ABOUT THE SITE
The most common question I get from Champaign residents is, "how do you know so much about history? Did you grow up here? ..but you're so young!" I want to thank those people for that compliment, but my response is it's just burned into me! I've simply come to be observant and curious about the world around me. After all, history IS all around us.
I grew up in a small rural community of Ashland in west-central Illinois. My love of local history was first kindled there. I was fascinated by our little downtown square. I remember walking into our "department store" Hexter's and looking at the old wire cables and baskets that took payment to a cash register on the balcony. I remember visiting the old Farmers State Bank building, by then converted to a restaurant, and gazing at the huge safe door that no longer protected the town's money. I remember walking into the hardware store and smelling an old musty smell and hearing the floors creak beneath my feet as the owner gave us a brown bag of nails. All of this led me to our local Ashland Public Library. That was the first time, as a Junior High student, I was able to pour through unindexed boxes of photos, old photo albums, and even our sepia-colored town charter that sat quietly in a box on a shelf.
I always knew that wherever my path took, I would want to dive deep into that place's history and learn as much as possible. When I arrived in Champaign, it didn't take long to begin my exploration. Over the past 20 years, I've tried to listen to all of these stories, but now it is time to try and bring order to them and put them down on paper (or at least a screen) to share with others.
Most of my research has been focused on the buildings of Downtown Champaign, but this blog will try to feature more than just that small geographic center. There may be times I get the story wrong. There may be times that others remember things differently. I hope people will engage with me to help correct those records. I hope people will dig through their own photos and be willing to share them to create a more complete story. At the end of the day, I hope people learn a little bit and take with them a new sense of pride for our community.
Before us, there was somebody else, and after we are gone, there will be others. If we want to preserve our culture, we must accept our role as stewards of these stories and do all we can to get the story right for future generations.
I hope you enjoy this site as much as I enjoy preparing it.
This site is dedicated to my great grandparents, Grandma Emma and Grandpa Joe, who were the first to tell me stories of the "old days."
My name is T.J. Blakeman, the creator, and author of ChampaignHistory.com. I arrived in Champaign in 1999 to attend our magnificent University of Illinois. I graduated in 2003 with a degree in Urban and Regional Planning and since that time have been proud to be a City Planner for the City of Champaign. During my time at the City, my focus has been primarily working directly with property owners, business owners, residents, and visitors to revitalize our wonderful city's core. As a City Planner, I've combined my passion and love for local history with my knowledge of good planning to help our core areas solve some of today's most challenging problems.
I am also the president of the Board of Trustees for the revitalized Champaign County History Museum. I am proud of the work we have accomplished at this small but mighty locally controlled and funded museum. We continue to do our part, collecting and preserving the artifacts that tell our County's story.
I am proud to call the City of Champaign and Champaign County my home, where I reside with my wife, Katie, and our three young children. I hope the stories contained on this site inspire a new generation of local historians and resurrect long-forgotten memories for the readers!