TREMONT — The new Tremont Agricultural Heritage Museum tells the story of a town whose history is deeply rooted in the land.
The new museum, which opened Sept. 4, is right next door to the Tremont Historical Society’s original museum, which opened in 1988. Tremont’s old waterworks building houses the new agricultural museum. It took more than two years to restore the 106-year-old brick building.
“It was built in 1912 for the waterworks. Right beside it was a 40,000-gallon water tower which set on those stone pillars,” said Rich Sauder, president of the Tremont Museum & Historical Society, while pointing at four stone pilings in the neighboring lot.
The building covered the city’s pump and well and served as a workshop for city workers. From 1921 to 1941, it was also used by the Tremont Fire Department. After a new water tower was erected in 1968, the old building was used for storage until 2017, when members of the historical society decided to expand.
“We saw a need to have more space and approached the city about using it as an agricultural museum,” said Sauder.
The effort was supported by the community, and renovations were paid for with donations.
“The architecture is neat, and people really supported re-purposing the building,” said Sauder. “We got a big boost from the Tremont Betterment Association, which donates money raised by the Tremont Turkey Festival. Every year they have a disbursement, and in 2018 they gave us $12,000.”
Community members also donated their time to complete the renovations. An antique door was found to replace the missing front door, and the arched doorway and adjacent garage doors were scraped and painted with period colors. A stained glass window was custom-made by a local contractor and fitted in the space above the door. Inside, the electrical system was updated and new HVAC was installed.
When it came time to create the displays, Tremont Historical Society board secretary Lori Fuoss made contact with the Peoria Riverfront Museum, which helped create the cards that explain the displays.
The result is a very professional looking museum housing a vast collection of items donated by local families.
“There were basically three families that first settled here,” said Fuoss. “When Tremont was founded in 1835, it needed to be drained — it was swamp land.”
The town stands in a low spot in the vast Illinois prairie. Until the mammoth task of installing tile to route standing water into nearby tributaries of the Illinois River, settlers used the land to raise livestock. Once the land was drained, settlers began farming some very rich soil, said Fuoss.
Tremont has been home to a surprisingly diverse group of entrepreneurs, and exhibits at the museum tell their stories. One exhibit is on a renowned breeder of percheron horses. Archie L. Robison Jr. founded Leslie Farms in 1880. He raised and sold the massive animals farmers used to plow in the age before the tractor. In 1889, Peter Sommer invented the first machine to weave wire into a type of fencing he named Redbrand. Eventually he and his sons founded Keystone in Bartonville. And to show that agricultural innovation is still alive and well in Tremont, the museum includes an exhibit on Gregg Sauder, who founded Precision Planting. After selling the company, he founded 360 Yield, which today is based in Morton.
The museum is full of antique implements that show how things got done in years past. A large homemade lard press is in a display about lard.
“Lard was a big thing, it was how they preserved food before refrigeration,” said Rich Sauder.
Another display features the town’s blacksmiths.
“The village blacksmith was very important,” said Fuoss. “They were very highly paid and respected.” One of Tremont’s blacksmiths had a shop across from the school, and many older Tremont residents still remember seeing him working as they walked to and from school, said Fuoss.
Though the museum is not large, a visitor could easily spend several hours there studying the displays. A visit to the older museum next door could turn the outing into an afternoon affair.
Both Fuoss and Sauder say the decision to focus on agriculture in the new museum was easy.
“Our main museum was about the people of Tremont. We had nothing on agriculture, so we thought it was the natural direction to go,” said Sauder.
The sheer amount of agricultural artifacts being offered by the community was a deciding point for Fuoss.
“We chose the subject based on what we had, and what we were getting in,” she said.
Both museums, located at 367 S. Sampson St., will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Each month they are open from 2 to 4 p.m. on every second Sunday and every fourth Saturday. A donation is requested for admission. The museum can also be opened by appointment and for group tours. For information, call Rich Sauder at 231-1123.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.