Urbana celebrates 180th birthday at Urbana Landmark Hotel

The Liberty Bell March, an American military marching song, roared in the Grand Ballroom of the Urbana Landmark Hotel in honor of the city’s 180th birthday. Urbana was established in 1833 and named after a town in Ohio.

Dennis Roberts, Ward 5 alderman and event coordinator, said when the Illinois state government approved the creation of Champaign County, it sent three representatives to the general area in 1833 to locate where the county seat would be. M. W. Busey invited them to his cabin where he and his neighbor, Thompson R. Weber, offered 43 acres of property for the city to be built on.

“The commissioners left the cabin at 5:30 in the morning, they walked up to the rise in the middle of this area and planted a stake, and that’s the location of the county courthouse that we have today here in Urbana,” Roberts said.

Now that it is fall and all the students have returned to campus, Mayor Laurel Prussing decided it was time to celebrate this historic event, inviting community members from both the campus and the city itself.

“I think it’s important for the student community to explore the city in which they live for four, five or six years as they pursue their degree work,” Roberts said. “I’ve learned that not as many students come to shop at Urbana … but it offers a unique and diverse experience for those who visit.”

The creation of the University, which attracts more than 40,000 students, was the result of the Morrill Act of 1862.

“President (Lincoln) signed the Morrill Act establishing land grant universities, a brilliant idea conceived by Jonathan Baldwin Turner right here in Illinois,” Prussing said in a speech she made at the celebration. “And that’s one of the reasons that higher education is not better any place in the world than in the United States.”

Clark Robinson Griggs, the mayor of Urbana at the time, offered some land in East Urbana along University Avenue to be donated by the city along with a vacant building and $40,000 raised by the local community, said Roberts. Various deals and agreements with lawmakers in Springfield eventually led to the University being located in Urbana, beating out the cities of Springfield and Lincoln among two others.

“His efforts and the efforts of the community to offer this property are the reason why the University was secured in the city of Urbana,” Roberts said. “They say that he entertained the Illinois legislatures with oyster and crab dinners, providing cigarettes and theater tickets as an enticement for them to support Urbana’s bid for establishing the University in their town.”

The celebration also recognized the 140th birthday of Urbana’s famed architect Joseph Royer, a graduate of the University, who, as of today, has more than 100 buildings accredited to his name. He designed about 20 buildings in Urbana that include the Champaign County Courthouse, the Urbana Post Office and the building in which the event was located: the Urbana Landmark Hotel.

This event also reenacted the May 12, 1851 footrace that Abraham Lincoln, while he was a lawyer, won against Samuel Waters.

“It’s important to realize that Lincoln was here and other people who have had long term significance on politics and other real events,” said Andrew Janssen, who played Lincoln in the reenactment. “That actually happened here. This isn’t just a shopping mall. This isn’t just Urbana. We have an integrated history with those people.”

Edward can be reached at [email protected]