Architecture plays a central role in society, reflecting the culture of the times and providing the infrastructure in which citizens live. Buildings encompass functional, environmental, and aesthetic elements, and are often considered works of art in their own right.
Urbana, Illinois was first settled in 1822, and was first known as "Big Grove." According to J.S. Lothrop's Champaign County Directory, 1870-1871, "the first house erected here was by one Tompkins, about 1822," and "the first hotel in the city was kept by Charles Busey in a small frame house" (Lothrop 1871, p. 437). The establishment of several mills and the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1854 contributed to the town's substantial growth, with several hundred commercial buildings and residences erected by the mid-1850s.
Many of the original buildings on Main Street were built of wood-frame construction, and destroyed in an 1871 fire. Some of these buildings were Tiernan’s, Busey’s Hall, Knowlton–Bennett Drugstore, Peterson Café, the Columbian Hotel, Hubbard Drug Company, and Dickenson’s grocery store. After the fire, brick became the dominant construction material. Many of the historically significant buildings currently in Urbana were built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
Today, Urbana's Historic Preservation Commission identifies historically significant structures and acts to protect a designated landmark's visual appearance. The Princess Theater and the Nathan Ricker House are examples of local landmarks that one can learn more about in this tour.
In the fall of 2013, undergraduate students in an Architecture 101 survey course at the University of Illinois worked in groups to develop information about the locations within this tour.