Champaign County, Urbana has a rich and dynamic history. Today, Urbana counts nationally known film critic Roger Ebert and several Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners as current or former residents. Yet, there was no book on the history of Urbana still available in print until "Images of America: Urbana" (Arcadia Publishing), by Ilona Matkovszki and Dennis Roberts.
Matkovski, who worked as an archaeologist at the UI and is now a student in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, did the research and wrote the text for the book, while Roberts, a book designer for UI Press, handled the photographic reproductions and book layout.
"The book offers a visual introduction to the founding and early years of Urbana, with more than 204 historic images and engaging captions which outline the city's growth in a clear chronological style," Roberts said. "The book starts with the arrival of the first settlers in the Big Grove and ends with Urbana's 175th Birthday celebration in 2008 and the reconstruction of the County Courthouse clock and bell tower in 2009."
The pictorial history of Urbana is the latest in the "Images of America" series, which began in 1993 to share the history of hundreds of individual communities around the country. The "Urbana" volume is unique in the series in that the authors combined images of historically important buildings with photographs of the designers, builders and owners.
The book also includes many lesser-known facts and images. Readers will find out why an escaped alligator made news on Main Street in 1898, and can see the tree under which Abraham Lincoln addressed a rally of more than 5,000 citizens. Read about how Clark Robinson Griggs' political savvy and oyster and quail dinners landed the city of Urbana and Champaign as the location for the Illinois Industrial University, now known as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The archival research for "Urbana" was made possible with the help of Anke Voss, director of the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library and an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and Chris Prom and Bill Maher, at the University Archives.