COBDEN — History is anything but dead in Union County.

A great deal of it is referenced inside the towering, two-story, pink-trimmed building with large windows, off the city's downtown "loop," and it's anything but ignored.


The Union County Historical Museum is located on South Appleknocker Drive in Cobden.

The Union County Historical Society, which runs a museum, resale shop and historical center inside the old DuBois building, attracts a steady stream of visitors, some to peruse the Native American artifacts, Anna pottery or World War I collections from Southern Illinois or to shop for inexpensive decorations and other knickknacks in the shop next door. In one of the room's back corners are ledgers and boxes of documents that staff planned to start moving that day into a new location, the former Cobden Medical Building/Clinic a block up the street.

Combined, they keep the entities open, running and apparently, expanding. The board members say of their repeat customers, about one-third come for the resale shop, another third for the genealogy information and a final third for the museum's historical treasures.

"We get a lot of people coming back because they love to look at the collection," said Patrick Brumleve, secretary of the society's board.

A single door in the middle of the museum leads to the other side of the site, a store where donated items are sold to support the society's annual budget of about $12,000. This past Monday, items celebrating Halloween dominated the displays, including a Halloween-themed scarf, decorated pumpkins and scarecrows.


The Union County Historical Museum in Cobden houses a wide variety of items from the area's agricultural, railroad and Native American past.

Paulette Aronson, vice president of the board of directors, shows off some necklaces donated by a woman to the society's ongoing fundraising efforts.

"The shop is very successful for us," Brumleve said. "It beats trying to have quilt raffles, spaghetti dinners and going out and begging for donations."

The resale shop is also a favorite for people looking for inexpensive ways to decorate their homes, especially younger couples, Aronson noted.

Inside the museum

The museum was created by Brumleve's grandfather, Charles Thomas and his brother, Joe, and a friend Conrad Baggott. The three men started it after they started finding arrowheads and other items made by indigenous people, some dating back as far back as 7,000 years ago, in the fields and river areas in Union County. Behind glass cases are many of the items, including a large nutting stone, with seven holes in it for crushing nuts; stones knives, farming spade and other stone implements; and several arrowheads, from 2,500 to 9,000 years ago, the middle to late archaic periods.


The Union County Historical Museum in Cobden has an impressive display of Native American artifacts from the area dating back thousands of years.

The museum's exterior looms large on the front street, 117 S. Appleknocker Drive, towering above and sandwiched between La Mexicana market on one side and the U.S. Post Office on the other. It is across the street from a playground area.

It is the old DuBois building, which the Union County Historical Society acquired in 1987 and started renovating. That restoration took several years.

Lots of windows line the front of the building, allowing for a cheery, warm stream of light inside the building.

Open the front door on the museum side and walk onto wooden floors that are original to the building. The ceiling and walls, uncovered during a restoration of the building that started around 1988, are also original.


The Union County Historical Museum in Cobden houses a wide variety of items from the area's agricultural, railroad and Native American past.

In the room next door, the brick work, for the most part, is also original; the wooden floor planks in this room were more damaged and had to be replaced. The outline of a staircase, trimmed in wood, is also an original part of the building; Travelstead's husband, Will, replaced the back of the staircase area with wood.

Items on exhibit

Walk into the museum side of the building, and behold a feast for the eyes: The sports display near the front door, the antique tool exhibit near that, the World War I gun and artillery exhibit, right near the display case filled with large pieces of Anna Pottery, the extensive arrowhead and tool implement collection dating as far back as 3,000 to 7,000 years ago.


The Union County Historical Museum in Cobden houses a wide variety of items from the area's agricultural, railroad and Native American past.

The large pottery items, from the Anna Pottery factory that once operated in nearby Anna, was known for its large, distinctive work and inscriptions and has become collectors' items, he said. Brothers Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick started Anna Pottery in 1859, making many items, including a drinking item shaped like a small pottery pig — one of which was on display.

"We have the largest private collection in the United States" on display, Brumleve said.

Anna Pottery at Union County Historical and Genealogy Society Museum

Anna Pottery at Union County Historical and Genealogy Society Museum in Cobden.

Some time ago, the museum curators discovered that creating a new exhibit kept things fresh around the museum.

The exhibit on sports in Southern Illinois runs through the end of this month.

On Monday, staff at the museum were preparing to move some of its historical documents into the former medical center up the street. 

A little more than a decade ago, the staff at the historical society won a $5,000 matching grant to install a furnace. The group that awarded the grant came out this summer to see how things were going and interview society members for an article for one of its trade publications.

"We're still in existence," said Judy Travelstead, the board's treasurer. "That $5,000 helped launch us into what we do today. … It really did help us in a lot of different ways."


On Twitter: @scribeest


Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Murphysboro and Perry County.

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