Don Heller, spokesman for the team,
described Lincoln as "a nice, quiet small town that felt very warm
and inviting." He said the Abraham Lincoln heritage gives the town a
special identity, and every team member had a story about meeting at
least one friendly and helpful person. The general observations
screen of his video presentation proclaimed, "Impressive town!
Friendly People! Helpful People! Town Pride evident!" Heller spoke
to a group composed primarily of Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of
Commerce members and governmental leaders.
[Photos by Lynn
of I Extension educator Pat Curry, Canton team member Rhonda Ferree
and Extension unit leader John Fulton]
The nine-member Canton team visited
Lincoln on June 19. About the same time a team from Lincoln
evaluated Canton, answering the same set of questions. The Community
Swap program is organized by the University of Illinois Extension.
The Lincoln/Logan Chamber of Commerce provided local leadership, and
Bobbi Abbott, chamber executive director, led the Lincoln team.
The Community Swap program pairs cities
by shared characteristics. M. Patrick Curry, economic development
educator for the U of I Extension at the Springfield center, said
Lincoln and Canton are similar in population (15,000), average age
(39), households consisting of a married couple with children under
18 (20 percent), home ownership (60-64 percent of housing units) and
a number of other demographic traits.
Major differences are that Lincoln has
an interstate and more industry. It is also the county seat, whereas
Lewistown is the county seat of Fulton County. Canton is spread over
a wider area, and the city limits include its prison, skewing some
of the statistics. Education and income levels are higher in Lincoln
than in Canton.
The Canton team found Lincoln housing
to be varied, clean and well kept. They admired the older homes
along brick streets and avenues as well as newer, upscale sections.
In driving by several real estate listings, they "found that even
the lowest priced homes were in desirable neighborhoods," and they
saw no slums. Real estate prices were judged adequate and taxes a
The visitors were confused by the many
school systems in Lincoln. Though everyone they talked to was
positive if not specific about local education, they thought
newcomers must have difficulty choosing schools for their children.
An implied recommendation was to establish a single location for
information about public and private school choices. Concerning
higher education, team members were impressed by the existence and
facilities of the three colleges in Lincoln.
They also gave high marks to the
central business district, especially the uniform theme and signage,
which rated a 10. Comments included "The variety of quaint boutiques
is wonderful"; and "There is a great collection of quality
merchandise at attractive prices." However, one observer did note
the lack of traditional downtown shopping and service elements such
as a clothing store and pharmacy. Another was surprised by limited
hours at some stores. A third saw some broken glass and sidewalks
According to the team report, Lincoln
Recreation Center and the Elks Club were hubs of activity on June
19. Both received praise, along with the Lincoln Area YMCA. Heller,
who directs the Canton Y, said the Lincoln Y’s rope courses are a
potential draw to out-of-towners. Parks and athletic fields
throughout town were another plus, though the lack of playgrounds or
restrooms in some parks drew criticism.
[to top of second column in
Not surprisingly, the Abraham Lincoln
heritage was rated as a great asset. The team admired the chamber
visitor’s packet with its information on the walking tour, Postville
Courthouse, Lincoln College Museum, local festivals and other
examples of the community capitalizing on the Lincoln name.
Regarding lodging for visitors, they did note the absence of upscale
motels or hotels, with only accommodations that were "questionable
Highway approaches to Lincoln received
generally favorable reviews, with the Route 10 entrance on the east
side of town especially praised. However, waist-high weeds were
noted at two entrances. One commentator said Lincoln is not taking
advantage of its greatest asset compared to Canton, the interstate.
No team member made any significant
comments about manufacturing, but not because Lincoln is weaker than
Canton on that scale. Curry’s data profile lists Lincoln’s average
per capita manufacturing sales at $284, compared to $251 in the
state and $52 in Canton. In response to a question, Heller admitted
that Canton’s 10-year enterprise zone and small industrial park have
not worked as well as citizens would like. He said the park is
dwarfed by the 33-acre former International Harvester site in the
center of town, which an individual is currently developing.
board president Mary Conrady,
county board member Terry Werth and
Canton team member Don Heller]
Other areas the visitors investigated
were infrastructure, health care, retail shopping outside the
downtown area, retirement services and churches. For all, the team
report describes institutions, facilities and services and gives a
generally favorable assessment. Streets and roads are rated above
average but poorer toward the edge of town. The report indicated an
absence of stop or yield signs at some residential intersections.
The Canton team included Bob Molleck,
retired police chief and alderman; Dave White, school administrator
and city budget administrator; Dennis Crawford, retailer; Matthew
Keith, pastor; Phyllis Jarvis and Tonya Huff, Realtors; Rhonda
Ferree, U of I Extension unit leader; Stacey Lee, photographer; and
The Lincoln visitors to Canton were
Abbott; John Fulton, Logan County Extension unit leader; Becky Werth,
Realtor; Fred Plese, Lincoln Community High School superintendent;
and Jan Schumacher, Main Street Lincoln president. Abbott said the
team could have used more members. To inspect the city and fill out
the 15-page questionnaire in a single day was daunting. She brought
home from Canton the idea of lamppost banners to denote an area of
Curry noted that Lincoln and Canton are
the closest cities to be paired by the Illinois Community Swap
program. This is the second time Lincoln has participated.
Previously Main Street Lincoln representatives exchanged insights
with peers in Dixon.
Prior to the
team report Curry presented population and business statistics. He
said that, according to the 2000 census, about 14 percent of
Lincoln’s population is 60 or over, a low proportion. Instead, the
bulk of Lincoln’s inhabitants are baby boomers. Whether they stay or
move away when they retire will be a major factor in the city’s
future, he predicted.