Chicago, April 27, 2022 – Illinois Humanities is excited to announce that the Havana Area Chamber of Commerce is one of seven small community cultural organizations in Illinois selected to host Spark! Places of Innovation, a new traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution. Spark! will be at the Havana City Center from January 13, 2024 to February 17, 2024, and will feature a schedule of hours that visitors may explore the exhibit.
Spark! will highlight innovation in rural America from the perspectives of people who have lived it. Spark! features stories from communities throughout the United States – including several small towns in Illinois – that have enhanced their vitality through advances in fields such as the arts, education, technology, agriculture, and economic development.
The 2023-24 tour is part of Illinois Humanities’ Museum on Main Street, a program conducted in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution specifically to support cultural organizations in small communities. Each host organization produces a companion exhibit with a unique programming that connects local history and culture to the exhibit themes.
The Havana Area Chamber of Commerce will work together in partnership with the City of Havana, utilizing their Havana City Center, Havana Public Library, the Mason County Historical and Genealogical Society, Havana Community Unit 126 School District, Spoon River College and other local organizations and volunteers to create the Havana Exhibit to be displayed alongside the Smithsonian Exhibition. During the five-week timeframe that Havana will host the exhibit, there will be regular hours for viewing the exhibitions and field trips and group trips are also encouraged. Havana Chamber President April Burgett said “It was my great pleasure to throw this idea out to our community and upon receiving feedback that folks were interested in volunteering and serving on a committee to pull it off if we were selected as a host city, the Chamber Board decided to go for it. This is a very competitive process with two rounds of applications and a vetting process. We are overjoyed that we were selected as a host city!”
Representatives from the Havana Area Chamber of Commerce will attend a kick off workshop in July and then will work with representatives from the Illinois Humanities and the Smithsonian to develop the companion Havana Exhibition over a one year time period that will be displayed in tandem with the Spark! Places of Innovation exhibition. Burgett also noted: “We have been very creative and innovative in our approach to re-invigorating and revitalizing our small town and its pretty fabulous that we will get to showcase that. We also have a rich and unique history here in Havana and a great story to tell. The full Havana exhibition will take shape during the next year and a half and it will be an exciting process! It will garner a lot of media attention and draw in large numbers of visitors and will be a great honor to feature a Smithsonian Exhibit in Havana, Illinois!”
Five of the organizations that will host Spark! Places of Innovation are based in communities that will be featured in the exhibition: Equality, Hillsboro, Rushville, Marshall and Chatsworth, which will be collaborating with organizations in nearby Fairbury, another featured community.
“We received an outstanding pool of applications, and the communities chosen to host Spark! should be very proud. We’re excited to amplify the work of our partners, and we are eager to see how they bring this exhibit to life through their own communities’ stories of innovation,” said Illinois Humanities Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon.
If you have driven through Havana recently and noticed dumpsters, contractor trucks and trailers or thought to yourself, "There's a lot going on here, Havana is doing things" then you would be right! It is all happening because of the passion and hard work of our Mayor, City Council, staff and officials and a partnership with local businesses and entrepreneurs! Things are changing and we sit squarely in the midst of a full on reinvention.
Creative minds have been at work for the last four years planning, budgeting and implementing a "re-launch" for our little river town, and although these things take time, Havana has been on the fast track to improvement. We are no different from many small communities across the county that have suffered from population loss, business closures and a has-been downtown business district that has all but closed due to struggles with aging buildings, big box stores, online shopping and roads and businesses moving to the outskirts of town.
Fortunately for Havana, Illinois, we have a growing group of businesses, individuals, artists, entrepreneurs, city government and many more folks who are passionately committed to making a huge change here. A change that involves not building new to overshadow the old, but a change that embraces the beauty, history and legacy that we have, dusts it off, shines it up, and presents it to the world in the glowing vision that we already see in our minds eye.
We have something that many suffering small communities do not, we have a huge amount of pride, passion and work ethic that is allowing us all to move forward at a rapid pace to reveal the vision we have for all the world to see. We are also fortunate to have some very special things that many small communities do not including our historic downtown with so much unique architecture, a beautiful Main Street that leads directly to the Illinois River and our gorgeous Riverfront Park with it's walking paths, boat ramps and the Havana Nature Center, a marina that is fun to visit whether you are a boater or not, and the vast array of natural resources and outdoor recreation right outside our back door!
To see the vision, you must understand that today's environment has shifted. Folks no longer want to travel 60 miles one way to visit a Super Wal-mart and a Costco, we want to stroll leisurely down historic brick streets and sidewalks, take in the atmosphere, wave and smile at others we pass on the street, shop and talk to our merchants about why they are doing what they are doing and what they love most about their business and community. We want to experience it all, and on our own terms. We want to take in all of the sights and sounds and truly enjoy discovering a place, our place... Havana. There is a new found value in re-circulating our hard earned dollars into our own community, and not simply ordering our goods online where all of our sales tax is returned to Chicago, Illinois. We want to reinvest in the community and the hard working people that we know and love.
It is vitally important that we share this news and the joy of what is happening now and what is yet to come for our little gem. Many times as human beings, it is easy for us to jump on a negative thread, especially when it comes to our government and our State, however, I would challenge you to spread the good. If you see something positive from a local business or community organization, share that on your social media, give them a kind comment and help them grow. Like their business pages, shop in their stores, utilize their services, write a glowing review and recommend them, and let the world know that something is going on here. We are changing, and we want everyone to see how amazing we are now, and that we just keep getting better here in Havana.
As quickly as our small town revolution is moving, it's probably best to keep your eyes peeled, because big things will be happening again in 2019, and we plan to spread the word and share the excitement with all!
As I went about my business in and around Havana this week taking care of errands, running in and out of stores and talking with everyone along the way, of course, the weather dominated as the topic of conversation. We all discussed how amazing the warm weather was last weekend, what we did with our time and how crazy it was to be running around in a tee shirt in January. Then toward the middle of the week everyone was talking about the impending doom of the forecasted winter snow storm. By the end of the week when I went to get my groceries on Friday afternoon, like I do just about 52 weeks out of the year, it was evident an apocalypse was looming. People were rushing about, overfilling their carts and generally filling the store with chatter about snow. I went about my business, crossed everything off my list, although I was sure had I gone a few hours later, there wouldn't have been much left on some of the shelves.
Fast forward to this morning, and we wake up to a lot of snow on the ground and see it blowing and snowing looking like a blizzard, and I just couldn't help but think about my childhood and what it meant to have an "Illinois winter". It could be that as I have gotten older my memory has changed or somehow altered what I thought happened, but I really don't ever once remember running around the yard in January in short sleeves, and I don't remember my parents doing yard work during the middle of an Illinois winter.
What I remember is once fall wrapped up and November came around it was usually pretty cold, and after Thanksgiving we started to get snow every year, and we basically had cold temperatures and snow all winter long until about March. I also remember being super excited to be able to go somewhere that had a big hill and sled down it! When I was very young, we lived in the 300 block of South Broadway, right across the street from the Havana Church of Christ. I learned to ride a bicycle in the church's big open parking lot. I can still picture in my mind, Dad running along side of me holding on to my banana seat and giving me a shove and letting go. That feeling of accomplishment and fear while I took my first solo cruise, and wondering if I could do it twice! In winter, I remember us bundling up and heading through the flat part of that parking lot, trekking our way up the back side of it, which led all the way up the big hill to Plum street, so we could slide back down toward the church. That was our winter fun! Running around the neighborhood playing with the other kids within a few blocks of our house, and sledding at the church.
In the winter of 1978, we moved from town to Sherwood Forest. We moved to the "country". Although it was technically a subdivision, the parcels were a full five acres each, and the first house had just been built a few years before we moved there, so the brand new houses were few and far between. The subdivision was very much in the country and the road that led through it was a narrow, gravel, washboard lane. We didn't have a lot of big sledding hills out there in Sherwood Forest, after all we were in rural Mason County, so we had to travel for our sledding fun from then on. Anytime we got a decent amount of snow and my brother and I wanted to go sledding, we would bundle up, load sleds in the back of Dad's truck and he would take us sledding! Many times we would end up at Riverfront Park. Most anyone who spent time as a child in Havana will surely have a memory of sledding down the big hill at Riverfront Park, and probably an equally prominent memory of running (which sometimes ultimately meant rolling down it) in the summer! Yes sledding at Riverfront Park was a real adventure, and usually always very cold, because our Illinois winters don't seem to be complete without a stark wind coming off the water at the river. Our other favorite place to go sledding was Dickson Mounds. I can remember many times, going up to the far top of the Dickson Mounds' property where the pavilion and playground equipment is to sled down the back side of that giant hill. You had to have a lot of snow for that sledding adventure though because the weeds were usually high and it took a lot of snow to pack them down so you wouldn't get tangled up, but boy was it fun!
Now that I am an adult, with children of my own, I think they will have very different memories of "Illinois winters". They will recall strange weather where sometimes it was warm and sometimes it was bitter cold. Tornados, snowstorms and flooding all in the same week. Springlike weather on a Monday and eleven inches of snow four days later. I'm not sure if this is a pattern, a sign of the times, global warming, or just change in general, but it definitely feels different. I guess the one thing I am certain of, is that my children will cherish their childhood memories of spring, summer, winter and fall, and that makes me happy.
As I reflect on my childhood memories of Illinois winters and compare them to my now midlife reality, I can't help but think, I enjoy the change of the seasons, in fact it is one of my favorite things about living in Illinois, I just don't enjoy them all in the same week!
See you in Historic Havana ~April
As we say goodbye to 2018 and welcome a fresh new year, I can't help but reflect on the many new people I met this year, and old friends I stayed connected with or reconnected with. It has been a year of change, new beginnings and growth for me personally and for my small hometown as well. If you haven't heard about our downtown revitalization campaign then surely you've been living under a rock for the last few years! Havana is right square in the midst of an outright reinvention. We have made an assessment, set goals, boundaries and guidelines and now we are putting those plans in motion to make our town and community more visible, and to draw in folks from around the State and from all over our great Country to pay us a visit and see what we are all about here in little old Havana. We intend to be a desirable destination for travelers from near and far.
From my view, we have much to offer. We have a beautiful riverfront, great shopping, restaurants and most of all, great people. I always hear visitors say, "the people were so nice, they act like they've always know you". It's also very true. I think when you are raised in a Midwestern town, you are just brought up making conversation and talking to everyone you see, even if you have no idea who they are! Saying hello and talking to people, whether I know them or not is probably one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy meeting new people and after that, well you aren't really strangers anymore anyway.
Many new beginnings came about for me in 2018. I began attending meetings that were geared toward making friendships and partnerships with business owners in Havana, and contributing to the change and revitalization of our community. I met people who were long time business owners in Havana, and those who are just getting fired up. I became so passionate about telling the world who we are that I built this website: Historic Havana Illinois.com. I took a ton of pictures of everything Havana and enjoyed every one of them and even participated in two art shows!
Many others were also very ambitious and achieved so much success! Many of our downtown buildings were rehabilitated and resurrected through the revitalization. The face of our downtown is beginning to change for the better. Where once there was only darkness, now lights are shining, exterior facades are beautifully painted and restored and we are beginning our art and mural installations soon! All of these changes give folks pause to say, something has changed, this is different and they are doing things here. Because we are!
Havana deserves to have a reputation as a great town to visit and spend some time recreating, shopping, eating and even staying overnight. I intend to do my part, as an individual who wants to see Havana and all of it's community members and businesses succeed, I will promote our little Midwestern gem and if all goes well, we will be noticed for our charm, history and most of all, for our people.
Looking to 2019, I must say, the times they are a changin' and that is certainly a good thing! Happy New Year and I will see you in Historic Havana! ~April