The Kewanee Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and understanding of the History of Kewanee, Illinois.
Kewanee was founded in 1854 and nearby Wethersfield was founded in 1836. Wethersfield and Kewanee combined in 1921.
The Kewanee Historical Society was founded on Nov. 16, 1976 at a meeting of 14 interested people following a public invitation Robert “Bob” Richards. The society was formed and Bob was elected president. He served in that capacity until 2003. The other charter officers were Glen Partridge, vice president, Rita Bubnick, secretary, and Marcella Richards, treasurer.
The Kewanee Historical Society is governed by a board of directors. Its current officers and board members are:
- Mike DeWalt, President
- Steve Moon, Vice President
- Marci Carlson, Secretary
- Sue Busenbark, Treasurer
- Larry Lock, Curator
- Pat Lock, Curator
- LeeAnn Bailleu
- Jeff Arch
- Arvin Battersby
- Ros Battersby
- William McKee
- Marty Ryan
- Shirley Sumbles
The society’s immediate goal in 1976 was to establish a museum, which it did in 1977 when the old Butterwick Hardware Store at 211 N. Chestnut St. was offered for sale. The society raised $5,000 for a down payment and borrowed another $14,000 to purchase the building. The mortgage was retired in four years through memberships, donations and fundraising events.
The Butterwicks started their hardware business in 1868. The current brick building was constructed in 1887. The family operated the business until 1966, after which the building was used for storage by an electrical company and the upstairs was the location of a teen center for a year and then an adult nightclub.
After the buildings to the south were torn down, exposing the wall of the museum to the elements, the surface was plastered and painted. A “Kewanee Landmarks” mural, painted by Kewanee artist Dave Washburn, was dedicated Oct. 18, 1997.
A tremendous amount of work was needed in the late 1970’s to turn the old hardware store into a museum and Bob and Marcella were up to the task. With the help of many dedicated volunteers the building was repaired and remodeled. Since 1977 the current and former folks from Kewanee donated money, artifacts, and their time to make the museum what it is today. That said, for the fist quarter century of the museum’s existence the the driving force behind it were Bob and Marcella Richards.
Accordingly, the society’s board of directors decided in 2001 to name the museum the “Robert and Marcella Richards Museum.” The official announcement of that decision was made at a 25th anniversary banquet on Oct. 7, 2001 at which the Richards were honored for their 25 years of service.
Click here or on the Museum tab at the top of the page to see a selection of what’s in the museum today.
Do It Yourself with Documents in the Museum
We are happy to share information in the museum about the city of Kewanee or village of Wethersfield and the folks who lived there.
While we are planning to make a more extensive list of research material in the museum, here’s a partial list of what you will find:
- City directories beginning in 1876 and including the years of 1893, 1898, 1900, 1905, 1911, and many others from that point.
- Cemetery indexes compiled by the Henry County Genealogical Society of all Kewanee cemeteries.
- Scrapbooks containing about 10,000 Kewanee obituaries … click here to see the index.
- Kewanee High School yearbooks beginning in 1904 and Wethersfield High School yearbooks beginning in 1947.
- All of the published histories of Henry County, Kewanee or Wethersfield.
- Atlases showing Kewanee and Wethersfield in 1876, 1893, 1911, 1918 and later.
- Scrapbooks containing documents of various kinds on churches, schools, businesses, industries, fraternal and social clubs and individuals … click for an alphabetized index to scrapbooks.
We Can Help
You can make your request by mail, phone or email. Our address is 125 N Tremont, Kewanee IL 61443. Our phone number is 309-853-1854. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org … you can also use the contact form on the contacts page.
Please note that ALL research is done by VOLUNTEERS, as our not-for-profit society does not have any paid staff. We do not have set fees for doing research, but reasonable donations to the museum are expected and appreciated.
One last note-we do not do general genealogical searches that might involve censuses or visiting the county courthouse for vital statistics. For general searches we can recommend the Henry County Genealogical Society and Henry County Courthouse. (See the “Links” page). We limit our efforts to the material that we have in our museum and looking at microfilm of Kewanee newspapers.
Additional information and photographs are available when you visit the Kewanee Historical Museum
As always, if you have old photographs, stories or documents you wish to share with the Historical Society we would be greatly appreciated.