LaSalle County Historical Society Campus is located on the banks of the Historic I & M Canal in the quaint Village of North Utica. The Campus consists of six locations including: Canal Warehouse, Heritage Center, Aitken One Room School House, Blacksmith Shop, and our 1875 Barn.
Canal Warehouse Museum
Hours of Operation
Friday, Saturday and Sunday Noon - 4pm
The Canal Warehouse features all of the LaSalle County Historical Society’s artifacts and educational displays that date before the turn of the 19th century. There are many unique displays that showcase LaSalle County’s vibrant and colorful history as well as our humble beginnings. On display in the basement is our extensive collection of Indian artifacts such as ceremonial and utilitarian tools used by both the friendly and hostile Indians of the Illinois River valley. Many were unearthed right here in LaSalle County at the Zimmerman site. New displays were added recently to show the entire spectrum of Indian artifacts native to our county.
Upstairs we boast Lincoln’s Carriage; the very carriage that Lincoln rode in to attend the Lincoln-Douglas debate held at Washington Park in Ottawa, Il. Also featured in our Warehouse Museum are displays on Wild Bill Hickock, a 19th Century music room, quilts, artifacts and information on the Indian Creek Massacre, Civil War artifacts, I & M Canal, and much much more!
History of the Canal Warehouse
The LaSalle County Historical Society’s museum lies on the north side of the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal, itself a historical landmark.
The museum building, erected in 1848 during the presidency of Zachary Taylor, is a beautifully restored sandstone building that was originally a granary and warehouse. The two-story building has walls of sandstone blocks between 18 and 32 inches thick, quarried in Utica, and secured with hydraulic cement of the same kind used in the construction of the I&M Canal.
The Society celebrated the museum’s fiftieth anniversary in 2016. It is one of only a few mid-nineteenth century warehouses still standing on the I&M Canal.
James Clark, the man who commissioned the building, came to Utica in 1833, where he became a land squatter. In 1842 he became a contractor on the I&M Canal and in 1845 he bought the local cement mill. He made it a huge commercial success by selling the cement to the canal contractors and the general public. The cement was used in many parts of the canal.
He had the building constructed as a warehouse and general store to serve the needs of the canal traffic. Some accounts say the general store was really a company store for the cement company because in this store a man could pay his bill for board, doctor, food, and clothing. Clark sold everything a man could ever need, from whiskey at 25 cents a quart to coffins that ranged in price from $2.50 to $4. One could also pay at the store for a team and wagon to take the coffin to the cemetery.
When he was made Postmaster of Utica in 1849 the warehouse and store became Utica’s first post office.
Clark sold the building in the 1880s and a succession of owners used it as a livery and feed stable. One of the last owners ran a shuttle service, carrying passengers from the Rock Island Railroad station to the Starved Rock ferry. As automobiles became increasingly popular he switched from horses to an automobile service. And the building was known as “Manly’s Garage.” One of the last businesses in the building was a car wash.
Some time later the building was abandoned, and sitting idly for years, became an eyesore for the village of Utica. By 1963 the state of Illinois owned the building and ordered it to be torn down.
The state had awarded the demolition contract to Judson B. Wetherby of Ottawa, but when he learned that Edmund B. Thornton wanted to turn the warehouse into the LaSalle County Historical Museum, he tore up the contract. Thornton got a 10-year lease from the state and repair work was started in 1964. The Historical Society occupied the building in 1966.
The Illinois State Historical Society presented the Society and Museum with the Award of Merit for local and regional history in 1969 for turning the warehouse into a museum. Two years later the Society received the National Award of Merit for preserving a landmark and turning into an interpretive history center. Only three other museums have received this honor. It still retains all its natural charm, including the foot square exposed support timbers.
Saved from the wrecker’s ball in 1963, the building has served as the headquarters of the historical society for more than 50 years.
Hours of Operation
Friday, Saturday and Sunday Noon-4pm
The Heritage Center is the newest addition to LaSalle County Historical Society’s Museum Campus, located at 208 Clark Street in Utica, IL. In keeping with its tradition of preserving and procuring LaSalle County’s rich history, the Historical Society purchased the old Utica Co-Op property in August 2012. The Co-op building was fully remodeled and brought up to code, transforming it into today’s Heritage Center. The Heritage Center reflects the building’s original splendor, including a fully restored tin ceiling, with modern touches that will allow for enhanced display space and improved storage for society artifacts, expanded programming, and a location available for rental for community events.
Visitors to the Heritage Center will enjoy never-seen-before artifacts and historical displays, many in storage for years but virtually unseen until now. The exhibits will focus primarily on the 20th century and military. Displays include the Radium Girls of Luminus Dial, a World War I aid station as well as the many different types of naval ships that used the Illinois River during World War II. Military artifacts range from the battlefields to the home front and cover the time period from World War I to Desert Storm. Other displays will feature coal mining, the mining of silica sand and limestone, local jobs programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression, and the area’s numerous breweries and bottling plants.
Aitken One Room School House
Beyond the museum parking lot to the east is a one-room school, the Aitken School built in 1865.
Schoolhouse is open for viewing during museum hours of operation.
The Aitken One Room Schoolhouse, built in 1865, was originally established as District One in Troy Grove Township in a deed signed by Horace A. Hickok, brother of “Wild Bill” Hickok. It was located two miles south of Troy Grove. The school was renamed Aitken School, after John Malcomn Aitken, who served as the school's director from 1885-1905. The School remained open until 1956 when it consolidated with Dimmick Grade School. Utica’s Unimin Corporation donated the schoolhouse to the LaSalle County Historical Society in 1990. On the right side of the school is the herb garden containing herbs and flowers native to Illinois. The Utica Garden Club graciously maintains the garden.
At one time there were more than 275 One Room School's located in LaSalle County. All items located in our Aitken School have come from one room schools in the county.
Tours for Schools
Every spring, students, parents, and teachers participate in a one-day visit to the museum complex to see what school and life was like in the early days. Retired teachers and other volunteers present school lessons, rules, and discipline of more than a hundred years ago.
The 2024 Aitken School Program will take place between April 22, 2024 to May 17, 2024. If you are a 4th Grade School teacher and interested in signing up please fill out the below form.
Schools located in LaSalle County may sign up for this program at no charge. If your school is located outside LaSalle County there will be a $3 per student charge.
Built in 1892 for William Curtin, the blacksmith shop of the LaSalle County Historical Society has only served as such its entire life. Several smiths had shops in the building, including Luther Acuff, William Arthur, and John Kidd. Kidd was in business from 1941 until his death in 1969. The Society purchased the building from Mrs. Violet Kidd in 1972, and extensive restoration was done during the next few years. Most of the original tools and equipment remain in the shop. The rings on the building’s south wall were used to tie horses while they were shod. The collection of horseshoes overhead illustrates a wide variety of shoes and the many hoof sizes.
Barn open to the public during Blacksmith Demonstrations.
Agricultural exhibits include: nineteenth century veterinary tools, carriages, sleds, horse-drawn field equipment and more are presented in the 1875 barn next door to the blacksmith shop.
The barn, which has a wood frame salvaged from an area barn, uses mortise and tenon interlocking joints held together by wooden pegs. By a fortunate coincidence the framework dimensions were identical to the Society’s vacant lot between the blacksmith shop and another building.
Displays range from sausage stuffers to one-row corn cultivators and miniature profiles of LaSalle County soils. One exhibit documents the evolution of various planters from hand-operated to mechanized implements that allowed farmers to increase their production while saving time and labor.
This building was previously the Utica Lumber Shed. The LaSalle County Historical Society purchased the former lumber shed in 2012 and rehabbed the building to offer 26 stalls and two rooms. The Canal Market seasonally hosts weekend markets (Memorial Day until the last full weekend in September) as well as other special events.
WINTER WINE WALK
February 10, 2024
April 27-28, 2024
2024 CANAL MARKET SEASON
May 25 until September 29
UTICA GARDEN CLUB PLANT & VENDOR FAIRE
June 8-9, 2024
54th ANNUAL BURGOO FESTIVAL
October 12-13, 2024
NOVEMBER 3, 2024
CHRISTMAS AT THE CANAL MARKET
November 30- December 1, 2024