The following fascinating small town museums in midwest US are listed alphabetically by state, city, and museum name. Hours of operation or prices are not included, so please check the respective website for that and any other desired information.
This article covers small town museums in Midwest US, including Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Please also see Fascinating Small Town Museums in Southeastern US and Fascinating Small Town Museums in Western US and Fascinating Small Town Museums in Northeastern US.
There are over 35,000 museums in the United States but most travel articles consistently cover the same 50 or so. I have visited many fascinating museums in many small towns across the United States. They should be recognized and visited, right?
In addition to highlighting lesser known museums, I also will include only museums located outside of major US cities. None of the listed entries are located in the 30 largest US cities.
RV/MH Hall of Fame, in Elkhart, preserves the history and honors the pioneers and individuals who have made significant contributions to the RV and Manufactured Housing industries. The RV Founders Hall displays trailers, photos, and memorabilia reaching back to the 1920’s and 1930’s and is open to the public. The museum presents chronological and technological advancements in the industry from before WW I to the present.
Dream Car Museum, in Evansville, houses the midwest’s most extensive collection of exotic and vintage cars enriched by a world class display of automotive memorabilia. This is one of the best car museums in the US.
McCool Travel note: the Dream Car Museum is now CLOSED!
The Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, is home to the nation’s largest public genealogy library and offers free onsite assistance. Even though their physical collection is one of the largest in the world, the electronic and virtual content is world-class too. Open seven days a week, The Genealogy Center’s world-renowned immense collection is more accessible than any you will find elsewhere.
Matchstick Marvels, in Gladbrook, displays several intricate models constructed out of thousands of matchsticks created by local resident Pat Acton. Ripley’s Believe It or Not bought many of his models for display in their various museums worldwide. After Acton retired, he signed a contract with Ripley’s to build models for them. His models have become more intricate over the years—the last couple of have incorporated motion sensors, lights, and sound.
Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, in La Crosse, displays over 2,000 varieties of barbed wire along with tools and equipment used in fencing. The museum celebrates the inventiveness of pioneers and those with an eye for business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Wizard of Oz Museum, in Wamego, showcases over 100 years of OZ history, from the 1st edition L. Frank Baum books to the most current collectible pieces. It houses more than just memorabilia from the famous 1939 MGM musical starring Judy Garland. It encompasses earlier silent films, one of which starred none other than Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy fame) as the Tin Man as well as “The Wiz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
Spam Museum, in Austin, has reopened in a brand new, 14,000-square-foot facility, just in time to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Hormel Foods—which makes the famous spiced, canned meat. Visitors will find interactive and informative exhibits about the iconic product, including showings of the famously wacky “Spam” sketch and song by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
United States Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, in Eveleth, has inducted U.S. hockey legends since 1973, going back to champions from the early 20th century and including players and coaches hailing from Minnesota. True history detectives will want to investigate whether the giant, five-ton, free standing hockey stick outside the building is in fact the largest hockey stick in the world.
One popular exhibit showcases U.S. Olympic hockey victories, including the men’s silver medal teams in 1920 and 2010 and gold medal winners in 1960 and 1980 (the “Miracle on Ice” team, led by Minnesota coach Herb Brooks and featuring several former University of Minnesota players). Another exhibit honors the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team for their gold medal win in 1998.
Leila’s Hair Museum, in Independence, is the only hair museum in the world with hundreds of wreaths and thousands of jewelry pieces made from human hair. The Hair jewelry was worn both by men and women of the Victorian period (1800 – 1900) and earlier. You will find pieces containing hair from Queen Victoria, four presidents, and multiple celebrities; from Michael Jackson to Marilyn Monroe. The museum also has reliquaries of Mary (Mother of Jesus), the cross, St. Anne (Jesus’ Grandmother), and more.
Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, in Millersburg, accurately informs visitors about the faith, culture, and lifestyle of the Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite peoples. The Behalt 10 ft tall x 265 ft long cyclorama, or mural-in-the-round, illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zürich, Switzerland in 1525 to the present day.
Toledo Museum of Art, in Toledo, has more than 30,000 works of art represent American and European painting, the history of art in glass, ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian works, Asian and African art, medieval art, sculpture, decorative arts, graphic arts, and modern and contemporary art.
Lincoln Borglum Museum, in Keystone, answers “How and why was Mount Rushmore National Memorial carved?” and other questions Mount Rushmore visitors often ask. The museum houses two 125-seat theaters—where “The Shrine,” a short film provides an introduction to the memorial—and over 5,200 square feet of interactive exhibits, which detail the history and development of Mount Rushmore.
Old World Wisconsin, near Eagle, is the largest outdoor museum of rural life in the United States. Opened in 1976, the museum features villages and farms representing various times and cultures of 19th and 20th Century life in Wisconsin. Researchers traveled throughout the state looking for authentic historic buildings representing generations of Wisconsin settlers of various ethnic groups. Over 60 of these historic buildings were painstakingly moved piece by piece; literally numbering boards, bricks, and logs to reconstruct them on the 600 acres of Old World Wisconsin.
Ten Chimneys, near Genesee Depot, located close to Old World Wisconsin, is the estate lovingly created by theatre legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. It is open to the public as a world-class house museum and national resource for theatre, arts, and arts education.