People who travel Miami Street frequently will find something missing from the corner of Miami and Russell streets. Gone are the “Roosevelt Steps.” Rumor has it, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke from these steps during a campaign stop in 1912. There is no historical proof of this claim. What did happen is crowds of onlookers greeted President Theodore Roosevelt from these steps as he made his way from the train station to Monument Square where he did make a formal campaign speech in 1912.
The steps dating from the early 1870s are constructed of limestone and are an example of the elaborate design of the period. The steps led to an ornate Italianate home that was occupied by Louis Hovey, who was superintendent of the Urbana Water Works, Urbana city clerk and president of the Young American Fire Association, a forerunner of the Urbana Fire Division. One of the first telephone lines in Urbana was installed in the home between the water works on Storms Avenue and the Hovey home.
In 1882, Barton O’Neal bought the home. O’Neal was one of the partners of the firm Stayman, Colwell, and O’Neal, which operated a large lumber mill and furniture-making operation located directly behind the home on Court Street. At the time, Stayman and Colwell lived in adjacent ornate Italianate homes. They were moved back on the lot to make room for the Kroger grocery store that opened in 1950.
The former grocery store is now home to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and the Caring Kitchen. One remaining home sits directly behind the current parking lot and the other was turned and faces North Russell Street. An image of 326 Miami St. with the steps dating around 1878 appeared in the supplement of a New York City publication.
The house on the corner, 326 Miami St., was demolished in spring 2020 following years of decline and the inability to find a buyer. Upon hearing of the pending demolition, the Champaign County Preservation Alliance requested the steps and the commissioners agreed to leave them when they leveled the lot. Mark Neer of Mark Neer Restoration, Matt Turner of Turner Landscaping and Mark Muirhead of Champaign Excavating removed the steps for the CCPA.
“We are indebted to Mark Neer, Matt Turner and Mark Muirhead for their support in getting the steps moved,” said Sandy Gonzalez, CC PA board trustee. “They are the best. They arrived with their teams at 8 a.m. and by noon the job was done. We are excited the steps will become part of a new garden design planned for Oak Dale Cemetery where future generations will be able to examine and admire the workmanship of the 1870s.”
Information from Champaign County Preservation Alliance.