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Letter: Ellwood Neighborhood renews the conversation

Published: Monday, Aug. 18, 2014 11:21 p.m. CST

To the Editor:

The Ellwood Neighborhood, west of the Ellwood House and east of Northern Illinois University, has consistently been in the midst of what seems to be the ocean that separates the university and the city of DeKalb.

Winds of change once again place the neighborhood at the center of the conversation, offering an opportunity to mutually steer our ship toward a better future.

At the turn of the 20th century, the backyard of the Ellwood House was developed into what we know today as the Ellwood Historic District.

Bordered by Augusta Avenue, First Street, Lincoln Highway and the Kishwaukee River, the area today includes homes of significant architectural and historic value.

With the growth of the then-Northern Illinois State Normal School a few decades later, the rest of the area north of Augusta and south of the river was developed. Blending the names of these two areas, we now call it the Ellwood Historic Neighborhood.

The neighborhood was affected by the growth of Northern during the 1950s and ’60s. As a friend recently said, DeKalb residents were “housing multiple students in garages.” In response to this housing shortage, the city allowed the development of rooming houses on and south of Augusta.

Today we see the indirect effect of such decisions: Significant deterioration of what should be a proud and vibrant historic district.

Luckily, more than 15 years ago, residents recognized this problem and actively worked for recognition of the historical importance of the area and a revitalization plan.

A major achievement of this effort was the creation of the Ellwood Historic District in 1997. Since then, more than one revitalization plan has been passed by the City Council.

Areas of emphasis have been many, but a few common goals stand out: restoration of historic homes, reduced population density, and increased owner occupancy. In a recent Letter to the Editor, the group that has been working on these goals was referred to as the Ellwood Neighborhood Association.

Today, leaders of DeKalb and NIU find themselves on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Recent stormy events have highlighted that the apparent honeymoon is over … and we are glad that all are still on board. The opportunity current flows in our direction.

Mayor John Rey and NIU President Douglas Baker: A course has been charted; let us steer in that direction together. The Ellwood Neighborhood Association is ready to renew the conversation.

David J. Castro

DeKalb

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