Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It's funny how some things just never seem to change.

Some of the concerns of the Vermillion community, one would think, would eventually be erased over time. But the life of a city doesn't work that way. If one closely examines some of the happenings in Vermillion's past, one suddenly realizes that the history of the town has a familiar flavor to it.

The same problems that nag at us today were confronted by Vermillion residents several generations ago.

The efforts made by people to solve those problems were, in many cases, successful.

The fact that those same old problems keep cropping up here offers an important lesson for everyone who calls Vermillion home.

We need persistence and vigilance to cope with concerns ranging from the mundane to major.

While flipping through Herbert S. Schell's book, History of Clay County, one can't help but experience an occasional sense of deja vu. Decades of time can't erase certain items of concern here in Vermillion.

Back in 1916, a city street improvement project began to receive attention. According to the book, the paving of streets began in small way, promoted mainly by the city's Commercial Club. Initial work was confined to a few blocks within the business area, including Main and Market streets.

Plans to connect the business area with the USD campus weren't fully realized until about 1920 because of the scarcity of paving material. People celebrated with a "pavement dance" to note the milestone of having seven miles of paved streets in Vermillion.

Today, we curse the potholes that pop up every spring. We worry about the expenditures for street repairs and new construction. On Feb. 28, a public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the city library to seek input on necessary parking restrictions to facilitate snow removal and street sweeping. We worry about Chestnut Street and Dakota Street and Crawford Road.

We can find some comfort in the city's history. When met with challenges, concerned citizens took action. They solved problems. They made this city work.

In the early 1920s, citizens were worried that Vermillion was beginning to look a bit shabby and that tourists visiting here would leave town with a bad impression.

Residents launched a "city beautiful campaign" which included plans to beautify the ravine park which had officially become Audubon Park in 1921.

In November 1923, C.E. Prentis donated 10 acres of property to the city, and Prentis Park was born. Seven years later, he donated 10 additional acres to make the park complete. The community constructed a pavilion there, and in 1929, agreed to spend $22,000 to construct a city swimming pool to make the park even more attractive.

One can't help but note the similarities of the city beautiful campaign of 1921, and the recent formation of Vermillion Beautiful, Inc., and its primary goal of sprucing up Vermillion.

One of the projects sponsored by Vermillion Beautiful, Inc., the Vermillion Solid Waste Department, and a host of local businesses and USD organizations was Operation Pride.

The event, held last April, was an overwhelming success. Truckload after truckload of household junk and yard waste were hauled away from neighborhoods along Dakota and Plum streets, and Clark and Main streets.

Some of Vermillion's citizens likely will be facing tough times, soon, with Gateway's recent announcement of major employment cuts here. Thankfully, there is a much better safety net in place now compared to the city's early history to assist people as they cope with economic hardships. What I didn't know until I skimmed through Schell's book, however, was that the Civic Council, formed in 1920, wasn't organized simply as a place to drop off unwanted clothes or furniture.

It was the community's major source of relief to people in need. More than 80 years have passed, and the organization is, in many ways, still fulfilling that role.

Vermillion continues to change with the times. But some things, thankfully, remain the same.

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