Local History and Genealogy Blog

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 The train, painted white with red and blue horizontal stripes, carried 133 historical documents and artifacts of United States history.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

Bettye Krolick's Contributions to Braille Music Transcription

Bettye Krolick transcribing music

Bettye Krolick transcribing music. Photo by Robert K. O’Daniell for The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, August 30th, 1976.

Bettye Krolick (1926-2011) changed the world from her home in Champaign through her service to the national and international blind and visually impaired community - effects of which are still felt today. 

I came across Krolick’s story as I researched The Tuesday Morning Musical Club (TMMC), a women’s-only music recital club in Champaign-Urbana. (You can learn more about this club in the archives’ new exhibit, “From Homemaking to Municipal Housekeeping: Twentieth-Century Women’s Clubs in Champaign County.”) Krolick was very involved in the C-U music community even beyond the TMMC. A violinist by study, she played with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony (where she was first violinist) with her husband Edward Krolick and worked with multiple orchestras, including as “concert master of the Danville Symphony” as stated by the News-Gazette. Krolick eventually moved to Colorado after living in the Champaign-Urbana community for many years, continuing to play music there. Read more about Bettye Krolick's Contributions to Braille Music Transcription

Dorothy Gertrude Bentley and the 1918 Flu

Dorothy Gertrude Bentley Photograph Reverse of a photograph of Dorothy Gertrude Bentley

A recent donation to the Champaign County Historical Archives is this picture of Dorothy Bentley. She was a junior at Sidney High School when she died in 1918, from pneumonia after having influenza.
Small snippets of information can be found about her life and her death by searching newspapers in the Illinois Digital Newspaper collection. Some of these include her 1st place standing on school examinations, performing a duet for a program, moves made to attend school in Sidney, a bout with typhoid fever and various moves and business undertakings of her father, H. M. Bentley. Small articles on her death and funeral, that appeared in various Champaign and Urbana newspapers can also be found online.  However, the most glowing tribute is not online but can be found on the Sidney Times microfilm at the Champaign County Historical Archives.

Read more about Dorothy Gertrude Bentley and the 1918 Flu

Greetings from Chanute! The Envelope Art of Ladd Canney

Envelope Art

In 1983, Chanute Commanding Officer Major General J.D. Moore hired Chief Master Sergeant and Chanute alum Donald O. Weckhorst to be the Chanute Air Force Base historian. Moore’s first order to Weckhorst was to create a pictorial history book of the base and Weckhorst immediately went to work on the project. From 1983-1992, Weckhorst contacted former and active Chanute students, instructors, civilians, and more from throughout the entirety of the base’s history seeking sources for the book. In his efforts, he contacted over 1,000 former Chanuters and received donations from approximately 300 people in the form of photographs, documents, maps, and other materials. Our collections at the CCHA not only include these donations, but also the correspondence between Weckhorst and former Chanute personnel concerning these donations. The correspondence often included information about the records being donated, stories from the base, updates on life after Chanute, and personal stories unrelated to Chanute. Weckhorst made personal connections with the people he contacted and developed friendships with them through the records they donated and their shared experience as Chanuters.  Read more about Greetings from Chanute! The Envelope Art of Ladd Canney