About 20 years ago, as Naperville continued to add new residents every year by the thousands, I remember hearing some of those newcomers saying “That’s it – I should be the last one”. What they meant was they moved to Naperville because it was such a great town and they didn’t want it to change with more growth. Well, now that most of that growth is done and we are close to 150,000 residents, you can see that change in every nook and cranny of our city.
The reason I am bringing up this very obvious fact, is that some of the projects being proposed today are, in my very humble opinion, going to help accelerate the change that those people 20 years ago were worried about. Many newcomers cite the Riverwalk and Downtown area as some of the reasons they moved to Naperville. Downtown has just added a massive development at Water Street and conversations are being had on the fate of the 5th Avenue properties to the North. City Hall is contemplating the fate of old Nichol’s Library and the Millennium Carillon. The old Russell cleaners is being torn down to put up a new building.
Please understand – I am far from anti change. I have spent the better part of my professional career serving on committees and commissions that have helped foment much of the change in Downtown. I don’t think our downtown in the sixties and seventies was a whole lot to brag about. But even back then, our commercial district was about the money. That’s what commerce is all about, right? But when an area like downtown grows to become so popular the money interests also grow, sometimes to crazy levels.
My reason for writing on this today is that with that incredible rise on the money side of downtown, I have fears that the sheer volume of cash will eventually overwhelm our history and heritage. There are very tangible reasons to save important pieces of our past. We all care deeply for something from our past, whether it’s a great aunts wedding band or the car you bought in high school and could never part with. Old buildings and material possessions remind us of our predecessors, their passion, struggles and successes. Many of these buildings help represent our community – not just for yesterday – but today and tomorrow also. In my opinion, Old Nichol’s Library is one of the most historically significant buildings in town. It tells Naperville’s story so well. A German immigrant comes to Naperville as a young man, goes to college, does well and shares his fortune with his adopted home town. This same story has played out again and again in town and made us all the richer (in heart, not dollars) for it.
Do we need to landmark everything or put a historic overlay district on top of the town? No. I just would like everyone – new to town or old, local politician or developer, local business man or corporate executive – to look at the things that have made our hometown so special and make a decision with one eye on the future–but keep the other on the past.
I think Naperville should save Old Nichol’s Library and preserve its historical value to our community.