By Kelly Youngblood
If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and FREE way to spend a couple of hours one afternoon (with or without your children), you should definitely check out the Museum of the Grand Prairie in Mahomet.
This little museum, located in the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve, packs a whole lot of history into a relatively small area.
The museum used to be called the Early American Museum until the name was changed last year in an effort to broaden its historical scope and enable the museum to go back a lot further in time.
Word has it (according to the nice lady working at the museum that day) a glacier exhibit will be built in the next few years to illustrate the entire story of the prairie from the ice age to the present day.
Recently, the museum added an education center, which includes classroom areas for various programming.
I visited the Museum of the Grand Prairie recently with my 6-year-old son and I must say, we both had fun and learned something new.
What I found most interesting was that nearly all of the exhibits at the museum displayed some sort of historical tie to the people and places of the local and surrounding areas.
For instance, one entire room was dedicated to architect Joseph Royer who graduated from the University of Illinois and was responsible for designing many familiar buildings in the Champaign County area including the courthouse, the Urbana Library, downtown’s Crane Alley, several campus fraternity and sorority houses, and Crystal Lake Pool.
Another section of the museum focused on Abraham Lincoln, who apparently made many stops and many friends in and around the Champaign County area. (I didn’t know that, did you?)
While I found the historical facts rather fascinating, my son was intrigued by the many opportunities to interact with the exhibits.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Museum of the Grand Prairie is a children’s museum, but there are many interactive aspects to it that both educate and entertain the younger visitors.
The Discovery Room is all hands-on for children and includes puzzles, books, and coloring pages. Many other exhibits throughout the museum encourage visitors to touch certain displays, which I found rather refreshing since I had a curious six-year old boy with me.
My son really enjoyed the blacksmithing exhibit where he got to use an anvil to shape a piece of copper. He also liked entering a traditional Native American wigwam and sitting in an old-fashioned buggy next to Abraham Lincoln. (For the record, I didn’t believe the museum would even allow anyone to actually sit in the buggy, but my son pointed out a sign that said visitors ARE welcome to climb in it!)
Like I mentioned earlier, the museum is a tad small so it only took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get through it in its entirety, but time could vary depending on the person or group.
Of course, the museum has a gift shop that offers a nice, affordable variety of souvenirs. My son picked out a stuffed animal bison, which seemed appropriate because his favorite aspect of the visit was sticking his hand through a bison skull. (What is it with boys?)
Overall, the Museum of the Grand Prairie is a great way for grownups and kids to spend an afternoon getting lost in the history of the area.
March-May: Daily from 1-5 p.m.
June-Aug: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sun: 1-5 p.m.
Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
Located at 600 N. Lombard Street
Admission is free but donations are welcome. Field trips, group tours, bus tours, and senior tours are available. Some of the exhibits do change throughout the year.
The museum offers several different programs for home-schooled students. Call 217-586-2612 for more information.
The museum also offers a variety of summer day camps for kids. Call the museum for more information about the camps to be held this summer.
Archaeology Lecture Series
Several different lectures about archaeology will be held at the Museum of the Grand Prairie this spring. All lectures will begin at 2 p.m. For more information, contact Barb Gavey at 217-586-2612 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, April 7 – Archaeology in Illinois: An Overview
Sunday, April 21- Native American & Europeans in Illinois: 12,000 Years of Living Off the Land.
Sunday, May 5- Archaeology in Your Backyard: Exploring Mahomet’s History Through Archaeology
Sunday, May 19- A Material World: Artifacts, Their Stories, & The People They Represent.