A unique museum exists in Illinois, the project of the division of Highways, District 5, headquartered in Paris, Illinois.
While the main responsibilities of District 5's employees is to 'plan, design, construct, and maintain over 2,000 miles of roads and 913 bridges on the state highway system', these employees have also been inspired to collect, restore, and display antique equipment and tools used in their profession.
J. D. Benson, District Engineer, explains that there are currently two units to this unusual museum a static unit, which consists of a display of model horses and a 1927 grader; and a mobile unit, comprised of a 1936 Plymouth, a grader (with an 1888 stamp on the blade) drawn by a team of Belgian horses, a 1930 Caterpillar crawler, a 1927 Adams road grader, and a tandem axle truck with mounted snow blade. The static unit is on display at the Central Office at 2300 S. Dirksen Parkway in Springfield, and the mobile unit appears in parades and festivals around the state (accompanied by clowns who distribute candy and balloons to the children).
Road building has played an important part in the history of Illinois. The period from 1818 (when the state was admitted to the Union) to 1918 was characterized by poor road conditions and difficult travel between communities. In 1918, a 'Pull Illinois Out of the Mud' campaign resulted in the beginning of construction on the state highway system.
An appreciation for the early equipment used in this work led the Department of Transportation employees to form the Museum Without Walls.
District 5 has now been involved in another historical preservation project that of moving a unique design pony truss bridge from the small community of Fancher to a rest area at Marshall (a distance of 70 miles). Only approximately 150 bridges were built with this type pony truss, patented in the 1800s by Hiram B. and Everett Trout, and only a few of these remain. This bridge was narrowed in width, moved to the rest area site, and is being used as a footbridge.
Benson emphasizes that the success of the Museum Without Walls depends upon the enthusiasm and excellent support of the Division's employees. The Museum would appreciate donations of more highway items, literature, etc. They are especially interested in locating a horse drawn elevating scraper.
For making contributions or obtaining more information, please contact J. D. Benson, District Engineer, Division of Highways, District 5, Rt. 133 W., P.O. Box 610, Paris, Illinois 61944-0358. (217-465-4181).