Arcade Manufacturing was incorporated in 1885 and originally occupied a one-story building on Chicago Street in Freeport. The company grew and prospered, becoming well-known for producing high-quality cast iron coffee mills, spring hinges, cork extractors and stove dampers. But the Arcade Company is probably most famous for its cast iron toys. Their toys included doll houses and furniture, cars, trucks, buses, planes, farm vehicles and pint-sized farm tools sturdy enough to actually use. Arcade toys are collector's items today and the Stephenson County Historical Society has the largest collection on display in North America.
A small but interesting Freeport industry of the past was the Dirksen Silver Filigree company located on South State Avenue. This business was founded and operated by Gerrit Dirksen, a silversmith, who learned his trade in Germany and built up this business in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century. He began his filigreed silver business in the back of the small grocery store he and his wife owned on State Street just north of Galena Avenue . About 1890, the business of making and selling filigree pieces became so great that the store was converted into a silver filigree factory and shop. The numerous operations of making the filigree were all carried on in this building, from receiving the bars of silver to shipping out the beautiful pieces of silverware. Dirksens exhibited some very large and fine pieces at the 1893 Colmbian Exposition in Chicago, giving the business a big boost.
The fancy silver designs fell out of style in the early 20th century. After the death of Gerrit in 1903, the business went downhill rapidly, and it closed in 1905. The Stephenson County Historical Society Museum has nice collections of this silver, including a fine, early card case made by Gerrit Dirksen himself. Dirksen pieces can usually be identified by the letters GD intercrossed in a simple design or by the words, "G. Dirksen, Freeport, Ill." In 1896, the business printed an illustrated catalog which is reproduced and sold at the Museum’s Gift Shop.
Stephenson County Historical Society Museum and Arboretum
1440 South Carroll Avenue, Freeport, Illinois 61032
Phone 815.232.8419 Fax 815.297.0313 email