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Small town pride: Restoration group bringing Good Ole Days back to Colfax

Brick-lined road with benches and historical markers in front of a building which says "Welcome to Colfax. Proud of our past, committed to our future."
Michael Rigsby
The Colfax Restoration Project has completed three projects, including converting an empty lot into a pavilion.

Several years ago, Michael Rigsby of Bloomington went for a drive down Main Street in his native Colfax and decided it was time to try to bring businesses and residents back to the small village in northeastern McLean County.

As part of the restoration plan, the Good Ole Days festival will make a return to the town.

Rigsby has roots that run deep in Colfax because his family has lived there for five generations.

“It is in my lineage and in my heritage to care about this town and love the place I came from,” said Rigsby, noting his great-grandfather from five generations past founded the village.

Like many small towns across America, the population of Colfax has decreased over the past decade. It’s now fewer than 1,000 residents. Rigsby said he wanted to take action to raise money to put into the community as a result of the depleting population. He formed the Colfax Restoration Project six years ago to give back to the community; he is president of the nonprofit organization.

The Colfax Restoration Project has completed three major projects.

“People want to see action. They want to see that you’ve done something, and that you’re committed to the project,” Rigsby said in an interview on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The first project was to restore the old Town Hall that was built in 1911. The building had been dormant, so the Colfax Restoration Project remodeled the structure and made a deal with the town to lease it out. A business now occupies the brick-and-mortar building, Aster + Indigo Market. The shop sells a wide selection of handmade and locally-sourced goods.

The second project was the outdoor Colfax Pavilion on Main Street. An old hardware store stood there years ago and it was an empty lot until the pavilion was built. Rigsby said a farmers market is held there every two weeks over the summer, and people like to have graduation parties and family reunions under the pavilion.

The third project was the “Red Wall Lot,” as Rigsby calls it. The Colfax Restoration Project tore down what Rigsby described as an ugly red wall, pulled up weeds and had the entire area landscaped. A mural and historical signs about Colfax were placed in what is now known as Colfax Plaza. Rigsby said people enjoy taking photos in front of the mural to post to Instagram and Facebook and it has engaged the community.

With these renovation projects completed, Rigsby said he wanted to attract people to Colfax by the return of a nostalgic event. So, after a 30-year hiatus, Colfax Good Ole Days will be back Aug. 4–5 with the help of the Octavia Park District.

“When I was a kid, Good Ole Days was the thing. It was like Disney world,” Rigsby.

Good Ole Days will be held at Octavia Park from 5–9 p.m. Friday Aug. 4. On Saturday, Aug. 5, events will run from 8 a.m.–10 p.m. There will be a carnival, wiffle ball tournament, 5K fun run, food options, craft vendors and fireworks.

The fest will end with a performance from country band Dirty Grass Soul from North Carolina on Saturday night at the new Main Street Pavilion at 8 p.m. There will be a $5 cover fee that will go toward the Colfax Restoration Project.

Rigsby said he wants the Good Ole Days festival to make the people of Colfax yearn for the days when there were more thriving businesses in town, or “the good era,” as he called it. Rigsby also said he wants people from the towns around Colfax to be attracted to the restaurants and shops in town and see it as a place to raise their families.

According to the World Population Review, Colfax's population is currently declining at a rate of 0.5% annually and has decreased by 1.5% since the most recent census in 2020, when its population count was 984.

With a declining population, Rigsby said businesses might be discouraged from coming to a small town like Colfax, but he wants businesses to know that there are several incentives to coming to a small town.

"Those amenities... we are trying to bring a lot of that back. We are trying to get people in my generation to invest in the town and open those shops," he said.

Rigsby said a business that comes to Colfax would likely be the only one of its kind in town, so there would be no local competition, noting a coffee shop that is set to open in the old Masonic temple. Since it will be the only coffee place in town, Rigsby thinks it will be successful.

He also said people from surrounding towns like to support one another, so people from small towns around Colfax would likely support a new business. Finally, he said starting a business in Colfax is inexpensive.

Rigsby said he enjoyed the freedom of growing up in a small town, adding he is “so proud to call that place home. It has shaped who I have become as a person. It shaped who I’ve become as a man.”

The Colfax Restoration Project motto says Colfax is “Proud of our past. Committed to our future.”

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Emily Bollinger is a graduate assistant at WGLT, focused on photography, videography and other digital content. They're also a graduate student at Illinois State University's School of Communication.
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