By Mary Schenk
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – When T.J. Blakeman goes for a walk in downtown Champaign, he sees not just the buildings as they are, he sees what they were.
The man who is a city planner by day and preserver of history in his off hours recently launched a blog about those buildings that he hopes will speak to others about Champaign’s past and get them to build on it as well.
Blakeman was instrumental in pulling together pictures and items from Champaign’s past for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2010.
“Before we started the 150th celebration, there wasn’t a very good sense of our own history. After bringing it out, the community really responded well to it,” Blakeman said of the display at the Illinois Terminal building downtown.
“I’m trying to elevate that discussion about our local history. It was such a wonderful reaction in 2010 that I’ve been searching for a way to keep that going,” he said.
Hence, the birth in December of champaignhistory.blogspot.com, a visually interesting and wellorganized series of mostly photos of downtown Champaign buildings.
“It’s a follow-up to that (sesquicentennial) work. It’s something I do totally in my free time,” said Blakeman, who has been with the city for 10 years, the last nine as a planner. He was an intern his first year.
Blakeman plans to organize his blog by building and address. He was inspired by a podcast he enjoys called the Bowery Boys, about different areas of New York City.
“The podcasts are an hour long, in-depth, about different aspects of buildings. There may be one on Macy’s or Herald Square. That got me thinking, ‘What about organizing this by building and showing the evolution of that over time?’ That’s how the blog is organized, by address. That’s the most logical way to lay it out.”
“The way I see it is that the buildings in downtown have all been recycled over time. Very few are original to the site. Most are in the third or fourth building, so organizing by address was the logical way for me to walk through the evolution of that building,” he said.
He hopes that blog readers will supplement his work.
“My goal is that the community adds comments about that particular building and over time we build the history through the comments so individual stories such as a childhood memory of a store or perhaps, ‘My grandfather worked there’ can be added and the comments stay together by address,” he said.1 2 next >>