Barry McNamara  |   Published June 03, 2021

Three Tours of Monmouth

College’s ‘Public History’ students tell the city’s story through themes of military, architecture, and minorities and immigrants.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – “What story about Monmouth would you tell a visitor here?”

ELLEN DIGGS: Learning about the Monmouth College alumna was part of the process for students in M... ELLEN DIGGS: Learning about the Monmouth College alumna was part of the process for students in Michelle Damian's "Introduction to Public History" class.This spring, students in Monmouth College’s “Introduction to Public History” class were challenged to answer that question. After extensive research, they came up with three different stories to tell.

“My ‘Public History’ students were tasked with coming up with either a driving or walking tour of Monmouth,” said history professor Michelle Damian. “Three groups of students chose three different themes (immigration and minorities, architecture, and military), researched what would make good tour stops fitting with those themes, conducted historical research and oral histories, and wrote up museum-style labels for the tours.”

The tours are available online.

“I learned a lot about the history of Monmouth through the story map project,” said Larissa Pothoven ’24 of Rock Island, Illinois, whose group focused on the impact of immigrants and minorities in Monmouth. “I had a little bit of prior knowledge about the majority of the topics we researched, but I enjoyed learning about them more in depth.”

Pothoven said she knew that Joseph Smith was the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as the LDS Church or Mormon Church).

“But I did not know that he was put on trial in the city of Monmouth, with (future U.S. Sen.) Stephen Douglas as the judge,” she said.

The students’ tour entry about the trial reads, in part: “The crowd became riled and attempted to capture and lynch Smith. … Douglas ordered Smith’s release, ruling that he was being held unlawfully. During this time many individuals did not want to accept the religion he was practicing.”

“I found the students’ work to be intriguing and fascinating.” Michelle Damian


Other entries from the immigration and minorities section include the story of Monmouth College alumna Ellen Irene Diggs, a Black woman who worked to combat racism alongside W.E.B. Du Bois and who’s buried at the Glendale Addition to the Monmouth Cemetery; German-born Monmouth cigar maker Reimer Lahann; and Robert B. Catlin, the son of former slaves, who was one of Monmouth’s earliest barbers and whose two sons continued the family business.

For the oral history requirement of the project, Pothoven interviewed Todd Franks, the Monmouth liaison for the Immigration Project from 2016-20.

“During the interview, he mentioned that there are a lot of immigrants from Burma (now Myanmar) in Monmouth, the majority of whom come through World Relief in the Quad Cities area, which is where I’m from,” she said.

Bailey Shimmin ’23 has lived in and around Monmouth her entire life, but she also learned from the project.

“The complexity of Monmouth’s architecture was very surprising to learn about,” she said. “Its architecture came from so many different places in the United States and Europe, and it was very interesting to research.”

Shimmin said she was pleased with the final product.

“I feel like it turned out very well,” she said. “It was a lot of work researching these different aspects of Monmouth, so I’m glad it turned out so nicely and that it can be viewed by others.”

“The Warren County History Museum will be linking our tours on their website, and I intend to reach out to the city offices to let them know it’s available, too,” said Damian. “I found the students’ work to be intriguing and fascinating.”

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