- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) - The Discovery Depot children’s museum didn’t happen until Anne Golden first dreamed it 20 years ago.

The dream began as an idea Golden brought to the 1996 Leadership Greater Galesburg class.

“I was visiting other children’s museums with my own children . and thought they were very cool,” Golden said. “So I came back and thought, it’d be fun to have one in Galesburg.”

The LGG class took up her idea and began a feasibility study.

“We all went around the table and I had this idea,” Golden said. “There were some others, but everyone thought mine must’ve been the strongest, so they decided to support me, which I felt very validated in that.”



Discovery Depot was incorporated in March of 1996, and later that year, it began as a kiosk at Sandburg Mall.

“It was a four-sided kiosk that Don Phillips built,” Golden said. “One was a PVC-pipe musical instrument that you played with flip flops.”

The Discovery Depot also got involved with community events and began raising money for its own building.

“I came into the picture when they launched the capital campaign to buy this building,” Mary Burgland said, referring to Discovery Depot’s current building at 128 S. Chambers St. “We went out and canvassed the business and community for enough money to buy the building.”

Discovery Depot bought the former dairy building for $60,000 in 1998.

While it was in bad shape, Golden and Burgland saw the potential in it.

“When we saw the building, we looked at the big ceilings, just the space to be able to imagine and soar and do all these things,” Golden said. “So that’s what we did.”

Discovery Depot opened a mini-museum next to Chez Willy’s on Seminary Street in 1999, and then opened at its current location in April of 2000 during the Sandburg Festival.

“Helga Sandburg was here for the ribbon cutting,” Golden said. “And we attached it to the Sandburg Festival because it would give us some activity.”

A few months later, Discovery Depot brought in its caboose during Railroad Days.

“That involved bringing the caboose up to the corner, getting a big semi-truck and a big crane, and they moved the wheels, laid the track and moved the caboose,” Golden said. “Everybody wanted to watch that happen.”

Golden, who was also a teacher at the Bright Futures preschool program, served as an unpaid director for about six years.

Looking back now at the growing children’s museum, Golden said the museum’s success was never guaranteed and involved a lot of ups and downs.

“It’s successful now, but you have to make a commitment,” Golden said. “Every day there’s ups and downs, and if you get stuck on the downs and give up, it’s not going to be successful, obviously.”

Burgland said the biggest challenge was finding and keeping a director.

“Our biggest problem was keeping a director because we couldn’t pay very much money,” Burgland said. “So the kind of people you would get, if they were good, somebody would snatch them away from you, and we had maybe a couple bad directors.”

Over the past few years, Discovery Depot has continued to grow, both in terms of visitors and space.

The museum had about 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a year in its first few years, Golden says, and it now sees about 42,000 visitors a year.

Discovery Depot has become competitive with other children’s museums in the Midwest, Bradburn said, and about 10 percent of its visitors come from out of state, with visitors coming from all 50 states.

It is also in the second remodeling phase, which will include a water exhibit and science lab. Once this opens in 2018, Bradburn said it should boost attendance to a sustained 50,000 visitors a year.

And for phase three, it plans to renovate its 5,000-square-foot second floor, which is currently used mostly for storage.

While it is growing now, Bradburn said at one point in the early 2000s, it nearly closed.

At one point in the early 2000s, Discovery Depot nearly closed.

“One of our board members, Doug Sanders, likes to share a story that one year, they didn’t think they would be able to pay the light bill, and they put in the paper that they thought they were going to have to close the doors,” Executive Director Denise Bradburn said. “They put that in the paper and then checks started coming in the mail. They were overwhelmed and kept it going. That speaks to the community’s commitment that they didn’t want the doors to be closed.”

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Source: The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, https://bit.ly/22wBVzK

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Information from: The Register-Mail, https://www.register-mail.com

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