MENDOTA — A cream separator hides behind a display of pliers, wrenches and other tools once used on a typical farm. A corn sheller can be spotted in the back corner while egg crates are hidden under a shelf of milk bottles once left on front porches all over town.
The old farm equipment is stacked in and around some tractors, a Phaeton carriage built in Mendota and other artifacts collected through the years by members of the Breaking the Prairie Museum in Mendota.
The crowded conditions led members of the museum board to embark on an expansion effort that will add 30 feet to the north side of the barn near the Union Depot Railroad museum.
“We have paper products and books that we want to bring over here so we need shelves,” said Shirley Pierson, executive director of Mendota Museum and Historical Society which includes the Breaking the Prairie Museum. “The windows will have special ultraviolet coating to protect our collections.”
Rick Wujek, Breaking the Prairie Museum president, said the museum has quite a few unique items in the collection but very little display area for many of the products that were made, and even invented, in Mendota.
“We’ve really got a lot of things to show people from the early days of farming,” he said.
The barn has large glass windows on three sides that allow visitors to walk around the outside and see the museum’s collection. Wujek said they change out the larger pieces of farm equipment at least twice a year, but space remains a problem.
Pierson said the addition will include more windows to make it accessible to the public, and the barn is lit overnight through an annual donation from Holland & Sons in Mendota.
Wujek said farmers and others interested in history have made many of the donations. He also keeps an eye out for potential additions.
“Nowadays, if I see an old barn or crib and I think it’s safe, I’ll go in there,” he said.
Fundraising for the addition to the barn first constructed in 2001 will continue through the winter but board members expect to break ground in the spring.
“We’re close enough now that there should be no question that they can break ground in spring 2013,” she said. “The bottom line is we can exhibit more and make it more visible.”
The expansion, which includes special coatings for all the windows, a new roof, concrete work and the building addition is expected to cost $30,000-$35,000. Donations can be marked for the Breaking the Prairie Museum and sent to Mendota Museum and Historical Society, P.O. Box 433, Mendota, IL 61342.
The Mathesius Brothers barn is visible year-round and visitors can schedule an appointment to go in the barn by calling the society at (815) 539-3373.
Tamara Abbey can be reached at (815) 539-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.