At the southeast corner of Main and Race streets in Downtown Urbana sits a beautiful Gothic revival-style building. With its delicate architectural features and lively window displays, the building catches the eye of people milling about downtown. This building has served several purposes and undergone many changes throughout its history. Read on for a timeline of the Knowlton & Bennett Building at 135 W. Main Street:

A black and white photograph of a two story building taken in 1871. A few people are visible standing outside the building, some with bicycles, and one with a horse.
The Gill Building, built circa 1871. Photo from "Mary E. Busey's Gift: A Centennial Celebration of Samuel T. Busey Memorial Library" Digital Photo Album.

1870s: The first building at the southeast corner of Race and Main Streets was constructed around 1871. It was then known as the “Gill Building,” likely after builder Zachariah E. Gill. The building was designed in an Italianate style with a cornice along a flat roof, seven bays with hooded windows and rounded arches, and a brick façade. It consisted of two floors and a basement for storage; the first floor was retail space and the second floor was designed as office spaces for medical professionals. In the early 1870s, Clapp & Maxwell established a drugstore in the building, later purchased by E.H. Cushman. Additionally, from 1876 to 1894, this building was home to The Urbana Free Library. The library rented a rear corner room on the second floor of the building for $150 a year. Due to the growing size of the library and the need for a more publicly accessible space, the library moved to the first floor of the City Building in 1894.


A map of downtown Urbana showing Race, Main, Market, Water, and Elm streets.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, from November 1892 showing The Urbana Free Library at 135 W. Main. Photo from University of Illinois Digital Collections.

1880s: In 1884, a man by the name of Everett Melvin Knowlton, who had moved to Champaign County from Windham County, Vermont, purchased the drugstore business at this location after having worked for E.H. Cushman since 1877. In 1887 Knowlton entered a business partnership with George M. Bennett, who was born in Urbana, officially establishing the Knowlton & Bennett Drugstore. They later purchased the property as well in 1907.

1920s: After Knowlton died in 1920, Bennett continued running the Knowlton & Bennett Drug Store along with members of Knowlton’s family. In 1925, he began renovating the building with the help of his brother, John B. Bennett, as the builder, and Royer, Danely & Smith as architects. The renovated building, which still stands at the corner of Race and Main today, was designed in a Gothic revival style, with influences from the Art Deco style. A style that was also popular at the time. It features pointed arches, slender twisted colonettes, mosaics tile details, and terra cotta decorations along the exterior. Once the renovations were complete, the Knowlton & Bennett Drug Store reopened on December 15, 1926. In article from the Urbana Daily Courier published December 15, 1926, the old building is referred to as “a landmark that stood in the way of progress,” while the new building is called “Urbana’s most beautiful business."

A black and white photograph of the Knowlton and Bennett building after the 1926 renovations. Awnings and decorative elements have been added to the facade.
The new Knowlton & Bennett Building, renovated 1925-1926. Photo from "Downtown Urbana" Digital Photo Album, Champaign County Historical Archives.

1970s: After George Bennett passed away in 1935, Everett Knowlton’s daughter, Miriam Knowlton Corrie, and son-in-law, Lester Linn Corrie, continued to run the Knowlton & Bennett Drug Store until its closure in 1971. This brought an end to the 100-year tradition of having a drugstore on the southeast corner of Main and Race Streets. The property was later sold to Maloney & Davis Attorneys in 1977.

A black and white photograph of the Knowlton and Bennett building taken from across the street, taken circa 1990.
The Knowlton & Bennett Building, circa 1990. Photo from "Local History Photographs," Champaign County Historical Archives.

2010s: New life was brought to the Knowlton & Bennett Building in 2013 with the opening of Bohemia, an apparel and home furnishings boutique, which also frequently showcases the work of local artists. The historic legacy lives on in the building itself, with the inscription “Bennet Building” still visible on the west façade facing Race Street.

-Sandy Kroeker

Archives Practicum Student