Local History and Genealogy Blog

Air Power or Airpower? Chanute Air Force Base and the USAF Editorial Style Guide

The Chanute Air Force Base Subject Files: Historiography Collection was created by the History Office at  Chanute Air Force Base. This collection documents the historiography (the study of history) done by base historians. Among the correspondence files, ephemera, and newsletters, the Historiography Collection also has a few examples of United States Air Force (USAF) historiography!

The Air Force published different works, which now live in the Historiography Collection. While there are lots of interesting facts and finds in this collection, I wanted to briefly highlight the official publications of the USAF. These publications dive into what it takes to run an Air Force Base, from details about activities, base closure, and my personal favorite, how to properly format official Air Force publications. These are fun finds because they provide good information for the Air Force’s operations as a whole and some of the more “nit-picky” information that editors would love. Read more about Air Power or Airpower? Chanute Air Force Base and the USAF Editorial Style Guide

Historic Maple Grove

When many people hear the words “maple syrup making,” they probably think of the northeast United States or Canada. They may remember school textbooks showing snow-covered ground and wooden buckets hanging from tapped trees collecting the maple sap. There were also large metal pans over burning fires with steam rising over the top as the water was evaporated from the sap to produce the syrup. They may also remember the nostalgic paintings of Grandma Moses, showing scenes of the “Sugar Camp.” Scenes of horse-drawn sleds, people carrying buckets, large kettles hanging over log fires, and lots of busy people. Few people probably think of Champaign County as a maple syrup producer, but in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s, those same scenes occurred on family farms and maple groves in the county. Most of the maple syrup was for family use, but the remnants of one grove used for commercial production remain within the Salt Fork Forest Preserve, aka Homer Lake Forest Preserve.

Maple sugar grove historic entry

Read more about Historic Maple Grove

Freedom Train Comes to Champaign

Freedom Train in Champaign, July 16, 1948

On September 17, 1947, a 7-car train left Philadelphia to embark on a 37,000-mile trip. The train, painted white with red and blue horizontal stripes, carried 133 historical documents and artifacts of United States history. The historic cargo ranged from a 15th-century Christopher Columbus letter to Germany's 1945 letter of surrender signed just a few years before the train's departure. Read more about Freedom Train Comes to Champaign

A Look Inside the Chanute POW/MIA Collection

The Chanute Airforce Base's POW/MIA collection reveals the events and programs that helped bring home and honor the POWs held during World War II and the Vietnam War. These events and programs began at Chanute Air Force Base in the early 1970s and continued until the early 1990s. The records include correspondence, event pamphlets, flyers, posters, images of paintings, photographs, presidential proclamations, newspaper clippings, event agendas, maps, and more. The image below and the materials mentioned above can be found in the Chanute Airforce Base's POW/MIA collection.

A photograph of a painting by Maxine McCaffrey, titled "At the Hanoi Hilton," depicts POWs' realistic experiences during the Vietnam War. The inscription reads: "At the Hanoi Hilton. Over 400 American pilots are held incommunicado in Communist prisons in North Vietnam subjected to physical and mental abuse contrary to Geneva Convention. How many Americans besides their own families voice concern about these courageous airmen?" Read more about A Look Inside the Chanute POW/MIA Collection

International Women's Day: A Look at Working Women in CU

As a new intern in the Archives, I was overwhelmed when asked to write a blog post. CCHA has loads of interesting content bursting at the seams. It would take me a lifetime to try and wade through all the goods to find an interesting topic. I was ultimately inspired by International Women’s Day. Since International Women’s Day also goes by International Working Women’s Day, I figured that I could write about women, specifically working women in the Champaign-Urbana area, as an homage to strong women everywhere.

International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th and is an official holiday in many countries…except the United States. On March 8, 1917, Russian women held a mass strike for Peace and Bread. In 1922, Lenin declared that March 8th should be designated as women's day. The United Nations adopted it as an official day in 1977. Each year has a theme. This year's theme is "Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World."

Burnham City Hospital nurses, 1946

Burnham City Hospital nurses, 1946

Read more about International Women's Day: A Look at Working Women in CU

The Map Collection at The Champaign County Historical Archives

Merriam-Webster defines a map as "a diagram or other visual representation that shows the relative position of the parts of something." Here at the Champaign County Historical Archives, we like to think there is a whole lot more to maps than that.

Our map collection covers a lot of ground. The staff in the Archives spends a lot of time pouring over maps every day trying to unravel various patron requests, such as, "Do you have a map of the Boneyard Creek before the City of Champaign made improvements?" Why, yes, we do! Or, "Do you have a map of the original Country Fair Mall and what stores were there?" Of course! A lot of map questions that Archives staff members get are about original streets and roads in the county, where they were, what they were called, and when they were platted. We have maps that can show all of that.

1914 Newcomb Township Map  

1914 Newcomb Township Map

Read more about The Map Collection at The Champaign County Historical Archives

Robert Allerton: the Man Behind the Gardens

Who is Robert Allerton? Many of us know him as a philanthropist, a wealthy bachelor, a world traveler, an art collector, and owner of what we know today as Allerton Park, a National Natural Landmark also recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Allerton was a private man. Much of what we know about him comes from correspondence saved in archives from those who knew him and what he allowed the public to see. This can make it hard to think of the mansion, gardens and surrounding woods as one gentleman’s private home and estate, but up until 1946, Robert Allerton’s estate, or “The Farm” as it was once known, was primarily for his enjoyment.

Allerton family photograph

The Allerton family from Robert Allerton: The Private Man. Read more about Robert Allerton: the Man Behind the Gardens

Champaign County Fair Association

Though the first Champaign County Fair was held in the early 1850s, beginning with informal gatherings of families and first organized in 1852, it was disbanded in the early 1920s. In 1939, a new bandstand was acquired, replacing one that was destroyed in a fire years earlier and allowing the fair to return to Champaign County under the direction of the Champaign County Fair Association. In the first few years of the fair’s return, it grew rapidly, despite challenges caused by World War II.

A 1942 newspaper article announced that the Champaign County Fair Association still intended to hold the fair that year, despite difficult war conditions, remarking that it would be even more important for residents due to other fair and vacation cancellations. The next year, there was no question the fair would go on, and it turned out to be “one of the best years since its revival in 1939.”

Aerial photograph of fairgrounds Read more about Champaign County Fair Association

A Reunion at Chanute

The 714th Bomb Squadron in the 1940s

On August 16, 1984, Chanute Air Force Base was selected, thanks to its central geographic location, as the venue for reuniting the 714th Bomb Squadron’s Crew 66. The reunion brought together nine out of ten of the original members. Crew members traveled to Chanute from Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Champaign, Illinois. Eldon “Red” Preisel of Champaign was a technical sergeant at the time of the crew’s combat missions and served as a point person for planning the reunion at the base. Read more about A Reunion at Chanute