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Past Exhibits

Days of Disaster: The Douglas Starch Works Explosion

May 2019

The History Center commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Douglas Starch Works Explosion, an event with repercussions for the entirety of Linn County – including the workers at the plant, local residents, business owners, and beyond. The exhibit explored the disaster itself as well as the days immediately following. It’s a story of tragedy and resilience – and it’s a story of a community coming together at a moment that could have sown division. 

Snapshots by William Baylis, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

September 2017

The exhibition “Snapshots by William Baylis” highlights the numerous works of William Baylis in both print and postcard formats. Baylis was born on September 12, 1873 in Wheatland, Iowa. At the age of 15, Baylis relocated with his family to Cedar Rapids where he developed an interest in photography. With a successful career spanning decades, Baylis is credited with shooting close to 25,000 photographs of early Linn County.  

William Baylis, landscape photographer of eastern Iowa, captured Linn County at the turn of the 20th century. Bust street scenes of long ago are frozen in time and cinematic landscapes offer up visuals of days long since past. Come enjoy these snapshots of Linn County and experience the artistic personality of William Baylis through his true-to-life prints and postcards.

The Old Ball Game: A History of Baseball in Linn County

September 2016

Baseball is a sport loved by young and old. The roots of the National Pastime in Linn County go back over 150 years to games played by men newly returned home after the Civil War. Through photographs and artifacts from The History Center’s collection – as well as loaned objects – visitors to The Old Ball Game exhibit will discover local baseball history. From the first teams organized in Marion to the Manufacturer & Jobbers League, which included teams from Quaker Oats, Collins Radio, and Iowa Manufacturing, to the evolution of minor league baseball in Cedar Rapids, The Old Ball Game explores the  game from a variety of perspectives. 

As Long As the City Stands: Honoring Judge George Greene

October 2015

The story of Judge George Greene—for whom Greene Square is named—is the story of the founding of the second largest city in Iowa. Greene brought the railroad to Cedar Rapids, donated the land and first $25,000 for the first hospital (which became St. Luke’s Hospital), and was instrumental in founding Coe College, among many other contributions. His vision and tenacity made Cedar Rapids a significant city. 

The History Center has many items in its collection pertaining to Greene on display. In addition, the Sisters of Mercy have loaned several items from their collection, including the silver service presented to Greene on July 4, 1876 by the city of Cedar Rapids. The service has not been seen publicly since that presentation. The exhibit takes its name from the presentation of the silver service. In his remarks, one of Greene’s peers declared, “Cedar Rapids shall pay thanks and blessings to the name of Judge Greene and honor to his memory as long as the city stands.” 

The exhibit introduces visitors to Greene around 1840 with the true story of Greene stopping his horse somewhere near where the Scottish Rite Temple now stands. He looked about and stated, “In 40 years, 40,000 people will live, work and thrive here.” 

While it took somewhat longer to reach that mark, Greene’s vision for the city was strong. The exhibit tells the story of how he planned each step that made his dream a reality. As Long as the City Stands: Honoring Judge George Greene is made possible, in part, by a gift from the Mike and Esther Wilson Donor Advised Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. The exhibit is a collaboration with the Cedar Rapids Public Library. 

Tales of a Pioneer Woman: Life on the Prairie 1850-1880

June 2014 

Apron Strings: Ties to the Past

May 2014 

This collection features fifty-one vintage and contemporary examples that review the apron’s role as an emotionally charged vehicle for expression with a rich and unique craft history. Using aprons dating from the late 1930s through the present, the exhibition chronicles changing attitudes toward women and domestic work. It also surveys the wide range of design and craft techniques apron-makers have used to express themselves. The exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to more than 100 communities every year. 

Parents Just Don’t Understand! Coming of Age in Linn County

August 2012

Corn County

August 2010

Today, Iowa alone produces 9 percent of corn globally. In Linn County the corn processing industry has been and continues to be one of the most significant economic engines in the area. The story of corn is woven into the landscape of Iowa and into our own daily lives. The Carl & Mary Koehler History Center’s latest exhibit, “Corn County” explores the many ways that we rely on corn. The exhibit and related programs are funded in part through a grant from Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area and a corporate donation from ADM.


January 2010​

A quilt is a window into the life and soul of its creator. Its fabrics, patterns and stitching tell a story about the person and times from whence it came. Stroll through the “Quilts” exhibit and discover the history told through these magical pieces of folk art.

Mays Island Then and Now

September 2008

The exhibit told the story of May’s Island from the time John M. May surveyed it in 1852 through the time the City of Cedar Rapids purchased it in 1908 and documented the island’s development during the 20th Century as a recreation, entertainment, business and government center.  A multi-media presentation celebrated Cedar Rapids political and cultural life and commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the purchase of the island as the government center of Cedar Rapids.  

Circus through the Centuries

October 2007

The circus as a popular form of entertainment has been in existence in a variety of forms for over two thousand years. Many trace its existence from Rome’s Circus Maximus. The extravagant and popular form of theatre has entertained audiences for centuries. Moving from Europe to America in the 1700s, it has existed in backyard performances, modest traveling shows, the Greatest Show on Earth, and today’s innovative Cirque du Soleil. Despite movies, television, sports, and the internet, it continues. For, the circus allows it audience to interact in a live performance with talented artists as life-threatening, fanciful, or hilarious acts and feats are performed in colorful dress and settings. Part of the appeal is our memory of the circus. Each succeeding generation passes on the excitement and thrills of the circus. Whether we identify with an urban metropolis or with farm life in Linn County, Iowa – we love the circus! 

All Aboard! Linn County and Its Railroads

November 2006

Ride along on a historical journey exploring the impact of railroads on Linn County. Exhibit includes: interactive displays, rare photographs, artifacts and maps, miniature locomotive can and model trains, and train-themed presentation. 

Jay Sigmund and the Art of Grant Wood

September 2005

Read inspiring poems written by Iowa native Jay Sigmund as they are juxtaposed with Grant Wood’s artwork. The exhibit will include original Grant Wood pieces from private collections. 

Bridge to Bridge

May 2005

Under the guidance of photographer Bob Campagna, over 70 Grant Wood Elementary School students photographed and produced over 300 prints. Forty-one images are featured in this exhibit. All participants at 5th grade students of Jolaine Mast, Anita Sigh, and Black Brandt. “Bride to Bridge” photographers explored the region between the 16th Avenue Bridge and the Quaker Oats Bridge on the Cedar River, and approximately three blocks east and west of the river. The interdisciplinary connections include art, social studies, mathematics, history, language arts, chemistry, physics and geography. 

Far From Hitler: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-43

March 2005

Weaving Music with the Fabric of Community: 24 Years with Christian Tiemeyer and the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra

March 2005

Join us as we salute Dr. Christian Tiemeyer’s 24 seasons with the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra.

Radio Days 1935-1945

March 2005

The radio launched a communications explosion across America. The big wooden box in the living room was everyone’s passport to adventure, news, travel, laughter, music and romance. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the opening days of World War II, radios and radio equipment made the country smaller, smarter and helped win a world war. In Cedar Rapids, the technology also meant local jobs and gave companies like Collins Radio a world-wide reputation for innovation and manufacturing excellence. Radio Days is the story of that time in Iowa, of hard work, visionary thinking, new technology and the war that brought these elements together. 

Lebanese Among Us: Americans for a Century

February 2005

Lebanese Among Us: Americans for a Century tells the story of families who began to migrate to Linn County in the Nineteenth Century and stayed to be major contributors to this community.

Arbor Day 

September 2004

Grant Wood’s “Arbor Day” was loaned for an exhibit at The History Center. The security system and lighting were upgraded to allow for the loan of this famous piece. 

Disappearing Frontiers

December 2003

This exhibit of disappearing clues to our past has been made possible by the talent and dedication of Bob Campagna and by his commitment to the youth of Linn County. The History Center thanks Bob and the schools who shared with him the insights and artistry of their students. These schools are: Kennedy High School, Xavier High School, McKinley Middle School, Mount Vernon High School, and Johnson Elementary School of the Arts. 

Cornell College: Celebrating 150 Years of History 

May 2003

Toy Stories: Linn County at Play

November 2002

For the first time The History Center has mounted a major exhibit on the toys that children in Linn County have played with throughout our history. Examples include a doll buggy Mamie Eisenhower pushed when playing with a friend. There’s a go-cart built of whatever could be found during the Depression. There are teddy bears, dolls, Tonka trucks, Matchbox cars, and Lincoln Logs. No matter when you grew up, you will find toys from your childhood. Accompanying labels tell stories of toys from Cooties to Barbie. 

Hometown Sports Heroes: A Linn County History Exhibit

January 2003

How do we identify a sports hero? Is it their physical skill? Mental toughness? Leadership? Teamwork? Endurance? Or is a hometown sports hero someone who inspires others in his/her community? Overcomes unusual obstacles? Brings trophies and outside attention to the hometown? Or is a hometown sports hero a team of people who, working together, achieve athletic success? The exhibit will ask the question, “What makes a hometown boy, girl, or team a sports hero to their community?”. The answer to the question will be given by communities in Linn County who nominate their hometown sports heroes.  

Barn Again! Celebrating An American Icon

June 2002

Barn Again! – an exhibition by The History Center and the Smithsonian Institution – explored the history and types of American barns, focusing on Linn County. The exhibit examined barns as farm factories, cultural icons, converted dance halls, and images of a changing way of life. 

Turn on the Lights

March 2002

What was Cedar Rapids like in the 1920s? Lights! Theater! Action! The  Koehler TimeQuest will soon transform and add the 1920s to its simulation environment. Remember the Majestic Theater, the Iowa Theater Corn Light, Armstrongs, Killians, Craemers, Newmans? You will be able to drive by these buildings on the Time Machine beginning in March. 

Town and Countryside: The Photography of Carolyn Wellso

February 2002

A Call to Arms: Linn County and the World Wars

November 2001

Coming Veterans Day to The History Center is an exhibit exploring the effect the World Wars had on the fighting men, women, and their loved ones at home in Linn County. The exhibit will feature letters and other artifacts from the War years, and give the visitor a glimpse of life at the front, a look at life in Linn County, and perspective on the aftermath that still haunts survivors today. 

2001: A Quilt Odyssey

September 2001

See Eastern Iowa’s quilts and learn about the men, women, and children who quilt. 

From the Good Earth: A Celebration of Growing Food Around the World

April 2000

The History Center is proud to present an exhibition of a celebration of food growing around the world by farmer, author and photographer Michael Ableman. Ableman’s work has been featured in National Geographic and on the PBS series Green Means and Victory Gardens. Ableman’s travels around the world over five years inspired these photographs. The photographs will be supported by artifacts from the collection of the History Center. The History Center is grateful for the sponsorship support of general Mills, Cargill, and Quaker. This traveling exhibit developed by Exhibits USA. 

Noble Faces: Portraits of American Indians in Iowa

January 2000

Join us for an outstanding exhibit of Indian lifeways in Iowa, including those of the Meskwaki, Ioways, Eastern Sioux and Winnebago Indians. The History Center worked closely with Sac and Fox tribal representatives, especially Jonathan Buffalo, to bring you the artifacts that best represent Indian presence in Linn County over the last several hundred years. 

A Century of Caring: Mercy and Medicine


Passages: Stages & Celebrations of Life

December 1999

Throughout history and across cultures, rites of passage have reaffirmed community beliefs and values. This exhibit encompasses life’s passages from the cradle to the grave. This includes: birth, introduction to the community, coming of age, coming of age in the religious community, marriage, celebrations, and death. 

Wrights to Flight

June 1999

Take off with pioneers of aviation! The Wright Brothers, whose dreams of flight began during their childhood in Cedar Rapids; Dan Hunter, a World War I flying ace who built Linn County’s first private flying service; Alexander Lippisch, the father of the delta wing and designer at Collins Radio, who was inspired by seeing the Wright flyer as a child. 

Cedar Rapids A-Z

February 1999

Art show with local students.

From Playtime to Showtime: A Century of Children’s Amusements

February 1998

This exhibit looks at the ways children have played in Linn County over the last 100 years. The behavior of children, their toys, and the way they play can often times be a reflection of the culture and values of a community. Examining the shifts in adult perceptions of children show how values and attitudes have changed over time. In addition, observing the changes in the amount of available family leisure time and how it was spent reveals more information about a community.  

A Patchwork of Pattern: Quilts from Linn County

November 1997

Patchwork and applique block designs, which are standard forms in quilt patterns today, were created in early nineteenth century by American women. The introduction of these designs transformed quilts from being a functional textile to a distinctly American folk art form. Many present day patterns continue to show the influence of the nineteenth century quilting movement. The Log Cabin design is just one example of this legacy. 

Mount Vernon Through the Looking Glass

March 1997

Old photographs printed from glass negatives showed early Mount Vernon life, including school events, weddings, celebrations and picnics. The photos highlighted prominent buildings as they apprared when they were younger.  

From the Attic to Outer Space: Arthur Collins and His Company

May 1996

Born in Oklahoma in 1909, Arthur moved with his parents to Cedar Rapid at a young age. His father, M. H. Collins, owned Collins Farm Company. At the company’s peak it controlled 60,000 acres of Iowa farm land. Arthur’s interest in radios began around 1920 when he started building his own equipment. He produced radio components in his home and incorporated the Collins Radio Company in 1933. A genius in the communications field, Arthur’s entire life was spent exploring new frontiers of technology. 

A Crucible of Hope: One Hundred Years of Jewish Community in Linn County

September 1995

Shakespeare Club Exhibit

October 1995

Home for the Holidays: Changing Traditions, 1850-1950

November 1994

The exhibit focuses on changing holiday traditions over the years in Linn County, both cultural and popular. The exhibit reflects the evolution of holiday traditions from religious celebrations to highly commercial and secular events over the years.

The YWCA in Cedar Rapids: 100 Years of Change to Meet the Changing Needs of Women

March 1994

The exhibit traces the 100 year history of the YWCA in Cedar Rapids through photographs, artifacts and documents. The YWCS was established originally as the Bohemian Young Women’s Union in 1891. The exhibit focused on the three basic needs identified by the YWCA in  early years and traced how those needs have changed over time: the health and welfare needs of women, the housing needs of women, and the needs of working women. Photographs depicted the evolution of the YWCA building from its construction in 1911 to present. 

Footprints - Linn County


Preserving the Past for Our Future: 1993 Acquisitions

February 1994

New acquisitions included the handwritten lists of killed and wounded in Iowa’s 24th Infantry Regiment during the Battle of Champion Hill, May 18, 1863, as listed by Surgeon John F. Ely; 1918 West Point Cadet uniform and greatcoat worn by Robert Armstrong; a panoramic photograph of the Cedar Rapids Fire Department in 1925; Cedar Rapid’s Fireman’s uniforms of the 1930s and 1960s; and material documenting the early development of Palisades-Kepler State Park. 

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

November 1993

Toys have held the fascination of children and adults for centuries. They have provided innumerable hours of pleasure to boys and girls of all ages. Depending upon the user, a toy can be viewed from many different aspects. For a child, a toy is most likely viewed as something to play with and nothing more. For a collector, a toy might be seen as something of value, or perhaps a reminder of days gone by, For a historian, a toy is both an example of the material culture of children during a specific time period and a “document” that helps one understand something of the past. 

1943: A Fifty Year Retrospective

November 1993

By the end of 1942, the United States economy had been converted to war. The production of hundreds of civilian items had been stopped or greatly curtailed while plans were geared exclusively to military production. The United States reached the height of its war production in 1943. By that time, the war consumed about 35% of the gross national product. This exhibit shows how those in Cedar Rapids and Linn County lived, worked, and were affected by the war. Cedar Rapids was the home of many important industries that contributed greatly to the war effort. The shift from a peacetime to a wartime economy is reflected in many of the object exhibited. 

The Vicksburg Campaign, 1863 and Linn County’s Contribution

June 1993

The exhibit commemorates Linn County’s involvement in the Vicksburg Campaign during the Civil War. The campaign culminated in the fall of Vicksburg, Miss. on July 4, 1863. Three Linn County companies of the 24th Iowa Infantry participated heavily in the battle.

The Kelsey Family: Domestic and Agricultural Life in Linn County, 1840-1880

May 1993

Hull-Riggs Circus

February 1993

Preserving the Past for Our Future: 1992 Acquisitions

February 1993

The exhibit was composed of objects and artifacts acquired by the museum in 1992. Items representing Linn County history from the Civil War period to the 1970s included tools, a Civil War naval sword, an album of memorabilia about businessman Howard Hall, and a variety of industrial artifacts from local companies.

Old Time Yuletide

November 1992

The exhibit has as its theme handmade gifts that were, or might have been, given at Christmas during the period of c. 1900-1940. Included are examples of tatting, crochet work, toys, books, scrap albums, and quilts. 

1942: A Fifty Year Retrospective

November 1992

The exhibit features photographs, documents, and artifacts from Linn County residents who fought in World War II. Of particular interest are Nazi artifacts liberated from German troops in Italy. 

Austin Palmer and the Palmer Method

October 1992

Austin Palmer, while a resident of Cedar Rapids in the early 1880s, was successful in perfecting a style of handwriting that is still used today. Palmer’s method emphasized “the muscular movement in writing: rather than copying letters from copy books. 

Seventy Years of Boy Scouting and Eighty Years of Girl Scouting in Eastern Iowa

February 1992

Memories of Christmas in Town Square

November 1992 

This is a nostalgic store windows exhibit from Linn County’s past, including a general store, print shop and newspaper, seamstress and tailor shops, hardware store, and others. Join us for a nostalgic peek into the past. 

The Man of Steel

September 1991

The exhibit was the personal collection of Mike Curtis of Cedar Rapids. Growing up in the 50’s, when Superman was the top Superhero, he collected his own Superman toys. Then in the early 1970s, Mike heard of an auction of Superman memorabilia in Metropolis, IL. The city, in an effort to build tourism, had attempted to start a Superman Museum as the “hometown of Superman”. The museum was not a financial success, however, and the city auctioned off its collection in the early 1970s. Mike purchased about 25 items at that time, never expecting to see his collection grow in later years to 16,000 items, the third largest private collection in existence. 

The People’s Art, 1889-1989: One Hundred Years of Calendars from the Thomas D. Murphy Company of Red Oak, Iowa
July 1991

Murphy Company calendars have carried works by artists such as Frederick Remington, Charles M. Russell, J. G. Brown, Edwin Lamasure, George Howell Gay, Maxfield Parrish, Maynard Reece, Claude Strachan, and H. J. Dobson. Calendar art often features landscapes, women, children and animals. Among chief values or feelings conveyed by the illustrations are wholesomeness, idealized versions of love and beauty, and a sentimental and benign view of nature, nostalgia, patriotism and light humor. Nearly 80 calendar reproductions are featured in this exhibit, organized by the Montgomery County Historical Society and funded in part by the Iowa Humanities Board and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Mat Hull’s Circus Exhibit
April 1990

Remembrances of Toys Past
December 1990

Toys from before the Civil War to recent times, including tin soldiers, are on exhibit. A special attraction is a display of Ives, American Flyer and Lionel trains made in the 1920s through the 1950s. These is also an operating model railroad layout.

A Century of Service to the Nation: Daughters of the American Revolution
October 1990

The exhibit featured the aims, purposes, and accomplishment of the Society since its founding on October 11, 1890. The information on the people and the objects depicted in the exhibit, and the composition of the display in the museum’s gallery was designed and executed by the Ashley, Marion-Linn and Mayflower Chapters of the Daughter of the American Revolution

Black History Month
February 1990

This exhibit was a tribute in honor of Black History Month. The exhibit featured material pertaining to social and political issues important to our African American community.

Remembrance of Toys Past
December 1989

The exhibit features a fine collection of toys dating from the 19th through the 20th century. One of the exhibit’s highlights is a collection of over 160 international dolls in traditional costumes representing 70 nations and ethnic groups.

The Corner Store (Pre 1935)

Things That Go Bump in the Night
October 1989

The exhibit features photographs of area sites reported to be haunted. The photographs, by John McEnrow and Shellie Kvale, are augmented with a video by Rick Plummer, David Grant and John Wellso. It is not important whether visitors believe the information presented, but that they enjoy the stories as part of the county’s folklore.

The Day a Dream Came True: Conquest of Space with Astronaut John Creighton
July 1989

After World War II, both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. initiated advanced rocketry programs, building upon German wartime experience and work of experimental scientists in the respective countries. Telemetry equipment such as that design and built by Dr. James Van Allen and his students, utilizing a variety of high altitude platforms for data-gathering, provided an ever-increasing level of understanding of the fringes of space. The dream of human exploration in space because a goal as military ballistic missiles and experimental aircraft came closer and closer to achieving orbital velocities.

One Hundred Years of Photography

Veterans Exhibit


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