It's easy to see how important preserving our community's collective memory is when you watch our dedicated volunteers at work. Over 200+ volunteers contributed 15,668 hours of their time and talents last year. What a staggering statistic! Our volunteers go above and beyond and we simply couldn't do what we do without them. One such volunteer, Dolores "Dee" Perry, regularly helps in our collections area, working every Friday for three to four hours. And, it's not uncommon for her to do another 16 to 20 hours of research at home each week as well. Dee searches Ancestry.com, Findagrave.com, the Illinois State Archives, and the Pantagraph online archives to fill in missing biographical information for the 4100+ names listed in our collections database, PastPerfect.
The value of each object the Museum owns isn't measured in monetary terms but rather its provenance. Knowing who owned the object, when and where it was used, and for what purpose, helps us to preserve the history of McLean County. Those individuals associated with each object have their own biographical record built into PastPerfect with information such as birth/death dates, parents, siblings, spouses, children and other familial relationships, associated places and geographical areas of residence, titles and honors, educational history, and occupation and sphere of activity. We even have a place in the record for anecdotes associated with the individual and the object!
Recently, Dee researched a gentleman, previously entered into PastPerfect as "J. Dillon," the owner of a walking cane in the collection. On the cane's gold end cap has a Gothic-style inscription with the owner's first initial and last name and the dates "1855 – 1905". Through her research, Dee discovered that we had been misreading the initial and the cane was in fact a gift to Isaiah Dillon upon his 50th wedding anniversary. Isaiah and Mary Fisher exchanged vows in Tazewell County, Illinois, on January 16, 1855.
Isaiah was a prominent farmer and breeder of Norman and Percheron horses in Normal, IL. Along with his brother Levi, Isaiah (pictured right) learned the horse-breeding trade from their uncle, Ellis Dillon, who raised the boys after their parents died of cholera.
The first Norman horse that Ellis purchased was a stallion named Old Louis Napoleon. Isaiah & his brother Levi would eventually purchase Napoleon and grow the business by traveling to Le Perche, France, to acquire more draft horses.
The painting by Lou Burk is currently hanging in the Farming Gallery at the McLean County Museum of History. Old Louis Napoleon was the first Norman horse purchased by Ellis Dillon in 1854. He paid $1500, over $38,000 in today's currency!
Ellis dissolved his horse-breeding business in 1882 at which time it was reorganized by Isaiah and Levi under the name "Dillon Brothers." They continued to breed impressive draft horses until 1893 when the family business was dissolved. For more information about the Dillon family and their horse-breeding business, click here.
If you would like to learn more about the exciting volunteer opportunities that exist at the McLean County Museum of History, please visit our volunteer page or call our Director of Volunteers, Deb VanAntwerp at 309-827-0428.