We have a great community and there are quite a few books about its history. These make great gifts for both long-time residents and those new to the area.
Images of America Series
The Images of America series chronicles the history of small towns and downtowns across the country. Each title features more than 200 vintage images, capturing often-forgotten bygone times and bringing to life the people, places, and events that defined a community.
We carry these five from the series:
The low-lying prairie on which Champaign came to be established was once described as "one vast pond where the mud turtle and water moccasin luxuriated, the mosquito wound his bugle, and the frogs gave a rival symphony." From humble origins as a stop on the Illinois Central Railroad called West Urbana, the cluster of buildings quickly became a bustling town of square storefronts, with horses and wagons hitched along wood-plank sidewalks. Gradually rising above muddy thoroughfares, Champaign grew into a charming city in which trolleys rumbled along brick streets. Elegant homes were built and churches established, along with shops and stores, and municipal services and utilities, not to mention parks, opera houses, and confectioneries.
Ilona Matkovszki, Dennis Roberts
Established in 1833 as the judicial seat of Champaign County, Urbana is a city of majestic old trees, pleasant parks, and stately historic residences. Today it is home to more than 40,000 people and counts nationally known film critic Roger Ebert and several Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners among its former residents. The city's urbanization began in 1854 with the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad. In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor as a young lawyer on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Today the city is best known as home of the University of Illinois, a world-class educational and research institute and the state's first land grant university. Originally a small agricultural town on the prairie, Urbana is proud bearer of the title Tree City USA, and in 2007, West Urbana was named one of the nation's 10 Great Neighborhoods.
Carved out of timber and prairie and surrounded by fields of soybeans and corn, Monticello was founded in 1822 and named after Thomas Jefferson's Virginia estate. Monticello, a National Main Street Community, boasts an intriguing history as one of the "patent medicine capitals of the world" and features elegant streets full of wide-lawned mansions, such as State Street, nicknamed "Millionaires' Row." The impressive courthouse is ringed with brick buildings from the late 1800s. The Allerton estate, a 32,000-square-foot Georgian mansion on 12,000 acres along the Sangamon River, was donated to the University of Illinois by owner Robert Allerton. Filled with sculptures from around the world, the estate has been designated by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism as one of the "Seven Wonders of Illinois." In 1858, on the outskirts of Monticello, Abraham Lincoln met Stephen A. Douglas and decided to plan the debates that later won Lincoln the presidency. With its history, mansions, working railway museum, boutiques, and galleries, the community truly deserves the label "Unique Monticello."
Vermilion County Museum Society
Named after early pioneer and fur trapper Dan Beckwith, Danville was a dream realized when the first town lots were auctioned on April 10, 1827. The town grew, especially after the "iron horse" made its way into the area. The railroad opened the doors to Danville's rich manufacturing potential, and the town expanded. Serving as the Vermilion County seat, Danville has undergone many changes in the last 70 years. Although the focus of its economy has changed, the days of General Motors, Chuckles, General Electric, and many more businesses and industries that provided work and brought people to the county linger in memory. Employment provided a rich and full life upon which the heritage of Danville was built.
Mark D. Hanson
Rantoul and the former Chanute Air Force Base are inseparably intertwined as primary players in a single historical narrative. Rantoul was first founded as an agriculturally based community in 1848 near an area known as Mink Grove. The settlement boomed with the coming of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1854; a railroad championed by the town's namesake, Robert Rantoul Jr. Disaster followed in 1899 and again in 1901 with devastating fires. Then, in 1917, a U.S. Army flying field was built on the outskirts of Rantoul. Named after the aviation pioneer Octave Chanute, Chanute Field, later Chanute Air Force Base, became a premier technical training facility. A mutually beneficial relationship quickly developed between these civilian and military establishments that would last for over 75 years. Chanute Air Force Base closed in 1993, ushering in yet another new era for the village of Rantoul.
Additional local history titles:
Champaign County's history is an intriguing mix of hard living and higher learning, with a long tradition of bearing witness to progress. That progress was not without struggle, the arrival of the railroad came at a high cost in human life, and the arrival of racial integration was long overdue. These vignettes by former mayor Dannel McCollum provide a memorable glimpse into the heart of the county's history, uncovering new angles on old stories and preserving the familiar features of beloved characters. Reacquaint yourself with entrepreneur extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin Harris, as well as a promising lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln who defended the county's first convicted murderer. Then treat yourself to a brief dip into March Madness history with the Fighting Illini's 1989 surge to the Final Four.