A general’s life

general

General Everell F. Dutton, subject of a new exhibit at the Sycamore History Museum.

 

Sycamore museum tracks Civil War experiences

If you walk into the archives of the Sycamore History Museum, you will see shelves and shelves of neatly organized and indexed files and boxes.

Finding the materials you are looking for takes only seconds thanks to volunteer archivist and NIU graduate Robert Glover, who overhauled and modernized the museum’s archives while he was still a graduate student in history at NIU.

But his work isn’t just behind the scenes.

“General Dutton’s America” exhibit, which began as a class project in associate professor Sinclair Bell’s Introduction to Museum Studies course, chronicles General Everell F. Dutton’s experiences marching with General Sherman during the Civil War. Visitors will be able to see Dutton’s letters, photographs, maps, artifacts, and newspapers. They can also enter a re-creation of a Civil War-era tent to gain a better sense of a soldier’s daily life.

“Everell Dutton’s life exemplifies the pioneer spirit, dedication of a soldier, and richness of the Gilded Age,” says Glover. “The stories we were able to highlight are all engaging and surprising. What started as processing a collection of family letters turned into a great opportunity to tell the early history of Sycamore leading up to and following the Civil War.”

General Dutton’s America“General Dutton’s America” is funded through the Douglas C. and Lynn M. Roberts Family Foundation, the Dutton Family Foundation and the Mary E. Stevens Concert and Lecture Fund.

Glover has always been interested in local history, but he didn’t pursue a career in the field until recently. After graduating from NIU with a B.A. in English, he spent over 15 years working for IDEAL Industries, Inc. in both Sycamore and DeKalb. “I have always been very organized,” he says. “So one day it dawned on me that my particular interest in organizing would translate to archiving.” Glover returned to NIU as a student-at-large and was later accepted into the graduate program for NIU’s Department of History.

As part of Professor Peter Van Ael’s Museum Administration course, Glover visited the Sycamore History Museum. He found that it needed volunteers in its archive and he contacted the museum’s executive director, Michelle Donahoe. “I thought that archiving was something that would happen much later in my studies,” Glover says, “but Michelle allowed me a free hand to organize the whole archive.”

Glover says the archive was arranged well, but most of the collection – including small artifacts – was stored in folders and file cabinets. He removed all original documents and artifacts from the files and sorted them into museum-quality archival boxes. He then created a detailed, binder-size index that allows researchers to locate items quickly. “We get a lot of requests for original materials,” Donahoe says, “and he has definitely increased the accessibility of our archives!”

Glover also participated in the Sycamore History Museum’s substantial archive digitization project. He saw that they needed to establish a way to approach the project professionally, so he sought input from Cindy Ditzler, director of NIU’s Regional History Center. Her advice allowed him to develop a step-by-step process for scanning, organizing and documenting the archival materials, which will now be better preserved for future generations.

The growing collection of digital materials is now available on the museum’s website.

While still a student, Glover also started writing his first book, “Why Sycamore Works” (2013), which grew out of an oral history project he began under the direction of history assistant professor Stanley Arnold. Donahoe helped Glover tailor the topic to his own background: Sycamore manufacturing. His book complemented the museum’s award-winning exhibition of the same name, to which Glover made several contributions.

The book includes interviews with prominent business owners who operated in Sycamore between World War II and the 1980s. “Three of the subjects have since passed away,” Donahoe says. “Thanks to Rob, their stories are documented and provide an insight into our community that would have been lost forever.”

“Why Sycamore Works” is available at the Sycamore History Museum gift shop. Complete interviews from the project are also available at the Sycamore History Museum archives.

“Rob is a great asset to the Sycamore History Museum because he has been able to reach out to people who had not previously been aware of what we do,” Donahoe says. “He has been very effective in helping us continue to meet our mission: enriching public knowledge of Sycamore for people of all ages.”

Glover hopes the Dutton exhibit and his future contributions will continue to provide a deeper understanding of Sycamore’s rich history.

The Sycamore History Museum is located at 1730 N. Main St. Admission is free for members and children younger than 14 and $5 for adults. Group tours of the exhibit are available. For more information, call (815) 895-5762 or email info@sycamorehistory.org.

 

—Clint Cargile, Northern Illinois University