Chanute Air Force Base

“On Broken Wings” – Chanute Air Force Base

 

 

Chanute_Air_Force_Base_-_1940s_postcardChanute_Air_Force_Base_-_1950s_postcard

(Above) Postcard images used courtesy of Wikipedia.

Chanute Air Force base was named in honor of Octave Chanute (1862-1910) who was a friend and adviser to the Wright Brothers.

Chanute Air Force Base, (formerly Chanute Field) is located in Rantoul, IL and dates back to World War I. Even though the US was the birthplace of powered flight, the military was doing very little to build up its air strength. As of April 1917 the US had one squadron and only about 250 aircraft.  France started the war with over 1,500 aircraft.  The US had some catching up to do!

Congress appropriated $640 million to build up the Air Service by opening ground schools at eight colleges and establishing twenty-seven flying fields to train pilots. The City of Rantoul was selected because it was one of the few level sites in Illinois in close proximity to the Illinois Central Railroad and the ground school at the University of Illinois.

Construction of the airfield began on May 22 1917 and after two months of hard work by 2,000 men and 200 teams of horses, it was completed on July 22 1917.

Here is a slideshow of historic images from Chanute:

Chanute experienced a major growth spurt during World War II. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, people flocked to Chanute by the thousands in order to enlist in the US Army Air Forces. So many people were coming in that the 15,000 man quarters were insufficient and many soldiers ended up being temporally housed in tents. The training programs at Chanute reached their peak in January of 1943 with a total of 25,000 people.

On 22 March 1941, the first all-black fighter squadron was activated at Chanute Field. Formed without pilots with the purpose of training the officer corps and ground support personnel, the 99th Pursuit Squadron was the first unit of what popularly became known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Over 250 enlisted men were trained in aircraft ground support  including airplane mechanics, supply clerks, armorers, and weather forecasters.

After World War II, the US established the Air Force as a separate military service and Chanute Field became known as Chanute Air Force Base.

“Built in response to the pre-World War II massive mobilization, (White Hall) was originally a self-contained multi-purpose troop barracks for 2,200 men. It included a barber shop, post office, communications office, mess hall, bakery, library, and study halls when it was completed in 1940.”– Library of Congress

White Hall is a 500,000-square-foot building that spans 11 football fields and was the largest military center before the Pentagon was built in 1941.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

Aerial view of Chanute’s White hall, taken from Google Maps

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

This was easily one of the more toxic  locations I have visited. Asbestos, and mold were abundant. Many of the inside rooms had standing water. Drop ceilings had fallen, along with light fixtures, and everything was rusted.  In most of the interior spaces there were calcium stalactites and stalagmites as if the ceilings were dissolving.  We used breathers in parts of the building especially in areas that were closed off with no outside air circulation. After the shoot I found EPA reports online that talked of heavy contamination on the grounds, and even some articles which claimed the possibility of “Agent Orange” on the site.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

Many rooms in White hall were designated for classroom space, and there was no shortage of painted inspirational wall murals around the base. Walking into one room in particular I saw just above where the chalkboard used to be, large block letters spelling out “You’ll Move Forward Fast”. I could not help but laugh at the irony of the scene!

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

A few of them were not so inspirational ;-)

 (Walter Arnold)

All in all we explored the decaying remains of this historic Air Force base for about 6 hours. There was so much to see given the size of the location.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

And here are a few “before and after”‘s

 (Walter Arnold)

(Above) Historic image, courtesy of the Library of congress.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

 (Walter Arnold)

(Above) Historic image, courtesy of the Library of congress.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

At the end of 2013, Rantoul, IL received the green light to begin demolition of the massive White Hall. The Asbestos will be removed and the building demolished sometime in the coming years.

The Abandoned "White Hall" at Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL. (Walter Arnold)

Here is a slideshow of historic images from Chanute:

The Art of Abandonment

Walter Arnold Photography

All images are copyrighted by Walter Arnold Photography except where noted.  None of these images may be used without permission.

15 Comments

  1. Shirley A. Wyatt

    I worked in that building. I worked at Chanute AFB for 31 years. P-3 was a grand building. It’s such a shame that it could not be saved by someone. Now it’s beyond repair.

  2. Dave

    This was my first stop after basic in 1992 for vehicle mechanic school. I have great memories, and still have friends in town. I took my wife and daughter through the base as we traveled across country to my new duty station in 2013. I was shocked at the base in general. Trees growing through buildings etc. Kind of cool, yet kind of sad at the same time.

  3. Melissa

    The state and federal government should have saved this great historical building. They could have turned it into a children’s home or a military school for kids of all ages. I remember going and sitting in the country and watching the planes. It is sad to know that such a grand building is being turned into rubble.

  4. Gary Murphy

    I first went to Chanute in 1969 as a student in electronics. My classes were in White Hall. I returned to Chanute in 1979 as an Instructor in the very course and classrooms that I had been in once before. The Base and all of the Static Display Aircraft were so impressive. It breaks my heart to see these pictures. I will always remember.

  5. Patrick McCubbins

    I grew up @ Chanute as an Air Force brat & left an enormous amount of friends & memories when i moved to the south in 79. After looking @ these pics, it’s all so sad.

  6. I was at Chanute in 1978 and my wife in 1979 for SRAM school. We stopped last year to see the base. It was very sad to see the conditions.

  7. Dennis Flannery

    Wow, 1986 I walked some of those halls. Casualty of closures and realignment is so sad. Thanks for sharing, very enlightening.

  8. David H Ballentine II

    Very Sad thought this historic base could not be saved, I trained here as an Aircraft Sheet Metal (Airframe Repair Specialist) in Sept.1980 Made alot new friends and started my Adult life here as a 17 year old kid. A start to my 21 year Career.

  9. Russell Anderson

    Thanks for bringing a little of the past history back…In your slide show picture #9 is my Grandfather sitting at the desk of the linc training control unit.

  10. Wonderful piece of work. Great reference to history, for history. Well done. (I also do abandoned things)

  11. Brad Wildeman

    Thank you… My Avionics training was done in White Hall in 1986. My wife and I have fond memories of our 6 months at Chanute. It is sad to see such a landmark crumble.

  12. Wonderful photos, but so sad. I served at Chanute in 1971-1972 between two tours in Thailand. I worked in the base information office and wrote for the base newspaper. I remember dealing with the local press during a couple “anti-war” sit-ins at the front gate.

  13. Nancy Fitzpatrick

    I grew up in Rantoul, IL home of Chanute AFB. My grandfather Burt (Delbert) Drinkwalter was on of the instructors in carpentry, according to my grandmother Gertrude Drinkwalter if memory serves me. Its wonderful to see the old pics.

  14. Gary Neubaum

    My father Charles E. Neubaum (with his wife Lillian and me) were stationed at Chanute from about 1956 – 1960. I attended Maplewood Elementary School (now torn down) right off base. We lived at 179 Circle Drive on base.

  15. James V. Rawls

    1st in the summer of 1978, 2nd in 1987, and the last as an Instructor and part of the base closure team from 1991-1993. I graduated the last weather forecasting class to ever attend at Chanute on May 5, 1993. My family and I transferred the next week. I remember driving us to P-3, or White Hall the morning we left and I got out in one of thge inner courtyards and walked around. I spent some quality time there and have always held the base high on my list of places I enjoyed. I remember P-3, or White Hall back in the 1978 and there were 100s of not 1000s of people inside the courtyard every single day. It was bussling with activity and maybe in its prime. A bit different in 1987 but still active. By 1993 there was only a couple of offices still open and it was almost scary. I remember having to due my CDO rounds at night and walk thru P-3 and it wasn’t a place I wanted to kick back and get some sleep. We graduated that last class in the inner courtyard of P-3 and I still have pictures of the graduation. P-3 was all abandoned and only people involved with the graduation in attendance. Senior Chief Jim Rawls

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