Just two dozen miles from Macomb on almost 18,000 acres outside the towns of Ipava, Table Grove and Bernadotte, Illinois, lies Camp Ellis. The Camp was constructed in a few months during War World II as a Word War II Army Service Forces Unit Training Center and prisoner-of-war camp. Construction began in September 1942 and officially opened on January 31, 1943. The area was picked mainly because of its proximity to Galesburg, an important railroad center, as well as for its massive, sparsely populated flat terrain.
Camp Ellis was a city unto itself with 2,200 buildings, which at its peak, housed 25,000 troops. Among that “city” were libraries, gymnasiums, seven chapels, an outdoor amphitheater, a baseball diamond, a 200-acre “victory garden,” 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 civilians, needed to run the smoothly operated camp.
While Camp Ellis was in operation, 125,000 service men were trained. As a prisoner of war camp, at the highest point in 1944, Ellis housed almost 5,000 Germans. 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.
A few remnants can still be seen at this historic site including, two cement water towers, a portion of a rifle range wall (now covered with graffiti), ruins 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.
The Easley Pioneer Museum holds a collection of Camp Ellis artifacts and is open April 1 through Nov. 1 on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Check out Illinois Country Living Magazine‘s, The Lost City of Camp Ellis
And learn more about historic Camp Ellis here.