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Column

Keep pursuing local historic preservation and its benefits

Princeton is fortunate to have Landmarks Illinois on its side as leaders and residents delve further into historic preservation. Princeton is a special community; it’s worth a concerted effort to preserve the buildings that make it so.

President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

Humor aside, Reagan might have had a point.

However, his wary words definitely do not apply to the help being offered to Princeton (a Ronald Reagan Trail community, by the way) by Landmarks Illinois, a respected private, not-for-profit organization.

In fact, Landmarks Illinois could end up offering the expert guidance, resources and access to partnerships that mean the difference between success and failure for the Princeton Main Street Revitalization Committee’s historic preservation efforts.

Last Saturday’s BCR carried a story, “‘You have so much here’ – Princeton hears from Landmarks Illinois,” that detailed information from a public workshop held Jan. 24 at the Prouty Building.

Frank Butterfield of Springfield was one of the presenters. He is director of Landmarks Illinois’ Springfield office, and he’s quite interested in Princeton’s potential.

How interested? Well, this is the second time in two months Butterfield has traveled to Princeton to discuss the historic preservation aspect of the city’s revitalization project.

Butterfield and others delved into the nuts and bolts of how to accomplish historic preservation, various programs that aid it, and what it can do for a community. Examples of how such efforts improved Rockford were discussed.

The general idea is to further enhance the attractive historical buildings and aspects of a community so as to promote “heritage tourism.” Heritage tourists who seek out historic communities tend to stay longer and spend more, according to Butterfield.

Such economic activity is exactly what community leaders and business owners would like to see, and they would like to see it along Princeton’s unique two-mile-long Main Street business district (from Interstate 80 to Park Avenue).

If it hadn’t been for two major transportation revolutions, Princeton’s business district might still be centered on its courthouse square, where the town got its start in the 1830s.

But in the 1850s, the railroad arrived to the north of town, and a second business district began forming near the tracks to serve passengers and freight needs.

Then in the 1960s, Interstate 80 was built, and Princeton’s northern boundary began to stretch northward once again.

The result is three distinct business locales, accessible through many transportation entry points, offering shopping, dining, entertainment and service options, and connected by good old Main Street.

The city and its residents are already headed in the right direction to capitalize on local heritage, Butterfield believes.

“But, it’s a long grind of creativity, compromise, give and take, sweat equity and lots of conversation” to make a success of revitalizing the city’s historic districts, he said.

We note that Princeton’s Main Street continues to change, with the razing of a landmark structure, the 1870 First Christian Church building in the 100 block of South Main Street, as the latest example.

Princeton is a special community. It’s worth a concerted effort to preserve the buildings that make it so.

We encourage city leaders and community members, with Landmarks Illinois “here to help,” to doggedly pursue the historic preservation process that might well be crucial to Princeton’s future.

Bureau County Republican

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