The Byron Museum displays a variety of exhibits focusing on local and area history.
A.G. Spalding: From Byron to the Big Leagues
Albert Goodwill Spalding, professional baseball player and famous sporting goods manufacturing founder, was born right here in Byron, Illinois in 1850. While living in Rockford, Illinois, Albert met Civil War veterans who had learned a game called baseball. In a short time Albert began playing the game and soon discovered he was quite good at it. He played for the Boston Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings (this team later became the Chicago Cubs). After playing for a couple of seasons and getting into a management role, he decided he liked managing even more and ended his career as a player. Albert was a very enterprising young man and soon along with his brother, he started the Spalding Brothers Sporting Goods Co. – the same Spalding name we know of today. They began supplying balls and equipment to baseball teams and soon branched out into other sports. In 1939, Albert Spalding was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This exhibit features replica baseball uniforms, Spalding artifacts, and baseball lore.
The Lucius Read House & Read / Parson Families
The Lucius Read house was one of the first brick structures built in Byron in the early 1840s. The house was built for Lucius Read and his family by his brother-in-law Pardon Kimball and quickly became a focal point of activity in the young community. When Lucius Read married Tryphena Parsons, both were widowers. Not only did they bring two households together, they also brought a strong belief in ending slavery. The Read family used their home as a “safe house” and hide runaway slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad. This exhibit contains historic photograph and stories about the original residents of this 19th century brick structure.
The Underground Railroad: From Shackles to Freedom
The original owners of the Read House were Abolitionists and this exhibit traces the story of the Underground Railroad, from its development in the Deep South to its active branches right here in northern Illinois and highlights Byron’s participation in this historic event. When runaway slaves arrived in Byron, they were hidden in one of three safe houses. The Read House is the only one still in existence today. From Byron they would travel either north toward Wisconsin or go east toward Chicago. This exhibit features a replica of a lamp in a safe house window. Children can also experience what it was like for the runaway slave Henry “Box” Brown who stowed away in a shipping box to reach his freedom.
Byron’s Railroad Era
In 1910, Byron was bustling with activity, including the coming and going of trains. Train whistles tooted, great steam engines shot plumes of smoke into the air, and passenger and freight trains moved to and from the depots. Two railroads passed through Byron in those days: the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago Great Western. Railroads were a popular way to travel back then for both goods and people. Local farmers used trains to move grain and livestock while local businesses could sell the latest fashions and goods from all over the world right here in Byron. Byron residents also used the railroad to go to Chicago, visit relatives, or friends in other communities near and far. See what Byron looked like in the early 1900s in an interactive 1910 railroad model of Byron and visit Engineer Jim at the Kids’ Depot.
Byron Goes to War
This military exhibit, honoring area veterans, focuses on profiles of local men and women who served our country over the years. Civil War Veterans in the Lucius Read family as well as World War I and World War II Veterans from around the area are featured. This display also explores how the different wars affected the citizens of Byron on the Home Front. A selection of Home Front objects on display include local war bond advertisements, ration cards, and Red Cross memorabilia. Quotes taken from oral histories highlight how children and young people were also supporting the war efforts. Look for a special display of war souvenirs brought home to Byron.
Water closet, the John, privy, little house out back…..These were all popular nicknames given to outhouses. This exhibit will remind you of days long past when outhouses were not only part of daily life in Byron, but also convenient dumping spot for household trash. See what has been dug up from Byron area outhouses. As you look around this exhibit, you will see many types of china, glass bottles, toys, and other household items. Today privy diggers excavate these outhouse pits in search of artifacts to learn about the past. Look for a collection of artifacts from the Read family pit dig.
Byron: Open for Business 1835-1975
The pioneers who came to this area in 1835 believed the settlement they founded along the banks of the Rock River would one day become a prosperous town, rich in farmland and thriving local businesses. This exhibit highlights several Byron businesses through the years beginning with Byron’s early days up to 1975. Featured businesses include: Gill’s Hall (a furniture and undertaking business), Byron Cheese Factory, and the once popular Clamming Industry along the Rock River. Several of the objects on display include a sign from Piper’s Hardware, a block of old Post Office boxes, and an old safe from the Byron Bank. Visitors are given the opportunity to test their local knowledge against our Byron Business Trivia and are encouraged to share their favorite business memories, past or present.
Old Time Farming
Take a walk back and view what farming was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.Crossing Boundaries
How do we encounter barriers in our lives? What do we do to overcome those sometimes hard-to-see boundaries. How do we address the subtle “fences” of gender, social status, and race? These questions are at the heart of this exhibit, which began with a desire to tell Ogle County’s experiences with barriers, and connect to those among us who-whether concretely or symbolically- have “crossed boundaries.” To tell these stories, we reached out to members of the community who are experts in local history. We asked participants to think about how people from these Ogle County towns have faced obstacles, how they have overcome them, and in doing so how they may have changed the history of our towns and beyond. The results of our collaboration with the communities of Ogle County are collected in this exhibit and strive to tell the stories of 9 individuals from Ogle County who overcame their own personal struggles against invisible barriers such as race, gender, and social status.