Presidential Pop-Ins


When 2016 came we knew it would for sure bring two things: An extra day in February and a presidential election. We see enough comments about the election coming up, so I am not going to say too much on that subject. However, since we just celebrated the 4th of July and the election is coming up soon, I decided to use this blog to talk about the different presidents that have visited Kankakee County (it’s more than you think!). I am going to include those who visited either before or after they became president, but not those who were running for President but lost.



McKinley’s campaign poster

William McKinley: McKinley was president from 1898-1901. He visited Kankakee twice, once on November 1, 1894 while he was campaigning for governor of Ohio and on October 15, 1898 while he was president. During his 1898 visit, he arrived at the Illinois Central station at 8 pm on Saturday. There were about 5,000 people in attendance for the non-partisan event. McKinley gave a speech about his earlier visit, Illinois’ role in the Civil War, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. His speech was cut off short; the train started rolling away while he was still talking. After his assassination in 1901, Kankakee held a memorial service on the courthouse lawn with 5,000 attendees.


Teddy Roosevelt hunting

Teddy Roosevelt in his hunting gear

Teddy Roosevelt: Although there is not a definitive time or mention when Teddy Roosevelt was in Kankakee County, he was known for hunting along the Kankakee River. He, along with Grover Cleveland, would hunt at the White House Hunting Club, located in Lake County, Indiana. However, there have been rumors that Roosevelt went further down the river into Kankakee County.


William Taft: Taft was known to go boating on the Kankakee River. Taft won Kankakee County’s votes both times he ran, although he only won the presidency for the first term.


Warren Harding: Harding campaigned in Kankakee in 1920. He would later win both the county and the country.


Eisenhower breakfast

President Eisenhower eating breakfast in Kankakee

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Eisenhower visited Kankakee County in 1962 on a parade route. About 25,000 people stood along 10 miles of the route to see him.


Richard Nixon: Nixon visited Kankakee County in 1956 while he was vice-president to Dwight D. Eisenhower.


Gerald Ford: Ford became the last sitting president to visit Kankakee County. He would win the county, but not the election.


Ronald Reagan: Reagan visited both Kankakee County and Will County in 1976 while campaigning for the Republican nomination against Gerald Ford. Reagan spoke to 600 people at a breakfast speech at the Holiday Inn in Bradley on February 13, 1976. He spoke about gun control measures, said that Illinois “holds the world record” for professional welfarists, promised a balanced budget and said he’d stop inflation. Overall, his speech had 13 interruptions of applause. Reagan later lost the Illinois votes and the nomination to Ford.


Barack Obama: Obama also visited Kankakee County twice. In September 2004, Obama visited Morning Star Baptist Church. On February 18, 2005, while a senator, Obama gave a speech at the Hilton Garden Inn. He gave a pro-business speech in which he contrasted the departure of Maytag with Google. He also talked about improving businesses by bettering our schools, asking for more federal money for roads, and supporting the Peotone Airport. Later the same day, Obama spoke at Kankakee Community College about minimum wage.

For those of you not keeping track, that is 9 out of 44 presidents who have been to Kankakee County. That’s 20%! At that rate, we may have a few more visiting soon.Who knows, a future president may have been here already!

You Learn Something Every Day:Zachary Taylor Davis

The Kankakee County Courthouse architect has been known to be Zachary Taylor Davis, pictured to the right. His wife was from Momence, giving him a special interest in the project. Davis and his firm also designed Comiskey Park and Weeghman Park, today known as Wrigley Field.

weegman park

Weeghman Park

Exhibit Observations

Even though I have lived in Kankakee County for most of my life, I was not familiar with the museum until the past year or so. The first time I walked through the museum was the day of my interview, and I was overwhelmed with how nice everything was! I never realized how much history is found in Kankakee County, and every day I find out countless more facts about Kankakee’s rich history.

I wanted to use this first entry to tell
all of you about my image3favorite museum exhibit: The Story of Kankakee County. This is one of the newest exhibits: it opened this past May. This exhibit gives insight to early Kankakee County, especially Kankakee in particular. In it, you can see anything from a blacksmith’s bellow to a model of the Hotel Riverview to old medical supplies from Riverside Hospital. There is so much information, and countless pictures to complement the exhibits. I have spent a bit of time wandering through this room, and I still think I missed some of it.

This is my favorite exhibit because, for one, I really enjoy how open the room is. It is spacious, but still full of information. Everywhere you look, there is something to catch your eye, but it is not overly busy either. I love how much there is to this exhibit. This exhibit really gives you a sense of what life was like back before most of our modern advancements were here. As I said earlier, I have lived in Kankakee County for most of my life so there is some familiarity to the exhibits.
This only enhances the exhibits, because I think it is much more interesting to know exactly where, say, the Hotel Riverview was located. I never knew it existed, but I could picture where the location is today.


If you stop in the museum soon, be sure to check out this exhibit. Even if you are not from the county, there is so much information and cool things to see. I’m sure you would enjoy it!

You Learn Something Every Day: After the plans for a third courthouse (the one we know today) were completed, the second courthouse needed to be knocked down in 1908. Otha Grubbs, a struggling carpenter, promised $2 to dispose of the building and site within 2 months, while most contractors wanted the county to pay them. The county agreed to Grubbs, who sold the stone, timbers, steel, etc. He made over $2,000 and kept enough materials for his own business and several houses.

Second Courthouse (P8600)

The Second Courthouse, demolished in 1908.

Intern Insights


Before I start this blog, I just want to take a second to introduce myself. My name is Sadie Witvoet, and I live in Grant Park. I will be a senior at Olivet Nazarene University this upcoming fall, and I’m studying Business Administration and Marketing.  I was so excited to start an internship here at the Kankakee County Museum. The staff here is awesome, and being here doesn’t even feel like work! I’m very fortunate to be able to have this opportunity, and I would love to share some of my experiences with all of you. Although our blog has been out of commission for a little while, we’ve been discussing bringing it back and thought it would be interesting to have an intern’s point of view. I’m very excited to start this, and I hope I can provide a fun and intriguing insight into what goes on at the museum for all of you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am going to end each blog with a little fact that I discovered during my day or week at the museum, either from walking through the museum or from my research. I hope you enjoy them!

You Learn Something Every Day: On October 21, 1931, Paramount Theater hosted the wedding of Artis Weaver and Adelene Winterroth to promote the movie “I Loved a Woman”. To show their appreciation, the theater gave the newlyweds a sack of potatoes, a half ton of coal, and more.I Loved a Woman Movie Poster

Paramount ticket booth

The ticket booth at Paramount Theater


A Close look at the Distant Past: Uniform Research Report by Chris Nicklas

Chris Nicklas is a local high school student with a passion for history. This summer, we gave him access to one of our uniforms and all the accompanying information. He then traced the uniform’s history through the past and wrote a report on his findings. A big thank you to Chris for his time and energy this summer!


The artifact box that contained the uniform had a card that stated that Frank Garner wore the uniform. The card also stated that Mrs. J. Frank Garner had donated the uniform in 1950. Genealogy research located J. Frank Garner, who was born in New York in 1860.

According to The Biennial Report of the Adjutant General of Illinois to the Governor and Commander-in-Chief 1891 and 1892 Springfield, Illinois: H.W. Bokker, State Printer and Binder. 1893., J. Frank Garner was in the National Guard of Illinois. On June 7, 1886 he was a Private. On June 6, 1889 he was a Sergeant. On June 10, 1889 he re-enlisted. On March 20, 1892 he was a First Lieutenant. He served with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, L Company. There is no record of him serving in any wars.

The Illinois State Marriage Index indicates that J. Frank Garner married Mina (Minnie) S. Beckman on June 13, 1898 in Kankakee. (Found in Volume 00C 00006567).

According to the 1900-1940 censuses, J. Frank Garner lived in Kankakee with his wife Minnie.

In 1924, he was a Post Master of Kankakee Lodge 389 according to the Kankakee Freemason Website.

On December 20 1949, J. Frank Garner died in Kankakee. Minnie died within the year on December 18, 1950. J. Frank Garner is buried in Mound Grove Cemetery, Kankakee, Illinois in Section 19, Lot 79. (Death Certificate #0050503).


The uniform was not a standard-issue uniform. On the tag of the uniform it reads “John G Knecht Kankakee”. Mr. Knecht was a tailor who emigrated from Germany. John Knecht had a large store in Kankakee. The store initially opened in 1857 and burned down in February 1869. He was able to rebuild on the southeast corner of Court Street and East Avenue. It appears the uniform was made by a tailor from John G. Knecht & Co. (1867 Kankakee Illinois Ledger).

IMG_5071 IMG_5070IMG_5076 IMG_5065

The uniform was triple-breasted. For the time period it was not a common style, except for musicians. The uniform had shoulder straps with the number 3 flanked by a bar on each side. The bar represents the rank of First Lieutenant, while the number 3 represents the regiment number. The front of the uniform has three rows of nine identical buttons each. The cuffs have three buttons each on top of a white trim. (This trim pattern indicates the Infantry branch.) The back of the uniform also has buttons. The collar of the uniform has one button on each side. Also, each shoulder knot has one button near the collar. The pattern of the buttons on the collar is different from the buttons on the rest of the uniform. All of the buttons had eagles on them, however, the eagle on the collar had a different orientation and the shield was offset to the left.


The helmet is an 1881 pattern helmet but has the number 4 on the front eagle plate. The number on the helmet indicates the regiment number, but it conflicts with the number 3 on the shoulder knot and information that he served with the 3rd Infantry.

Throughout all of my research, the only photo of a similar uniform is in a photo of Charles Livingston from Kankakee, who was also in the Illinois National Guard. It is photograph number P1346 in the Kankakee County Museum Photographic Collection. The only difference is a chevron on the sleeve. The portrait of Livingston was taken in 1896, close to the time that J. Frank Garner served (1886-1892).

Insight from an Intern

Here at the museum we have a wide range of volunteer opportunities. As a small historical museum, we would be lost without the help of our volunteers. From cataloging photographs to working festival events, the possibilities are endless, and we always welcome more help. As a curator spending most of my time in the back, I have found that working with the special project interns is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Special project interns are usually college students volunteering during a school semester or summer break. Projects range from accessioning artifacts to helping install new exhibits. These students bring fresh eyes to every project, different approaches to each obstacle and enthusiasm that often spurs on my own passion for museum work.

One of our summer projects was to catalog every single artifact in the Doctor Small home. Some of our interns, namely Aimee Clayton, took on the near impossible task. She accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. All the staff had a great time working with her, and we are confident in her abilities to go very far in the museum field. Aimee took the time to write about her experience at the Kankakee County Museum. Thanks again, Aimee!

My Experience with the Kankakee County Museum

Aimee Clayton, Studying Visual Arts Management at Columbia College Chicago

Despite this past summer being my last chance of freedom from being a full-fledged, post-college adult, I, for some reason, felt the need to work, take a summer course, and intern with a local museum. I was fortunate enough to land an opportunity to work in collections with the Kankakee County Museum. As someone looking to work in the museum industry after school, it’s a big deal to have experience in a collections department.

I began in May and was asked to help accession items in the Dr. Small house located on campus. In all honesty it was a daunting task with no promise of being completed before my time there was up, but I loved every second of it. I was given a unique opportunity to explore items from the past at my own pace, all while entering their information into a larger database. Every day I learned about artifacts I never even knew existed and I got to look into Kankakee County’s past. To be given this opportunity to work hands-on with these objects was a gift in itself, but as time passed I began to realize how special this area was and how much potential it still holds. I quickly realized that I lived here my entire life and knew nothing about its story. It was then that I realized that my time at the museum wasn’t just about completing a job. It was learning about the area and understanding why it was so important to preserve.

If the work wasn’t enough to be thankful about, I have to say that I was very fortunate in working with such a happy, motivated, and supportive team. In this particular industry you’ll come across many museums that work beyond their given means to fund what they do best. Their efforts to preserve the past and educate the public are admirable and something every museum should aim to do, no matter their size or nature. I felt so honored to work alongside individuals that valued this little part of the world. Not only do they work tirelessly to safeguard the stories our past, they work to help represent the area as a great place to visit and live. Seeing their passion and supportiveness of one another also reassured me about where I was going career-wise.

It took me just about the entire summer to get through the house. I’ve had a lot of people ask why I chose to work over enjoying my time off from school and I’ll tell you this: when you find something you love doing, you’ll never find it to be extra work or a waste of your time. I wanted the opportunity to help preserve the past a little bit so that future visitors could enjoy it, and the Kankakee County Museum gave me that chance. My time with this organization was unfortunately short-lived, however I cannot even begin to list the ways this experience has helped to develop me both as a person and a professional. Thanks to the Kankakee County Museum I have a newfound appreciation for my home, experience that will give me momentum as I move forward in my line of work, and a revitalized love for the museum world.

Kankakee County Museum’s Guest Curator Project

The Kankakee County Museum is looking for Guest Curators for
our Virtual Museum. Guest Curators are responsible for choosing a
subject relative to Kankakee County, researching and composing a
clear interpretation of the material, and providing photos related to
their subject. To submit your idea, email the Curator of Exhibits at


  • Materials must be relevant to Kankakee County
  • Photo Content: 15-20 photos (Photos must be captioned with what is displayed in the photo and where it was obtained. The Kankakee County Historical Society reserves the right to refuse any guest curator concept for any reason. Curators whose entries are chosen must visit the museum to fill out appropriate paperwork.)
  • Exhibit Content: 1000-1500 words

Please check out the Virtual Museum @ for ideas on what we are looking for!