Making History

Posted: June 13, 2019

DeKalb County History Center opens with Smithsonian exhibit

“We now have an anchor in the community, a place to tell our stories as well as a place to gather together and learn more about each other and our history,” says DeKalb County History Center Director Michelle Donahoe.

Director Michelle Donahoe and board member Bill Lenschow were integral in the development of the new DeKalb County History Center which opened its doors in May.

The DeKalb County History Center opened its doors in May. Located on Sycamore’s former Engh Farm, the new History Center is home to a 1,200 square foot exhibit space, the Joiner History Room, a multi-purpose meeting room, and a large area for collection storage.

Most importantly, the History Center houses over a century of DeKalb County history. “The level of partnership and collaboration makes this museum unique. We have great, smaller museums throughout the county that we are working together with,” says Michelle.

The grand opening was kicked off with a Smithsonian exhibit titled, “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” and incorporates local, rural history.

The Joiner History Room, now located within the DeKalb County History Center, houses the county archives and promotes historical research.

When asked why local history is important Michelle answered, “Our history builds community pride and gives us perspective on why things are the way they are and how we can shape the future.” Learn more at or visit the History Center at 1730 N. Main St., Sycamore.

Smithsonian Comes to Town

The DeKalb County History Center is celebrating their opening with the Smithsonian exhibit, “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.” “Crossroads” explores how rural communities have changed and adapted in the 20th century. It is a fitting theme for a county with such deep, agricultural roots and innovations.

The History Center and surrounding community was chosen by Illinois Humanities to host “Crossroads” as part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural, cultural organizations.

To learn more about “Crossroads” and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” closes June 22 at the History Center but the DeKalb County display will remain.

Farmers Share Their Story

As part of the “Crossroads” exhibit, DeKalb, Hinckley, and Sycamore FFA members, in collaboration with Sycamore’s SpartanTV, SpartanTV Jr., and History Club, conducted and filmed interviews with the people that know our land’s history the best – farmers.

Big Rock farmer Ed Cowan was one of the local farmers interviewed for the “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” exhibit. An interactive display allows visitors to view his story and others.

With the help of History Center board member Carol Meeks these students travelled throughout the county asking farmers to share their story and how agriculture has influenced them. The History Center was one of only 16 organizations that received a grant called “Stories: YES” through the Smithsonian, which allowed the students funding for this project.

The videos can be viewed at the History Center as well on the Smithsonian Stories: YES website.

DeKalb County farmers and ag-community members that were interviewed include: Ed Cowan, Bill Deutsch, Dave Halverson, Don Halverson, Jenna Halverson, Colleen Hogan, Dan Kenney, Bill Lenschow, Nan Long, Kevin Marshall, Gerald McArtor, Kevin McArtor, Tracey Sanderson, Jenna Spychal, Orrin Vanderburg, John Ward, Steve Ward, Eric Wackerlin, and Randy Willrett.