On Saturday, Nov. 7, this year’s Champaign County Preservation Alliance Urban Loft Tour will focus on historic buildings within a block of the Square in Urbana. Monument Square has been the heart of Urbana since the city’s founding in 1805. Like all historic locations, today’s downtown Urbana is the product of the slow accumulation of the passage of time, like the layers of a pearl. The Square has seen the major events of our community’s history and has witnessed more than two centuries of the day-to-day ordinary happenings of the people who have called Urbana home.
The Public Square, which became Monument Square following the installation of the statue in memory of those from the county who served in the Civil War, has witnessed parades and rallies of all kinds. Many have been events of joy and celebration like September’s Hoopla Parade. Others have commemorated days of national importance like Memorial Day and the 4th of July. In some, the community joined together to support fellow citizens as they answered the nation’s call. Many local groups, including school children, were among the units in 1898 when local recruits marched down North Main Street through Monument Square and then down Miami Street to the train station on the way to service in the Spanish-American War. Champaign County citizens also gathered for a candlelight service on the square in late September 2001 to grieve and remember those lost in the Sept. 11 attacks, especially Champaign County native Alicia Titus.
One of the earliest images of the square in downtown Urbana was drawn by historian Henry Howe in 1846. Howe’s visit to Urbana was made in connection with research for his 1847 publication, Historical Collections of Ohio. Long before Americans were texting LOL and OMG and just six years after the political rally described in this work, Howe’s chapter on Champaign County included his theory of the origin of the term “OK.” This story has remained ingrained in our local consciousness. Howe included the following description of the visit of General William Henry Harrison to Urbana during the general’s successful presidential campaign in the publication:
Politicos visit Public Square
Urbana was early somewhat famed for its political conventions. The largest probably ever held in the county was September 15, 1840, in the Harrison campaign, when an immense multitude assembled from counties all around. A cavalcade miles in extent met General Harrison and escorted him from the west to the Public Square, where he was introduced to the people by Moses B. Corwin and made a speech two hours in length … The day was one of great hilarity and excitement. The delegations and processions had every conceivable mode of conveyance and carried flags and emblems with various strange mottoes and devices. Among them was a banner or board, on which was this sentence:
This is the origin of the use of the letters “O.K.,” not uncommon in our own time.
While many American etymologists credit the development of the term OK to the 1840 presidential campaign, they generally reference the Boston Morning Post as the originator of the term. Regardless of the city of OK’s origin, the Square and downtown Urbana played a role in the hotly contested 1840 campaign and it would do so again in the run up to the 1912 election when Theodore Roosevelt contested the Republican nomination in spite of President Taft’s intention to run for a second term.
The middle of May 1912 must surely have exceeded the excitement of 1840 when in a single week both former president Theodore Roosevelt and the current president William Howard Taft addressed capacity crowds in Urbana. It must have been quite a week for the staff of the local newspapers. The banner headline of the May 14 Urbana Daily Citizen proclaimed “Colonel Roosevelt Will Speak on Public Square Wed. at 2 O’clock.” On Friday, May 17 the Citizen once again ran a dramatic headline. This one, equally bold, announced “Pres. Taft Will Speak on Public Square Tomorrow Afternoon – 4:45.”
Things may be a little quieter on the Square on Saturday, Nov. 7, but the Champaign County Preservation Alliance’s 2015 Urban Loft Tour will still give participants a unique opportunity to view the square from a new angle. With the exception of the Gloria Theater, all the 2015 Urban Loft Tour locations will either be on Monument Square or in the first block of the streets leading to it. The interiors of the various buildings on the tour will be competing for the visitors’ attention with the fascinating views of Urbana’s historic core from their windows.
As visitors tour the beautifully designed lofts and apartments and as they dream about how they would restore our featured “diamond-in-the-rough” location, participants need to remember to take a moment or two to walk up to the huge windows and look out over the city to vistas that are seldom available to the general public. As they gaze over the city perhaps they will take a minute to remember all the generations who have contributed to making downtown Urbana such a unique place.
Tour time and tickets
Tour sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7. Real Living Darby Creek is once again the corporate sponsor for this event, which is being held in conjunction with the Monument Square District’s Holiday Open House. The Champaign County Arts Council, which is located on the ground floor of the Urban Loft Tour location on Miami Street, will be hosting a MUGS workshop from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as well.
Participants need to remember that the sites on the tour are located on the upper floors of historic downtown buildings. Stair climbing is essential for those who wish to visit these locations.
Tickets may be purchased for $15 prior to the tour at the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce as well as the Urbana offices of Civista Bank, Peoples Savings Bank, Perpetual Savings Bank and Security National Bank and also at Bill’s Flowers. On the day of the tour, all tickets must be purchased at the Gloria Theater, 216 S. Main St. The tour day tickets are $17.
The Champaign County Preservation Alliance is committed to ensuring the preservation and viability of the buildings in Urbana’s historic downtown core. While our annual Home and Garden Tour highlights historic structures throughout the county, the Urban Loft Tour focuses on the creative use of downtown structures and will give participants the opportunity to view spaces seldom open to the public. The CCPA wishes to thank the building owners and tenants who have made this day possible. We also want to thank the Champaign County Public Library, whose online database of Champaign County newspapers has revolutionized what is possible in local history research, and the Champaign County Historical Society for providing fascinating images from its extensive photographic collections.
For more information call 800-791-6010 or visit the 2015 Urban Loft Tour pages at http://www.urbanahomeandgardentour.com/urban-loft-tour.html.
Submitted by the Champaign County Preservation Alliance.