Since moving to the area a few years ago, I’ve encountered the phrase “it used to be…” more times than I can count. I’ll typically get this response when asking about the location of a restaurant, store, or some other place I’m trying to locate in the C-U area.
“Oh, you’re looking for A? It’s on 123 Street, where B used to be.” Oh, it’s nice to hear that B used to be there, but where is the building that A is in, exactly? “Well it’s across from C, but C used to be across town at D.” Touché, my friend. Touché.
As unhelpful as those answers can feel at the time (especially when I’m running late to an appointment located at A), I do appreciate the historical significance of their answers. The local landscape of today is the C-U that I know, but it used to be very different 5-10 years ago, and far more different 20, 50, and 100 years prior to that. Local businesses grew and downsized, revived or relocated, and sometimes closed for good. But they each had an impact on the area, lending their history to new businesses that build on the past.
For these reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the stories in Hot Type: 150 years of the Best Local Stories from The News-Gazette by Tom Kacich. Spanning the decades from 1852-2002, Hot Type offers the top news highlights of the area over a broad span of time.
I loved reading through the chronological entries and looking at the pictures, learning about my new hometown’s history. I discovered a great deal as I read, such as why we have the Champaign-Urbana sister cities, and not just one giant Urbana. I learned that Marilyn Monroe passed through the area in 1955, and I saw the first building for the Champaign Public Library (they had moved into the new building by the time I moved to the area).
I learned why The Urbana Free Library was built by Mrs. Mary E. Busey and not Andrew Carnegie, and was delighted to find older photographs of the building. I especially liked reading the history behind the Urbana-Lincoln Hotel, the Virginia Theatre, and the building of the Illini Union, Assembly Hall, and Lincoln Square Mall.
This book has so many other topics that I loved reading about, but there’s just too many for me to describe, so I encourage you to check it out and learn about all the places that “used to be.”