Campus Memories: Boneyard Creek

Through the shady Arboretum,/ By the Balm of Gilead tree,/ gently flows the Bone-yard/On its journey to the sea./ In the summer, little violets/ ‘Midst the greenest mosses bloom,/ And their sweetest fragrance mingles/ With the Bone-yard’s own perfume.[1]

Postcard from RS 41/20/73. The note reads: "Where all freshman [sic] are in danger of being dumped."

Postcard from RS 41/20/73.
The note on the reverse reads: “Where all freshman [sic] are in danger of being dumped.”

From the 1908 Illio, p. 539. Caption reads: “Life on the ocean wave or crossing the Boneyard during the recent flood”

While there are many aspects of life as a U of I student that have remained the same throughout the years, one of the things that has changed is the symbolism and importance of Boneyard Creek. Fraternity battles! Student antics! Accidental explosions! Boneyard Creek has been home to it all.

For students of the past, Boneyard Creek was one of the most recognizable aspects of life in Champaign-Urbana. In fact, almost every Illio yearbook through the early 1920s featured some mention of the Boneyard. A student on campus in 1907 described the creek as “the most famous place here.” [2]

From Illio 1905, p. 402

From the student calendar, Illio 1905, p. 402. Caption reads: “Generally speaking, the Boneyard was considerably dammed by Freshmen this night.”

In 1867, the year of the University’s charter, Boneyard ran through a cow pasture. [3] As the University grew, however, the edges of campus began to approach the creek. One of the most popular activities on campus were the “boneyard baptisms” that occurred each year, in which sophomore students pushed the new freshmen into the creek as a welcome to campus. [4] By the 1920s, though, the odor, frequent flooding, and other problems that had previously been beloved quirks became decidedly less beloved. A report from the Illinois Department of Public Health, described the creek as an “eyesore” that townspeople used as “a general depository” [5].

From RS 41/20/84

From RS 41/20/84

1932 brought the widening of the creek’s bend at Wright Street to reduce the frequent flooding that affected the campus [6]. By 1947, the pollution (and the stench it caused) became a health risk, as the towns and university drained its sewers into the Boneyard.  The cities of Champaign and Urbana voted to drain the creek but ultimately created pollution bans designed to clean up the area [7]. However, fraternity students in the 1940s and 1950s still held annual tug of wars creek-side [8]. In 1951, the site was home to an accidental explosion caused by U of I chemistry students, whose experiment went awry [9].

People looking to revel in the days gone by of Boneyard Creek can head on over to the Engineering campus east of Green Street or to downtown Champaign. We don’t suggest you push any of the new freshmen in, though!

From 1907 IllioFrom 1907 IllioFrom 1907 Illio "class history"

 

Resources Used:

[1] – “The Bone-yard.” Illio 1895, p. 155.
[2] – Postcard in scrapbook, RS 41/20/39.
[3] – “Boneyard Ran Through Cow Pasture in ’67.” Daily Illini. March 2, 1939. p. 7.
[4] – “Freshman History.” Illio 1908. p. 137.
[5] – Sjoblom, M.C. Report on the Boneyard in Champaign and Urbana. March 6, 1918. RS 41/20/37.
[6] – “Workmen Straighten Boneyard Creek Bend.” Daily IlliniApril 15, 1932. p. 3.
[7] – “Sanitary Board Says ‘Clean Boneyard.'” Daily Illini. November 25, 1947. p. 1.
[8] – Daily Illini photograph and caption. May 26, 1954. p. 1.
[9] Boneyard Blast; Sodium Ignites.” Daily IlliniOctober 31, 1951. p. 1.

 

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