FREEPORT — The threat of rain couldn’t dim the spotlight thrown on Arcade Toy Co. at Sunday’s annual meeting and dinner held by the Stephenson County Historical Society.
The event had been postponed from the spring by the coronavirus pandemic. On Sunday, organizers hustled under threatening skies to move the event from a spot outdoors on the museum grounds into one of the exhibit buildings.
“The annual meeting and dinner is a tradition and something that we are required to do each year to update our members and the community on the business of the museum, and also use this as a fundraiser,” said Sharon Welton said, executive director of the Stephenson County Historical Society. “This is our way to bring our members together, to discuss the past year and tackle business matters.”
The museum has the largest collection of Arcade’s cast iron toys on exhibit, all of them manufactured in Freeport.
Like many other toymakers of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Arcade started out manufacturing products other than toys. Initially, it made spring hinges, coffee mills and other household items. The company was founded in 1868 by two brothers — Edward H. and Charles Morgan — as Novelty Iron Works, which conducted business in two small buildings with a staff of 10 people.
In 1874, the company expanded and erected a larger structure at the cost of $25,000. It continued at the new location until 1885, when the Novelty Iron Works was reorganized as the Arcade Manufacturing Co. by Albert Baumgarten, Cyrus Tobias and Edward H. Morgan. It originally occupied a one-story building on Chicago Street.
The company grew and prospered, becoming well-known for producing high-quality cast iron coffee mills, spring hinges, cork extractors and stove dampers. The company moved to a new location in 1891. When the factory burned down in 1892, construction began immediately on a new factory and foundry. Operations resumed in 1893 at a newly platted site that became known as the Arcade Addition. Freeport residents still refer to that area of town as “The Arcade.”
The historical society plans to build a National Museum of Arcade Cast Iron Toys in 2021. In 2014, the Stephenson County Historical Society, through the Freeport Park District, received a grant of $399,000 from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to build a large metal museum building that houses the Museum of Local Industry and the Arcade Toy Museum.
Due to Illinois’s budget challenges, the money was not given to the museum until October 2018. Final plans are now in place to begin construction of the 42-foot-by-60-foot building that will house a gift shop, welcome area, public bathrooms, work area and the Arcade toys.
Money from the project will also allow the historical society to widen the front entrance to allow large emergency vehicles and tour buses to enter. Welton said all the work will be held to strict historic preservation standards.
“We had to postpone the annual meeting and dinner, and we had planned to hold it safely outdoors, but the rain changed things,” said Richard VanRaden, president of the historical society board. “We didn’t want to break with tradition, and we also are required to have an annual meeting. This is a fundraiser to help meet our expenses, and it’s also an opportunity to bring people together to see what we have in all of our exhibits. We are excited to get started on our new building, and while we had hoped to begin this fall, things are pushed back to next year.”
VanRaden said the new building will be 25% bigger than the existing building.
“What we have here at this museum is a special collection of many things Freeport,” VanRaden said.
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