Overlooked Campus Landmarks Turn 150

How many times have you gone down 4th St. by the Armory or Huff Hall? Probably hundreds of times, right? It so happens that when you do, you’re passing some of the last vestiges of the Illinois Industrial University, as the U of I was called 150 years ago.

Where are these vestiges? Just look up. It’s the trees—several tall, shaggy Austrian Pines, to be precise. They are all that’s left of a series of windbreaks that were planted 150 years ago this week, between June 1 and June 7, 1869.

With both Champaign and Urbana having Tree City USA designations today, it’s hard to believe that in 1868, when the first students arrived, the only landscape feature, aside from the lone sycamore south of Gregory Hall, was one, lone university building surrounded by acres and acres of open fields. It’s not surprising that one Trustee even said that “the University Building looked like a stake driven into the ground.” At least one student wrote home to bemoan the mud and desolation in which she found herself.

Enter the College of Agriculture, which in 1869 planted several windbreaks on what they considered the far edges of an imagined, future campus. They included a hedge of osage orange, many silver maples, Norway spruces, red cedar, and 110 Austrian pines planted along 4th street to protect the experimental orchards. It’s all described in considerable detail in the Trustee’s Report of March 1870, right down to the locations and how many feet apart they planted the trees.  At last, something besides a lone building existed on what was to become the tree-studded campus of one of the world’s great universities.

Want to see these original, living relics? There are still about a dozen of the Austrian Pines found on the east side of 4th St from just west of the Armory to the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Ave.  For one of the most distinctive groups, look for the five tall trees directly behind the construction sign for the Siebel Center for Design,  just south of Huff Hall.

Or, if you’re at the northeast corner of the Armory and 4th St., you’ll see a lone, tall tree standing like an umbrella. Stand by its trunk and look south to see the trunks of three more that are partially hidden from the street by lower growing trees.

A further one is near the southernmost door of Huff Hall. Until they were removed this spring, two more could be found immediately west of the Art and Design Building. All these trees date back to 150 years ago this week, making them the oldest mark left on the landscape by the University of Illinois. They even predate Mumford House, the oldest University building. There is nothing else on campus—not a building, not a marker—that connects so closely to the beginnings of this university.

It’s important to respect and pay attention to our landscape, especially when there are building projects, or else we’ll lose part of the identity of this university. It’s part of what makes this campus the attractive place that people remember.  The natural environment is fragile. Take note of these ‘monuments’ while they are still here.

University of Illinois Fun Facts

Welcome, Archives blog enthusiasts and Urbana Sweetcorn Festival attendees! Below are the questions printed on the rally fans given away by the University Archives at the Festival this year, along with links to the answers. Enjoy!

Corn Maidens
Corn Maidens at the May Fete, 1915
Found in RS 39/2/20, ACT-7, May Fetes 1915

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Food is a Weapon of War

Food production in the United States in 1943 was approximately 32 percent larger than the annual production from 1935-39, the years preceding World War II.  Despite labor shortages, inadequate amounts of new machinery and scarcities of other kinds, both farmers and ordinary citizens put forth effort to produce the food needed to meet the country’s need. Continue reading “Food is a Weapon of War”

Campus Folksong Club

In the spring of 1961, a Folksong Club emerged at the University of Illinois, organized by Dick Kanar and Vic Lukas.  Students who attended the first annual University of Chicago Folk Festival, they walked away determined to found a club on campus to study, exchange, and enjoy traditional folk music.1

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Life and Death Of the Elephant: the Secret History Of the First University Building

When Urbana was chosen as the site of the Illinois Industrial University (now the University of Illinois) in 1867, one of the advantages it had over other potential locations was the Urbana and Champaign Institute, a brand-new, five-story, empty school building that was ready for the University’s immediate use. This building became the University of Illinois in 1867, and was the only campus building until the Mechanical Building and Drill Hall was erected in 1872.

But how did Champaign County happen to have an empty school to donate to the University in the first place? The answer involves God, money, war, and politics. Continue reading “Life and Death Of the Elephant: the Secret History Of the First University Building”

Halloween Post: Hugh Atkinson

Don’t ever try telling me that archivists don’t know how to have fun! Case in point: Our intrepid assistant and blogger Rory Grennan is paying homage to former University Librarian Hugh Atkinson today, with a bit of a nod to the fact that many archivists (and librarians) at Illinois now bike to work.  Do you see the resemblance??? Continue reading “Halloween Post: Hugh Atkinson”



Squirrel in tree, circa 1912
Found in University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana Photo-Gravures, ca. 1912
This image is in the public domain.

Love them or hate them, everyone knows that squirrels are a fixture on the UIUC campus, and especially on the Quad.  And why wouldn’ t they stick around, with all the friendly students throwing food their way?  What you may not know is how they came to campus in the first place.

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