By Blake Schnitker
Around 200 years ago, just a couple of decades removed from Illinois’ inauguration as America’s 21st state in 1818, the town of Jacksonville (founded in 1825) clung to certain ideas, certain hopes, regarding its capacity for urban prominence. The future of Jacksonville, or the perception of its future, would be self-determined – not decided by outside factors such as geographical location or natural resources but rather by the collective will of its community. An ethos emphasizing united interests worked to integrate the opportunity-oriented goals of Jacksonville’s individual citizens to the collective destiny of the town itself. It is from this civil-minded spirit that the town of Jacksonville – the same one that we know and love today – was bred and developed.
Although we are now within ten years of Jacksonville’s bicentennial, the centuries-old products of a frontier community striving for urban prominence still remain, both as physical establishments and abstract ideas. Among the physical products – things we can still see, hear, and feel – is Jacksonville’s downtown square. Once the central hub of Morgan County’s commercial activity, the downtown square has witnessed its fair share of ups and downs throughout Jacksonville’s enduring history. Just recently, over the past 40 years or so, the intangible products that linger from Jacksonville’s earliest years – ideas of linking individual aspirations to community-minded goals – have driven the town’s urban renewal project, breathing new life into Jacksonville’s historical downtown area.
Now, after four decades of planning by Jacksonville Main Street, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and revitalizing downtown Jacksonville, the downtown turnaround projects nears completion with the re-opening of North Main Street on the square, which will become official on Saturday, May 30, during Jacksonville’s 5th annual Downtown Celebration.
“Five years ago the city completed the initial phase, which was opening up some of the streets that ran through the square,” said Kristen Jenkins, Event Coordinator for Jacksonville Main Street, the organization in charge of planning the celebration, “this year, I believe it was in February, we had the grand reopening of North Main Street, so now you can go north, south, east and west through the square, which is really exciting.
“This is the five-year anniversary of the Downtown Turnaround, so we’ve refreshed the Downtown Celebration to match that excitement. We’ve renewed some things, gotten rid of a couple things, and we’ve also added a lot of events.”
Activities will take place throughout the day and night, including music, food and fun for both adults and children. A crossfit competition known as the “Downtown Throwdown,” sponsored by Triple Threat Training, will kick things off at 8 a.m. and run until approximately 5 p.m. The dedication ceremony for the reopening of North Main Street will take place at 11 a.m., and will feature music from the Illinois Army National Guard 144th Army Band. Beginning around noon, visitors can participate in a Downtown Business Hop, a Hamburger Cook-off sponsored by Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau and led by the Young Leaders Committee, or the newly-added Human Foosball Tournament, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. As for the little ones, Passavant Area Hospital will provide a free Kid’s Zone, including activities such as 3D Twister, jousting, t-ball, a 16-foot slide and an inflatable bus. The afternoon will also feature Historic Tours of Jacksonville from noon to 5 p.m., sponsored by Westown Ford & Executive Transportation, as well as a photo booth provided by Central Park Dentistry, and a free Community Mural Project sponsored by Farmers State Bank & Trust Company.
“We’re really excited about the Community Mural Project,” said Jenkins. “It’s something that we hope to do every year. Guests can come and paint a free 9×9 inch square, which will be part of a larger mural that will hang downtown for years to come. We’re hoping every year that we’ll create a new mural that will really help to further beautify the downtown area.”
In terms of entertainment, several musicians will be playing under the pergola throughout the afternoon, beginning with the duo of Jeff and Teresa Davidsmeyer, who play original Folk-Americana style music reminiscent of the late 60s and early 70s, at 12:15 p.m. Also performing alongside the Davidsmeyers is Elisabeth Werries, a senior at Triopia High School who’s been writing her own songs for several years. After the first performers, 14 year-old Isaiah Christian will take the stage around 2:15 p.m. Christian, a native of Winchester, plays a variety of old and new country and country-rock music. Community Summer Band will take the stage around 3 p.m. following Christian’s performance. Based out of Jacksonville, Community Summer Band has been performing at concerts and community events for more than 30 years.
Starting at 2 p.m., there will be several performances on the Premier Bank Main Stage, located under the arch on South Main Street. Local dance studios such as Llaina’s Dance & Gym, Danielle’s Dance Dynamics, Sara’s Studio of Dance, and Stevens School of Dance & Gymnastics will send various performers to the main stage between 2-4 p.m. A musical performance by Marina V., a graduate of Illinois College, will follow at approximately 5 p.m.
The Celebration will continue into the night, beginning with a Movie In the Park event sponsored by Jacksonville Savings Bank. Jacksonville Main Street invites guests of all ages to bring their blankets and chairs for the showing of “Big Hero 6,” starting around 8:15 p.m., with candy, popcorn and refreshments provided by the Walgreens Snack Shack. After the movie, the City of Jacksonville is putting on a fireworks show over the square, which is scheduled to start around 9:30 p.m.
“For the downtown district to be successful, we feel that it will need help from the entire community,” Jenkins said. “This is just one display of how the community has really come together to make the downtown area what it is, and because of the sponsors we have this year, all of the activities are entirely free.”
“Renewing our downtown district is an ongoing project that requires a lot of time and effort from our community to stay involved and make this the district that we really want it to be. We’re definitely headed in the right direction, and with everyone’s help, we will get there.”