Historic photo recreated for Urbana anniversary

A group of Urbana settlers gather for a photo at Crystal Lake Park in 1883. City of Urbana

By Susan Kantor

In the summer of 1883, a group of Urbana’s original settlers and descendants gathered in Crystal Lake Park to take a photograph commemorating the city’s founding 50 years earlier.

Saturday afternoon, another group of Urbana residents gathered to recreate the “Old Settlers’ Reunion” photo as part of a year-long celebration of the city’s 175th birthday.

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“We thought it would be fun to recreate the event,” said Dennis Roberts, an Urbana city councilman. It is not known where in Crystal Lake Park the original photo was taken, but the spot that was chosen best recreated the scene of the original photo.

About 30 residents gathered on a hill in the park to recreate the photo.

With a recognizable top hat and long overcoat, Jobie Spencer, a longtime Urbana resident, dressed as Abraham Lincoln for the photo.

“I looked so much like him, I couldn’t escape it,” Spencer said. Spencer has also spent time studying and practicing the handwriting of Lincoln to where he can write a letter in Lincoln’s handwriting.

Although Lincoln was not in the original photo, he spent time in Urbana as he practiced law in the 8th judicial circuit in the 1840s and ’50s.

“If Lincoln happens to walk into the photo, we wouldn’t complain,” Roberts said.

Settlers started to build cabins in the Champaign County area in the 1820s. In 1833, John Vance, a senator from Vermillion County, got the state legislature to pass a bill to create Champaign County, with Urbana as the county seat. The county and city were named after Urbana in Champaign County, Ohio, where Vance used to live.

Marilyn Webber-Theis is a descendent of the Webber family – one of the first to settle in the area around 1830. She has lived in the city for all but three of her 76 years, served as the chairman for the city’s 150th birthday and was also in Saturday’s photo.

A copy of the photo taken Saturday will be placed in a time capsule being prepared by the Champaign County Lincoln Bicentennial Committee.