The brick building, built in 1984 with a Gallery in the upper level, houses a collection begun in 1978 in Congerville. Period furnishings of households, schools, and congregations include distinctive clothing, medical equipment, toys. Current exhibits are African Missions, Hand Corn Planters and Vintage Quilts.
An assembly area, the library, archives, and office occupy the lower level.
In July 1989, IMHGS members and friends gathered on the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center grounds to raise a barn. As its framework rose into the sunny afternoon sky a memorable spirit of community and cooperation prevailed.
During its first life span of 111 years on the Delavan Prairie in Tazewell County, the barn of Christian Sutter housed countless heads of livestock, hosted a national Amish Mennonite Diener Versammlungen (ministers' conference), and numerous Amish Mennonite worship services.
During its second incarnation, the barn has hosted a national Amish Mennonite historical conference, a dedicatory worship service, and countless agricultural artifacts to be preserved, pondered, and appreciated.
Now the re-erected Christian Sutter barn continues its vigil on the prairie as a symbol of the community and faith of Mennonites and Amish Mennonites in Illinois.
Christian and Magdalena Schertz began married life in 1867 in a farm house in Woodford County where two sons were born to them. John died as a two-year-old toddler. The eldest, David, grew to manhood, married, and raised his family on the farmstead. When David's growing family of seven children occupied most of the original farm house, he added two rooms for his parents. Only a doorway separated the younger family from the grandparents' quarters, providing Christian and Magdalena with both closeness and privacy in their final years. Magdalena died first, in 1911 at age 63. Two years later Christian died there at age 71.
The Grandfather House, either attached or next to the family home, was a common answer to housing and health needs in extended families and remains prevalent in today's Old Order Amish communities.
The Schertz Grandfather House is restored and maintained by descendants of Christian and Magdalena Schertz.
The prairie arboretum is a gift of descendants of Amish Mennonite preacher and pioneer farmer Christian Reeser (1819-1923). Planting of grasses, flowers and trees native to Illinois was begun in 1992.
The Farm Museum is a modern farm building built in 1997 to protect our growing agricultural collection. Nearly all Mennonite pioneers were farmers. Farm families continued to predominate in most prairie congregations through the mid-twentieth century. Here you may see tools from D. A. Kauffman’s woodworking shop in Congerville, farm machinery for horsepower or manpower, farmer-made implements, a Camp corn elevator from a Woodford County factory, and a horse-drawn carriage.
The earliest Mennonite settlers to Illinois descended from families scattered through central Europe. Most had some Swiss ancestry, but, in the fallout of the Reformation in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, their Anabaptist forebears were exiled or fled to the Palatinate, Alsace Lorraine, Hessian states, Bavaria, and Austria. Others joined the Anabaptists (rebaptizers). The name comes from Menno Simons, a former priest in Holland whose writings helped to define their beliefs. The first permanent Mennonite settlement in America, known as Germantown, near Philadelphia, began in 1693.
Beginning in the 1830s Mennonites and Amish Mennonites from eastern states, and directly from central Europe were among the pioneers looking for a homeland in Illinois. They first settled in timbers in central and northern Illinois, then were among the first to the prairies. For over a century their rural congregations retained a strong work ethic and faith community apart from the world and public life.
Here they began congregational ministries, missions, health care facilities, schools, children’s homes, nursing homes, publications, service and relief organizations, and mutual aid. Today one hundred sixteen Mennonite congregations and Amish districts in Illinois include long-established rural congregations and new urban congregations. They are as diverse as Latino, African-American, and Ethiopian groups and the horse-and-buggy Old Order Amish of Moultrie and Douglas counties.
They continue to embrace believer’s baptism, Christ-centered discipleship, nonresistant love, and a community of faith.
For a comprehensive history of Illinois Mennonite and Amish congregations, Mennonites in Illinois, click Publications