Camp Ellis

 

Above postcard submitted by Max Latimer
Remaining postcards submitted by Don Parkinson & Max Latimer
W. W. II pictures submitted by Don Parkinson,
courtesy of Charles Parkinson
summary by Janine Crandell

 

     On almost 18,000 acres near the towns of Ipava, Table Grove and Bernadotte, Camp Ellis was constructed in a few months during War World II. Construction began in September 1942 and officially opened on January 31, 1943. Governor Dwight Green spoke at the camp dedication ceremonies on July 4, 1943 (see newspaper article).

     Initially called the Lewistown project, this area was picked mainly because of its close location to Galesburg, an important railroad center, as well as for its massive flat terrain that was sparsely populated. Having woodlands and a river nearby were also beneficial to the camp. See the maps.

     Camp Ellis was a city unto itself with 2,200 buildings which at its peak, housed 25,000 troops. They had libraries, gymnasiums, seven chapels, an outdoor amphitheater, a baseball diamond, a 200-acre "victory garden" and even a railroad and landing strip. The support staff at Camp Ellis was enormous. It would be impossible to list all the different types of professional and skilled technicians who worked there. People were needed to maintain the buildings and roads, work in the equipment shop, motor pool, carpenter and plumbing shops, etc. Grocers, bakers, meat packers, coal dealers, and laundry cleaners were just a few of the skilled people (many were civilians) needed to run the smoothly operated camp.

     The Station Hospital at Camp Ellis, one of the largest War World II Army hospitals in the country, occupied 140 acres in the western part of the encampment. One of its corridors was a staggering 2,939 feet long. But most notable was its latest X-ray, surgical and diagnostic equipment. The Station Hospital made national news when Captain Spiegel was flown in from Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, to perform a delicate brain operation (see newspaper article).

     An interesting aspect of a soldier's stay at this hospital was the re-conditioning he went through to get him ready for military duty or civilian life. This program involved getting the patient involved in games or repair work. One unique diversion the program employed were rabbit hunts. They used six beagle hounds for "almost well" patients in tracking down the pesky rabbits. No guns were allowed, only sticks and stones were used. Needless to say, not many rabbits were caught but the patients did enjoy being outdoors!

     The camp was involved in many aspects of military training, including the use of fire arms and the laying of land mines. Engineering units learned the art of brick-laying by building a castle on the grounds and bridge-building by constructing pontoon bridges across the Spoon River. A mock German village was built to practice street-to-street fighting (see newspaper article).

     While training units for overseas service was the main objective of Camp Ellis, many other projects were in the works: fat rendering programs, salvage of tin cans, waste paper and various kinds of scrap metal -- all these items contributed to the resources needed for war. The "victory garden" alone saved thousands of dollars not to mention easing the strain on the local market.

     Another aspect of Camp Ellis was the German prisoners of war, which at the highest point in 1944, housed almost 5,000 Germans. The first batch of POWs, more than 1,000, arrived at the camp shortly after the camp was activated -- on August 29, 1943 (see additioanl data). Only four deaths among the POWs had occurred since they first arrived. Three took place at the camp and one at the Percy Jones Hospital. All were buried at Dobbins Cemetery with military honors as dictated by the Geneva Convention. Per info provided by Mike Worman, these four soldiers were re-interred to the Fort Sheridan cemetery near Chicago. Their names were Egon J. Kranz, Richard Barthel, Kurt Roessger, and Heinrich Bauer.

     Non-commissioned POW officers could work in a supervisory capacity but were not forced to work unless they wished to do so. POWs were given ten cents a day allowance and eighty cents a day for Class 2 labor. Essentially they were not paid for labor unless it was maintenance. The prisoners, while under guard, did quite a bit of the manual labor at the camp. They also worked outside the camp, with crops, construction and at the local canneries. The POWs only worked six days a week with a day of rest. Religious services were conducted for both Protestants and Catholics. They were allowed to play team sports and received a monthly physical exam. Movies were also shown to prisoners if they paid admission.

     It's odd to note that almost as quickly as the camp appeared, it disappeared once the war was over. The camp officially closed in 1945. Part of Camp Ellis was later refurbished to serve the Illinois National Guard (1946-1950) and then later for Air Force training in 1953. Then beginning in the 1950's, the government started to sell the land, which was used either for farming or strip-mining. Myths and rumors spread about the items in the camp, including one about many items (Jeeps, books, musical instruments) that were buried on the site. Research shows that all the items were eventually sold, not buried, but the myth still persists to this day.

     It's hard to imagine when looking at the current-day corn fields, that there were once thousands of buildings standing there. Now instead of hearing soldiers marching and tanks rolling by, you can hear the wind as it rustles through the corn stalks. A few remnants are left --  2 cement water towers, a portion of a rifle range wall (with graffiti on it), a couple of POW barracks and a portion of a water processing plant. Four chimneys along Rifle Range Road which were part of major buildings can also be seen. While Camp Ellis was in operation, 125,000 men were trained. We, as Americans, should be truly proud of what was accomplished during that difficult time! 

Pictures of a remaining water tower (right) and chimney (left), taken by Janine Crandell

 

Many service men from Camp Ellis ate at the
Lewistown Cafe run by Robert & Rose George.
1943 photo courtesy of Mrs. Rosie Jorgensen
and submitted by Don Parkinson.
Bus Route to Camp Ellis
submitted by Don Parkinson

 

   

Pre-Camp Ellis News
submitted by Charlie Parkinson

Post-Camp Ellis News
submitted by Charlie Parkinson

 


 

Camp Ellis Memorabilia
contributed by Max Latimer

 

Color poster Matchbook POW tag

 


 


Letters from a German POW: Friedrich Wirtz
 

German POW: Karl Scholz
 

Newspaper articles
 

Memories of Camp Ellis by Jan Van Doren
 

Memories of Camp Ellis by Ivan Brooks, Sr.
submitted by Laura Brooks

Memories of the 475th Military Police Escort Guard Co.
 


 


 

More Postcards...
 

One of the 7 Army Chapels

Interior of the Mess Hall Recreation Building
     
     
"Soldier's Store" Service Club Theater

 


 

Sources of information:

Newspaper articles from Camp Ellis News Janine Crandell acquired from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois

Peoria, Illinois, newspaper articles acquired from the Peoria Public Library

The Story Of Camp Ellis - prepared by the Camp Ellis Staff  and reprinted by Charles Parkinson in 1980

From Cornfields to Marching Feet by Marjorie Rich Bordner

Fulton County researchers: Don Parkinson and Max Latimer

 


Submitted by Janine Crandell & contributors

Any contributions, corrections, or suggestions would be deeply appreciated!

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