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Local

Site provides local history for the masses

Businesswoman wants to preserve stories of old commercial buildings

ROCK FALLS – The Rock Falls Project didn’t really start out as a project.

When Connie Selmi’s daughter and son-in-law, Kurt and Katy Selmi-Downs, recently bought adjoining storefronts at 223-225 First Ave., she was curious about the history of the buildings that are now Selmi’s Bridal and Katy’s Country Financial office.

“People said, ‘Remember when Rigler’s Smoke Ring was at that building?” Selmi said. “The family is still at the gun shop on First Avenue, and I realized how much history is in these business buildings.”

She then decided to research all of the commercial buildings on First Avenue and transfer her research from several different print sources to one convenient digital site. But the plan kept evolving.

“I started thinking that it wouldn’t be fair to just do First Avenue, so now I’m trying to do all of the businesses in Rock Falls,” Selmi said.

She has been taking pictures of local storefronts, shooting video, and gleaning information from business owners and employees. The digital results are taking shape at www.therockfallsproject.com. The site is replete with social media options, and all of her work is in Internet cloud storage. She said the Facebook page is basic, set up simply to tell people what she’s working on.

Selmi hopes to have the project completed in time for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2017. She said she needs some help from current and former residents.

“What I need help with most right now is photos,” Selmi said. “I want to get those on the site with the street pages.”

Mayor Bill Wescott said he has talked to Selmi about the project and also is doing some of his own research in anticipation of the city’s 150th anniversary.

“I’ve been looking at materials from the 100th and 150th celebrations to get an idea of what they did then and what their committee structures looked like,” Wescott said.

He said he hopes to get the sesquicentennial committees set up before the end of the year and start thinking about how to budget for the event.

“I’m getting in touch with people and gauging interest so we can get a core group of organizers together,” he said.

Selmi has registered the domain for 3 years and hopes the project will always be continued by someone.

“I want to make sure someone continues this because we don’t have anything like it now,” she said. “There is just so much information in so many places. Things could continually be added that we might not even have thought of yet.”

Bethany Bland, Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, has been doing some research for the Chamber’s upcoming 60-year anniversary. She said there could be many uses for Selmi’s site.

“The best records are at the Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society, but the things people would have in their personal collections could make this so valuable,” Bland said.

Bland said she often gets inquiries referring to what business buildings used to be many years ago. She continues to learn along with the community.

“I’ll get calls from out of state that ask about a place that used to be a grocery store, and they think it was next to a gas station,” Bland said. “In a small town, this local history is the heart and soul of a community.”

How to help

To send photos and information, or just keep track of Connie Selmi's progress, visit www.therockfallsproject.com and click on the photo sharing link. In addition to sending photos, there are options for sharing information and volunteering for the project. Photos also can be emailed to Selmi at therockfallsproject@gmail.com.

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