A few slices of history in one spot
East Central Illinoisans who reguarly travel to St. Louis via the Effingham route probably have noticed what might look like a used farm machinery lot slowly growing just east of the Greenville exit.
But those who look closer will see a sign, surrounded by tractors, for the American Farm Heritage Museum.
An all-volunteer effort — on 17 acres donated in 2003 by Dr. Kenneth Selke, whose father was an Oliver tractor dealer — has helped the site expand to include multiple buildings, a separate Vietnam/Korean war vehicle museum, a 15-inch-gauge, mile-long train ride and a re-creation of Hill's Fort, an early 1800s garrison originally located a few miles away.
Volunteer Norm Schneider, who spends most Saturdays hosting the tractor display, said the museum was an outgrowth of talk over coffee at Oliver Schaefer's business, collecting and dealing in Oliver tractors.
From there, the original group funded the construction of the "Little Red Barn" with lifetime memberships. Completed just before the first Farm Heritage show in 2004, it now houses displays on domestic farm life and a small soda shop.
Next, the group dismantled a donated truck terminal in St. Louis and moved the usable structural pieces to the site for reassembly.
More buildings followed with assistance from the city of Greenville and a local contractor, Southwest Electric, donating work to wire the buildings.
"It's been phenomenal what we accomplished in 10 years," Schaefer said.
The site's Heritage Days celebration in July drew 300 tractors and an estimated 5,000 visitors, he said.
A stroke of good fortune, Schaefer said, was when a researcher found the original Hill's Fort blueprints at the courthouse, giving the restoration a historically accurate guide.
In addition to the now annual Heritage Days, the group had a one-time "outhouse" festival in 2006, featuring 10 themed outhouses.
The museum, open Saturdays from May through October, features a permanent collection of tractors and farm machinery, but also has several special events. The tractor pull in June was popular, Schneider said, and the next big event is the Fall Festival on Oct. 12.
The last major event of the year, Nov. 29 through Jan. 1, is the annual Christmas lights display, which features dozens of animated display boxes that can be seen on a drive (or walk) through the grounds. It includes complimentary hot chocolate and cookies. The American Heritage Train will also run Friday and Saturday evenings during the display.
For more information, visit http://www.americanfarmheritagemuseum.org.