Search the site:
Illinois Country Living

Cooperative helps museum cut expenses


DIckson Mounds Museum

Prairie Power Manager of Marketing and Economic Development Aaron Ridenour, left, Dickson Mounds Museum Director Dr. Michael Wiant and Spoon River Electric Cooperative Manager of Engineering Mark Balbinot stand outside the museum with an energy-efficient LED exit sign. Prairie Power donated 50 exit signs to the museum, which are projected to drop the cost of power for the signs from more than $1,700 annually to less than $100.

Dr. Michael Wiant

Dickson Mounds Museum Director Dr. Michael Wiant gestures as he leads a tour of the museum recently. Tours of the museum are available to large and small groups and can be scheduled by calling the museum at (309) 547-3721. Museum admission is free.


Artifacts on display at Dickson Mounds Museum in rural Lewistown have been excavated from the area around the museum, which is rich in ancient pieces of pottery, weapons and tools used by American Indians and French explorers.

by Brenda Rothert

It takes a lot of electricity to power a sprawling three-story museum with exhibits that span centuries. But these days, it takes a lot less than it used to.

Dickson Mounds Museum Director Dr. Michael Wiant said he and the staff at the rural Lewistown museum took a comprehensive look at energy consumption when he became director in 2003. He was “astonished” by the museum’s high usage. He immediately met with representatives of Spoon River Electric Cooperative, the museum’s electricity supplier, and Prairie Power, Inc., the cooperative that supplies Spoon River’s electricity.

Wiant found out that an interruptible rate was available. The rate, available to members with higher usage, is lower, but it allows for the cooperative to tell the member to significantly lower usage during peak alerts.

Drawing 240 kilowatt-hours at full load, the museum staff had to find a way to cut down to 40 kWh when needed and keep the museum open. They did, and in the process they also identified many other ways to save energy.

Exhibit lighting was redesigned. Motion sensors were added to exhibit areas. The boilers were even adjusted to run more efficiently.

“We did have peak alerts and we learned we could handle it,” Wiant said. “It has been a substantial savings.”

Now everyone who works at the museum is aware of the savings achieved even with small changes, like always turning off the lights when they leave a room, keeping blinds closed and powering down computers when not in use. For a museum focused on providing a quality experience to its visitors, these changes free up more money for improving exhibits.

“If it means the staff wears sweaters, that’s a great trade in my view,” said Wiant.

The impetus for the changes, both big and small, was the effort to work with the museum’s cooperative, Wiant said.

“It all began with Spoon River Electric Cooperative, who said, ‘You know what, we can work together.’”

Discovery still intrigues

The curiosity of a chiropractor more than 80 years ago led to the stunning discovery of the remains of 230 American Indians, interred around 900 years ago.

Dr. Don Dickson began digging in an ancient burial mound on his family farm in 1927. He did not remove the bones or artifacts he discovered, but moved the earth away to expose them. As the scope of Dickson’s discoveries increased, he covered the excavation with a tent, and later with a building. To support his operation, he opened the burial to the public with an admission charge. More than 90,000 people visited in the first two years.

The Dickson site was later sold to the state of Illinois, and in 1972, the present building was opened. It was constructed around the mound and includes three full floors of exhibit space. The museum’s attendance remained high, with people coming from near and far to get a close-up look at the burial exhibit.

But times changed for Dickson Mounds Museum in 1990. A controversy arose over the efforts of museum staff to close the burial exhibit to public view. American Indian activists felt it was inappropriate to display the bones of their ancestors. The controversy drew nationwide attention and eventually became political. The burial was closed to the public in April 1992, and the museum was redesigned and reopened later that year.

Today Dr. Michael Wiant is the director of the museum. Some still lament the closing of the burial, he said.

“There is a lot of memory – positive memory – that what people saw here was engaging,” he said.

To bridge the gap between the divergent opinions on the burial, museum staffers have developed a new exhibit that digitally recreates the positions of the remains and artifacts in the burial exhibit. Wiant envisions a touch-screen exhibit that will allow visitors to learn more about the lives and deaths of the people in the burial than ever before.

Nestled in the scenic Illinois River Valley next to the Nature Conservancy’s massive wetland restoration called The Emiquon Preserve, Wiant said the museum continues to evolve as a place for reflection and education about the hundreds of generations who called the area home.

“We have a big story here,” he said.


© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

Designed and Maintained by Cooperative Design and Print.

Current Issue Archive About Us Advertisers Contact Us FAQ