What is a Chautauqua?

Described by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt as the “most American thing in America,” Chautauqua was an adult education and social movement popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that brought individuals together for self-improvement. An “educational summer camp,” the Chautauqua offered entertainment in the forms of lectures, sermons, performances, outdoor study, and camping – all at minimal cost.

Hot Air Balloons in Downtown Champaign-Urbana

Since 1973, hot air balloons have been a frequent summertime sighting over Champaign County. Why 1973? That’s when Tom Gabel moved to Urbana. Earlier that year, he was crowned the 1973 U.S. Hot Air Balloon Pilot Champion in Indianola, Iowa. Gabel held a sales franchise for Piccard Balloons (based in California) for a six-state area in the Midwest. By 1975, Gabel reckoned he had sold 40 balloons to people around the Midwest.

The Runaway Husband

In archival work, we talk a lot about the circuitous route of historical research, the serendipity of discovery, and the rabbit holes our research can lead us down. I recently experienced this when trying to identify an old photograph.

Finding the Fultons Part 2

This is the 2nd installment of the investigation into Eliza A. Fulton’s burial place. To catch up on the previous research, read the first blog here. We left off after having found both Eliza and Henry’s death records, which list their burial place as Linn (Lynn) Grove Cemetery. But the Lynn Grove burial records don’t include either of them!

The Lewis Family

The Urbana Free Library has various spaces that are named after generous donors. One such space is the Lewis Auditorium on the lowest level of the library. Those who are familiar with the library, or who have attended a library event, may know that the auditorium exists. However, not everyone knows about the family that the auditorium is named after.

Five Generations of Women in One Photograph

I recently re-discovered this five-generation photograph that I had purchased a few years ago at an estate tag sale in Champaign. The picture does not include anyone in my family but I found the different clothing and hairstyles intriguing. The fact that all of the names of the women in the picture were written on the back was a bonus.

Finding the Fultons Part 1

Hello, fellow fans of genealogy and local history! I recently entered the world of Champaign County Historical Archives as an Archives Assistant this past March. Although I’ve had previous experience with other archives, the Champaign County Historical Archives is a new adventure. Every archive is unique to its own collection, which is part of what makes archival and genealogical research so exciting.

The Secret History of Squirrels

There is no question whether or not our squirrel population is thriving in the UIUC campus area. It’s unlikely anyone hasn’t had a run-in with these bouncy rodents at some point or another. Whether they’ve dug up your garden beds, rummaged through your garbage cans, or chowed down on your Halloween pumpkins – the squirrels here are pesky and they are everywhere.

Mapping Champaign County: The Legacy of Alexander Bowman

Alexander Bowman (1826-1907) was a carpenter, secretary for a teacher’s association, architect, and surveyor who moved his family from New York to Illinois to further his educational and business prospects despite his persistent health and financial issues. Although some of the materials and edifices he created remain extant to this day, they do not add up to tell a complete life story.

Newly Processed Collections: Boneyard Creek

A sticker advertising the "Our Boneyard" Bicentennial Project. 

Boneyard Creek, which runs through 3.3 miles of Champaign and Urbana, has been a significant land