A welcome-back party at Cattle Bank building

A welcome-back party at Cattle Bank building

Saturday starts a new era for an old building. The Cattle Bank has been around since 1856, the city's oldest commercial building, but it hasn't looked this spiffy in years as the Champaign County History Museum reopens Saturday. Board President T.J. BLAKEMAN is one of the people who really got the ball rolling, and he gave our PAUL WOOD a tour — with much more coming Sunday in our Living section.


The ribbon-cutting starts at 10 a.m. Saturday with Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen doing the honors. If the weather's lousy, she'll cut it inside. Expect giant scissors. There are activities for kids from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as tours and balloons. Feeling peckish? There's free popcorn from the museum's vintage popcorn wagon.


There will be a special guest with a tall hat. Abraham Lincoln looms large in local history — he didn't just practice law on the circuit that included Urbana — he made friends here, ate and slept in local inns, and started delivering speeches that would make him president. Shake hands with the man who saved our country.


The Champaign County History Museum is reopening with a new look and a new name (it used to be the "historical" museum). "The museum is not historical, it's about history," Blakeman explained. Its mission is to discover, collect, preserve, exhibit, study and interpret objects relating to the history of Champaign County, as well as provide educational programs about the county's heritage.


The Cattle Bank, 102 E. University Ave., C, has had an extensive reworking after years of struggle to stay open. Blakeman said gifts, grants, Rotary support and a "huge" amount of volunteer work created a sparkling new museum. Every room has been changed, even the entrance door. Just days before the reopening, volunteers were hard at it, reshaping the building with precious hours to go, often late at night. There's no dust on these old artifacts, from soldiers' souvenirs to old University of Illinois dorm rooms to the paintings of Louise Woodroofe, a local artist and professor who traveled in the 1930s with the Ringling Brothers Circus. You'll love her clown paintings, unless you're a clownophobe.

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