Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
A succession of high schools in Pekin
By Jared Olar
The demolition of the former Pekin Community High School West Campus has turned the thoughts of many Pekin residents to the history of Pekin’s high school buildings. In this column, let’s review what we can learn about Pekin’s succession of high schools from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.
As mentioned recently in this column, Pekin’s first high school was the Fourth Ward School, located where Washington School exists today. A brick structure built in 1867 at a cost of $20,000, the building housed grades one through 12. It was completely destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890.
A new and larger brick school, dubbed Washington School, was quickly built in 1891 on the site of the Fourth Ward School, at a cost of $28,000. While it was under construction, “classes were held in nearly every church basement and vacant building in town,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. It served as Pekin’s high school until 1916, after which it became the old Washington Junior High School. It was torn down and replaced by the current Washington School in 1930.
In 1916, Pekin built its third high school, the building that would become known as the “Old Building” of West Campus. Over the decades, the high school saw several expansions to accommodate the growing student population in Pekin. First came the “west wing” of the Old Main Building in 1926, followed by the “east wing” expansion in 1929 (including the theater). Next came the gymnasium, which was ready to use in 1936. The cafeteria and the shop building were added in 1949, and the English Building (or “Red Building”) and the Leeway were built in 1955.
High school football formerly was played on James Field, but that changed in 1948 with the construction of Memorial Stadium. As student population continued its steady rise, further needed expansion of the high school campus was proposed. However, in early 1959 the city announced it planned to widen Eighth Street, which made it impossible for District 303 to utilize the area needed for the expansion plans. Instead, the school district decided to build a second campus that could accommodate 2,000 students.
Construction on East Campus began in 1962, and classes began there in 1964. The new school was erected near Memorial Stadium, on the former grounds of the Pekin Country Club. “A humorous sidelight to this whole project is that from the time the purchase of the Country Club was made until the time the club house was razed, it could be stated that Pekin was the only high school district to own a bar,” says the Pekin Sesquicentennial. The total cost of the project was $4.6 million.
The next phase of expansion of Pekin high school was the construction of the vocational center. The high school had established a vocational center in 1968, but the vocational center building was not built until 1974, at a cost of $3.1 million.
In 1998, District 303 consolidated all high school operations at East Campus, which underwent a major expansion at that time. West Campus was auctioned off and was purchased for $60,000 by Merle Huff – and the sequel to that story is being written this year .
By Jared Olar
In past “From the Local History Room” columns, we have recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.”
“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.
“The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”
He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”
The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “birdseye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions.
The fact that many of the drawings in “Cole’s Souvenir” resemble the vintage photographs found in “Pekin and Environs,” which was published at an unknown date circa 1890, has led the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society to conclude that the photos in “Pekin and Environs” were also taken by Cole.
Since we’ve recently been featuring aerial photographic views of Pekin as it appear in days gone by, the images accompanying this column are those of the birdseye panoramas in “Cole’s Souvenir,” with 11 downtown Pekin buildings of that era shown beneath the panoramas.
By Jared Olar
Following up on our comparison last month of two old aerial views of Pekin from circa 1950 and 1988, this week let’s stretch our view even further back in time – all the way back to the last couple decades of the 1800s.
Around that time, Richard Acton of Chicago prepared and published a collection of photographs of Pekin buildings and vistas, in a book entitled, “Pekin and Environs.” As we noted about a month ago, recently the library received a donation of Benjamin S. Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs.”
Among the photos in this book are two aerial views of Pekin – or “semi-aerial,” because in those days it wasn’t that easy for photographers to get themselves airborne, so instead they would have to settle for perching atop tall buildings or towers or hills.
In this case, the photos – called “birdseye views” – were taken from the old water tower of the Pekin Water Works, which was located exactly where the “water works” of Illinois-American Water are still located today – at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.
Whereas the 1950 and 1988 aerial views start at the Illinois River and look eastward over downtown Pekin and beyond, these two birdseye views look westward toward the river. One of them looks somewhat northwestward over downtown Pekin, while the other looks southwest toward the industrial district (still an industrial area today).
The downtown view encompasses an area from around Broadway out to Court St., and from the 300 block of Pekin’s downtown streets down to the river. Then as now, railroad tracks ran parallel with Third St., but there’s not much else that is the same or similar. You may notice that the streets were unpaved and much narrower than they are today. The tall white building in the middle of the photo is the old Illinois Hotel, which can be seen in the circa 1950 aerial view of Pekin, but was torn down in the 1960s. The block in the center of this photo, packed with homes that had sheds, pens and coops for livestock, is now occupied by the State of Illinois Driver’s Facility, while the block to the east of that is now occupied by Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home.
The birdseye view to the southwest looks toward some of Pekin’s old alcohol distilleries, once the backbone of the city’s economy. As you can see, the way the factories belched out smoke and fumes over the city indicates that this was long before the Clean Air Act. Even in those days, prevailing winds carried the exhaust of factory smoke stacks out over the city – but placing the distilleries downstream at least meant Pekin’s residents wouldn’t have to drink the effluent which factories discharged into the river.
These two photographs above from the circa 1890 volume “Pekin and Environs” show two “birdseye” views of Pekin looking northwest and southwest from the old water tower that was located near the southwest corner of Capitol and Broadway.
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in September 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .
Pekin Country Club was once in a different location
By Linda Mace
The Pekin Country Club and its golf course is located between Broadway and Sheridan. But it wasn’t always.
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial has much to say about this original club.
“The first of Pekin’s ‘country clubs’ was incorporated on March 25, 1916, as the Pekin Country Club by H.G. Herget, Ben P. Schenck, and William S. Prettyman, who was the first president. Other directors were John Fitzgerald, H.W. Hippen, D.H. Jansen, Franklin L. Velde, George P. Kroll, C.G. Herget and V.P. Turner. Total membership was 98.
“On April 1 of the same year, 60 acres was purchased from the Lemuel Allen estate on the East Bluff (think East Campus) for $15,000. The farm house which occupied the original site at the time of purchase was remodeled into the club house. This was remodeled many times over the years and in 1955, a swimming pool and pro shop were added. Additional land purchases were made in 1928 and 1932, totaling approximately 95 acres by 1960, on which the club maintained a nine-hole golf course for use by its 300 members.
“This property was sold by condemnation to the Pekin Community High School (a whole other story) and the East Campus was later built on the site, but before the club moved, many notable social and golf events took place, including a golf match in which professional golfer Sam Snead played within two strokes of the course record — a 66 with a two-stroke penalty.”
“Pekin: A Pictorial History” notes that the old country club’s hill – now East Campus hill – was a favorite spot for sleds and toboggans in the winter. Kind of nice knowing some things never change!
By Jared Olar
A couple of items in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection provide a fascinating glimpse of the history of the changes in transportation in our area.
These items are two 1920s-era newspaper clippings from the Peoria Journal-Transcript, one of the predecessors of the Peoria Journal Star. The clippings are photographs of what was then the new paved road that linked Pekin with East Peoria and Peoria. The road was laid down to assist with the transit of both commerce and workers between Pekin and Peoria, because the old unpaved road – adequate for the old days of horses, wagons, and stagecoaches – no longer was suitable for the heavier traffic of early 20th century automobiles.
But evidently erosion was a recurring problem in the early years of this new road’s life.
The photos are from April 1927 and March 1929, and they show the road in the area of what is now known as Creve Coeur Hill after some springtime rains had caused mud to slide down onto the pavement from the slopes of the surrounding hills and hollers through which work crews had cut the road.
The April 1927 photo is headlined, “PEORIA-PEKIN TRAFFIC KEEPS ROAD MEN BUSY,” with the caption, “Sometimes they work day and night on the new Peoria-Pekin road, especially when it rains. The hill, just outside East Peoria, is the place where the walls of the new ‘cut’ slide. Here is a road gang busy clearing the pavement after a slide.”
The March 1929 photo’s headline is, “‘TAKE A CUT,’ SAYS THE WEATHERMAN,” and the caption says, “And those who took the cut on the Pekin – East Peoria hard road after the heavy rains a week ago found the steep dirt walls of the cut had washed down to make traffic very slippery.”
Before this road was built, Pekin and East Peoria were linked by an unpaved road that passed through the village then known as Wesley City (today Creve Coeur) on the way to East Peoria. While going through Wesley City, the road came near the east bank of the Illinois River.
The new road, however, was plotted out to track further to the east, ascending through the land above the Wesley City bluffs before cutting through the hollers to descend and then join up with the old roadway from Wesley City to East Peoria.
The old roadway through Wesley City along the river no longer gets the traffic it once did in the 1800s and early 1900s, but it’s still there, of course – it’s Wesley Road.
By Jared Olar
Last July this column asked the question, “What do you call that lake?” as we reviewed the history of the large body of water in southern Pekin that has been known successively as Bailey’s Lake, Lake Arlann, and now Meyers Lake. This week we revisit that question, presenting one or two pertinent facts that have come to my attention.
The lake first came to be known as Bailey’s Lake around the mid-1800s because Cincinnati Township pioneer settler Samuel P. Bailey (or Baily), a Pekin attorney, owned a couple parcels of land along the east and west shores toward the north end of the lake.
Coal mining and ice harvesting were big business at Bailey’s Lake until the middle of the 20th century. Afterwards, real estate development at the lake in the 1950s brought the new designation “Lake Arlann,” after the developer, named Arlann, who added some new subdivisions at the lake.
Finally, a few years ago Tazewell County plat books and online maps of Pekin began to show the lake’s name as “Meyers Lake” instead of “Lake Arlann.” It’s still not clear how or why that name-change came about – but recently I chanced upon a bit of information that shed a little more light on the “Meyers Lake” designation . . . but also makes things a bit more complicated.
This information is found on page 97 of John Drury’s 1954 volume, “This is Tazewell County, Illinois,” where we find this description of the community of Schaeferville (emphasis added):
“Another hamlet in Elm Grove Township is Shaferville. It is located just south of Pekin city and near it is Meyer’s Lake. A highway, State 9, runs through the community.”
As an aside, “Shaferville” is properly known as “Schaeferville,” which is the subdivision’s legal name and the way online maps spell the name – but the latest Tazewell County plat book has “Shaferville” just as Drury showed in 1954. The family for which it is named spelled their name “Schaefer,” however.
But as for the lake’s name, according to Drury’s old book on Tazewell County, Lake Arlann apparently was called “Meyer’s Lake” for a while in the 1950s. Furthermore, the 1967 Tazewell County plat book also called it “Meyer’s Lake.”
And now, according to the official Tazewell County plat books, and according to Internet maps of Pekin, it’s again called “Meyers Lake” (seemingly having misplaced its apostrophe in the intervening decades while the lake was known as Lake Arlann).
But the question remains: Why “Meyers” Lake?
By Jared Olar
Pekin officially has been organized as a city since 1849. That year was important in Pekin’s history for other reasons, as the 1949 “Pekin Centenary,” page 9, explains:
“The year 1849, just 100 years ago, was the turning point in Pekin’s development. The Smith Wagon company, an enterprise which was then to become one of the city’s key enterprises and builders came into being at 301 Margaret street that year, and Jonathan Haines invented an improved mechanical reaper and built a reaper factory at Broadway and Ninth streets, the forerunner of the great steel and farm implement factories of this area.”
We have already told the story of the Smith Wagon company, but what can we learn about Jonathan Haines and his reaper factory?
Quite a lot, as it happens. But to tell the tale properly, first we must turn to Charles Bent’s 1877 “History of Whiteside county, Illinois,” in which a biographical sketch of Jonathan Haines’ life was published on page 302. Haines is mentioned many times in Bent’s history, but for our purposes we need only notice his biography, which reads as follows:
“JONATHAN HAINES was a native of Butler county, Ohio, and came to Illinois in 1826, first settling in Tazewell county. In 1835 he came to Whiteside county on his way to Galena, and being so well pleased with the location of what is now known as Jacobstown, and the water privileges there, made a claim and erected a cabin. His purpose in going to Galena was to use his steam ice boat, which he had recently patented, in navigating the Upper Mississippi during the winter, feeling sanguine of carrying the United States mail, and keeping up trade with St. Paul, and the upper forts. He made a few trips to Dubuque. In the winter of 1835, Felix French lived in the cabin, and took care of the mill claim, Mr. J. T. Atkinson boarding with him during the time while he was making rails and cutting logs on his claim near by. Mr. Haines returned in 1836, and built a saw mill on his claim, on the opposite side of the creek from the present mill. This mill, however, was washed away by a freshet after one log had been sawed, and in 1837 he erected another one on the same site, to which he afterwards added a pair of burrs for grinding grain. In 1847 he invented the ‘Illinois Harvester,’ and put up machine shops at Unionville, where he manufactured them until his removal to Tazewell county, in 1849. These Harvesters have since been somewhat improved, and are now extensively used in all the Western States. Union Grove Precinct was named by Mr. Haines, J. T. Atkinson, and Henry Boyer, in the spring of 1836. Mr. Haines was quite a prominent man in Whiteside county at an early day, and held several positions of public trust. He was a useful citizen, a kind and generous neighbor, and endeared himself to all who became acquainted with his many excellent traits of character. He died in Pekin, Tazewell county, February 22, 1868, of apoplexy.”
As one of the earliest pioneers of Tazewell County in 1826, it’s no surprise that Jonathan Haines is also mentioned in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” Somewhat disappointingly, though, he is mentioned in that volume only once, on page 261, where he is said to have seen action but escaped with his scalp still in his possession at the military debacle of Stillman’s Run at the start of the Black Hawk War in 1832. An online memorial at Find-A-Grave shows a photograph of his grave and grave markers in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin, and the inscription on his weather-worn gravestone says he had died “in the 60th year of age” and identifies him as “PVT CO 6 MTD REG (IVC) BLACK HAWK WAR.” An early photographic portrait of Jonathan Haines has also been uploaded to his Find-A-Grave memorial by Sue Durst. The memorial also says Jonathan was born Oct. 3, 1808, in Ohio, one of the many sons and daughters of Joseph and Sarah (Long) Haines. Jonathan’s oldest brother was none other than William Haines (1801-1834), one of the four co-founders of Pekin. Jonathan’s wife was named Sarah Hinsey (1814-1886), and they had at least two children, a daughter Rose Frances (1836-1917) and a son Murray J. (1844-1884)
Despite the absence of any biographical information in Chapman’s 1879 history that might have told of what Haines did while living and working in Tazewell County from 1849 to his death in 1868, details from the story of Haines’ life and labor in Pekin can be gleaned from city directories, maps, and atlases in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. An account of Haines’ business dealings in both Whiteside and Tazewell counties may also be found in Sam Moore’s article, “Acme Hay Harvester Company: Giant Among Farm Equipment Manufacturers Nearly Lost to Farm History,” published May 2010 in the online magazine “Farm Collector.”
It was in 1847 that Jonathan obtained a federal patent for his hay harvesting machine, which he called the Illinois Harvester. As mentioned above, at first Jonathan manufactured his invention in Whiteside County, but in 1849 he returned to Pekin and built a factory there.
The 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin, pages 30 and 79, shows that by that year Jonathan was in a partnership with his brother Ansel. The directory identifies their firm as “HAINES A. & J., manufacturers of Haines’s Illinois Harvester, agricultural implements, steam engines, and mill work, se. cor. Fleet and Campbell.” The names of Fleet and Campbell streets are no more, but the streets are still there – they are Broadway and Ninth. The Haines’ factory was located at a spot just across the street from James Field today, catty corner to the former West Campus. It’s a subdivision known as (naturally) the Haines Addition, where Benson’s Maytag and various residences are today. Jonathan and Ansel had built homes in Colts Addition, just south of St. Joseph Catholic Church and School. The land of Jonathan and Ansel is today bisected by Haines Avenue. (The 1861 city director shows that another Haines brother, Pekin attorney James Haines, also lived in Colts Addition at this time, and James’ house, which may have belonged to Jonathan before his death in 1868, is still there today.)
An 1864 wall map of Tazewell County published by “Surveyor & Map Publisher” of Dundee, Ill., shows “HAINS ADD” (Haines Addition) just east of Colts Addition, and in Haines Addition are shown five buildings identified as “Machin Works” (machine works), at the southeast corner of Fleet and Campbell.
The 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” shows “Haine’s Manufactory” (sic) in “HAINE’S ADDn” (sic) consisting of five buildings. The property of Jonathan and Ansel in Colts Addition is also marked on the map as “J. HAINES” and “A. HAINES,” although Jonathan had died four years earlier (the “J. Haines” property by then was certainly the home of their brother James Haines). The map indicates that Jonathan Haines’ factory was still operating even after his death. Sam Moore’s “Farm Collector” article explains what became of the Haines factory, telling of a man named:
“. . . Andrew J. Hodges, who also invented a header harvester during the early 1870s, and started the Hodges Header Co. in Pekin to build the thing. At that point, events are murky, but based on one account it appears that the Haines and the Hodges firms were combined, retaining the Hodges Header Co. name.”
Much of that murkiness can be dispelled with the help of the Pekin city directories from that time. The Haines and Hodges firms certainly were combined, probably after Jonathan’s death. In the 1870, 1876, and 1887 Pekin city directories, we find the “A. J. Hodges & Co. Haines Harvester” factory located at the same spot as the old Haines Harvester factory, at the corner of Fleet and Campbell. However, the Hodges firm does not appear in any later Pekin city directories. It was in 1890, according to Moore’ article, that Acme Hay Harvester Co. bought the Hodges firm, and thus we find in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas plat that the old Haines factory had become the “Acme Harvester Works” at the site of the old Haines factory. (Moore does not say whether or not Wile E. Coyote ever bought one of Acme’s harvesters.)
Acme does not appear in the 1893 Pekin City Directory nor in any later Pekin directory. From Moore, we learn that Acme moved to Peoria and built a large factory complex there, so it must have been about 1892 that Acme closed the Pekin factory and moved all operations to Peoria. During its heyday, Acme was one of the chief competitors of International Harvester, but finally lost its fight with IH and went out of business in 1917. Thus ended a tale that began with Jonathan Haines’ 1847 patent for the Illinois Harvester.