IPAVA, Ill. (WMBD) — Bob Larson and Tom McIntyre are back with another series of stories about Central Illinois’s hidden past.
When the U.S. went to war in December 1941, the country was not prepared for the war that was to come. But there were already plans to turn part of Fulton County into a military training camp.
The land was flat, Galesburg nearby was a railroad hub, and so in September 1942, the U.S. government bought thousands of acres of farmland. They gave the farmers 30 days to get out.
The work to create “Camp Ellis” went on through the winter of 1942 and 1943. Workers called it “Swamp Ellis”. As a result, 2,200 buildings had to be built. It was a godsend to Fulton County’s people.
“In the Midwestern part of the country at the time of Pearl Harbor, we were still in the Depression. And people didn’t have jobs, and all of a sudden this was a job market. People came from more than one hundred miles to work at Camp Ellis,” Easley Pioneer Museum Spokesperson Marion Cornelius said. “Anybody that had a room that they could house people in, it was full. That was true of Ipava and all of the surrounding communities within driving distance.”
Camp Ellis was a training center for support troops: construction engineers, cooks, medics quartermasters, dentists, and truck drivers were trained at Ellis. There was even a landing strip built so medical units could be hurried to the front. There was a small POW camp for captured German and Austrian soldiers.
An estimated 125,000 servicemen, and some WACS as well, were trained here. After the war, Camp Ellis was declared surplus. No new government use could be found for the land, and it was sold back for farming. But to this day, the Easley Museum in Ipava is still getting material from Camp Ellis — 70 years after it closed.
“There have been more things come in recently, in the last six months, than in the previous three or four years,” Cornelius said.
At a time when there’s almost nothing left of Camp Ellis but memories, it’s left to the Easley Pioneer Museum in Ipava to tell its story — a story of a time when Fulton County was home to one of the largest military camps of its kind in the country.
This Saturday in Ipava, it’s Camp Ellis Days, with a parade, games, music, a 5-K walk and run, and the Easley Pioneer Museum will be open for tours.