PAXTON — The Illinois Central Historical Society’s railroad museum and headquarters will remain in downtown Paxton — and will eventually be open regularly again to the public — despite plans to have the building’s ownership transferred to the Monticello Railway Museum and to have the ICHS’s archives moved to the Piatt County seat.
“We’re not coming in to plunder this place and take all the good stuff and then walk away from this place,” stressed Kirk Reynolds, a retired Champaign resident who serves as archive manager for both the ICHS and MRM.
In 2017, the MRM and ICHS entered into an agreement for the MRM to take over the operation of the museum in Paxton and eventually buy it. Under the agreement, the ICHS’s archived documents are to be moved within about five years from the museum in Paxton to an archival facility to be built in Monticello.
The ICHS’s museum/headquarters, though, is not going anywhere, Reynolds said. About the only change is that the museum’s name will be changed to the Monticello Railway Museum’s North Campus, Reynolds said.
“It’s a very historically significant structure, and the MRM recognizes that,” Reynolds said. “The MRM has no intention of packing up everything and moving it down to Monticello and then leaving this building to fall apart. The MRM is fully committed to the maintenance of this building, not only for the purpose of maintaining the ICHS (archives) collection but also for the (building’s) historical significance here in Paxton.”
Reynolds called the museum building at 250 N. Market St. in Paxton the “most significant” structure among the MRM’s 18 facilities. The other 17 buildings, all located in Monticello, include a Wabash Railroad depot and an Illinois Central Railroad depot.
The Paxton building, however, is “probably more than three times — or at least twice the size — of the depots in Monticello,” Reynolds said. “And it’s made out of brick, while the Monticello depot is wood.”
Reynolds added that the Paxton building remains in “such great shape,” as well.
Reynolds said the plan is for the Paxton museum to eventually be open to the public regularly, perhaps on a designated Saturday each month. Prior to the MRM taking over its operation, the museum had been open two Saturdays per month, but it currently is open only by appointment.
Whenever the museum is opened to the public on a regular basis — something that could happen as early as next summer — the plan is to also offer tours of the old caboose and box car on the building’s north side. They are being used for storage purposes currently, Reynolds said.
The museum in Paxton, which has been in existence for 29 years, is dedicated to the history of the Illinois Central Railroad, which merged with the Canadian National Railroad in 1999. Among items housed in the museum are photographs, various corporate records, mechanical and structural drawings, maps of properties, and hardware and tools used to conduct railroad operations.
Tours can be arranged by emailing Doug Butzow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lack of available ICHS members to staff the Paxton museum and a lack of suitable storage space there led to the ICHS board of director’s decision to give control of the museum to the MRM two years ago.
“We don’t have very many people in our society who live in Paxton,” ICHS board member John Fortner of Watson, La., told the Ford County Record in 2017. “In fact, we have only one member who does. ... We just don’t have anybody up there to keep it open. So the Monticello Railway Museum will be doing that for us.
“Also, the way that depot was built, it’s hard to be able to control the temperature and humidity inside the building, so our archives would not last as long (if they remained there). So we’re trying to move our archives eventually, and we are trying to partner with the Monticello Railway Museum to do that.”