The Champaign County History Museum: A Researcher’s Guide
By Connor Monson
What do you think about when you hear the word museum? For some it might unfortunately bring to mind thoughts of artifact cases covered in dust. However, much of the public’s idea of what small museums can offer to their community is out of date. Small museums are becoming hubs of innovation and thought leaders in an era of technological and social change. History museums like CCHM provide educational programming, exhibits, and a space for the community to assess their own past.
Perhaps one of the most significant ways museums can be overlooked is in their role as research hubs. If you are just starting out as a researcher, here is a brief explanation of the different kinds of sources that research institutions offer. Works using the commentary of contemporary audiences or scholars, are what is known as “Secondary Sources”. An artifact or record that existed during a historical period and that was produced by a direct witness to a historical event is known as a “Primary Source”.
Research Library at CCHM. Available via appointment.
With so many unique artifacts and records, local history museums such as CCHM offer valuable insights into the history of their community. In this piece the focus will be on the museum’s primary source collections as those are unique to our space. Our primary source artifacts, documents, and other records are ultimately what sets us apart from other institutions. CCHM possesses a wide variety of artifacts from crucial cultural events like Farm Aid 1985, the Polio Epidemics of the 1950s, an American flag used to commemorate the casket of a fallen Civil War soldier, and the letters of Congressman William L. Springer. With a collection of artifacts that is at least 20,000 strong it is difficult to come up with a concise list of items to highlight for research purposes. But today we will be focusing on items that are currently available to researchers as part of our reorganized library.
CCHM’s areas of strength for visiting researchers could be summarized as: our family paper collections, our oral histories with local individuals of note, our photograph collections, our vertical files, and our collections from the News Gazette and Burnham Hospital. More detailed descriptions of each and their significance to county history can be found in the sections below.
Miller/Woodroofe Family Collection- Correspondence, photographs, and personal papers relating to famous Champaign County artist Louise Woodroofe (also spelled Woodruff or Woodruffe) and her family. In 1920, Louise started work at the University of Illinois as an instructor in the Architecture Department. She became the University’s first female faculty member, an Assistant Professor of Architecture in 1928. In 1948, she was promoted to full Professor of Art. An accomplished artist, Louise exhibited nationally and internationally. She was particularly well known in Chicago, Illinois, where she was given one-woman exhibitions at the Findley Gallery. Louise spent many summers traveling with the Ringling Brothers - Barnum and Bailey Circus where she drew many pictures of the clowns. CCHM possesses many of her collected sketches, paintings, papers, and personal effects.
Art from Louise Woodroofe’s personal papers. CCHM Archives.
Sale Family Collection-this collection contains letters, correspondence, scripts, and photographs relating to the Sale family. Virginia and Charles ‘Chic’ Sale were prominent actors from Champaign County who took part in Vaudeville and numerous films, with Virginia also working in radio and television. Chic Sale is noted as the author of “The Specialist” about a workman who builds outhouses. He turned his popular Vaudeville comic sketch into a best selling book. He was also a gifted impressionist who played Abraham Lincoln on multiple occasions. Virginia had supporting roles in films like King Vidor’s “The Crowd”, “Madame DuBarry”, and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. Their collection includes furniture, photographs, personal papers, autographed photos, and on-set shots. Taken together the Sale family collection illustrates the sometimes difficult lives of a deeply talented family of performers.
Sale Family Papers. CCHM Archives.
Chapin Family Collection-This collection contains more than eighty letters and pieces of correspondence from the Chapin family stretching from the early 1850s to the 1880s. Topics of their correspondence range from mundane matters like personal health, births, and deaths to the events of the day. Several letters discuss Champaign Counties’ reaction to the Lincoln assassination and the end of the Civil War. It is an intriguing glimpse into the private lives of a large family during a pivotal era in Illinois history.
Homesteading Contract between Alonzo Upp, Robert Johnson, and Dennis Chapin. This document is part of the Chapin-McNeil Special Collection. CCHM Archives.
Springer Family Collection- This collection contains photographs, Civil Defense documents, documents of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee, as well as a United States 42 Star Flag. William L. Springer started his political career in Champaign, IL, setting up a law practice in 1936. He served as state’s attorney of Champaign County from 1940-1942, and county judge from 1946-1950. He served as a member of congress from 1951 until 1973 and was a registered Republican. His correspondence included letters from presidents of the United States such as Richard Nixon, and other figures of national importance. Springer was a resident of Champaign, Illinois until his death on September 20th, 1992.
Photograph: PH000112; Object ID# 1987-027-008; ARCH00076; ARCH000151
Henry I Green Collection - This collection contains documents and photographs primarily focused on Henry Green's campaign to serve as delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. He represented Champaign County as part of those proceedings. His collection contains correspondence, notes, and drafts of the proposed constitution. Also included in this collection is his delegate desk used in the Old State Capitol during the proceedings. Henry Green is perhaps most notably the author of the pension clause which guarantees workers pensions and prohibits the diminishing of that right.
Signed draft of the failed 1952 Revenue Amendment to the Illinois Constitution, Green’s signature is included. CCHM Archives.
News-Gazette Microfilm Collection- CCHM possesses microfilm reels of News-Gazette issues stretching from November 1952 all the way up to December of 2019 when the business was sold to a new owner. There are some missing reels. These holdings represent nearly seven decades of daily publications. They can be read in the Cattle Bank research library using our microfilm reader and scanner. This collection is not available online. Appointments to use the research library and use our microfilm reader must be made in advance via email or by phone.
Object ID: MIC000001
News-Gazette Microfilm Collection in the CCHM Library.
Oral History Interviews:
Sol Cohen- Sol Cohen was an accomplished violinist, composer, and teacher from Urbana. In a series of interviews Sol described his life and accomplishments. Cohen was born in Urbana on January 1st, 1891 to a family that enjoyed music and performance. After making his debut as a violinist in Chicago in 1911, Cohen traveled through out the midwest and west coast, becoming the 1st Violinist for the Cincinnati Symphony on 1912-1913, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1922-1923. In 1930, Cohen became the Orchestra Director for the Denishawn Dance Company, operated by pioneers of American Modern dance, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. His ballet “Angor Vat” was performed by Ruth St. Denis and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Cohen returned to Urbana several times over the years, the last in the 1960’s where he continued to teach and perform. The interviews include remembrances of his early family life and education, community, and musical studies and performances.
Object ID: AUD000002, AUD000003, AUD000004, AUD000005, AUD000007, AUD000008, AUD000009
Nelle Carpenter-Carpenter started the Champaign County Historical Archives in the late 1960’s, working out of the Archives Room in the Urbana Free Library’s basement. She promoted the archives as first and foremost, about local history. Our holdings include an interview with Eunice Creamer, newspaper clippings, and documents detailing events with the Champaign County Geological Society, and The Urbana Free Library.
Object ID: AUD000052
Edward Butzow- Butzow was a farmer who lived in the town of St. Joseph, IL during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His interview describes Joseph Kelly’s family and tavern, the community of “old” St. Joseph, the methods of laying out drainage tile for the prairie, and the sometimes harsh conditions for homesteaders.
Object ID: AUD000021
These interviews, and more, have been fully transcribed and are available on the CCHM website on our oral histories page.
Edward C. Butzow and Zora Butzow. Courtesy of the Butzow family. CCHM Archives.
Virgil Wikoff Collection- Wikoff was mayor of Champaign for two terms from 1967 to 1975. In addition to his political career with the city he served in the Illinois House of Representatives. Wikoff created a substantial library of photographs that he donated to CCHM.
Sadorus Family Collection- The Sadorus family were the first permanent European settlers who came to Champaign County. As such their family artifacts and papers constitute some of the most important records of the early years of the East Central Illinois region. Key among the figures in these photographs is Frank Sadorus, one of the most prolific and significant early photographers in Champaign County.
Photograph from the Sadorus Family Collection. CCHM Archives.
Charles Cassad Collection- Cassad collected historical photographs of Champaign County. He was featured on CBS This Morning during a feature about the closing of Robeson’s Department Store. After his passing in 2019 Cassad’s family donated his large photograph collection to the Champaign County History Museum. The photographs generally show street scenes and construction projects throughout Champaign-Urbana during the latter nineteenth and twentieth century.
Barrett Building 1 East Main Street prior to demolition. Photo taken in fall 1949 and razed March 1950. Charles Cassad Collection. CCHM Archives.
Sholem Family Collection- This collection was donated by Dave Sholem. His family owned the Sholem Shoe Store. The photographs were originally taken by J.J. Sholem who was a Parks Commissioner. J.J. Sholem created and collected a large number of photographs of downtown Champaign. These photographs detail the growth and development of the city of Champaign and in particular commercial businesses in the central business district.
CU Poster and Advertising Collection- A collection donated by Kip Pope and the Pope Family in honor of their father Robert Pope. The Pope family owned the billboard company “CU Poster and Advertising”. These artifacts are an excellent resource for those researching the history of advertising in Champaign County.
Carroll Carson Wiley Collection- Wiley was an Assistant Professor of Highway engineering at the University of Illinois. He started as an instructor at the University in 1906. Wiley was involved in the construction of Chanute Field in 1917. He also worked on constructing railways, as well as municipal and state highways. He was the author of “Mortar Making Qualities of Illinois Sand”. Wiley’s photograph collection offers critical insights into the story of the evolution of engineering in early twentieth century Champaign County.
Neil and Hickory Street. Champaign, IL. 1910. Part of the Carroll Carson Wiley Collection. CCHM Archives.
Jos. Kuhn’s, Lewis & Co- Jos. Kuhn, Lewis & Co. is one of the longest running department stores in Champaign County, and still in operation as of August 2022.
Object ID: ARCH000419
Robeson’s Department Store-For older residents of the county Robeson’s Department store was an iconic part of Downtown Champaign. For most of its existence it was situated at 125 West Church Street. At that location the store ran from 1920 until 1989 when the business closed for good. Our vertical files have numerous documents relating to Robeson’s history.
Object ID: ARCH000250
African Americans in Champaign County- CCHM has a large collection of documents relating to the African American experience within Champaign County. Our holdings include newsletters from the Black Students Association at UIUC.
Object ID: ARCH000004
Marajen Stevick-Chinigo Collection- Marajen Stevick-Chinigo was the owner and publisher of the local newspaper the News-Gazette. She was also the widow of an Italian Count, and an accomplished painter. In 2020 when the News-Gazette was purchased by new owners her possessions and belongings, as well as artifacts relating to the history of the newspaper were given to the CCHM.
Marajen Stevick-Chinigo’s guest book containing the signatures of Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy. Part of the “Inspirato da Torre Di Civita” online exhibit. CCHM Archives.
Charlotte Golden/Burnham Hospital- CCHM has a large collection of artifacts relating to the now closed Burnham Hospital, many of the artifacts belonged to Charlotte Golden who was a former nurse who worked at the facility. The original Julia F. Burnham Hospital opened in 1895. Burnham hospital closed in 1989 following consolidation with Mercy Hospital to become Covenant Medical Center.. Among other artifacts, CCHM owns the first iron lung purchased by the hospital and used during the Polio epidemic of 1949. It is one of a small number of iron lungs still in existence, and it is still in usable condition.
“The Burnham Burp” Alumni Newsletter from May 1997. CCHM Archives.
In the past three years museum staff have been in the process of photographing and making public all of the items in our collection through our online catalog. However, due to the massive number of artifacts and records this is an ongoing effort. So far, nearly 3,900 items have been made available to the public. Searchability of the collection will improve over time as more items are added.
One of the most important things to know about using our public catalog is that it is by nature incomplete. Some items are undergoing work, and others have not been photographed. Researchers should not assume that the public catalog is everything CCHM owns. Instead it is a way to learn more about our collection areas, to find unique artifacts and records. In short the public catalog is a place to start your search, not a definitive end to it. If you are looking for a specific topic, try using our search bar. Phrases should be flanked on either side by quotation marks to get the best results. If you are having trouble finding any materials on a particular topic. Please reach out to museum staff and we will do our best to help in a timely manner.
As previously mentioned, primary sources are not the only materials that CCHM owns. The Museum has a substantial amount of secondary sources available to researchers. At the time of this article’s publication in 2023, CCHs research library contains over 800 volumes. Content focuses include: Illinois History, Abraham Lincoln, biographies of local historical figures, periodicals, and Champaign County history. Books can not be checked out by researchers and must be read on site after communication with the museum manager.
As a small museum most of our staff is composed of volunteers and interns, that includes our researchers. If you have been researching a topic that you believe could be useful as a CCHM blog publication, please reach out to us via our website. We accept open submission articles, but do not promise that they will be published and are subject to a rigorous review.
If you would like to use the research library at the Champaign County History Museum please use the following link on our website: https://www.champaigncountyhistory.org/research-room or call at (217) 356-1010. Contacting museum staff at least a week in advance is recommended in order to produce the best possible results.
Our business hours are as follows:
Wednesday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Thursday 1:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Friday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
The Champaign County History Museum is located at 102 E. University Avenue in Champaign, IL. We are centered in the Cattle Bank, an 1858 commercial building on the National Historic Register.