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The Cook House
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The Ansel Brainerd Cook Victorian Home and Museum is the crown jewel of downtown Libertyville, elegantly gracing Cook Park and Milwaukee Avenue. Visitors instantly step back in time when they walk through the door into the beautifully restored rooms containing hundreds of carefully arranged antique furnishings and artifacts. In the archives, a wealth of unique documents, photographs, and memorabilia are preserved for future generations. The house stands as a wonderful tribute to the dedicated members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society who have embraced a mission of preservation for the past fifty years.
Who started this monumental task of preservation and how was it accomplished? Initially, it was Cook Memorial Library board members who brought up the idea of forming a group to preserve our local history. Mrs. Wilbur M. Kreiger (right bottom) and librarian Mrs. John Littler (right top) were probably the most instrumental in the beginning stages of the formation. Their original idea was to form a historical society as a department of the library. The first meetings to discuss this idea were held in the library in September of 1954. At that time, the library was housed in what is now the Cook Home and Museum. The meetings were well attended, but principally by women. According to archived notes, “It was suggested that the meetings be held in the evening, thereafter, to enable more men to attend. At about this time, the redecoration of the upper rooms of the library was completed and meetings were held in these, and in the evening, thereafter.”

Evening meetings were held during the next several months, where the enthusiastic response of those in attendance proved that an historical society could be successfully supported. A meeting held on January 15, 1955, featured local histories collected by the Reverend Thomas Sampson, planting the seed for a historical document collection. During an April 1955 meeting, a steering committee was elected. Members of the committee included: Mrs. W. O. Bell, Mrs. O. L. Hawk, Mrs. V. C. Baldwin, Lawrence M. Crawford, Charles E. Carroll, David Pettengill, and Mrs. J. M. Littler, librarian. The committee’s task was “to form an organization which would ensure perpetuation of the search for and preservation of local historical facts and memorabilia.”

The recording secretary’s notes state that, “In June, the library board decided that the historical group should elect its own officers and arrange its own programs, thus relieving the library personnel of some of the responsibility, but still remaining under the sponsorship of the library.” The steering committee set to work and compiled a list of recommendations, proposing the society be named the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. The stated purpose was “to discover, study, discuss, collect, and preserve information and materials relative to the history of the community.” Membership was opened to all interested residents of the area with annual dues set at $1.00. A slate of officers was nominated: President David Pettengill, Secretary-Treasurer Charles Carroll, and Custodian and Hostess Mrs. J. M. Littler.

Mrs. Littler opened the following meeting on July 25, 1955, and presented the recommendations of the steering committee. All recommendations were unanimously approved and the officers were elected for a term of one year, officially establishing the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. David Pettengill took over the meeting as the new president. A program of stories related by old-time residents followed. Among the storytellers were Mrs. J. J. Doershuk, Robert Rouse, and James Swan. The new Society was underway.

Cook House in 1955
taken by member Carl Cizek.
In the first year of operation, from September 1955 to September 1956, 64 people joined the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. During the next two years, membership increased along with the number of donated items. By-laws were written and passed, and on April 25, 1957, a certificate of incorporation as a not-for-profit organization was granted by the state of Illinois. Mrs. Littler agreed to serve as archivist, but she was overwhelmed with a flood of documents and items. Members Carl Ciczek, Bertha Nicholas, and Mrs. C. O. Carlson volunteered to help Mrs. Littler in the huge task of sorting, identifying, and cataloging the donations.
The Cook House became the official home of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society when the Cook Memorial Library moved into its present building in 1968. Books were moved out and the emptied rooms waited to be restored and filled with furnishings to recreate a Victorian-era home. A community-wide effort resulted in a wealth of donations. The Society also set up an archive for the collection of unique and irreplaceable documents.

The monumental task of restoring the Cook House to its original domestic style began in the mid-1970s. The Society spent a total of $10,000 repainting, refinishing, and restoring the house. A grant from the Village of Libertyville helped, but the balance of the money needed was collected by the Historical Society. The funds were to be used to recreate the splendor of the home in time for the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Woodwork and floors were stripped to their original finish, wallpaper and carpeting were installed, and major structural changes, such as the replacement of an eight-foot wall, removed during the home’s use as a library, were completed. Under the able leadership of president Mavis Wilke and decorating committee members Shirley Luebbers, Reva Konefes, and Marie and Joe Janik, the Cook House debuted for the 1976 summer season.

During this same time period, in December of 1973, the Cook House opened its doors for its first Christmas house walk. Members began donating antique ornaments to create a lovely “old-time” Christmas tree, beginning the celebration of an annual Victorian Christmas tradition.

Dean Larson led a two-year effort along with Jerry to secure this national distinction. Because the building’s exterior had been remodeled in 1921 when it became Cook Memorial Library, the structure did not qualify to be listed as the Ansel B. Cook Home, but it did qualify as the first public library building in Libertyville. On August 16, 2001, Cook House was triumphantly recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for serving as Cook Memorial Library beginning in 1921.

The Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society can be proud of the many distinctions it has received since its inception fifty years ago. Generous donations of time, effort, money, and artifacts have all contributed to the Society’s success. Today, the Society has over 160 members. Hundreds of visitors have stepped through the Cook House doors during the annual summer and Christmas open houses. The house is filled with furnishings, household items, toys, pictures, dresses, and gadgets to leave a lasting impression of a bygone era. The archive is filled with unique research documents and photographs that have educated and delighted researchers, students, and local residents. The original goals set forth by the Society have certainly been accomplished, but there is always more work to be done. History is never complete; it is a work in progress.

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