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News | Madison County Museum Renovations Underway

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The Madison County Historical Society’s mission to preserve the history of Madison County, Illinois by “Opening Doors to Madison County History” was threatened by the deterioration of the Madison County Historical Museum. The museum occupies the historic 1836 John Weir House and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While minor repairs and maintenance are provided by Madison County, the Historical Society is primarily responsible for the building. This year, the Historical Society received a "sign from above” to improve the facility: rain.

Water infiltration into the building opened up a hole in the upstairs children’s gallery endangered the museum’s collections, as well as the staff and visitors to the museum. The museum recognized the Weir House could no longer be “patched up,” but needed a full building and needs assessment to be conducted.

“This is an 1836 house, and with that comes a great deal of wear and tear. There comes a time when you really have to take everything out and start from scratch. That time has come.” – Suzanne Dietrich, Museum Director

The Historical Society selected the Bailey Edward Design team to help reenvision the museum, its exhibits, and the building for the future.
Bailey Edward spent three days on-site to review and document the existing exterior and interior of the John Weir House; study archive materials and architectural drawings to determine the evolution of the residence, age of materials, and historic relevance; observe staff and visitor behavior; and interview the client to understand drawbacks to the building and establish desired goals for the future of the museum. The resulting master plan provided options for the Historical Society to choose from and addressed the overall facility condition of the building and code compliance; space utilization and floor plan; exhibit content, themes, display cases, and storage; interior and exterior wayfinding; and lighting. For all options selected, Bailey Edward recommended phasing renovations to accommodate the Historical Society’s budget and allow time for additional fundraising.

Fundamental to the preservation of the museum’s artifacts and public safety, Phases I and II will address the roof, chimneys, exterior façade, HVAC and electrical. Phase I and II provide the foundation for a strong museum – addressing water infiltration, moisture control, air quality, temperature control, etc. As part of reimagining the museum, the first floor exhibit remodel will be tackled first in order to attract more visitors, set the tone for the future museum, and help the Historical Society raise additional funds. The first floor will also showcase the new interpretative themes the Historical Society has selected for the museum and introduce a new changing exhibit gallery, which allows the Museum to showcase their artifacts in new and interesting ways or to bring in temporary exhibits to attract more audiences to the museum. Phases III-IV include continued remodeling to the second floor exhibit spaces, improved lighting and wayfinding, and upgrades for code compliance. One of the most significant improvements will be the design and construction of an elevator to allow all guests to enjoy the museum’s collection of local history. The elevator will be located off a newly reconfigured lobby area, made possible in part by enclosing a porch area to create new office space and small merchandise area. This option allows for better circulation within the museum, particularly when working with larger groups like school field trips.

Currently, the Historical Society has raised $550,000 and a fundraising plan is in development for the next $800,000 to complete the first two phases. To support the Museum, visit the Madison County Historical Society Donation Page or read this Belleville News article for more about the Madison County Historical Museum renovations.