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100 Reasons: Staley museum shares legacy of Decatur industry titan

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Staley Museum

Alex and Lucas Staley check out the area set up as their great-great-grandfather A.E. Staley's office during the April 2016 opening of the Staley Museum in Decatur. 

Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.

From founding one of the city’s largest employers to urging the creation of its lake, there’s no question Augustus Eugene Staley helped shape Decatur into the community it is today.

The home where he and his family resided for 40 years now pays tribute to that legacy, as the Staley Museum at 361 N. College St. It contains artifacts and relates the story of a salesman who achieved his own American dream, opening a defunct starch plant in Decatur as A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. in 1912.

“We're a museum that happens to be in the family home,” director Laura Jahr said before the museum's opening weekend in 2016. “The intention is to tell stories about the family, the company and the community.”

In addition to making cornstarch, the company began processing soybeans in 1922, helping Decatur earn its “Soy City” nickname. Today known as Tate & Lyle, it remains a force in the Macon County economy and one of its largest employers.

Staley made other lasting contributions to the city beyond his business. He pushed city leaders in the early 1920s to build Lake Decatur, as he said the water supply was crucial to his business. In 1919, he founded the Decatur Staleys football team that would go on to become the Chicago Bears.

The former Staley Mansion dates to 1884, when it was built for William J. Quinlan of the Chambers-Bering-Quinlan Co. for $28,000. The story goes that Staley noticed the mansion when passing through Decatur several times in the 1890s and early 1900s and often wondered whether he would be able to own a home like it one day.

After Staley bought the home in 1913, he renovated it extensively, and he and his relatives lived there until 1951, when his widow donated the home to the Decatur Y.M.C.A. The organization later sold the property, and it went through several transitions, including being divided into apartments.

The property came back to the family in 2013 when Staley's descendants, including great-grandsons Mark and Grant Staley, bought it to create a sister museum to the Hieronymus Mueller Museum. The two families are connected by the 1926 marriage of A.E. “Gus” Staley Jr. to Lenore Mueller, granddaughter of Hieronymus Mueller.

The Staley Museum is open year-round from 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. From March to November, it is also open from 1 to 4 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month.

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