150 years. It seems like a long time, and a cause for celebration when a town or village reaches this momentous milestone.
Piper City, Illinois, my hometown, celebrated 150 years this past weekend with a variety of events that will showcase the town and its accomplishments over the past century and a half.
For those of you that have never heard of Piper City or don’t know where it is, according to Wikipedia, the latitude and longitude coordinates are 40 degrees, 45’ 24 “North by 88 degrees, 11’ 22” west. In simpler terms, we are located 11 miles west of the Gilman exit off interstate 57, for those who travel north frequently to the Chicagoland area.
In St. Joseph, there are numerous residents that have called Piper City home for one reason or another, and even more that have since moved out of town to other locales. It is kind of funny how people from the same hometown congregate to certain areas, especially since Piper City is a town of about 800 residents.
Driving around town, most of the houses that I remember are still there, although most look weathered and run-down. However, the town looked rejuvenated for the celebration, and shades of 1969, the year of the centennial, were very evident.
But what does it take to put on an event such as this? Many hands are involved, working countless hours to ensure that the festivities run smoothly.
Rhonda McCoy, one of the organizers of the sesquicentennial, said planning the weekend was a long and arduous process, and needed many individuals to make everything run smoothly.
“We’ve been planning the sesquicentennial for about the past 18 months, and we have had several fundraisers along the way to help us raise money to put this event on,” McCoy said regarding some of the planning that the Piper Proud committee accomplished to make their event a special one.
Growing up in Piper City, we had a celebration much like the St. Joseph Fall Festival called the Piper City Big Days, which were held in August just before school began each year. Games and carnival rides were a staple on the main street in town, and free drawings were held each night. However, for one reason or another, the event was scaled back and eventually moved to the park, which was eventually done away with altogether.
This made the weekend in town the more enjoyable, as people that grew up in the town and attended either Piper City or Ford Central High Schools a chance to reminisce, and it was very pleasing to see the number of alumni that returned home to witness this grand event.
The weekend began on Friday with Mayor Jeff Orr giving the welcome address, then the Happy Hour Barbershop Quartet took the main stage to perform for the assembled crowd. The headlining act on Friday was the Esh Van Project, a group of musicians from Piper City and surrounding towns. The plan was to open a sealed vault on Friday evening as well, but the seal broke, and they had to dig up the contents a week earlier. Most of the items inside were saved, except for a few pictures, which had to be destroyed.
Driving into town earlier in the week, you could tell that something big was brewing, because with all the hard work that everyone in the village was doing to clean up for their weekend visitors, the town never looked nicer, something that Mayor Orr takes pride in.
“We have done a lot of work to ensure that Piper City looked its best for our 150th birthday. We are a small town, but a proud one, and I want to commend everyone from the committee, the fire department, and everyone else that made this weekend a success,” Orr said about all of the hard work cleaning up the town to make it look good for all of the visitors.
Saturday was the focus of the weekend, as the Grand Parade kicked off from the old high school and made its way through town, where townspeople and all the visitors congregated along the streets to take in all the pageantry. There was a kiddie parade and a classic auto show at the park, as well as games for the kids and tractor rides throughout the afternoon.
The highlight of Saturday was the band on the main stage, the New Relation. Residents of Piper City, as well as surrounding towns in a 60-mile radius, were treated to an evening of music that they hadn’t seen in over 30 years, as the band got back together after not playing for that length of time. Sure, some of the band members had performed together in other groups, but this was the first time that they had all played together since the late 1980’s.
Saturday’s warm-up act on stage was a duet of Dan Drilling and Jeff Walle, two former residents of Piper City that have been in Nashville, Tennessee for many years playing with the likes of Randy Travis, among many others. They had a different style of music, but one that was very receptive to the people sitting in the main stage tent listening to them perform.
I had never seen the downtown area of Piper City so alive, and people were talking to one another instead of having their faces buried in their phones, which is so common these days, especially the younger crowd.
The plan is for another capsule to be buried and then opened in 2069, the year of the town’s bicentennial. The organizers invited residents and guests to write letters to the “future residents” and to see what all will change over the next 50 years. There’s a good chance that I won’t be around to see this celebration, but I’m sure it will be just as grand as this one was.
Congratulations Piper City on this achievement. You never looked better!!