There is no question that a countless number of communities throughout southern Illinois take tremendous pride in preserving and celebrating the past. You may not know it, but there is a niche of travelers who plan trips around historical sites and attractions – it is called Heritage Tourism. There are folks out there who want to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.
Folks in Perry County are all about preserving the past and celebrating their history. If you have ever been to the American Thresherman Association, Inc. shows at the County Fairgrounds, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Thousands of people come from miles around to witness the steam powered tractors, threshing shows, broom making demonstrations, blacksmithing and more. Many of these folks aren’t doing it for money, they do it because they’re passionate about it. That said, there are two museums in Pinckneyville that many of the locals are passionate about as well. One of the museums is interesting because you can experience the inside of a real jail cell where inmates crafted their own wall art, and the other museum celebrates agriculture and how rural folks lived in the past.
The jail cells likely piqued your interest, so we’ll start there. The Perry County Jail Museum started off as, you guessed it, a jail. It was built in 1871 during a time when the town had roughly twenty families, one grocery store, and a tavern. This jail was the second jail ever built in the county, with the first one being built in 1834 and demolished soon after to make room for the new jail. This shiny new jail was constructed out of brick by E. Hough, a contractor from Indianapolis. It cost around $14,000 to build, and it was used as a jail until the latter part of the 1980s. To be in operation as a jail for over 100 years tells us one thing…they just don’t make them like they used to! In 1993, the Perry County Historical Society leased the building in order for it to become what is now known as the Perry County Jail Museum. If you walk through the facility, it’s pretty neat getting to go into the individual jail cells and seeing the art on the walls from former inmates. Some of them were actually darn good artists! The folks in town use this facility as a spooky venue around Halloween time as well, and it’s well suited for it. The museum also houses a collection of historical items from Perry County as well as clothing and furniture from the 1800s. Also, the Perry County Jail Museum is one of two places in Pinckneyville that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next up, the Illinois Rural Heritage Museum, which is a center for everything agricultural and rural! The first thing you need to know is that it can take quite a while to explore this place because it is massive. We’re talking over 17,000 square feet of exhibit space on four acres of land massive, so be sure to bring your camera – because there are a ton of cool things to photograph. The main structure was built in 2012, but over the next few years exhibits such as the Red Barn and the Bayer Exploration Hall were added. The Red Barn is one of the greatest symbols of rural America and the “home of power for both farming and transportation during the late 1800s” according to the museum’s website. There is a little bit of everything on display at the Illinois Rural Heritage Museum – some of it pertains to farming, and other displays illustrate how folks lived and what they used. The old-school tractors are obviously cool and great picture opportunities, but there are some other things they have that really get you thinking. For instance, there are vintage tools from both rural dentists and cemeteries that you can experience. They REALLY show you how far we have come in terms of technology, which makes you appreciate our older generations. If you’re into mining, there is also a hands-on mining tool that the museum was gifted by Southern Illinois University, so definitely check that out (the kiddos love it).
Moral of the story is - if you’re near Pinckneyville anytime soon and have a few hours to kill, definitely look into visiting these museums. We highly recommend chatting up the folks who know the ins and outs of the facilities while you’re there, because some of their stories are quite amazing! To check out more pieces of history to visit in our neck of the woods, visit our website at: illinoisouth.org/Play/History-and-Culture.
Photo Credit: Perry County Jail Museum, Illinois Rural Heritage Museum