||The Ansel Brainerd Cook
Victorian Home and Museum is the crown jewel of downtown Libertyville,
elegantly gracing Cook Park and Milwaukee Avenue. Visitors instantly
step back in time when they walk through the door into the beautifully
restored rooms containing hundreds of carefully arranged antique
furnishings and artifacts. In the archives, a wealth of unique
documents, photographs, and memorabilia are preserved for future
generations. The house stands as a wonderful tribute to the dedicated
members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society who have
embraced a mission of preservation for the past fifty years.
Who started this monumental task of
preservation and how was it accomplished? Initially, it was Cook
Memorial Library board members who brought up the idea of
forming a group to preserve our local history. Mrs. Wilbur M. Kreiger
(right bottom) and librarian Mrs. John Littler (right top) were
probably the most instrumental in the beginning stages of the
formation. Their original idea was to form a historical society as a
department of the library. The first meetings to discuss this idea
were held in the library in September of 1954. At that time, the
library was housed in what is now the Cook Home and Museum. The
meetings were well attended, but principally by women. According to
archived notes, “It was suggested that the meetings be held in the
evening, thereafter, to enable more men to attend. At about this time,
the redecoration of the upper rooms of the library was completed and
meetings were held in these, and in the evening, thereafter.”
meetings were held during the next several months, where
the enthusiastic response of those in attendance proved that an
historical society could be successfully supported. A meeting held on
January 15, 1955, featured local histories collected by the Reverend
Thomas Sampson, planting the seed for a historical document collection.
During an April 1955 meeting, a steering committee was elected.
Members of the committee included: Mrs. W. O. Bell, Mrs. O. L. Hawk,
Mrs. V. C. Baldwin, Lawrence M. Crawford, Charles E. Carroll, David
Pettengill, and Mrs. J. M. Littler, librarian. The committee’s task was
“to form an organization which would ensure perpetuation of the search
for and preservation of local historical facts and memorabilia.”
The recording secretary’s notes state
that, “In June, the library board decided that the historical group
should elect its own officers and arrange its own programs, thus
relieving the library personnel of some of the responsibility, but
still remaining under the sponsorship of the library.” The steering
committee set to work and compiled a list of recommendations, proposing
the society be named the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.
The stated purpose was “to discover, study, discuss, collect, and
preserve information and materials relative to the history of the
community.” Membership was opened to all interested residents of the
area with annual dues set at $1.00. A slate of officers was nominated:
President David Pettengill, Secretary-Treasurer Charles Carroll, and
Custodian and Hostess Mrs. J. M. Littler.
Mrs. Littler opened the following meeting
on July 25, 1955, and presented the recommendations of the steering
committee. All recommendations were unanimously approved and the
officers were elected for a term of one year, officially establishing
the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. David Pettengill took
over the meeting as the new president. A program of stories related by
old-time residents followed. Among the storytellers were Mrs. J. J.
Doershuk, Robert Rouse, and James Swan. The new Society was underway.
Cook House in 1955
taken by member Carl Cizek.
the first year of operation, from September 1955 to September 1956, 64
people joined the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. During
the next two years, membership increased along with the number of
donated items. By-laws were written and passed, and on April 25, 1957, a
certificate of incorporation as a not-for-profit organization was
granted by the state of Illinois. Mrs. Littler agreed to serve as
archivist, but she was overwhelmed with a flood of documents and items.
Members Carl Ciczek, Bertha Nicholas, and Mrs. C. O. Carlson
volunteered to help Mrs. Littler in the huge task of sorting,
identifying, and cataloging the donations.
House became the official home of the Libertyville-Mundelein
Historical Society when the Cook Memorial Library moved into its
present building in 1968. Books were moved out and the emptied rooms
waited to be restored and filled with furnishings to recreate a
Victorian-era home. A community-wide effort resulted in a wealth of
donations. The Society also set up an archive for the collection of
unique and irreplaceable documents.
monumental task of restoring the Cook House to its original domestic
style began in the mid-1970s. The Society spent a total of $10,000
repainting, refinishing, and restoring the house. A grant from the
Village of Libertyville helped, but the balance of the money needed was
collected by the Historical Society. The funds were to be used to
recreate the splendor of the home in time for the Bicentennial
celebration in 1976. Woodwork and floors were stripped to their
original finish, wallpaper and carpeting were installed, and major
structural changes, such as the replacement of an eight-foot wall,
removed during the home’s use as a library, were completed. Under the
able leadership of president Mavis Wilke and decorating committee
members Shirley Luebbers, Reva Konefes, and Marie and Joe Janik, the
Cook House debuted for the 1976 summer season.
During this same
time period, in December of 1973, the Cook House opened its doors for
its first Christmas house walk. Members began donating antique
ornaments to create a lovely “old-time” Christmas tree, beginning the
celebration of an annual Victorian Christmas tradition.
Dean Larson led a two-year effort
along with Jerry to secure this national distinction. Because the
building’s exterior had been remodeled in 1921 when it became Cook
Memorial Library, the structure did not qualify to be listed as the
Ansel B. Cook Home, but it did qualify as the first public library
building in Libertyville. On August 16, 2001, Cook House was
triumphantly recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for
serving as Cook Memorial Library beginning in 1921.
Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society can be proud of the many
distinctions it has received since its inception fifty years ago.
Generous donations of time, effort, money, and artifacts have all
contributed to the Society’s success. Today, the Society has over 160
members. Hundreds of visitors have stepped through the Cook House doors
during the annual summer and Christmas open houses. The house is filled
with furnishings, household items, toys, pictures, dresses, and
gadgets to leave a lasting impression of a bygone era. The archive is
filled with unique research documents and photographs that have
educated and delighted researchers, students, and local residents. The
original goals set forth by the Society have certainly been
accomplished, but there is always more work to be done. History is
never complete; it is a work in progress.
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