Champaign County History Museum explores downtown Champaign 


Kylie Corral

TJ Blakeman, the president of the board of trustees of the Champaign County History Museum, speaks in front of the Prayer for Rain Sculpture on Sunday. The museum has brought back their tours around downtown Champaign featuring a variety of historic sites and landmarks.

By Kylie Corral, Summer Managing Editor for Reporting

The Champaign County History Museum is back to its traditional downtown tours of Champaign, illustrating the interesting history that hides behind the faces of vintage landmarks and the rich background of the people who made up Champaign’s past.

The walk around downtown took about two hours, consisting of stops between buildings that led to discussions regarding how they were created and why, along with how it contributed to the bustling town of Champaign and how it was restored.

The Virginia Theatre, Lincoln Building, Champaign City Building and Prayer for Rain Sculpture were a few of the stops, each accompanied with a detailed description of the history behind the item.

Along with famous landmarks, many notable people have visited Champaign, including but not limited to: Elenor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, who stayed in some of Champaign’s significant historical buildings in passing.

T.J. Blakeman, president of the Champaign County History Museum Board of Trustees, guided the tour on Friday, reciting the history he has collected over the years. This week was the museum’s 50th anniversary. 

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“I think it’s a big milestone for us,” Blakeman said. “(While surviving) 50 years is a feat, it’s our job to keep the museum going for 100 more. We are stewards of the collection and the history that we’ve amassed, that people before us have amassed.”

Blakeman said this weekend was a chance to pause and celebrate the accomplishments of the museum, which was made possible by 160 board members in more than 50 years. 

He also said it was nice to get back to leading tours and talking to people again after COVID-19 stopped these walks for a while.

“I learned so much through their interactions and their questions telling me what they remember from their childhood,” Blakeman said. “So I provide the foundation, and sometimes they add to it, so I missed having that.”

He said he has always been passionate about local history since he was young. After moving to Champaign 24 years ago, Blakeman said he began learning everything about the community he could, which turned into running the history museum. 

“There’s always a deeper story, and I think that what we try to do here is we try to collect objects that tell those stories, and we put those stories on exhibit for people so it helps them understand who they are today, where we’re going as a community in the future,” Blakeman said.

Ivory Chorng is a graduate student at the University from Taiwan studying information management. She said she found out about the event after seeing an ad for the walk and attended because she’s always been curious about Champaign’s history. 

Chorng also said she didn’t want to be just involved with school events, so she decided to come to the downtown history walk.

“I was very surprised that there are many old buildings that are preserved well,” she said. “They were assembled like 150 years ago.” 

She said she was also really surprised to see that there were so many photos of the buildings in the past.

“I used to major in photography, and photography was invented in like, I think it’s 1839, so the picture it’s very weird because at that time, not many places had the photography technique, and we have the technique, and we have a chance to document that beauty,” Chorng said.


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