DANVILLE — Danville is looking a little brighter these days, thanks to a year-long, grassroots community effort that raised nearly $160,000 to install 31 streetlights along the village’s downtown corridor.
Main-Market & Beyond, the village’s newly-formed business association, spearheaded the initiative.
Betty Severns, owner of The Blonde Robin and chair of the association’s beautification committee, said the idea started in the spring of 2022.
“We wanted to highlight all of the main streets in Danville. That was going to take a lot of lights,” the longtime village resident said with a chuckle.
“We had lights already, but they were up very high on electrical poles. They would’ve (functioned) more like security lights.”
Severns was one of several community members to revitalize Danville’s business association in 2016. She said the goal at the time was to “(do) little things in town to get people motivated” — not only to invest in the community, but also to get more involved in it.
Adding new streetlights — with commemorative banners and hanging flower baskets — fit well within that mission.
“Lights are what make a town feel like something’s happening (there),” Severns said.
So, Main-Market & Beyond got busy.
The association budgeted $71,000 in grant funding from the Knox County Foundation for the project, through the foundation’s four-year community development program.
The program, in coordination with the Area Development Foundation, is aimed at arming each of the county’s four villages with the resources needed to plan for their future.
However, it became clear early on that this would only fund installation costs, Severns said. Main-Market & Beyond was looking to install tall, black street lamps with modern lighting fixtures along Market Street, from Memorial Park to the square, and along Main Street from the square to Cedar Street.
There would be 31 in total. They would alternate sides of the street — one every other block. Severns said Main-Market & Beyond knew it would need to raise more money to complete the project.
So, the association turned to the community for help.
“We weren’t going to have enough to do the lighting (project). We almost had to scratch it,” Severns said. “But we decided that our community is generous, and people love living here, and so I knew we’d have people step up and help us complete the project.”
Main-Market & Beyond offered local businesses and families the opportunity to sponsor a streetlight, starting at $2,500 for one of the 27 streetlights on Market Street and $5,000 for one of the four streetlights on the square. Banners would hang from each streetlight, recognizing the local family or business that made its placement possible.
The community jumped at the opportunity, Severns said. Main-Market & Beyond had no problem funding the rest of the project.
“It was amazing. That’s what’s wonderful about Danville, the people here are so generous,” Severns said. “We had 31 people volunteer to (sponsor lights), so we were able to use that money to purchase the lights.”
Main-Market & Beyond began fundraising in May 2022. By February 2023, the association had raised enough money to begin installing the streetlights. Buckingham Electric and Edsel’s Excavating did the work, placing each light a few feet from the nearest wooden electrical post.
The new lights were up and operational by the end of February.
“They’ve been really good at working with us,” Severns said of the contractors, which are based in Mount Vernon and Danville, respectively. “It was a very difficult process because where the lights were going to go is where the village’s sewer septic (system) runs. All of that runs in the tree lawns, and that’s where it was going to go.
“Luckily, Edsel’s does a lot of work with the village anyway, so they were familiar with it. Buckingham went above and beyond, donating time to get extra things done, too.”
While fundraising for the project wrapped up in April, the lights have been on since late February.
They are hooked into the village’s electric system, and the village has set them to turn on and off automatically at specific times, based on the season. They turn on at 9 p.m. and off at 7 a.m. in the summer; in the winter, they turn on at 8 p.m. and off at 8 a.m.
Severns said feedback from the public has been positive so far.
“We’ve had a lot of people who are excited about things actually happening in Danville,” Severns said. “In the past, people have always said, ‘We want to do different things to spruce up Danville,’ but it never happened.
“So now, people are seeing things actually happening, and it’s motivating people to get involved in Danville.”
There have been roadblocks, Severns added. Two lamp posts have been hit, according to Village Clerk/Treasurer Laurie Vess — both by delivery trucks early in the morning, within the first month of the streetlights’ installation.
Both streetlights are set to be replaced, Vess said, as insurance is expected to cover the damages.
But all-in-all, Severns said the experience has been positive so far.
“You’re always gonna have a few people who are upset. One person complained about how they’re going to have to mow around it. We had (two) get knocked down,” Severns said.
“But other than that, I don’t hear a whole lot (about them), other than people saying how nice they look.”
The new streetlights have added $20 per month to the village’s electrical bill, Vess said. Danville Mayor Joe Mazzari said the cost is well worth it.
“That’s gonna be a minute expense because of the new system of technology for those light bulbs. Those lights are a minimal expense. So we’re gonna get a lot of bang for our buck,” said Mazzari, adding that costs decreased when the village chose to place the new lights close to the old ones.
“It’s something attractive and hopefully welcoming for our community, and it’s not gonna cost a lot of money to operate it.”
Mazzari said he has received feedback from residents and visitors on the new streetlights.
“I’ve had so many people, at night, look up and down the street near the park, and you can see the lights going, and they’re like, ‘Wow,'” he said.
“It just truly dresses up the village in many ways,” Mazzari continued. “If you’re driving down through town and you’re just looking around, there isn’t necessarily any difference between this town and another, and I just think it (says), ‘Hey, you’re in Danville, and you’re welcome to be here.’
“It’s just the charm of it, it’s just really nice. I wish we had more funding to put more up, and there’s a lot more area I’d like to have covered with them, but it’s really nice they did that.”
Along with sponsorship banners, the new street lamps also hold banners advertising local recreational attractions, such as the Bridge of Dreams, Honey Run Waterfall and the Kokosing and Mohican Rivers.
Severns said Main-Market & Beyond would like to add more street lamps in the future, including more down Main Street.
“We would also like to add more banners, switching them out to recognize the veterans of Danville, for Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” Severns said. “We also would like to be able to change out banners for Christmas and the holidays.”
For now, however, the main phase of the project is complete. Mazzari believes it has already helped differentiate Danville from other small towns.
“It takes you back to a different time — a time when you didn’t have all the craziness of the world today. And you can think back for many ages and realize that was a time of peace and friendship, and your neighbors were your neighbors,” Mazzari said.
“That’s Danville — that friendship and neighbors having to know each other and have that kindness … the small-town charm of just being in our little village.
“Those lights alone and the flags you add to that, (as well as the) flowers — it’s great for our people that live here, and it makes us feel nice, but it’s really trying to let people who are driving through know that you can stop and spend some time here.”