by Norm Winick
At a meeting in Galesburg October 8th, proponents of a living history farm for western Illinois expressed confidence that it could be both a year-round theme park tourist attraction and an educational experience.
Linden Beard of Roseville, president of the Western Illinois Agricultural History Association, said ³this generation has lost touch with agriculture. Somebody has to preserve the processes and values we grew up with.²
Consultant Glenn Weaver of Missouri, hired with grant funding to assess the feasibility of the project, says he thinks a depression-era farm would be the best option. He sees it as a hands-on learning experience featuring a farm house, barn, fields, machinery, maybe a small town all centered on the transition period from manual to mechanized labor. Guided tours and demonstrations would teach about the farm processes and homemaking talents of that era. ³There are many other living history farms but very few that center on that period.²
In order to be a legitimate tourist attraction, Weaver says it must be a large enough facility to keep people there all day. ³There must be plenty of things for them to see and do.² Besides the tours, Weaver recommends that many activities be hands-on, like milking cows or churning butter.
Weaver suggests that the plot of land for the farm itself needs to be about 160 acres with a buffer zone around it to prevent inappropriate industrial or residential development. ³I have done some previous work on a project this size and Id estimate it would cost about $12 million to build. He also says that it could employ as many as 100 people. He quickly added that the price tag shouldnt scare anyone yet: ³Much of the expense could be offset by government, corporate and personal contributions and many of the workers could be volunteers.²
Once operating, gate receipts, gift sales, restaurants and sales of farm products could all be used to help cover operating expenses.
Organizers say that the location of the proposed farm has yet to be determined but that access to good transportation, water, sewer and other utilities is essential.