Burpee History

A Place of Wonder

A face filled with wonder is a common sight at the Burpee Museum of Natural History.  Our many unique exhibits  have been known to intrigue both the young and old onlookers.  Great detail and care goes into all of our exhibits , and there’s plenty to see for everyone!

Our Mission

It is the mission of Burpee Museum of Natural History to inspire all people to engage in a lifetime of discovery and learning about the natural world, through preservation and interpretation.

The Barnes Mansion

In 1893 the Williams Fletcher Barnes house was built during a severe economic depression. It was one of the finest homes in Rockford, costing more than $30,000 at the time. A showplace with 15 rooms, a turret, two porticos and hand-carved solid cherry paneling in the foyer, reception area, adn first floor hallway.

In 1937 Amy Lane, one of Mr. Barne's daughters, sold the building to the Rockford Park District for $12,000. The Rockford Park District set up its offices on the first floor.

The Burpee Museum opened its doors to the public in the second and third floors in 1942. Burpee expanded its occupation of the house to include the first floor and basement in 1971.

The Manny Mansion

In 1843 the land on which this old house stands was part of a 146 acre parcel purchased for $182.16 by George S. Haskell. Mr. Haskell sold a portion of the lot to Seth S. Whitman.

In 1864 John P. Manny purchased the property for $15,000 and added improvements costing an additional $15,000

In 1935 Harry Burpee, a local furniture maker and undertaker, bought the house and land for $20,000 with the intention of using th house as a funeral parlor. The neighbors objected and he decided instead to turn it into the Harry and Della Burpee Art Gallery. The Burpees never lived in the house.

In 1939 the original audirorium and gallery addition was built at a cost of $35,000. In 1986 the Harry and Della Burpee Art Gallery became the Rockford Art Museum and moved next door into the renovated Sears building known as the Riverfront Museum Park. Burpee Museum expanded into the house with the Native American exhibit, classrooms and offices.

In 1997 the original auditorium was torn down to make room for the 40,000 square foot Robert Solem Wing. The tunnel connection to the Riverfront Museum Park starting under the front porch of the mansion was built. Renovation of the interior of this house for classrooms and the education center began.

On May 24, 1942, funded with W.P.A. money and a trust fund established by Harry and Della Burpee, the Museum opened to the public. 

In 1985, Lee G. Johnson became director. With Lynda Johnson in charge of education, school programs and classes were expanded, new exhibits created, and more staff was added. The Robert Solem Wing was designed and construction began. In 1997 Dr. Wallace A. Steffan assumed the role of director to carry the museum into the next century.