Trailside Museum Celebrates 80 Years

A mansion, an animal inn and a wonderful Nature Center

When the Trailside Museum of Natural History opened its doors to the public in May of 1932, the United States was well into the Great Depression, a dozen eggs cost 18 cents, and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County was just 18 years old. Trailside Museum has been continuously educating and delighting visitors of all ages with innovative nature education ever since.


The 1876 Italianate mansion the center now occupies has served many uses, including being a residence and even a school, the River Forest Young Ladies Institute. In 1919, the Forest Preserve District purchased the building, having already bought much of the surrounding land.


The mansion served as the District’s headquarters until 1931, when the Board of Commissioners voted to make it a “trail side” museum displaying “every plant and animal in Cook County, live or mounted, for the education of the public.” A succession of curators ran the museum, notably Virginia Moe, whose 50-year stretch from 1941 until her death in 1991 included the writing of a book, Animal Inn, about her experiences caring for animals at Trailside.


Today, Trailside features displays on the wildlife and habitats of Cook County, live local animals such as turtles, owls and a coyote, indoor educational exhibits and a children’s area, an outdoor Nature Play area, and much more.


Stop by to add your own history to Trailside Museum! Click to learn more.

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County