Before the arrival
of Camp Ellis, I was just the little
blond girl who
wandered freely around the square in
Table Grove. My parents, Oliva and
Bert Bradford, had lost an automobile
agency in the Depression and were
trying to recover by selling hardware
and having a garage in our
building, the old hotel on the northeast
side of the square. We lived
in an apartment above the business and
my grandmother lived in another
apartment in the building.
I must have been a favorite of the
storekeepers. I know I visited
Koehler’s drugstore, next door to our
store, a great deal. When
someone would help me across the “hard
road” I visited other businesses,
such as the harness shop, the bakery,
and the newspaper. The creamery
was also fascinating to a young child.
You could see the baby chicks
and watch the nice lady who owned the
place candle eggs.
First memories of the war were
collecting grease and having a barrel
in our store to collect old phonograph
records. It was great fun to
smash the records to compact them.
Since I was quite small in 1941, I don’t
remember the rumor stage of
the camp. I certainly do remember the
construction period. First and
foremost was the effect of a new tavern
just two doors away on the
square. Two incidents stand out.
The first is the fire in the tavern. I
can still identify with the
smell of the burning tavern in the night
and of being rousted out of our
home. People gathered and quickly moved
all our household goods to
the street. Fortunately, the fire never
spread, but the danger was
real as evidenced by a later fire that
devastated the south side of the
Second was the incident that finally
convinced my parents we must move
away from the center of activity on the
square. A couple of
construction workers got into a brawl in
front of our store. My
mother was running the store. She let
one man in and locked the other
out. Eventually the first man left
through the back door.
During the construction period my
parents rented out my brother’s room
since he was in college. I know my
mother was concerned about the
rather elderly engineer who roomed with
us. She would prepare hot
chocolate for us all when he returned
from work, very tired and muddy.
The second thing of great interest to a
child was comic books. One
of the unions had rented the building
across the highway as an office.
That building did not have running water
so the union officials used our
restroom. The boss bought, read, and
then passed on to me, quite a
few comic books.
Although the details are vague I know my
parents were not happy to have
a 9 year old girl exposed to the
experiences of the construction
period. At some point they seized the
opportunity to lease our
building to be the USO in Table Grove.
This meant we had to find
alternate housing. It was almost
impossible to find. However, we
closed out the store and my parents both
went to work for the Army.
The building was remodeled, and a major
event for the town was the
drilling of the deep well in the back
yard.. That apparently was a
first for Table Grove.
The summer of 1943 we lived northeast of
Table Grove in what was
literally an abandoned farmhouse. When I
went to bed I could see
stars through the cracks in the walls.
It was a great summer for me.
Eldon Dilworth lived nearby and we
explored the territory thoroughly,
including the camp itself which came
practically up to our door. In
the unpopulated area of the camp we
found underground concrete bunkers
that probably were meant to store
munitions. My brother came home from
college and worked for the farmer before
he too went off to war.
We searched for another place to live. I
remember my parents even
considered going as far as Rushville
where my grandparents still owned a
home. I was actually scared to be in
some of the houses we looked
at. In one, my white anklets were
immediately covered with fleas.
Eventually, a friend of my parents
offered us a beautiful house in
Adair. It was a magnificent home with
cherry woodwork, a true
library and a back stairway which I
loved. We stayed there for three
years and I finished grade school there.
In Adair we also had roomers. The only
one I remember was an Army
doctor and his wife. On one occasion
they shared Thanksgiving dinner
with us. My mother asked the doctor to
carve the turkey and he slid
the bird off of the platter.
My mother, who worked in an office at
the camp, would also bring WACs
home for the weekend on occasion. As I
remember it, she felt very sorry
for the conditions they had to endure at
the camp. The other
significance to me of my mother working
was that she would trade her
cigarette allowance for big Hershey
chocolate bars which I loved.
My father, since he’d been a storekeeper
in the Navy in W.W.1, went to
work very early in the life of the camp
as a warehouseman. He was one
of the last workers to leave.
His work gave me opportunity to be
around his warehouse. There I met
German prisoners and have positive
memories of them trying to learn
English by conversing with the little
blond girl. After the war my
parents, at his request, sent some
“white material for a wedding dress”
to one of the prisoners who wrote saying
there was nothing to be had in
Germany after his return. My father had
some involvement in monitoring
the prisoners who were working on truck
farms and he sometimes took me
along when he did his checking.
In the last stages of the camp’s life my
Dad helped with disposal of
the buildings and he told me about
finding feral cats occupying them.
Apparently the soldiers had just left
the cats which adapted to the wild
In the later years of the camp, we
returned to Table Grove and our
building, Once more the building was
returned to apartments with retail
space on the square. I remember visiting
the stable on the west end of
the camp by walking from town. I have
vague memories of riding with
the soldiers, but I can’t imagine my
parents actually allowing it.
During the National Guard era at the
camp, probably the summer of 1948,
I worked at the PX that was opened for
the guard. We would open the
PX around 4 in the afternoon and keep it
open until about 10. We sold
all the expected candy and sundry items,
and lots, and lots of beer.
I remember sitting on the back of a
truck with a cash register while
another clerk handed out the beer from
the truck. My mother was the
bookkeeper for the operation. One
morning she discovered my cash
register was $1000 short. She called me
out of bed and I had to confess
that I’d been playing with the full
keyboard register and had
accidentally rung up $999.99. Needless
to say I still remember the
rebuke I received.
During the guard era the daughter of the
Stephenson, attended VIT High School and
her photo is in my 1950 year
book as a sophomore. That would indicate
the guard still had
professional soldiers there at that
VIT High School was started in the fall
of 1947, consolidating the
three schools into the Table Grove High
school building. Our need for
additional space was solved by bringing
in old barracks from the camp
area. I know one barracks building
served as the cafeteria and the
band practiced in another one.
All things eventually come to an end,
and so did Camp Ellis. My father
received a commendation and
recommendation from the camp commander
December 1949 and moved to the Joliet
arsenal for a short time.
In the spring of 1950 I apparently did
typing for a meeting of school
superintendents when they met at the
camp. I don’t remember this, but
my mother had saved a thank-you letter
from a field representative of
the Federal Security Agency.
In the Fall of 1950 I started college.
Camp Ellis was no more. But
years later my husband was amazed that I
knew all the insignia for the
Army military ranks - a legacy of my
growing up with Camp Ellis.