There are no granite monuments, polished historical markers or even roadside signs to tell the visitor that more than 125,000 men trained at Camp Ellis to crush the Axis powers.
Nonetheless, here and there silent concrete sentinels remain to remind the visitor that this once was an important part of our nation’s defense.
Enter the camp area by turning north on Main Gate Road, located about midway between Ipava and Table Grove on U.S. Rte. 136. On the right was the baseball diamond. Across the road was the camp’s 200-acre Victory Garden. As the road bends left, the headquarters building, reviewing stand and the 100-foot flagpole stood on the right. Further to the east was the parade grounds. On the left was the camp for 5,000 German POWs.
Main Gate Road ends at Rifle Range Road. To the left, the road runs to Table Grove and is built on the camp’s Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad spur. A rail yard and warehouses stood near this spot. Turning right, you will drive on one of the camp’s few remaining original roads. Look to the right to see the site of the encampment area where most personnel lived and trained.
As you proceed northeast on Rifle Range Road, you will pass two bomb-proof concrete water towers. Through these structures passed 700,000 gallons of purified Spoon River water every day. Also in this area were bakeries, libraries, gymnasiums, service clubs, movie theaters, chapels and other facilities.
As you approach a sharp left turn, watch for a large concrete block building on the left. This was built by the Illinois National Guard following the end of World War II.
A little further east you will encounter three concrete walls on the right side of the road. These were part of the camp’s three 1,320-foot rifle ranges. Targets were placed on ledges atop the walls by men who stood along the walls under the ledges, safe from rifle fire. GIs at Camp Ellis wrote their names and addresses on these concrete walls. As you will discover, this graffiti tradition is alive and well.
Rifle Range Road ends at Camp Road. Turn right and you will first pass two concrete posts on the left. These marked the heavy equipment and construction training areas. Further south you will see the remains of the camp’s technically advanced sewage treatment plant.
Head left on Camp Road to see the remains of the water filtration plant on the left before arriving in Bernadotte. When Camp Ellis was built, all but one building in Bernadotte were demolished. While in Bernadotte, visit the 1915 through truss iron bridge spanning the Spoon River. The bridge was damaged by this year’s flooding. At the park, the dam built by the camp to provide a fresh water reservoir is visible as are remains of the pumping station. Efforts are underway to save both the bridge and the dam.
Before leaving Camp Ellis, you may want to take Maxwell Road from Rte. 136 to the Dobbins Cemetery. It was here that five German POWs were buried during the war. Following the war, their remains were removed and re-interred at Fort Sheridan Cemetery near Chicago. The massive hospital that covered 140 acres is just north of the cemetery, but be warned that the road is in poor condition.
As you travel the camp site, remember those who trained here, those who fought the Axis and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.