WASHINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — A Central Illinois community was recognized by a magazine for its growth and development.

Business View magazine dubbed Washington as “the family friendly city” for its proximity to larger cities, “Grade A” schools, recreation and population growth during the last 20 years.

“Everybody is on a first-name basis. You can drive around the square and see people out drinking coffee, going to work, shopping,” said Mark Helmuth, a seventh-generation Washingtonian and managing broker/president of REMAX WRC Downtown, a real estate brokerage founded by his grandfather in 1938.

Helmuth said his community is a hidden gem.

“I think we are a great spot to live. Central Illinois is underrated and usually off people’s radar when you think about exciting places, but once you start to explore it, you find out how comfortable it can be,” he said.

Kelsey Whelan, 22, said the close-knit aspect of the community is why she moved back to Washington in 2021.

“You can just get to know a lot of people, so if they’re wanting close relationships with people, it would be a good place to come,” she said.

Whelan moved to the St. Louis area in May 2020, but she found herself coming back to Washington nearly every weekend.

“There’s just always somewhere to go, places to see… Everything is just so close here, you don’t have to drive 30 minutes to an hour to get somewhere. I definitely missed distance and everything that comes with that,” she said.

Helmuth said most residents work in nearby cities and towns. The magazine describes that as “bedroom community.”

“We’re 40 minutes from Bloomington, we’re 30 minutes from the north side of Peoria… You can work in any number of places and still live in a nice, small, quaint community,” he said.

Jake Webber moved from Tremont to Washington in 2015. He opened Country Financial Insurance in Washington Square in February 2022 and said picking the location was a no-brainer.

“We love the square, it’s a friendly place to be. A lot of businesses are up here, a lot of people shopping. We like the foot traffic. We like being centrally located so it’s easy for our clients to access,” he said.

Mayor Gary Manier, who was interviewed for the Business View magazine article, said Washington is safe and perfect for families because people are neighborly.

“I think it’s a great place to raise a family, it’s safe… Safety is first and foremost when people look. Schools are second to none,” he said.

Manier recalled how the community came together in the aftermath of the 2013 tornado, which completely razed parts of the city.

“I think we proved that after the tornado when everybody came together and rebuilt… it’s the love of the community they had,” he said.

Manier said the city is planning for its Bicentennial Celebration in 2025, and excitement is growing for the festivities.

“More and more people are excited… Talking about parades, balloon festivals, night glows… I think the whole year we’ll have something almost every weekend,” he said.