21 Excellent Museums in Greater Peoria


Tim Alexander, Guest Writer


The Greater Peoria area is home to some very well known museums and even more that are off the beaten path. Some are eccentric, some are quaint and many chart the history of local residents, businesses and ways of life. Some are seasonal or open by appointment only, so please check the museum’s website or call for hours and days of operation. Here are some local museums that are worth a look:

Archbishop Fulton Sheen Museum   {Peoria}

One of two museums operated by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, the Sheen Museum is maintained by the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation. It displays a wide variety of artifacts from the famous Archbishop's life which are housed in several collections, including writings, books, photos, a selection of his vestments and Episcopal regalia, and many other artifacts displayed through the generosity of various donors.

Caterpillar Visitors Center   {Peoria}  //   A highlight of a trip to the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitors Center is a virtual ride in the bed of a massive two-and-a-half story Cat 797F Mining Truck. You can also  try out one of the museum’s hands-on simulators to experience what it's like to operate big Caterpillar equipment. Opened in 2012, the museum has welcomed nearly half a million visitors from over 30 countries and all 50 US states. 

Charles Perdew Museum  {Peoria}  //   Charles and Edna Perdew of Henry, Illinois, combined their talents to become famous folk artists in Central Illinois and throughout the rest of the United States. They produced thousands of examples of painted wildfowl sculpture, purchased mainly by hunters but now regarded by collectors as rare works of art and craftsmanship. The Charles Perdew Museum Association was formed to preserve and educate, renovate and restore the Perdew homestead and workshop and the Perdew’s artistic heritage as a museum and learning center.

Chillicothe Area History Museum   {Chillicothe}  //   Did you know that Zorro author McCulley Johnson was a Chillicothe native? Find out more about the master of pulp fiction, along with thousands of interesting articles related to the history of this river town and the surrounding area.

Dickson Mounds State Museum   {Lewistown}

Dickson Mounds,  a branch of the Illinois State Museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the major on-site archaeological museums in the United States. It offers a unique opportunity to explore the world of the American Indian in an awe-inspiring journey through 12,000 years of human experience in the Illinois River Valley.

Farmington Historical Museum   {Farmington}  //   This free museum is chock full of historical artifacts, photographs and documents that tell the story of Farmington, the surrounding area, and those who settled it. Constructed in 1868, the museum building has been lovingly restored to preserve its historical significance. The museum hosts a wide range of educational programs and events throughout the year. Ask the volunteer museum staff about Farmington’s role in the Underground Railroad!

Fort Crevecoeur Park {Creve Coeur}  //   This living museum represents the first public building erected by Europeans within the boundaries of the modern state of Illinois and the first fort built in the West by the French. It was founded on the east bank of the Illinois River, in the Illinois Country near the present site of Creve Coeur. Though arguments about the fort’s original location remain, the site serves to celebrate the French’s arrival and survival in the early days of European settlement of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

John C. Flanagan House Museum  {Peoria}  //   The John C. Flanagan House Museum was built in 1837 on Peoria’s east bluff and is the oldest standing house in Peoria. This American Federal style house offers a spectacular view of the Illinois River Valley. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the house is currently operated as a local history museum by the Peoria Historical Society. . Displays include Empire furnishings and period artifacts, 18th and 19th century area history, Peoria’s distillery industry, collections of antique glass, china, furniture, toys, quilts, and vintage clothing. 

Metamora Courthouse Historic Site   {Metamora}

Walk in Licoln’s footsteps in the historic courtroom the future president argued law in during his 1830s days as a traveling attorney for the 8th District of Illinois, when Metamora was the county seat of Woodford County. The courthouse is best known for being one of only two surviving Illinois circuit courthouses where future Licoln practiced law. ((TEMPORARILY CLOSED FOR UPGRADES AS OF 10-16-23))

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum  {Peoria}  //   Junior League of Peoria volunteers spent countless hours researching the feasibility of a children’s museum for Central Illinois that provides children with the tools and inspiration they need to be explorers and creators. The Junior League  joined forces with the Peoria Zoological Society and the Peoria Park District to launch the Power of Play campaign in 2012, which focused on the revitalization of the campus at Glen Oak Park. The PlayHouse opened to the public in June 2015. Together, the PlayHouse, the Peoria Zoo, and Luthy Botanical Garden offer a daylong destination for families and school groups. 

Peoria Riverfront Museum  {Peoria}  //   Art, science, history and achievement are celebrated at this world class museum located on Peoria’s downtown riverfront. Opened in 2012, the museum has five major galleries and a dozen smaller display areas, along with the Dome Planetarium and big-screen movie theater. Visitors can also pay tribute to World War II holocaust victims at the Peoria Holocaust Memorial.

Pettengill-Morron House Museum  {Peoria}  //   The Pettengill-Morron House was built in 1868 for the Moses Pettengill family in the Second Empire architectural style. A Colonial Revival porch and porte cochere were added in about 1900 giving the house a grand Victorian appearance. After the death of its last occupant Jean McLean Morron in 1966, the trustees of her estate gave the house and her family collection of mid-18th to mid-20th century furnishings, artwork, artifacts and textiles to the Peoria Historical Society. Operated today as a historic house museum, the house was listed on the U. S. National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Princeville Heritage Museum   {Princeville}

This donation-only museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving and displaying artifacts and records related to the history of the Princeville area. Displayed in the 30,000 square foot, handicapped-accessible museum is antique farming equipment, quilts, military items and much more.

Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop  {Lewistown}  //   One of just a few historic blacksmith shops in the entire country in its original location. The Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop was built in the mid-1830s, with Nels Rasmussen purchasing the shop in 1880. The sound of the blacksmith’s hammer could be heard until 1969, when the shop closed after the death of Don Rasmussen, Nels’ son. Since that time, visitors have been able to experience the building’s long history and operation, including seeing blacksmiths in action. The Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop Museum is a popular stop during the annual Spoon River Scenic Drive Fall Festival. 

Rock Island Railroad Museum  {Chillicothe}  //   The Railroad Museum is the former Rock Island Depot in Chillicothe. It was spared the fate of most depots owned by Rock Island due to the hard work of the Chillicothe Historical Society. The depot was donated by the Rock Island Railroad to the Society in 1980 for use as a Railroad Museum. In terrible shape at that time, the depot was reborn and repurposed by society members. It is a standing example of the era when passenger trains ran between Peoria and Chicago. 

Ronald Reagan Museum and Peace Garden  {Eureka}  //   Located on the grounds of Reagan’s alma mater Eureka College, the Ronald Reagan Exhibit located in the Cerf Center contains over 2000 items from his college days, movie career, years as governor of California, campaign for the presidency and two terms in office. The items came to the college in 1975 at the request of President Reagan. Visit the Peace Garden, where a large piece of the Berlin Wall commemorates Reagan’s 1982 “Eureka Speech.”

Stark County Historical Society Museum   {Toulon}

The museum includes an agriculture building, Victorian house and a restored 1847 doctor’s office. Known for its vast collection of ag equipment made and patented locally from the 1800s through the mid 1900s, the museum also features pioneer household items.

Telephone Museum of Gridley  {Gridley}  //   Located just off Route 24 in Gridley, this museum’s collection includes working models of many of the nation’s early phones, a fully-functioning hands-on switchboard, and a rich array of artifacts that will appeal to tourists of all ages.

Three Sisters Park  {Chillicothe}  //   Centered around a 1918 living history farm, this sprawling private park has a historic farmhouse, barn and church. It is also home to the Burt Hasselberg Agriculture Museum featuring a century-old Avery steam engine manufactured in Peoria. Seasonal; call or check the park’s website for hours, tours and special events.

Tremont History Museum  {Tremont}  //   The Tremont Museum and Historical Society began in 1985 for the purpose of collecting and preserving historical artifacts and information of the area. The Society collects and preserves any material which may help establish or illustrate the history of the Tremont area. 

Wheels O’ Time Museum   {Dunlap}

A fun for all ages, seasonal interactive museum, WOT is open from May through October and offers several buildings full of eclectic displays. Visitors to the museum can browse vintage automobiles, a steam locomotive and passenger cars and a host of items celebrating Peoria’s past and present manufacturing industry.

Tim Alexander,  Guest Writer
Tim Alexander, Guest Writer

Tim is a freelance writer and long-time Peoria resident. His passion for the Greater Peoria Area is evident through his volunteer work, photography, ag + news reporting, and hometown foodie recommendations! You may recognize Tim as a correspondent for WCBU and WGLT and as a reporter with the Chronicle Media Illinois.

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