Out of all the years we’ve driven out to Wheaton, Illinois I totally missed so many absolutely exciting pieces of history like THE C.S. Lewis Wardrobe that inspired the Chronicles of Narnia and the original desk of J.R.R. Tolkien in which he wrote “The Hobbit” on. The historical things to do in Wheaton, Illinois will keep you marveling at such stunning collections! Below are some of the best historical choices in the area to visit in Wheaton!
The Little Popcorn Shop – the best 4 feet wide store around!
Yes – you read that correctly! The ENTIRE store is a whopping 4 feet wide by 64 feet long. Located at 111 1/4 Front Street in Wheaton, Illinois, the Popcorn Shop in Wheaton is a much beloved place for my family! My husband grew up taking special trips to this little shop, introduced me to it, and now we take our children! Although the store was originally opened in the 1930’s selling, you guessed it, popcorn – they also have rows and rows of very inexpensive candies!
From just a nickel and up, grab a bag and fill it up with everything from sour candies to gummies, chocolate and more! This is truly a special treat that is extremely affordable and brings my family good memories from decades ago. The popcorn is seriously the BEST I’ve ever had and there’s NO butter (which means dairy free!). You can read more about the history here.
Marion E. Wade Center Museum at Wheaton College
If you know anything about Wheaton, Illinios, you know many people refer to it as a “college town”. But located in a small house sized building called the Marion E. Wade center you would NEVER know by driving past that inside houses some of the most amazing literary artifacts from beloved authors. In fact we’ve been driving past this exact location for decades not knowing what was inside! Learn more about current exhibits here and even take a photo slideshow tour of the facility here. Below are just a few things I discovered.
The Original Desk of J.R.R. Tolkien:
This is THE ORIGINAL desk of J.R.R. Tolkien, purchased by his wife Edith in 1927, and the spot he wrote the entire Hobbit book on as well as much of his “Lord of the Rings” series. In fact he used this desk until his death in 1971. It’s simple and unassuming but saw so much action from the words on a page. What you don’t see in this photo is that on top of the desk is a HAND WRITTEN letter by J.R.R. Tolkien (it cannot be photographed for copyright reasons).
The Marion E. Wade center is filled with amazing works of art and artifacts from the life of 6 noteable authors including Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers and Owen Barfield.
The museum is for the most part a one room exhibit but very nicely done with fabulous displays! Inside a set of glass display cases you’ll see pens from J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis as well as other items from their life.
How Did J.R.R. Tolkien Come Up with The Hobbit?
Do you know the history of how The Hobbit was inspired and came to be? I didn’t even though evidently it is a famous one! Around 1930 on a hot summer day J.R.R. Tolkien was grading exam papers as a side job to earn some money for his family. One of the students had left a page blank and Tolkien said “….so I scribbled on it, I can’t think why, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.'” He later decided to find out what hobbits were and thus began his journey of inspiration to write “The Hobbit”.
The Wardrobe that Inspired C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Book:
Growing up nothing brought more imagination to mind that the story of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. I’ve seen dozens of plays, movies and adaptions of this classic tale. So to not only see but touch THE wardrobe that inspired the amazing creation of Narnia just left me breathless! Typically in museums historic artifacts are locked away with plaques asking patrons not to touch anything. So imagine my surprise when the lady that was monitoring the museum not only excitedly ushered us over to the wardrobe but she opened it, grabbed coats out to hug (one belonging to his grandfather!), and left the wardrobe open for us to close ourselves!
This wardrobe was actually handmade by Richard Lewis, C.S. Lewis’ grandfather, in the 1800’s. When Lewis was a child in Belfast, Ireland, he used to crawl inside and play – imaging all sorts of stories! He used to sit inside the wardrobe with this brothers and cousins and tell them adventurous tales which is likely where his career and love of story telling began! Also on display in the exhibit is his dining room table and a chair along with his desk, pen, teapot, and other personal items.
The original desk of C.S. Lewis:
This is the desk that C.S. Lewis used while teaching at Oxford University. Also on display are hand written letters by C.S. Lewis as he used to correspond with anyone who wrote him! Located in the archives in the basement of the building are over 2500 pieces of work and other articles by C.S. Lewis making it one of the largest collections available anywhere! Although the archives are not open to the public the Marion E. Wade center has a “Reading Room” where they will bring you anything that you would like to see from the archives!
The displays in the museum are fantastic and give incredible insight and history into many of our beloved stories and authors.
The original commissioned art of Narnia:
On the wall is a copy of the original hand drawn map of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, but even more impressive is this original piece of art that C.S. Lewis first had commissioned in color of his creation of Narnia. For copyright reasons I am not displaying a photo of the map in its entirety but you can see by the impressive colors and details that the map is just astounding and SO LARGE!!
*The Marion E. Wade center is completely free to visit! They have a very small “store” of objects for purchase to help support the center and free events on a regular basis to attend on the authors.
If you’re looking for a fantastic family activity after you’ve visited The Little Popcorn Shop I HIGHLY recommend heading over to Cantigny Park for the day! Whether you have an hour or 6 hours – you won’t regret your time spent at Cantigny. With over 500 acres to explore, you’ll find stunning gardens, playgrounds and picnic areas, geocaching, the home of Robert R. McCormick (Chicago Tribune editor and publisher) as well as the impressive First Division Museum which tells the history of the U.S. Army’s famed 1st Infantry Division.
Admission to the park is always free but there is a $5-10 parking fee depending on the day. In front of the First Division Museum is a stunning display of military tanks for children to crawl on and learn about. One little blurb on this site isn’t nearly enough to explain a full day of beauty and historical significance here so just trust me when I say you’ll need to plan a day at Cantigny.
Nearby Historical Locations in Illinois:
Ernest Hemingway’s Home (Birthplace) (also the first home in the area to have electricity) – Oak Park, IL
Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio – Oak Park, IL
Bull Moose Bar & Grille (restaurant in Teddy Roosevelt’s train car!) – Sandwich, IL
Route 66, Iron Works Ruins – Joliet, IL