PITTSFIELD, Ill. — It’s a celebration for Pike County 200 years in the making.
The county’s bicentennial this year “is just a really great way to engage people in Pike county’s history, past and present, because the present is history, too,” Emily Pursley said.
“We are living in a historical event right now. The pandemic is kind of a larger example, but it does help show people that everyday life is important to history,” she said. “Part of what the bicentennial is about is showing people Pike County’s history through the years because so many people have roots going back to the earliest Pike County settlers and they are very interested in knowing what their daily lives were about.”
Pursley, a 19-year-old Illinois College student majoring in history, heads the Pike 200th effort to celebrate the county’s founding in 1821.
The celebration, to date, has included recognizing the 125th anniversary of the current courthouse’s dedication, newspaper columns featuring historical events and family stories, an essay contest and a raffle.
Up next is a photo contest on Facebook, and “we’re planning some more things for this summer to try to take advantage of being outside,” Pursley said. “We’re kind of going month by month, not planning too much in too much detail ahead of time so we don’t have to worry about cancelling or drastically changing things.”
Trying to celebrate the bicentennial has been a challenge, Pursley said, with some “really grand plans” for combined class reunions, family recipe potlucks and a big birthday party on Jan. 31, the actual bicentennial date, all scuttled due to restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Instead of the birthday party, we had a Zoom party where all the historical organizations, museums and libraries told a little about who they are and what they do. It was good to get the word out about those organizations,” Pursley said.
Offering some events online also has provided “an unexpected advantage” for the committee.
“We have a lot of people who don’t live here, and they’d like to participate, and they couldn’t if everything was in person,” Pursley said. “One of our essay contest winners lives in Montana right now, but he’s from New Salem. He got to come to the birthday party because it was on Zoom.”
Always interested in history, Pursley launched a history club at Pittsfield High School and became a board member of the New Philadelphia Association and the Pike County Historical Society while at PHS. When she asked about plans for the upcoming bicentennial, the Historical Society suggested she chair the committee, which began meeting in December 2019.
Plans call for promoting the bicentennial at area parades and festivals — another opportunity lost last year due to COVID — and publishing a booklet of the newspaper columns, the winning essays and other material tied to the celebration.
“We will have some kind of a closing something. I don’t know if that will be in December or January,” Pursley said. “It depends on what other events we do, and what kind of event that is depends hugely on COVID.”