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Illinois hunting and fishing

Siblings Cathy and Gary Allen, pictured in front of a mural in downtown Meredosia, are working to help revive the town’s river history museum. Photos by Chris Young.

Volunteers working to revive Meredosia river museum

November 01, 2011 at 08:31 AM

The State Journal-Register

MEREDOSIA — A couple of years ago, Meredosia’s Historical Society and River Museum almost faded into history.

But a group of dedicated volunteers is reviving the museum and Meredosia’s connection to the rich history of the Illinois River. Meredosia is about 60 miles west of Springfield.

Like a lot of organizations, a small number of people ended up shouldering most of the load for the museum. By 2008, the load was just too heavy.

Dora Dawson, the group’s “heart and soul,” was in her late 70s, and health problems were limiting her mobility.

The museum was having trouble raising enough money just to pay for heat and lights.

“It was real quiet for several years, because there weren’t too many people involved,” said historical society treasurer David Bergman.

LST visit

Now, with some new blood and a board that meets regularly, the museum is open on weekends and is sponsoring special events like a visit last spring by a World War II LST landing craft. It was the last operational “Landing Ship, Tank” in existence.

“We were quite proud of that,” said Gary Allen, who coordinated the visit with his sister, Cathy. “It was the first big event we ran together.”

“We’ve had so many nice comments about that,” Dawson said. “We had this huge ship docked on our riverfront that people could go through.”

The Allen siblings are putting a lot of energy into the process of restoring the museum.

The building and its exhibits sat mostly unused and unseen for two years. Moisture problems developed during that time.

“It’s amazing how the building went downhill in a couple of years,” Dawson said.

Cathy Allen is turning one room into a research center for local genealogy—hopefully with wireless Internet soon.

Future looks good

Gary is working on the overall layout of the building, arranging exhibits—like the “Harvesting the River” exhibit donated by the Illinois State Museum—so the narrative is easier to follow.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Bergman is exploring grants, new sources of donations and the development of a small gift shop to sell “Dosh-centered” merchandise, and a number of events have been scheduled.

“Right now, the future is looking pretty good with FutureGen (the clean coal facility planned for Meredosia),” Dawson said. “And they are building a new bridge (across the Illinois River) starting next year.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

Dawson can’t attend board meetings, so the group is setting up a speakerphone temporarily so she can participate.

Eventually, the board wants Dawson, now 80, to attend meetings by computer.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Bergman said he started out helping his friends, the Allens, and got hooked.

“It kind of gets to you,” he said. “It’s exciting because there is a lot that should be preserved in the Meredosia area.”

Dawson has remained upbeat, even through the difficult times.

“Gradually we’re getting a new board and putting the museum back together,” she said. “The only thing they need is more help.”

***

Meredosia Historical Society and River Museum

Address: 305 Main St., Route 104, Meredosia

Hours: 1-4 p.m. Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Other hours by appointment. Call Dora Dawson at 584-1356

Admission: Donations appreciated.

Museum events

* A Veteran’s Day get-together is planned for Nov. 12. “Vets and their families can bring in their pictures and tell their stories,” Cathy Allen said.

* A Christmas celebration is planned for Dec. 17, including a visit from Santa Claus, a quilt raffle and a gingerbread house contest.

* The annual eagle-watching event has yet to be scheduled, and more events are on the drawing board.

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