From the Mailbox: The Underground Railroad in Champaign County

Central Illinois history is often intertwined with that of railroad history. The city of Champaign, along with several other Champaign County towns and villages, were formed when the Illinois Central Railroad line was constructed in the 1850s. But, what about the secret railroad network without trains or tracks that existed in the 19th century? Before the abolition of slavery in America, the Underground Railroad was a network of safe routes and houses in the United States and Canada used by African-American freedom seekers and allies to help enslaved individuals escape to free states, and sometimes to flee the country. Abolitionists and other individuals with anti-slavery sentiments provided Underground Railroad “passengers” with food, shelter, and guidance to other “stations.”

Resistance and Dissent at Chanute

On Saturday, September 19, 1970, a series of events led to what was hailed as a militant demonstration at the front gate of Chanute Air Force Base, leading to police engagement and general unrest. In the preceding weeks, an African American airman from Chanute was arrested on false charges in Rantoul. This arrest sparked an uprising form the 47th Student Squadron, a predominantly black squadron. The uprising that week coincided with a boycott of Dining Hall P-23. In July of 1970, 600 airmen signed a petition to improve the quality of the food at the dining hall. After the petition was ignored, a rumor circulated that hepatitis was being spread through the food served in P-23. This culminated in a boycott of the dining hall. The boycott saw three civilians and two airmen join forces to successfully dissuade the majority of the evening diners from subjecting themselves to the food. Military Police were called, and the three civilians were escorted from the base and given a strong verbal warning not to return, while the two airmen were arrested and held for two days.

Greetings from Chanute!: Remembering Lucy Jane Goff (1909-2002)

As an archives intern, I have worked with the Chanute Collection over the last nine months processing records from the former Air Force Base and aerospace museum. In my work, I regularly handle records and documents I find of great historical interest and importance. However, due to the large amount of work that needs to be done with the collection my time is limited. These artifacts are in my hands for only a moment, yet many are worthy of more investigation and attention.

How Can You Find a Farm's Name?

The State of Illinois approved the Farm Names Act providing for the registration of farm names on June 25, 1915. It went into effect on July 1, 1915. A farmer who wanted to name his farm could register the name and a description of the land with the County Recorder for a set fee. This name could only apply to one farm in the same county. If the land was sold or divided, the name of the farm did not transfer with the deed unless stated in the transfer. A certificate with the farm name was printed for the owner. An owner could cancel the name of the farm by paying a fee and filing a notice of cancellation with the recorder.

Interesting Urbana City Codes from 1898

Most of us have pondered what things were like before we were born. Luckily for these people, we have city ordinances! This post looks at what the city laws were like for Urbana in 1898. I have chosen to feature ordinances that may be worded strangely, are oddly specific, or just seem like plain common sense.

Halloween at Chanute

On Halloween in 1941, the Chanute Air Force Base (CAFB) saw a spooky night hosted by the Non-Commissioned Officer’s (NCO) club. “Ghosts, goblins, and broom riding witches cavorted beneath a bright harvest moon as the Chanute NCO club staged its annual Halloween Hop Saturday evening.” The event featured an award for the best costumes. The award was presented to Mrs. Hill, the wife of master sergeant Joe Hill, for her costume as Annie Oakley. Mrs. Hill’s western dress, prop gun and holster, and large ten gallon hat made for a quite compelling costume. Mrs. Hill shared the spotlight with master sergeant R. L. Jackson who humorously presented himself as “a professor of Science.” Bespectacled by horn-rimmed glasses, a professorial overcoat, and a long wig, Jackson inspired laughter amongst his fellow party goers.

From the Mailbox: the Original Alleys of Urbana

If you’ve spent much time walking the streets of downtown Urbana, you might have noticed that there are a few alleys with their names displayed. Crane Alley is well known not only because of the restaurant of the same name, but also due to ornate wrought iron arches at each end. There is an arch for Cherry Alley featured prominently in the landscaped walkway outside the Urbana Free Library. Lastly, there is also an iron arch with the name Fish Alley located on Race Street, between Main and Elm. You may have asked yourself: What is the story behind these alleys? Where do they get their names? These are the kinds of questions you can ask us in the Archives!

Chanute Air Force Base Closure: 26 Year Anniversary

On this day, September 30th, twenty-six years ago Chanute Air Force Base closed its doors along with several other Air Force bases across the country. Even though Chanute witnessed many changes in the United States, from the Great Depression to the technology boom in the 1980s, 1988 was the beginning of the end of an era for Chanute. It was a transition period in the United States as the Cold War came to an end and Americans were encouraged to look forward to a time where military force was no longer necessary. As plans unfolded, many people feared the effect Chanute’s closing would have on the Rantoul community. For those who are just learning about Chanute today, it is difficult to imagine how much an impact the Base had on the day-to-day life in Rantoul. However, when you compare the photos here, one from the 1917-1930s and the other from the 1990s, it is clear to see that when Chanute Air Force Base evolved so did the surrounding area. When the Base grew and expanded its influence so did local businesses, schools, and community groups.

  

The Barling Bomber

Only one Wittemann-Lewis XNBL-1 “Barling Bomber” was ever built. At the time, the Barling Bomber was the world’s largest plane. According to the November 15, 1923 issue of the Rantoul Weekly Press, the plane was powered by six Liberty motor propellers (four tractor types and two puller types), 2,000-gallon gas tank, and had a top speed of 75 mph.

Cohen Family: Sol Cohen

Sol Cohen was born on January 11, 1891, the youngest son of Nathan and Addie Cohen. Much like his father, he was enamored by music at an early age. He studied violin with Charles Foster in Urbana until 1903 when he began traveling on the weekends to study under violinist Emile Sauret at Chicago Musical College. Sauret had performed with Sol’s father, Nathan during his musical career in California.

Cohen Family: Julius Cohen

Born 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.

Cohen Family: Sidney Cohen

Sidney 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.

The Cohen Family

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.    

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.

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

On 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.