Tom Kacich | County still trending from small-town life | Columns

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Except for four growing villages, the trend away from small-town living continues in Champaign County, the 2020 Census shows.

Only Fisher, Mahomet, Savoy and Tolono gained population between 2010 and 2020, new census data shows. Royal’s population remained steady, but more than a dozen other communities lost population during the decade.

And the percentage of the 205,865 Champaign County residents who live in Champaign-Urbana inched up to 61.5 percent. In 2010, it was 60.8 percent.

It’s been 100 years since Champaign County’s rural population exceeded the cities’. In 1920, the number of people living in the county’s small towns and on farms accounted for 54.2 percent of the population. By 1930, a slight majority — 51.9 percent — lived in Champaign-Urbana.

Also in 1920, Champaign County had 3,666 farms. The last farm census, in 2017, counted 1,214 in the county.

Fifty years ago, during the heyday of the Chanute Technical Training Center, Rantoul’s population was 22,568. Today, it’s about half that, at 12,371.

Most surrounding communities near Rantoul also have lost population. Gifford, which had 975 residents a decade ago, is down to 911. The number of residents in Ludlow has tumbled from a high of 531 in 1970 to 308 in 2020. Thomasboro’s population, which was 1,250 in 1980, now numbers 1,034. Foosland, with 150 people in 1960, was down to 75 in 2020.

The northern Champaign County exception is Fisher, which hit a new peak last year with 2,062 residents. That’s up from 1,881 a decade ago and 1,525 in 1970.

The county’s population seems to be shifting west and south, according to the census. (While Urbana lost population and Champaign grew, Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin believes her city suffered because counting was done during the pandemic, when many University of Illinois students had left town. Urbana could undertake a special census, although not until 2023).

Mahomet’s population grew by 2,167 during the decade, from 7,258 to 9,434. In just 20 years, Mahomet’s population has almost doubled from 4,877 in 2000. Only 50 years ago, its population was 1,296. Mahomet Township, which includes the village and 33 square miles around it, grew to a population of 13,697. It is the third-largest township in the county behind City of Champaign and Cunningham (the city of Urbana).

Savoy grew from 7,280 in 2010 to 8,857 last year. It had a population of 592 in 1970.

Tolono’s population increased from 3,447 to 3,604. Fifty years ago, it was at 2,027. Tolono Township also grew, from 5,270 in 2010 to 7,556 last year.

The eastern half of the county uniformly lost population in the last decade. As reported earlier, Urbana’s population dropped from 41,250 to 38,336. St. Joseph’s fell from 3,967 to 3,810. Ogden’s decreased from 810 to 729. Sidney went from 1,233 residents in 2010 to 1,208 last year.

Philo lost 68 residents, dropping to 1,392. Broadlands dropped from 349 to 316 and Longview fell from 153 to 112.

Homer’s population, which has been remarkably steady for 120 years, dropped from 1,193 in 2010 to 1,073 last year. Going back to 1900, the figure has stayed between a low of 918 (1930) and a high of 1,279 (1980).

Still, overall, Champaign County’s population grew by 2.4 percent in the decade. The only other area county to grow over the last 10 years was McLean

(0.8 percent). Other counties dropped by as much as 13 percent (Coles) or as little as

0.3 percent (Piatt).

In terms of race, Champaign County’s population is 62.7 percent White alone,

13.9 percent Black alone, 11.9 percent Asian alone (the second-highest percentage in the state behind DuPage County) and 1.8 percent American Indian alone. The remainder of the population is some combination of races — for example, 16.3 percent Black or in combination.

About 8 percent of the county’s population reported their ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino, according to the Census Bureau.