For over three centuries, there has been European and then American settlement in the area that is now Peoria. Prior to that, Native Americans were a part of this landscape for countless ages. Everywhere around us, there are echoes of that long and varied past. There is something rather indelible that binds us all together through the spans of time; much like a tapestry made of a thousand threads woven together and bound by an intricate border.
In medieval days, tapestries were quite the vehicle for telling great stories. When we think of historic tapestries, the first one that comes to mind is often the Bayeux Tapestry. It is one of the most important tapestries to survive into our time, but it certainly is not the only one. Not only that, but not all tapestries are fabric and not all of them are to be found in museums and castles. Regardless of where they are located, who made them or what they depict, all tapestries have the human element in common.
Perhaps the most important tapestry is that of community. In fact, it is probably the most important of all. Many centuries ago, the tapestry that is Peoria was begun by a now unknown Native American who passed through this area and thus stitched the first threads together. The most visible parts of that fabric have come down to us since the seventeenth century when the French settled the area. Sadly, we do not have many threads left from that time. It is not that they rotted away over time; they were pulled from the cloth and thrown to the side when the Americans took over from the French. Such a shame that it was; and such a lesson it should be.
Most of Peoria’s visible tapestry began in the Victorian age and continues to unfold today. Peoria is blessed with a multitude of historic buildings that show just what a wonderful mix of colorful people and events have come together to be woven into our story. There are banks, churches, houses, schools and so many other types of buildings that illustrate every type of lifestyle and taste imaginable. Those buildings that remain from times past are interwoven with the buildings of the mid-twentieth century as well as those of today. The tapestry of our times reaches onward and includes the chalked in outlines for buildings that are only now in the planning stages, but will someday possibly be historic landmarks themselves, if given the chance.
Too often, lately, we have not given the old buildings a chance. Every day, it seems that yet another house, another old corner store, another memory is erased from the landscape like so many pages ripped from a book or threads pulled from an embroidery; one after another after another. Ah, we say, what is one house, one building, and one thread? Who will notice? What difference does it make? Well, it makes a huge difference over time. One missing thread may not be immediately visible, but, after a while, missing threads create weak spots and threadbare areas where the picture becomes less clear and the fabric becomes more fragile. When we enlarge our cloth rather than repair the holes and strengthen the broken threads, we create a beautiful fringe around a faded, brittle, and decaying image; we create an unsustainable tapestry that requires a ponderously large framework to support it. Community, like fabric, is much stronger when closely woven. Certainly, lace is a beautiful creation, but without a strong underlayment, it is of little practical use.
It is more important now than ever that we learn to reuse the materials we have at our disposal to strengthen our community. We need to cease the needless destruction of old housing and old building stock and adapt them to be relevant to our time and that of future generations. If not, we are foolishly creating a tapestry that is badly fraying at the opposite end, perhaps faster than we are able to weave in enough new threads. Don’t let your community unravel.