Local history

Local history

News-Gazette Collection Update

On June 15, 2020, the Champaign County Historical Archives of The Urbana Free Library became the new home for the News-Gazette’s archival holdings. Over 1,000 square feet of materials were transferred to the Library in a semi-truck packed to capacity. The collection is currently housed on the lower level of the Lincoln Square Mall, across the street from the Library. Read more about News-Gazette Collection Update

PACA Digitization Project

One of the most common questions we get here in the Archives is regarding the history of a patron’s home. When was it built? Who was the architect? Do we have any archival photographs?

My name is Savannah Adams, and I am the Archives Apprentice for the Champaign County Historical Archives of The Urbana Free Library. I am a first-year graduate student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, working towards a MS in Library Science and Information. My focus is on archival materials, special collections, and library preservation. I’m digitizing and cataloging recently acquired building and home surveys conducted by the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA) in Champaign County for my first semester project.

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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

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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

Another Installment of "Newspapers, Get Your Newspapers Here!"

Sidney Times newspaper, August 28,1908, front pageIn our last newspaper post, we presented you with some exciting and off-beat campus area newspapers from the 1970s and 1980s. There are more of those to examine, and we'll get to those in upcoming blog posts but for now, let's look at some of the early small-town papers, starting with the August 28, 1908, Sidney Times. This edition of the Sidney Times is ten pages long and has a LOT of information packed into those ten pages. The front page starts right off with advertising, perhaps not much different than newspapers of today. The remainder of the front page provides commentary on weddings, social club events, funerals, stories about the Sidney Horse Show and Corn Carnival, and the Illinois State Fair. This publication came out in the morning and cost a reasonable 5 cents. There is a pleasant announcement right on the title banner that you should get one of your own if you are reading a borrowed copy of this paper, no word on whether the good citizens of Sidney heeded this demand. Read more about Another Installment of "Newspapers, Get Your Newspapers Here!"

In Memoriam: Robert K. McCandless (1928-2020) and Raymond Bial (1948-2021)

Champaign County lost two prominent community photographers over the holiday season, Robert K. McCandless and Raymond Bial.

Robert McCandless with former Archives Director Anke Voss, 2013Robert (Bob) K. McCandless was the owner and photographer of McCandless Photography, a studio in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, specializing in portraits. Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, McCandless worked at the Evening Standard in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and in the Air Force from 1951-1953 (in Korea from 1952-1953) as a public information officer. In April 1956, he joined the Urbana Courier as a photographer. In 1965, McCandless left the Courier and opened his own photography studio at Washington and Race Streets in Urbana. He moved the studio to 113 W. University Avenue in Champaign in 1974 - 1975 and moved to Lincoln Square Mall in 1983. He closed the studio in 2011. Read more about In Memoriam: Robert K. McCandless (1928-2020) and Raymond Bial (1948-2021)