact about your business?
The mansion was built in 1879 from [the] income Isaac Ellwood received from his half ownership in the first barbed-wire manufacturing company.
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The 1891 playhouse is a scale model of a Victorian home and once served as a parade float for the builder to showcase his home-building skills. By the late 1800s, it was acquired by the Ellwoods and became a playhouse. Entering the little building is part of the tour, but it is not handicap accessible. There is an 1865 cemetery located just beyond the woods.
A kids' firehouse sets the stage for hands-on, imaginative activities at FireZone, where actual firefighters show off fire engines, explain educational displays, and oversee games for kids of all ages. In addition to children’s parties and drop-in play sessions, FireZone runs school field trips, caters to adults with corporate training days, and rents fire trucks for picnics, parades, and festivals.
In 1848, dairy cows grazed on the 30 acres that now host the Volo Auto Museum’s five showrooms. The mooing of heifers has given way to the imaginary roar of 200 collector cars and 100 gleaming autos that once graced movie and television sets—including a Batmobile from the 1966 TV series, a Herbie from the latest movie, and one of the first General Lees. After ogling the television and movie collection, guests can wander among vintage and antique vehicles and reminisce about the days when we still had to go places in person.
Nearby, the military exhibit’s realistic scenery surrounds vehicles ranging from a WWII BMW motorcycle with sidecar to a 1967 Bell helicopter shot down in Vietnam. After examining older artillery and artifacts, visitors can gaze at cases holding items retrieved from Saddam Hussein’s palace and from captured Iraqi soldiers. Those below driving age can explore kids’ attractions, including SpongeBob’s boatmobile.
Guests traverse the vast showrooms on foot or via a 1915, Victorian-style trolley, free on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Trolley tours begin by exploring autos that used to be stabled by the rich and famous alongside their unicorns. They then venture into the old dairy farm’s 19th-century barn, where activity by Civil War ghosts has drawn investigators from the Discover Channel’s Ghost Lab. Before leaving, visitors can refuel with an Angus-beef patty at the Betty Boop Burger Bar and Beer Garden or drop into four antique malls.
Throughout the Halloween season, mad scientists overrun a section of SciTech Hands On Museum to construct a haunted laboratory. The 20- to 25-minute, ghoul-infested journey hijacks 200 of the museum's interactive exhibits and exploits the brainpower of the museum's Fermilab physicist founders to create an experience as terrifyingly educational as a pre-calc class taught by a wild boar. Adults and older children brave enough to step across the spooky threshold will encounter wispy tendrils of smoke and fluttering strobe lights winding up and down the museum's two floors. Bubbling beakers, freakish goblins, the George Foreman Grill, and other byproducts of experiments gone horribly awry loom in the museum's shadowy corridors. Once troops have braved the Haunted Museum, the main museum awaits, where guests can interact with noncursed exhibits or slip into the gift shop or café.
In 1987, Louise Beem and Dorothy Carpenter were early-childhood-education specialists. Based on their combined experience—gained from teaching preschool, founding the College of DuPage's early-childhood-education program, and being grandmothers—the two friends felt that traditional methods of teaching youngsters were less than optimal at the time. Their brainchild, the DuPage Children's Museum, began that same year. The pair designed the museum's colorful exhibits to incorporate interactive and open-ended elements, which they believed more closely matched the way kids learn and naturally process information, a discovery they say has now been corroborated by findings in neuroscience research.
In that vein, the three-story museum engages young neurons with interactive art, math, and science-themed attractions. Giving little hands the chance to explore, the AWEsome Electricity exhibit bridges the gap between the electric-powered gadgets and lights families use every day to where all that nonbreakfast-based energy comes from. Kids learn how electricity gets from one place to another and what its basic units are while at play in the museum's signature hands-on spaces. Elsewhere, the Young Explorers exhibit is designed for children aged 2 and under, who develop math skills by learning concepts such as sorting and patterning and express their creativity by experimenting with color and light.