Then and Now: Christmas in Champaign County


By Sherry Virts - Champaign County Historical Society



This 1908 Whitham nighttime photo shows the decorated Christmas tree near the middle of the square of Urbana.

This 1908 Whitham nighttime photo shows the decorated Christmas tree near the middle of the square of Urbana.


Submitted photos

This 2016 photo of downtown Urbana was taken by Dick Virts, curator of the Champaign County Historical Society and Museum, located at 809 East Lawn Ave. Call 937-653-6721 for hours of operation.


Submitted photos

Then was 1908, in the uptown monument square of Urbana, the 1805-selected county seat of Champaign County. The photograph taken by William H. Whitham is from the Champaign County Historical Society’s photo collection and is obviously taken at Christmas time, looking at the decorated tree and the dusting of snow on the ground. It was taken at night, with electric lights twinkling about the tree, with a glowing star on top. Not so viewable is the Soldier’s Monument in the background or the 1908 (and older) car models parked around the square. Obviously city dwellers did have electricity, notice all the ugly light poles in the shadows. That is more than can be said for those living in the country at that time. With the recent reminder of considerably less daylight hours that this time of year brings, it is hard to imagine the hassle it was just to have light to see by after dark, let alone no television or radio to be entertained by. It is no wonder more people played musical instruments, sang more, put on more theater plays, and just enjoyed conversation more back then.

In case you might think this is not our Urbana because of the Ohio road signs in the square marking State Route 55 and State Route 53, remember road names don’t always stay the same, or continue to exist. Perhaps all routes coming into town technically go to the center of town. Most people think of Route 55 as ending or beginning at the south edge of Urbana and making its way to Terre Haute, Thackery, Christainsburg, Casstown, through Troy and over I-75 to Ludlow Falls. Back then it was considered to come to the square.

Now who has ever heard of Ohio Route 53? Did you know that State Route 53 was an original state highway that stretched from the Ohio River at Higginsport, to Port Clinton on Lake Erie? It came through Urbana as what we now know to be U. S. Route 68 and went to Kenton. Tourism calls it part of the Simon Kenton’s Pathway. It seems that in 1933, State Route 53’s southern starting point was moved to Kenton, when U.S. Route 68 was certified as a Federal roadway, according to Wikipedia. Now if anyone knows any different information, Wikipedia would like to know since it is also a non-profit source of data and maintained with volunteers (with no advertisements to influence its data.)

And, now

Now in 2016, the photograph is of the same uptown monument square in Urbana, taken in December, but taken in the daytime, and a day in between snows, with the same Soldier’s Monument (cleaned a few years ago by Mike Major) now the focal point of the Christmas decorations. Can you imagine trying to maneuver around a large Christmas tree in the square now days? All automobiles, now days, are more easy to steer, yet their drivers seem to have a difficult time getting through the square because they now go faster, and now pay less attention to their driving, than back in 1908. In fact, many people are still avoiding driving through the square with its newer configuration of no traffic lights to tell you when “it should be safe” to go through or around (as if traffic lights were ever fool proof.) Now as then, you should pay attention, go slow, and respectfully blend in with the flow of traffic going every which way, trying to go “straight” through, or make a turn, or find a place to park to do business. Just don’t panic! (I personally like the way it flows most times.) Do notice the pretty Christmas wreaths adorning the monument, now guarded by cement curbing. The soldier is now used to hold the holiday decorations. That avoids having another object out in the way of traffic, to which to pay attention to not hit. Also notice, the flags are still at half staff in memory of native son former astronaut, and senator, John Glenn. Merry Christmas readers and be observant out there.

This 1908 Whitham nighttime photo shows the decorated Christmas tree near the middle of the square of Urbana.
https://www.urbanacitizen.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/36/2016/12/web1_old-1.jpgThis 1908 Whitham nighttime photo shows the decorated Christmas tree near the middle of the square of Urbana. Submitted photos

This 2016 photo of downtown Urbana was taken by Dick Virts, curator of the Champaign County Historical Society and Museum, located at 809 East Lawn Ave. Call 937-653-6721 for hours of operation.
https://www.urbanacitizen.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/36/2016/12/web1_square.jpgThis 2016 photo of downtown Urbana was taken by Dick Virts, curator of the Champaign County Historical Society and Museum, located at 809 East Lawn Ave. Call 937-653-6721 for hours of operation. Submitted photos

By Sherry Virts

Champaign County Historical Society

Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.

Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.