Local History and Genealogy Blog

Cohen Family: Julius Cohen

Julius Cohen, January 1941Born on May 15, 1888, Julius Cohen was the second son of Nathan and Addie Cohen. From a young age, Julius studied music. He studied vocals with his great aunt Clara Bernetta in New York for several years. As a young man, he traveled to Budapest, Hungary, with his younger brother Sol, to study with some of the best vocalists in the world. When the United States entered World War I, Julius set aside his musical career and served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Upon returning home, he resumed his musical career. Read more about Cohen Family: Julius Cohen

Cohen Family: Sidney Cohen

Captain Sidney CohenSidney Cohen was born on June 26, 1885. The eldest son of Nathan and Addie Cohen, he was the only Cohen to not pursue a career in music. Instead, he studied law and spent time working first in his father’s cigar factory then at a local bank. Read more about Cohen Family: Sidney Cohen

The Cohen Family

"A musical evening at the Cohen's house at the turn of the century. From left: Addie Cohen, Sydney, Sol, Julius, and Nat H. Cohen." Image from "Amid the Alien Corn: 100 years of Sinai Temple in Champaign, IL, 1904-2004

Addie Bernstein Cohen, a locally noted soprano often compared to Jenny Lind, was the daughter of Solomon and Fannie Bernstein, the first Jewish residents to permanently settle in Urbana in 1854. She married Nathan H. Cohen, former vaudevillian and cigar manufacturer, and had three sons: Sidney, Sol, and Julius. The Cohens were a musical family and were active in the local musical clubs and amateur theater circles entertaining Jewish and Christian groups alike.     Read more about The Cohen Family

Chanute Spotlight: Daniel L. Pearl, The Man with the Camera

One of the Chanute Collection’s strengths is its impressive photograph collection covering the base’s history. These thousands of photographs were gathered by base historians as well as donated by hundreds of former base personnel. One contributor was Dan Pearl. Pearl was seemingly present at all the major Chanute events during the 1970s and 1980s.  After the base closed, a large number of his photographs were put on display in the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum and the Champaign County Historical Archives preserves these photographs today. Read more about Chanute Spotlight: Daniel L. Pearl, The Man with the Camera

From the Mailbox: Overia Barringer & the Freedom Celebration Parade

Overia Barringer, July 4, 1969How did you celebrate Independence Day this year? For many people, the Fourth of July is a time to grab a lawn chair and watch the Champaign County Freedom Celebration Parade. For Overia Barringer it was a time to don an ornate patriotic costume and join the parade march. From 1949 to at least 1978, Barringer participated in the parade every year.

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Jeff Austin: A Mountain Spring of Inspiration (1974-2019)

Jeff Austin, 2019On June 24, 2019, the world lost the legendary bluegrass musician Jeff Austin at the age of 45.  Austin was a founding member of the popular newgrass group Yonder Mountain String Band, and later the front man for his own group, the Jeff Austin Band. Austin was a singer, songwriter, and mandolin virtuoso. His fast and untamed style redefined what a mandolinist could do as a staple of bluegrass instrumentation. Austin’s fire, passion, and aura were ever present the moment he struck his first strings on stage. He was a rock star in a world of bluegrass and will be remembered as one of the most influential, profound, and impressive musicians in the history of the genre.  Read more about Jeff Austin: A Mountain Spring of Inspiration (1974-2019)

The Downtown Champaign Mall

Downtown Champaign Mall, April 27, 1975Summer is here, which has brought extra life to downtown Champaign. The warm weather means you can sit outside at bars and restaurants, see live music on the street, and attend a number of festivals. One thing you won’t find though is a pedestrian shopping mall. That version of downtown is a thing of the past, from 1975-1986 to be precise. This blog post is a walk down memory lane, or Neil Street rather.

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On the Importance of Trees

Champaign tree damage, May 23, 2019Trees have been on my mind lately since I lost ¾ of a silver maple in my front yard during the overnight storms that hit Champaign and Urbana at the end of May. I knew the tree wasn’t in the best condition. There was at least one hollow section that housed a raccoon, but otherwise, the tree appeared healthy. Fully leafed out it provided shade to our hosta, mayapples, wild ginger and a home to several squirrel nests and possibly a possum in addition to the raccoon. Now however, the squirrels have moved to a red oak across the way, I haven’t seen the raccoon, and in a few weeks the remainder of the tree is scheduled to be taken down. I’m sad to see it go. Read more about On the Importance of Trees

Chanute Spotlight: Norine Welk, Air Force Artist

Donald Weckhorst holding 75 Year Pictorial HistoryFrom 1983 to 1992, Donald Weckhorst worked tirelessly to complete an impressive pictorial history book about Chanute Air Force Base. Along with the over 300 people who donated records for the book, Weckhorst also reached out to a young self-taught artist named Norine Welk to do some drawings for the book. Welk drew ultra-realistic landscapes and portraits using ballpoint pens and colored pencils on cream-toned paper. Read more about Chanute Spotlight: Norine Welk, Air Force Artist