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Preserving local history is a significant mission of most communities today. “History gives us a sense of our roots… how the community grew and evolved over time,” said Susan Golland, programs manager at the Des Plaines History Center. “A look at our past can often give us an idea of how we got to where we are today.”

And so, on September 27, 1967, the Des Plaines Historical Society (DPHS) organized its first meeting with 27 civic-minded individuals in attendance. No time was wasted, as the Historical Society incorporated the next year and immediately set out to secure a site that would highlight the history of Des Plaines through exhibits and programs. An agreement with the First Federal Savings & Loan allowed the DPHS to utilize the historic Kinder House as a museum facility.

The Kinder House was constructed in 1907 and served as the original home of Benjamin F. Kinder, a local hardware merchant. The Queen Anne-style home has been restored and was moved from its original location to the northeast corner of Pearson and Prairie in 1978. Today, the Kinder House functions as a period house museum and is available to the public for tours.

Adjacent to the house is the former Des Plaines Savings & Loan Association building, which is now home to the DPHS’s Visitor Center. The structure, built in 1952, houses staff offices, the Society’s archival collection, a gift shop, rotating exhibits and program space.

The Society’s collection includes more than 26,500 cataloged items and preserved local history documents from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as contemporary items. Among the objects are various family and personal artifacts, tools and equipment, photographs and furnishings. Of note, the center features a desk owned by Socrates Rand—often referred to as the “father” of Des Plaines—items from the Sugar Bowl Ice Cream Parlor and Brown’s Department Store, and the popular 1947 aerial view of the Villas subdivisions, which, according to Golland, is one of the most asked-about artifacts.

The Visitor Center offers regularly changing exhibits, with one main exhibit in the gallery featured each year. In 2008, the Society hosted “In Consequence of Being Sick: Healthcare in Des Plaines,” a display that highlighted the medical community of Des Plaines from pioneer settlers to present day doctors. The most recent exhibit, “On the Rails,” features model trains.

Accompanying the many exhibitions at the History Center are numerous year-round programs for children and adults. Coffee Talk is a well-attended monthly program for adults, as are the various evening lectures, presentations and workshops. Children take advantage of Scout programs, a weekly summer arts and crafts program, activities on select school days off from September through May and both in-school and at-home school programs.

In addition to the Kinder House and Visitor Center, the DPHS maintains the 1916 Fisher-Wright House, a three-bedroom bungalow, and an off-site storage location that houses the bulk of the Society’s three-dimensional collection.

“We have filled the nooks and crannies of our three buildings and off-site facility, in some cases, to the rafters,” noted Golland. “We continue to look to expand our space.”

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