Local History and Genealogy Blog

Anita Purves and the Nature Center

Concept art for the 1995 expansion of the Anita Purves Nature Center by Isaksen/Glerum PC Architects, 1993.

Concept art for the 1995 expansion of the Anita Purves Nature Center by Isaksen/Glerum PC Architects, 1993. 

As a longtime resident of Champaign County, I have visited the Anita Purves Nature Center (APNC) at the north end of Crystal Lake Park in Urbana many times. My kids love to explore the collections of native flora and fauna and learn about the center’s animal ambassadors—Quasi the one-eyed owl is our favorite. We explore the trails in Busey Woods and sometimes we just relax in the Wildlife Observation Room and try to identify the bird calls streaming in from the bird feeding station. I have always enjoyed the facility, but did not know the story behind the Anita Purves Nature Center, nor the story of its namesake. While processing the Champaign County Conservation and Design Foundation  special collection last month, I learned of this beloved facility’s origins and became fascinated in the story behind the APNC. 

Corn Silk

It’s corn planting time in beautiful east central Illinois! It’s also National Poetry month! Visit the Champaign County Historical Archives and ask to see this little gem, Corn Silk, (A 811 CUR), a poetry book that is also a family history. 

Corn Silk

The Story Behind the Mothers Pension Book

In the Archives special collections storage there is an area devoted to the preservation of early governmental records. Originally, the records were handwritten and kept in large red bound books nearly half the size of an adult person. Walking down the long rows of shelves, you can see the spines say Naturalization records, Marriage License Applications and Will records in bright gold block lettering. Towards the very end of the aisle, past dark red and gold bindings is a smaller book amongst the giants with the curious title of “Entry Book Mothers Pensions”. All by itself, this reddish-brown book is a relic from an entire movement in U.S. history. 

Mothers Pension book

Roger Ebert, June 18, 1942 - April 4, 2013

There are two celebrations happening this week. Nationally, we are celebrating National Library Week, April 10-16, and a bit closer to home, Ebertfest is ramping up for its 18th year, April 13-17. The Archives staff have created a new exhibit that brings together these two seemingly disparate topics in the form of one individual, Roger Ebert. 

Roger Ebert, 1972 Logo 18th Annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival, 2016

Ebert loved Urbana, and he loved The Urbana Free Library. He got his first library card from The Urbana Free Library at the age of 7 and often rode his bike down to the library pedaling home with saddlebags bursting with books. Ebert lists his winning of the 1951 Summer Reading Contest – he read 105 books – as one of his first and greatest honors.

Welcome Back, Urbana High School Class of 1930!

With spring comes flowers, rain and for many high school reunions. To celebrate making it in the great big world and coming back to visit memory lane, the Archives wants to share a very special picture. 

Urbana High School Class of 1930 at their ten year reunion! 


Upcoming Event: Downtown Champaign History Walking Tour

Secure your place in this April 16th walking tour of historic Downtown Champaign led by TJ Blakeman, City of Champaign Senior Planner for Economic Development and president of the board of directors for the Champaign County Historical Museum. 

Air-Mail Service Comes to Champaign

On November 19, 1928 air mail came to Champaign. Acclaimed to be “the country’s smallest city to be accorded the privilege of air mail service,” Champaign linked the surrounding territory to Chicago and Evansville, Ind. Two days before the inaugural flight the Champaign post office had 12,000 pieces of mail on hand waiting to receive a special stamp informing the receiver that the letter was sent on the opening flight of the airmail service from Champaign-Urbana. On the big day 75 pounds of mail left Champaign.

Inaugural Champaign-Urbana Air Mail Envelope, 1928