Cunningham journals donated to county historical archives
URBANA — The recently discovered journals of early Champaign County pioneer and historian Joseph Oscar Cunningham have been donated to the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library.
The board of the Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana approved a resolution to donate the journals kept by Cunningham to the archives. The handwritten journals include passages about his early days in Champaign County, such as his arrival on a hot, dusty day in June 1853.
The Cunningham journals were found last year in a garage by Little Rock, Ark., resident David Rogers, who was sorting through his late mother's belongings. She was a certified appraiser, an antique dealer and ran estate sales in the Bartlesville, Okla., and Kerrville, Texas, areas. Rogers said he wasn't sure why his mother had the two Cunningham journals, or how she obtained them.
"My guess is she came across those in one of her estate sales, more than likely," Rogers told The News-Gazette last month. "I tried to figure out if there was some kind of connection between Champaign, Illinois, and the country where my mother worked, but I could never find anything. The only supposition I can make is that she saw these journals, saw the age of them, and so she held onto them because she thought they were something of value."
Cunningham wrote the 1905 book "History of Champaign County" and was an integral part of Urbana and Champaign County during its early years. In addition to serving as a newspaper writer and editor, he was elected county judge in 1861, and in 1867 was appointed a member of the board of trustees of the new Illinois Industrial College. After his judicial term expired, Cunningham resumed the practice of law. He remained in Urbana to his death in 1917.
Cunningham also was a friend of and advocate for Abraham Lincoln.
"Not only does the Urbana Free Library's history have close ties to J.O. Cunningham, a man significant in the history of Urbana and the county, but these journals add a unique and invaluable perspective on this community, from a revered early resident," said Anke Voss, the director of the Champaign County Historical Archives. "The journals are an extraordinary addition to the holdings of the Champaign County Historical Archives, and complements the existing collections."
Voss said the Cunningham journal would be digitized and eventually would be available for viewing both online and at the archives of the Urbana Free Library.