Wonderful things have been happening in downtown Jamestown. For several years, historically and architecturally significant buildings have been undergoing a cosmetic refurbishing. These structures were erected during the years Jamestown experienced its greatest growth in population and economic development - the mid-1870s through the early 1900s.
The close of the Civil War opened the gates for massive immigration from impoverished European countries. The United States was the land of opportunity. Some of those immigrants found their way to Jamestown, many of them from Sweden, others from England, Italy, and other countries. A significant number of these immigrants were inventors and entrepreneurs who established manufacturing firms to produce their inventions which achieved international acclaim.
Jamestown was known throughout the world for the diversity and excellence of the manufactured products, which provided jobs for the many newly arrived immigrants.
The only constant in life is change - and Jamestown has experienced its share of change. The halcyon days are gone and we must now reinvent ourselves. We have been doing that as the mainstays of our manufacturing economy have been going south, literally and figuratively. The most recent census reveals that we have lost one-third of our population, from over 45,000 to less than 30,000.
However, what counts in the long run is quality not quantity. And what has been emerging everywhere in our community is quality. Jamestown boasts a number of internationally known personalities. Tributes to them have been established, drawing thousands of visitors to the historical sites established in their names. I need not name them - you know who they are.
Fortunately, and to the distinct credit of city officials and other influential citizens through many years, Jamestown has retained the structures and other vestiges of those halcyon days when Jamestown was in its prime as an internationally known manufacturing city. And we are now blessed with individuals who have the hindsight and the foresight to merge our past, our present, and our future into viable projects which celebrate what Jamestown was, is, and will be.
Kudos are due to the many individuals who are a part of Jamestown's renaissance. The city administration leads the way, providing the philosophical underpinnings through which everything else happens. Jason Stronz of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and Lee Harkness of the Downtown Jamestown Development Corporation stand out as leaders of two organizations which are in the forefront of the movement with strong support from local foundations.
Individual entrepreneurs, with perhaps a different goal than those of a century ago, provide essential elements to the success of the whole endeavor.
A century ago downtown structures housed businesses and vendors on the street level with apartments on the upper floors. We seem to be returning to that concept.
What goes around comes around and history does repeat itself.
B. Dolores Thompson is the historian for the city of Jamestown.