WATERMAN – Although not as common as they used to be, most people have seen – or have used – a pay phone. Many people have seen older model telephones such as a rotary phone.
Not too many people have seen a telephone that also is a working gumball machine, a phone shaped like a quart of Hershey’s chocolate milk or a phone that also can be used as a lamp.
The Waterman Area Heritage Society Museum, 180 W. Lincoln Highway in Waterman, has all of those telephones and more, including phones of all shapes, sizes, makes and models, phones that are green, blue and purple, a French phone, a party line phone and an early general-use wooden switchboard removed from service in 1910.
The museum’s telephone display is the largest in DeKalb County and features phones and artifacts from the early 1900s to present day. Items in the display were donated by the Bill Hinkstan Telephone Pioneer Club and Waterman residents.
“I remember being asked, ‘How do you text’ from the older phones and I just had to laugh,” said Tabatha Nix, museum board member and volunteer. “It shows how much technology has changed, especially when it comes to telephones.”
The Waterman Area Heritage Society Museum is open from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by calling Reid at 815-264-7721 for a tour or an appointment. Donations are accepted but there is no charge to visit the museum.
The museum, which was founded in 1994, features more than just the telephone display. The museum’s mission statement is “to preserve [the Waterman area’s] proud past and encourage an understanding and appreciation of [its] heritage.”
The museum’s building itself also is historic: through the years, it has been a meat locker, electric shop and a restaurant.
Although the telephone display is popular, one of the first displays visitors to the museum see are photos of Waterman High School graduates from 1913 until 1993, when the school was consolidated with Shabbona to create Indian Creek School District 425. The museum also displays Waterman school trophies and items from Waterman schools, including a large blackboard.
“People often visit the museum to learn more about members of their family that lived in Waterman,” said Betty Olson, museum board member and volunteer. “Everyone has a good time looking at the old fashions and styles and younger photos of their relatives. There’s a lot of laughing and excitement over the photos.”
The museum also features items and memorabilia from renowned Waterman residents: Clayton Kirkpatrick Jr., former editor of the Chicago Tribune; Jack Smiley, University of Illinois Whiz Kid and professional basketball player; and Duane Swanson, member of the 1936 U.S. gold medal-winning Olympic basketball team.
One corner of the museum features a recreation of John Kitner’s barbershop, including his chair, counters, mirror, cash register and posters. Kitner was a barber in Waterman for 61 years, from 1912 until 1973, even cutting the hair of a fifth-generation customer. When Kitner first became a barber, a haircut cost 25 cents and a shave cost 15 cents.
“His barbershop was located on the next block, but we have a re-creation of the shop here in our museum,” Nix said. “It’s fun to see the chair and utensils used for haircuts back then.”
Other items in the museum include a flax-spun blanket made in 1830 by Olive Parkhurst Wilcox, a model replica of the Battleship Parade Float of the 1930s, the USS Illinois, and other memorabilia from the Eakle family of Waterman, a wood-burning stove from the town’s train depot, a replica of the town’s clock, and items from DeKalb Ag because Waterman was the location of the company’s first production plant.
“I hear quite often, ‘I never knew Waterman had a museum,’” Olson said. “Of course we have a museum. If you haven’t visited, come down sometime and check us out. Anybody can come, any age. The museum is for everyone, whether you’re local or not. [The museum] is here to share our local history with the world.”