LIBERTYVILLE – It’s time to put on our driving gloves and head on over to Libertyville and the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County.

The museum is named for Bess Bower Dunn (1877-1959), Lake County’s first official historian, and it’s among only 3% of museums nationally to have earned accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.

Here we can walk through history from prehistoric times to the American frontier — and running through April 12, we can view an offshoot of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression -era public works program that left its mark across the nation during the early 1930s and ‘40s. If you’ve been to White Pines Forest State Park in rural Mount Morris, for example, you’ve seen the work of the CCC, which built the lodge there.

Artist Reima Ratti (1914-1945) was a rock crusher with the Corps during the Great Depression, arduous work that served to inspire his artwork, and he became an official artist of the CCC art program. He was the son of Finnish immigrants, born in Waukegan.

“From a dark ‘muddy’ palette, Reima showed beauty in the toil of fishermen working their nets, the culture of Finnish baths and everyday activity inside a local diner,” museum curator Diana Dretske said.

With more than 20,000 objects in its care, the museum also has plenty of permanent exhibits to keep visitors busy. Let’s take a look at some.

In the Prehistoric Lake County section, we’ll see the museum’s oldest artifact, a fossil rock believed to be 420 million years old. We’ll find information on the dinosaurs that lived in the area, and we can meet Lake County’s very own Dryptosaurus. Visitors can do hands-on excavating at an Ice Age dig site.

As we move through time, we’ll meet the First People next. One of my favorite things is to look at full-scale reproductions, and the museum has one – a wigwam that area Native Americans helped make authentic. We’ll be able to find out about the lives of Native Americans who settled here and who still call the area home.

Lake County began to attract settlers with European backgrounds in the 1830s, drawn here by the good soil and inexpensive cost. In this area, we’ll learn about these early folks and move into the abolitionist and Underground Railroad days. 

We’ll also learn about the benefits of a learning in a one-room schoolhouse, inside a reproduction of one. Also on hand is a Gatling gun, along with Civil War-era artifacts, from the battlefront to the homefront.

In the Innovations and Preservation section, we’ll leave the Civil War behind and follow the railroad and highways into the age of industry. Along with this came people who wanted to preserve the county’s past and natural beauty. Visitors get their own chance to develop Lake County in an interactive play table or find out more about the early motion picture show business in Waukegan, including a look at first practical 35mm motion picture machine. Sorry, no popcorn.

Been there, done that

As the weather might be gradually getting better for us to branch out further, try a longer drive to Lake County’s gem of a museum. Shoppers – there’s a gift shop. Let’s show late winter it can’t keep us home.

If you go ...

What: Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

Where: 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, open until 8 p.m. first and third Thursday nights; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays except open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Martin Luther KIng Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, March 23, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Dec. 28. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Cost: $10 for adults, $6 for seniors 62 and older, youth ages 4 to 17 (limit 10 per adult) and students ages 18 to 25 with identification; and free for children 3 and younger and active U.S. military personnel along with up to five family members, mid-May to early September, with valid military identification (Blue Star Museums Program)

Distance from Dixon: About 121 miles

Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs; for specifics call Mary Kann at 847-968-3214

Information: 947-968-3400 or

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