#SmallTownSaturday – Rantoul, IL

This week we’re landing in Rantoul, IL (pop. 12,815) for our #SmallTownSaturday!

Few settlers inhabited the wooded area north of Urbana until the Illinois Central Railroad arrived in the early 1850s. Robert Rantoul Jr., a U.S. representative from Massachusetts and a director of the Illinois Central Railroad, drafted a charter for a railroad that included tracks running from Urbana to Chicago. The project was completed in 1854 and Rantoul Station was built, named after Robert Rantoul Jr. A town began to form near the station as settlers built homes and set up small businesses. By the time Rantoul received an official charter in 1869, it had 1,634 residents. The town experienced slow and steady growth throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries until the arrival of a second major industry.

In 1917, the U.S. government began searching for a location to train pilots and aircraft maintenance men for World War I. Rantoul residents saw an opportunity, and W. H. Wheat traveled to Washington D.C. as their spokesperson to convince the War Department to choose Rantoul as the location to build a base. Rantoul was declared the official site for Chanute Air Force Base, named in honor of the aviation pioneer Octave Chanute. From its opening in 1917 until its closure in 1993, Chanute created an economic and social boom for the town. The base employed thousands of civilians, brought in air force personnel from all over the world, and hosted community events including annual open houses. The relationship was symbiotic with the air force base relying on employees from Rantoul to operate.

Above is an aerial photograph of Chanute Field courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives. The photograph shows the base in the 1920s with the village of Rantoul in the background.

Did you or any of your relatives spend time at Chanute? Let us know in the comments section!

May 2022 update: One of our fellow archival institutions, the Champaign County Historical Archives (CCHA) at the Urbana Free Library, acquired the archival records of Chanute Air Museum in 2016 and now has over two dozen finding aids for these records available on the CCHA website.

You can view their own blog about Chanute collection at: https://urbanafreelibrary.org/local-history-genealogy/whats-new-chanute-collection

12 Replies to “#SmallTownSaturday – Rantoul, IL”

  1. Was stationed there mar 70-jul 70 aircraft electrician school. Great midwest small town.

  2. We were there from 1970-76, then again 1980-82. Sure do miss the Garcia’s Gutbuster Pizza and watching their Flying Tomato (hot air balloon) over the cornfields 😋

  3. My husband and I were stationed there in the early 80s. Love the small town feel it was a wonderful experience on her military service journey.

  4. I was there in 1981 for airframe repair school. Even though I was only there a few months, I have great memories of the town and the base.

  5. My GG grandparents Tartus and Anna Allen lived on a farm later moved into the city. I have pictures of ww1 test flights from the base.

  6. My father Master sergeant Harold J Jaske was stationed there with his family. He was a repair tech for the air force. He was there for several years since my older brother, older sister and I was born in that area.

  7. I was at Chanute from July 1973 until Feb. 1974. Weather equipment maintenance school.

  8. I went to Jet Engine mechanic school from Oct. 1972 to Feb. 1973.

  9. Was stationed at chanute in from January till April 1993 coldest place I’ve ever been but had a ball and met alot of nice people

  10. I was stationed at Canute in 1974 for training as an air plane mechanic. I went to a saloon in Rantoul and had the best steak I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world. Sure would like to find that place again.

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