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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 09:02 am

Smart walk

Enos Park uses technology to promote its history

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This Queen Ann-style home in Enos Park was built in 1899 and may be featured in a future guided walking tour that uses QR codes (lower left) to show information and interactive content related to specific sites.

Steve Combs just upgraded his cell phone.

Combs, who is president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association in Springfield, admits he’s still a bit perplexed by the shiny new device that replaced his old flip phone. But Combs is excited to learn the new technology for one reason: his neighborhood will soon feature walking tours that use cutting-edge smartphones as electronic guides.

Expected to debut sometime this year, the walking tours will use digital square barcodes called “QR codes” that smartphones can scan to bring up photos, audio or video clips, GPS-enabled maps and a variety of other interactive content. In a modern spin on the audiotape tours used in some museums, the tours will focus on historic or significant landmarks in the Enos Park neighborhood, which is located north of Springfield’s downtown. Formerly known as “the Jewel of Springfield” during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the neighborhood is undergoing a revitalization effort to restore its former luster.

“We want Enos Park to be a destination,” Combs says. “We’ve got to get people out there walking around and realizing, ‘Gee, this is pretty neat.’ We have so many houses that can contribute something from a historical or architectural standpoint. Enos Park really has a greater concentration than any other part of the city.”
Combs said he hopes to see other neighborhoods connect similar walking tours to those of Enos Park once implemented.

“We’re trying to get more people involved and attracted to certain areas,” Combs said, emphasizing possible links to the downtown area. Combs said he moved here after he retired because his son, Andy, was accepted to SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.

“When I retired, Springfield would not have been on my list of places to retire to,” he says with a sly smile. “I knew nothing about Enos Park, but the more we did research and fixed up our home, the more we realized this is a unique, historical home in a very special neighborhood.”

Several different walks are planned to highlight different features in Enos Park, such as historic homes and churches, city parks, Springfield’s first horse-drawn trolley line, and Abraham Lincoln’s tomb.

Students at Robert Morris University in Springfield are creating the content featured on the tours. One such presentation, created by RMU senior Sydny Morris, focuses on Combs’ own house at 821 N. Fifth St., which was built in 1881 and owned by Guy Mathis, who opened Springfield’s first camera store in 1894. About 1,700 photographs taken by Mathis of Springfield’s people and places are contained in a collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

RMU professor Mike Hardin oversees the students working on the project, but he says they’re generating the ideas themselves. He says it’s all part of the school’s Integration Center program that emphasizes real-world knowledge and experiences.

“It’s always great to get students involved in the community and working with an organization to put together something that’s useable by that organization, as opposed to just a class project that they do and it’s over,” Hardin says. “Here’s something that can be used for a long time.”

Combs says the tours are just part of a larger effort to make Enos Park and Springfield as a whole more attractive to tourists, families and businesses.

“Let’s change our image, change our perceptions,” Combs says. “We have to overcome the hurdles of this being a blighted neighborhood. Let’s get it straightened out and restore its image.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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