Small Town Histories

Do you want to learn more about the history of the towns in Champaign County or elsewhere?

Numerous histories have been written for town centennial celebrations, the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial, or just because someone wanted to share information on the history of their town.

The Chanute Base Histories Collection

To welcome a brand new finding aid, I have been tasked to tell you about the Base Histories collection in the Chanute Archives. The Base Histories collection is a twenty-four box collection detailing the yearly administrative history of Chanute Air Force Base, looking at the base's history, the courses students took, food served in the cafeteria, and personnel, etc. Basically, anything that you would want to learn about the administration of the base is in this collection! These histories were compiled by base historians and cover everything from the mess hall to nuclear training. They are arranged into chronological books and often span many volumes per year. The Base Histories collection covers the entirety of the Chanute Air Force Base (1917-1993), with the bulk of the histories falling from 1944-1993.

C-U's Historic Buildings and the Preservation and Conservation Association

Historic buildings contain a rich array of information about the past. And just like manuscripts, photographs, or books, these structures must be preserved. Otherwise, the stories they tell about those who lived or worked inside could be lost. In Champaign County, the important work of protecting the historic built environment is undertaken by the Preservation and Conservation Association, also known as PACA.

The Greek Revival Cottage

Old Advertisements: Food Edition

The newspaper has always been a great place to put advertisements. Especially if the advertisements pertain to vital products, like food. Check out this collection of food ads from the papers of the past.

Here is an ad for a product that can still be found in stores today. Found in the July 3, 1920 News-Gazette, it’s everybody’s favorite: the super healthy Grape-Nuts!


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.

From Tragedy to Attraction: Local Reactions to the Sinking of the Titanic

On the night of April 14, 1912, eighteen-year-old Englishman Edward “Ed” Arthur Dorkings was enjoying a game of cards with some friends in the third-class passenger general room of the RMS Titanic.  The Olympic-Class ocean liner was at sea four days at this point after leaving the port at Southampton, England on April 10th.  At approximately 11:40pm, Dorkings and his fellow card players were thrown from their benches and heard a loud grinding noise that reverberated through the entire ship.  Dorkings went to the deck to discover that the Titanic hit an iceberg that damaged the port-side of the vessel.  Despite the damage from the massive iceberg, there was no sign of panic, so Dorkings returned to his card game. 

The RMS Titanic

Behind the Scenes: Collection Management

Hello! My name is Mary Pedraza, and I am the apprentice at the Champaign County Historical Archives (CCHA) of The Urbana Free Library. I am in my final semester at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois.

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.

Freedom Train Comes to Champaign

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.

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?"

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

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

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.

The Allerton family from Robert Allerton: The Private Man.

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.”

A Reunion at Chanute

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.

Bettye Krolick's Contributions to Braille Music Transcription

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.

Dorothy Gertrude Bentley and the 1918 Flu


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.

Greetings from Chanute! The Envelope Art of Ladd Canney

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.