I came to Champaign in 1999 having just moved to the "big city" from my small hometown in west central Illinois.  Like many who now call Champaign home we came to attend on of the best universities in the world and in the process decided that this place was special and stayed.  This is not a unique story and has been repeated thousands of times in the past.  


Champaign Illinois is a remarkable community.  It is also one that is constantly changing, perhaps more than others because of its transient population.  For the majority of my career as a City Planner, I've worked to help revitalize and reinvent Downtown Champaign.  To help me understand that job, I've immersed myself in its history in order to better understand how Downtown and the greater community evolved.  I firmly believe that what has made Downtown such a special place is the feeling evoked when you walk among the built environment.  

Downtown's history can be charted in six major eras.  The first was the rugged outpost.  This era from 1855-1880 was marked by hastily constructed wood frame buildings.  The second is the first generation from 1880-1910.  During this time the first brick buildings were constructed and the city began to organize as a bonafide city.  The third era is the boom years from 1910-1945.  This period saw tremendous growth and construction and represents the high point for Downtown Champaign.  Most of our most beloved buildings were constructed during this time including the City Building and most of our beautiful theaters. The fourth era is one of conflict from 1945-1975.  During this time, multiple forces were at play including the creation of regional shopping centers, the growth of automobiles and the fight over preservation or demolition.  The fifth era from 1975-1995 represents the lowest point for Downtown.  Our current era is one of revitalization from 1995 to the present.  This era represents one of renewal.  

This site represents my personal knowledge of our communities growth.  It is designed to document the individual history of our local built environment.  There is no way to fully understand the history of every building and therefore I hope the community will leave comments that add to the story.  


The goal is to inspire a renewed sense of civic pride in our collective history and use that pride to promote the collection and preservation of that history. 


The photographs on the site come primarily from public sources while others come from private sources.  If you have photographs that you would like to contribute to this project, please email us.


"History is not just something that happened long ago and far away. History happens to all of us all the time. Local history brings history home, it touches your life, the life of your family, your neighborhood, your community."--Thomas J. Noel


About the Author

T.J. Blakeman came to Champaign in 1999 to attend the University of Illinois.  He graduated in 2003 with a degree in Urban and Regional Planning.  He is currently the Senior Planner for Economic Development with the City of Champaign Planning and Development Department. 


He is currency serving as the President of the Board of Trustees for the revitalized Champaign County History Museum. In 2010 he led the City of Champaign's effort to organize a three week exhibition to celebrate the history of the City. 


T.J. has long had a passion for local history and continues to foster that passion through the collection and interpretation of photographs and objects related to the history of Champaign.


T.J. resides in Champaign with his wife Katie and three children.


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