Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
The Discovery Center Museum
711 N. Main St., Rockford, (815) 963-6769
This unique learning space was founded in 1981 by the Rockford Area Arts Council and the Junior League of Rockford.
The goal was to offer families and children a place for hands-on learning through exploration, experience and experimentation. With an annual attendance nearing the 250,000 mark, and its designation by Forbes as one of the 12 best children’s museums in the nation in 2012, it’s apparent that the goal has been achieved. The museum’s two floors include more than 250 interactive galleries and exhibits, among them “Simple Machines,” where visitors can manipulate wheels, pulleys, levers and more; and Ag-Zibit, offering chances to run a combine, milk a cow or study a real beehive.
The museum also hosts traveling exhibitions, and thanks to a 2010 joint renovation with the adjacent Burpee Museum of Natural History, the new state-of-the-art Woodward Exhibit Hall accommodates larger and more environmentally sensitive exhibitions.
Behind the museum, Rock River Discovery Park is the first community-built science park in the nation. The huge, multi-level, open air space devoted to science and discovery includes, among other things, a pumpkin catapult and a dinosaur dig.
The museum also hosts regular special events, such as Chocolate Sundae Sunday and Astronomy Day, and Home School, Tot Spot and Family classes. The center is part of the Riverfront Museum campus, which includes the Rockford Art Museum and the Burpee Museum.
The Discovery Center is open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Special rates are available for groups over 10, along with discounts for same-day admission to both museums.
Robert and Elizabeth Solem Museum
Lincoln Center, 845 Hackett St., Beloit, Wis., (608) 365-7835, beloithistoricalsociety.com
Lincoln Center is home to the Beloit Historical Society, founded in 1910 and the oldest historical society in Rock County. Occupying the spot of the former Lincoln Junior High School, it also houses the Robert and Elizabeth Solem Museum, with exhibits that showcase area history.
In the Beloit Gallery, visitors can browse items from the historical society’s 30,000-piece collection, including an antique high-wheel bicycle, paper-making machinery constructed at Beloit Iron Works, and fashion, housewares and other items from the city’s past.
The Arthur Missner Veteran’s Gallery and Memorial honors local veterans with rotating, war-related exhibits and a permanent memorial. The Ted Perring Sports Hall of Fame presents changing displays which highlight area sports history and local individuals who’ve made important contributions to sports.
Visitors to the Lincoln Center can also peruse the historical documents and books in the Luebke Family Memorial Library. A community room is available for rental.
Hours: Tues.-Fri., noon-4 pm.
Chana School Museum
201 N. River Road, Oregon, Ill., (815) 732-4714
Built in 1883, this distinctive two-room schoolhouse, which marked its 129th year in 2012, serves as a museum, a living history setting for local school children, and a venue for seasonal special community events.
It’s hard to believe that, in 1997, it was scheduled to be torn down.
Originally located in Chana, about 8 miles east of Oregon, it began life as a typical one-room school, but 10 years later, a smaller room was added, perpendicular to the first. The bell tower was built to connect the two rooms, resulting in the unusual V shape.
Retired in 1953, the schoolhouse’s larger room was used by the Chana School District as a bus garage, and the smaller one as an overflow classroom, until Chana merged with the Oregon School District, around 1965.
After the building was sold and set to be torn down, citizens formed the Chana School Foundation, saved the school, and in 1998, moved it to its present location. After five years of refurbishing and restoration by volunteers, it opened as a museum in 2003. The interior features curved walls, tin ceilings and decorative, carved woodwork.
On weekends in the summer, the museum’s lawn showcases 19th-century baseball, as the Oregon Ganymedes take on other vintage teams.
The schoolhouse is available for tours by appointment.