Historical museums of the Midwest tell stories that we all need to hear. History comes to life and it’s through our experiences that we are able to connect with the past. You can visit each of these museums several times and I can guarantee that you will find something new on each visit. With so many things to see and do and so little time, it’s important to connect with our past. Most importantly, sign the guest books when you visit. Many attractions, such as museums, depend on visitors to receive state and federal funding. Plan your road trip and include the historical museums of the Midwest, you won’t be disappointed.
Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home & Museum: Charles City, Iowa
Women received the right to vote just over 100 years ago when the 19th Amendment was ratified. You can learn about the tireless work done decades leading up to the 19th Amendment, as well as following the passage, by visiting one of the national suffrage leaders, Carrie Chapman Catt’s Girlhood Home and Museum in Charles City, Iowa. Carrie Chapman Catt is known for being the President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and founding the League of Women Voters. Her passion for suffrage began in her girlhood home at age 13 when she questioned why her dad and their hired hand got to go into town to vote and her mother didn’t. Her father told that voting was too important of civic duty to leave to women.
A local group has restored the home which is set up with display panels that walk you through the timeline of Carrie’s life, along with local, national, and world events. Also on the grounds is an interpretive center, apple orchard, and prairie area. The Catt Museum is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and by appointment off-season. The site was also recently added to the National Votes for Women Historical Trail. Women are a part of history and make up a part of the historical museums of the Midwest.
Sioux City Railroad Museum: Sioux City, Iowa
At the Sioux City Railroad Museum, visitors don’t just read interpretive panels about railroad history. You can touch train engines and climb in train cars. You can watch model trains traverse their huge display. And much more! The museum is on 32 acres that, between the two World Wars, served as the 10th largest rail center in the US!
Extensive restoration efforts have converted the historic brick buildings that once served as engine terminals and car repair shops for the Milwaukee Railroad into relaxing places for visitors to stroll and learn. The Sioux City Railroad Museum is also known for hosting some of Siouxland’s best holiday celebrations, like Santa’s Whistlestop Tour and Halloween at the Roundhouse, along with classic movie nights and historical lectures for adults, storytimes for kids, and costumed characters telling tales of railway lore. A highlight of the museum is the grand scale train guests can ride—there are only a few rideable trains of this scale in the US, and several of those few others are also in the Midwest! For railroad aficionados, the Sioux City Railroad Museum is a can’t-miss.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum: Mansfield, Missouri
Stacey Billingsley of Love, Laughter, and Luggage shares how you can experience Laura Ingalls Wilder in Missouri.
If you love the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder or American history, you will love visiting the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Almanzo and Laura built Rocky Ridge Farm, and now the home is preserved and available for tours. In 2016, a new museum was constructed to house the heirlooms of Laura’s family, including Pa’s fiddle. A short film also provides a recording of Laura’s actual voice. The gift shop has a lot of fun items relating to the time period including books, soap, and yummy treats. In October, the museum hosts Wilder Days to celebrate all things Laura.
Be sure to make time to explore the small Missouri town of Mansfield. Laura has a bust on the town square, and you’ll find additional information about the history of the area in the Mansfield Museum and Heritage center on Main Street. You can also visit the Wilders’ gravesites in the cemetery behind the school. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum is certainly a must-do for fans of Laura and the American pioneer. From the tv screen to one of the best historical museums in the Midwest, you will enjoy the story behind this attraction.
Milton House Museum: Milton, Wisconsin
Megan Bannister of Olio In Iowa found a museum in Wisconsin with a powerful story.
The Milton House Museum in Milton, Wisconsin is more than just a historical museum — it’s a piece of the Underground Railroad’s history. Built in 1845, this three-story hexagonal building was once a bustling stagecoach inn. Over the years, the hotel welcomed hundreds of guests, many passing through the area on their way from Chicago to Madison. During that time, the hotel’s founder Joseph Goodrich also helped fugitive slaves escape to Canada on the Underground Railroad.
Today, the Milton House is a National Historic Landmark and the last certified Underground Railroad station in Wisconsin. Guided tours of this unique museum take visitors through the historic hotel while sharing about the family’s history and role in the underground railroad. After viewing the public-facing parts of the historic inn, the tour travels below ground. Here you can view the tunnels where the Goodrich family helped keep enslaved people safe before they moved on to the next leg of their journey north.
While the Milton House Museum is an incredible way to learn about the area’s early history, its story of social equality and the difference one person can make rings especially true today. Stories about the people involved in the underground railroad are important stories in the historical museums of the Midwest.
Wayne County Historical Museum: Richmond, Indiana
The Wayne County Historical Museum is in the Starr Historic District in Richmond, Indiana. It is an impressive county museum. Collections from founder Julia Gaar’s travels around the world fill two levels of exhibits – including a 3,000-year-old mummy! Exhibits represent Wayne County’s history from early pioneer life through the revolution and modern times. In the lower level, you’ll find a late 1800s display of Main Street Richmond, including Starr Piano, Gennett Records, a General Store, Apocathopthy, and Colonial cabin.
A collection of cars, including Gaar’s own 1921 Detroit Electric car and a 1922 Pilot Speedster can also be found. The museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and, in addition to the indoor Main Street display, also features an outdoor exhibit with buildings depicting Richmond, Indiana in the 1800s. The Wayne County Historical Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday and is $7/adults and $5/students. There is a discount for Seniors, Veterans, & Active Military. Richmond is a town where history comes to life in one of the historical museums of the Midwest.
Pullman Historic District: Chicago, Illinois
As the only National Park Service site in the city of Chicago, the Pullman Historic District is well worth visiting. Built on Chicago’s South Side in the late 1800s, Pullman was America’s first industrial model town. Centered on the Pullman factory that manufactured railroad cars, the town had everything workers would need, with over 500 homes. The homes were very modern for the times, with indoor plumbing and electricity.
Today, you can visit the National Monument and tour the lovingly restored neighborhood. Start at the Visitor Center and Museum where you can watch a short film and learn more about the history of this and other historic Chicago neighborhoods. The Historic Pullman Foundation offers guided walking tours of the neighborhood on the first Sunday of each month. In October residents open their homes for the Annual Historic Pullman House Tour. The December Candlelight House Walk is also a popular time to visit Chicago’s only National Park!
Anne Frank Connection Museum: Danville, Iowa
Cindy Ladage of Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl recently spent some time exploring in Iowa. She found an incredible museum that features Anne Frank. Cindy has a few things to say about her recent visit. Iowa has several historical museums of the midwest. Many of the Scenic highways and byways are home to many of these.
You don’t often find World War II history in the Midwest. So, I was amazed when I learned about the Ann Frank Connection Museum in Danville, Iowa! The Ann Frank Connection Museum is a half library and half museum. The museum profiles the story of pen pals between two sisters in rural Iowa and amazingly, the Frank sisters, Ann and Margo! The story begins with Miss Birdie Mathews. This Danville Community School seventh- and eighth-grade teacher was also a world traveler.
Wanting to share her desire to learn about the world beyond Iowa with her students, she set up an international pen-pal program. The museum has a timeline of what is happening with the Frank family and paralleling what is happening at the same time in the US and focusing on Danville. There is also a video of Betty Wagner, who corresponded with Margo Frank. She kept the letters over the years and the story unfolds at this museum that is a historic treasure.
RVP- 1875 Historic Furniture Shop & Museum: Jefferson, Iowa
Dan Cline, of Country Pilgrim, recently took a road trip through Iowa and stumbled upon the RVP- 1875 Historic Furniture Shop & Museum in Jefferson, Iowa. I was impressed! This is an award-winning attraction all of its own in Jefferson, Iowa.
One of the most unique museums in the Midwest (RVP-1875) is located in Jefferson, IA. This museum holds a reputation as the world’s leading historical furniture shop and museum. Stepping inside the doors of the furniture shop is like traveling back into the year 1875, where every furniture piece, tool, and technique used to make the furniture dates back to the 19th -century. The most unique is the fact that the museum is a real, living, and working furniture shop. When walking around the shop, one feels like they are taking a stroll back in the 1800s.
The Master Furniture Maker behind RVP-1875 is Robby Pedersen – who prides himself in not only making historically accurate timepieces but using the very same historically accurate tools as well. The shop features many different 19th -century working tools (over 500 hand planes, a hand-crank rip saw, and others). The most eye-catching is the 1860’s foot-powered lathe. In addition, and not to be missed, is the History Boy Theatre – located on the back half of the furniture shop and museum. It gives a 19th -century feel to live theatre, and brings in some of the newest professional acts straight from New York City.
The entire experience at RVP-1875 has earned them several Tourism awards. The 2013 Outstanding Tourism Business, 2015 Outstanding Retail Experience, and 2016 Outstanding Tourism Attraction. This living and working museum is worth placing on your bucket list. This is one of the most unique historical museums of the Midwest.
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