Hello and welcome!

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.

Another visit to Lake Arlann

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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.

This photograph of Bailey’s Lake, a copy of which is preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, was probably taken circa 1890, perhaps by Henry Hobart Cole.

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?

#baileys-lake, #lake-arlann, #meyers-lake, #samuel-p-bailey, #schaeferville

Jonathan Haines and the Illinois Harvester

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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)

Jonathan Haines (1808-1868)
IMAGE FROM SUE DURST VIA FIND-A-GRAVE

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.

This detail from an 1864 wall plat map of Pekin shows Jonathan Haines’ factory (“Machin Works”) in Haines Addition, where Haines’ patented invention, the Illinois Harvester, was manufactured. The area is across the street from James Field and catty-corner to the former location of West Campus.

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.

#a-j-haines, #a-j-hodges-co, #acme-hay-harvester-co, #ansel-haines, #bensons-maytag, #black-hawk-war, #colts-addition, #haines-addition, #haines-harvester, #hodges-header-co, #illinois-harvester, #james-haines, #jonathan-haines, #pekin-history, #william-haines

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s ‘Souvenir’

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published on April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few months ago, we 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 “bird’s eye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions. A few examples are presented here:

#coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-high-schools, #zerwekh-building

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

Here’s a chance to read an updated version of one of our old Local History Room columns, first published on July 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the shelves of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is the 1864 edition of the “City Charter and Revised Ordinances of the City of Pekin, Ill.,” a relatively slim volume that comes to only 154 pages counting the index.

Perhaps most people would say the 1864 city charter generally makes for some dry reading, since it is only a collection of laws and regulations, with no narrative or characters or plot. In all its pages, this book mentions but one person by name, on page 29, at the start of the section on the charter’s amendments.

The first amendment to the charter was approved by the Illinois General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1849, a few months before the town of Pekin would be incorporated as a city. The amendment ratified the town board’s decision granting and confirming title to “the ferry across the Illinois river within the corporate limits of said town of Pekin” to “Benjamin S. Prettyman, his heirs and assigns.”

Who was this Benjamin S. Prettyman who had the distinction of being the only individual named in the 1864 Pekin City Charter? The answer is readily available in another book in the Local History Room collection, the 1893 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” pp.457-461. Prettyman’s biography which appears in that volume is longer than most, indicating his prominence in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County. An even lengthier biography of B.S. Prettyman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois,” pp.30-31, and his portrait adorns the title page of the atlas.

This portrait of Benjamin S. Prettyman was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Benjamin Stockley Prettyman was born Nov. 21, 1819, in Smyrna, Delaware, the only son and second child of Lewis and Harriet (Mason) Prettyman. Lewis brought his wife and five children to Tazewell County in 1831, “journeying up the Delaware to Philadelphia, thence to Pittsburgh, and from there down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. The boat upon which they journeyed from St. Louis to Pekin was the second that made the passage up the Illinois.”

Lewis Prettyman settled on land by the Mackinaw River that had never been broken by a plow. He built a fort at the river bank – this was the year before the Black Hawk War – and later built a log cabin at the forest’s edge “and broke the prairie soil with the first wooden mold-board plow introduced into the neighborhood.”

His son Benjamin was intellectually gifted, but had the common experiences of growing up in a pioneer family on the American frontier, which including being mostly self-educated since there was little access to formal schooling. Benjamin’s father served twice as County Surveyor, which led Benjamin to serve four years as Deputy Surveyor. It was during those years that Tazewell County, which formerly extended from the Illinois River to Sangamon County and included the city of Chicago, was reduced to its present boundaries. As deputy surveyor, Prettyman was one of the commissioners who divided the smaller county into townships around 1841.

Prettyman’s duties led him to begin legal studies in 1844 under Judge Robbins of Springfield. “He went to the office of Logan & Lincoln, but it was crowded with law students, and Logan advised him to get some legal books, adding that he would loan him such volumes as he desired. In March, 1845, he was admitted to the Bar of Illinois, at Springfield, and afterward settled in Pekin, which then had a population of four hundred.”

Prettyman’s connection to Pekin dates to as early as April 1840 – it was in Pekin at that time that he married Sarah A. Haines, daughter of William Haines, one of Pekin’s founders. He and Sarah had a large family, and one of their sons-in-law, Daniel Sapp, later became mayor of Pekin. Benjamin’s father-in-law “owned a mercantile establishment, a distillery, as well as the ferry and other important interests here.” That is how Prettyman came to be mentioned in connection with the Pekin ferry in the 1864 city charter.

Besides the family interest in the ferry, Prettyman also played a prominent role in bringing the railroad to Pekin and helping to extend rail lines throughout central Illinois. In addition, Prettyman was elected Mayor of Pekin in 1862. His 1893 biography says, “During the war he was twice elected mayor of Pekin, and served in the same capacity several times afterward.” Other published lists of Pekin’s mayors show only his 1862 term in office – during the other times he apparently served temporarily as acting mayor.

Prettyman’s 1893 biography notes that he then had “the distinction of being the oldest attorney in Tazewell County.” He died April 8, 1895, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. His home in the 1100 block of North 11th Street still stands today.

Benjamin S. Prettyman’s home on 11th St. as it appeared in 1872 is shown in this lithograph from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Last month a descendant of Prettyman’s daughter Nellie donated to the Pekin Public Library Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a late-nineteenth-century compilation of photos of Pekin homes and locales. Prettyman signed his name in the book twice. Some of the images from “Pekin and Environs” appear in Rob Clifton’s 2004 “Pekin History: Then and Now.”

Shown here is Benjamin S. Prettyman’s signature from his copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a compilation of photographs published circa 1890.

#benjamin-prettyman, #pekin-history, #william-haines

Pekin from the air

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When telling the story of Pekin’s growth and development, often the best way to explain the kinds of changes our city has seen is simply to show someone a picture.

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a trove of photographs from Pekin’s past – some of them in file folders, some of them clipped from newspapers, and some of them published in books on Pekin’s history.

Two photos in particular show the great changes in Pekin over the course of approximately four decades, from about 1950 to 1988. These are panoramic aerial views of Pekin taken from airplanes flying over the Illinois River (shown in the foreground) and looking east.

The aerial view from circa 1950 shows downtown Pekin and was published on pages 192-193 of the 2004 revised edition of “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” The panorama encompasses an area extending from a few blocks north of the old Pekin lift bridge south to Elizabeth Street, with a vista that stretches out well past the old Pekin Country Club golf course where Pekin Community High School’s East Campus (now sole campus) was built in the early 1960s.

The second aerial view was a photograph taken on Sept. 20, 1988 (a drought year, as the color of the vegetation and ground indicates) for a wall calendar produced and distributed by Skyflick. Taken at a higher altitude, this panorama extends from the new John T. McNaughton Bridge south to Broadway, and stretches out to the cornfields behind the Kmart shopping center area.

Comparison of the photos will show numerous structures in 1950 were no longer there in 1988, while others in 1988 did not yet exist in 1950. For example, not only was the new PCHS campus not there in 1950, but neither was the English Building or “Red Building” at the old West Campus. The old Neo-Gothic St. Joseph Catholic Church of circa 1950 would also be replaced by a larger modernist edifice about 20 years later.

But instead of my explaining what is in the 1950 panorama that’s no longer there in 1988, and what is in the 1988 panorama that wasn’t there in 1950, and what was in both of these photos but is no longer there today, just take a look and see for yourself – and remember.

Pekin riverfront and downtown circa 1950

Pekin from the air on 20 Sept. 1988

#pekin-from-the-air

Kriegsmans and Crown

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we shine our spotlight on a book that was added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection last fall. The book, entitled, “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” tells the history of Crown Worldwide Group, an international shipping and moving corporation that began in 1965 as a small moving company in Yokohama, Japan.

That moving company, founded by an American named James E. Thompson, was originally named Transport Services International (TSI), then became Crown Pacific in the early 1970s, and finally Crown Worldwide in the 1990s.

But what does the history of Crown Worldwide Group have to do with the history of Pekin or Tazewell County?

Turn to page 30 of “The Story of Crown” and read the chapter “Moving into Hong Kong,” and the answer will become immediately clear. There on that page is a color photograph with the caption, “The Kriegsman clan in Pekin, Illinois, early 1970s.” It is the Kriegsman connection that makes the story of Crown Worldwide a matter of our own local history – and is why a copy of this book was donated to the library by John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses on Koch Street in Pekin.

This photograph, from page 30 of “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” shows the Kriegsman clan in Pekin in the early 1970s. Around that time, members of the Kriegsman family partnered with Jim Thompson of Transport Services International to start a new company in Hong Kong, a business venture that led to the formation of Crown Worldwide Group in the 1990s.

The chapter begins, “It’s November 1969 and Jim Thompson is sitting on the balcony of a hotel in Singapore having a drink with new friend Phil Kriegsman. It is their last night in Singapore before going home – Jim to Japan, Phil to Pekin, Illinois. They have a big decision to make. At the end of an eight-day trip to Hong Kong and Singapore, they have agreed to open a new company in Asia, specializing in the moving of household goods for expatriates. But in which of the two cities?”

Thompson and Kriegsman had met at a meeting of the Federation Internationale Demenageurs Internationaux (FIDI), an organization of independent moving companies. Kriegsman was then the head of Kriegsman Transfer Company, a moving and storage company with long roots in Pekin that reach back to 1913. Caterpillar then did business with one of Kriegsman’s competitors, but Kriegsman hoped that in teaming with Thompson to start a new company in Asia, they could woo Caterpillar away from one of his competitors. Thompson met the Kriegsman clan in Pekin, and they then opted to start the company in Hong Kong, where Caterpillar had its regional headquarters.

“The Story of Crown,” page 34, tells what happened next:

“The two men returned to their respective homes and started planning for the new venture. Phil had to convince his family and Jim had to come up with the money. They agreed to put in US$25,000 each to start up the company . . . One of the big decisions they had to make early on was who was going to run the new business. Both Phil and Jim had their own companies to look after and neither had time to focus on the day-to-day operations of a new company in another country. As there were no fewer than seven Kriegsman family members involved in the Kriegsman Transfer Company, it seemed reasonable to assume one of them would fit the bill. The position was offered first to Phil’s cousin John [NOTE: This is John M. Kriegsman of Kriegsman Warehouses], but he did not want to leave Pekin.

“However, John’s younger brother Jim was keen. A Vietnam War veteran, Jim Kriegsman was very much his own man and did not always get along with his family. As Jim Kriegsman puts it: ‘Being the most hated [in the family], they wanted me out of there in the worst way. I didn’t get on real well with my cousin Phil.’ In short, Jim was more than happy to leave Illinois. . . ‘I thought it was a great opportunity and I wanted to grasp it,’ he says.”

And the rest is (corporate) history . . .

Shown here in these images from page 33 of “The Story of Crown: The First 50 Years,” are the founders of Crown in the 1970s, who included two members of the Kriegsman family of Pekin.

John and Jim Kriegsman are the sons of the late John C. Kriegsman (1912-2005), who served as chairman of the board for Kriegsman Warehouses, and was very active in the community throughout his life.  Their cousin Phil was the son of John C. Kriegsman’s older brother Arthur T. “Art” Kriegsman (1900-1988), who also had been chairman of the board of Kriegsman Warehouses and also a pillar of Pekin’s community life. Regular readers of this column might also remember that F. F. McNaughton mentioned his friend Art Kriegsman several times in his daily jottings about the Pekin Kiwanis Club trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1932.

#art-kriegsman, #crown-worldwide-group, #james-e-thompson, #jim-kriegsman, #john-c-kriegsman, #john-m-kriegsman, #kriegsman-family, #kriegsman-transfer-company, #kriegsman-warehouses, #phil-kriegsman, #the-story-of-crown

A prank on a plank bridge

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published on May 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

A prank on a plank bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the past century and a half, several bridges have spanned the Illinois River at Pekin. Today’s “Pekin bridge,” the John T. McNaughton Bridge, was dedicated in 1982. Prior to that, Pekin’s bridge was a lift bridge that was built in the late 1920s and was dedicated on June 2, 1930.

Before that, however, Pekin not only had long had a railroad bridge, but non-rail traffic was able to cross the river over a plank bridge at the foot of Court Street .

This 1927 photograph shows the old plank bridge that used to span the Illinois River at Pekin. This photo, which was printed in the Pekin Daily Times in 1984, was the possession of Ernest Edwards of rural Pekin. His sister Irene is shown leaning on the bridge at the right.

That first “Pekin bridge” is probably not well remembered today, but in the lore of Pekin’s past a humorous anecdote about its construction and dedication has been handed down. The story is recorded in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, pp.39, 41, which tells of events during the time of Pekin Mayor John L. Smith (1885-1886). Before it had appeared in the Centenary, however, the story was told in the pages of the Pekin Daily Times on Jan. 16, 1930, and reprinted in the special bridge dedication edition of the Daily Times on June 2, 1930.

The Pekin Centenary says it was during Smith’s term that “the first plank bridge was built across the river here at a cost of $17,500,” the city council having taken a pass on a proposal to build a pontoon bridge for $14,500.

Around the same time, Pekin got its first electric street lights, contracting for a mere $5,000 a year to install and maintain them. The city decided to have a grand public celebration to inaugurate the new bridge and the new lights – but the bridge workers decided to celebrate in a way that wasn’t on the official program of events.

According to the 1930 Daily Times article, there had been some kind of falling out between the city’s bridge committee members and Earnest Kidd, the assistant foreman, and Kidd decided to get even by pulling a fast one on the city council with the help of the foreman, Jack Jennings.

As the Centenary relates, “Mayor Smith, himself, rode the first rig across the new bridge, in impressive ceremonies, but his triumphant opening was somewhat marred by the fact that much of the populace knew and the rest soon learned that Charles Holland had actually been first to cross the new bridge, thanks to a conspiracy with the workmen. The last of the planking was not to be completed until just before the mayor was to cross, but workmen labored through the night to lay the planking so that Holland could drive a carriage over the bridge at the crack of dawn, and then they hastily took up the planking again to be relaid for the mayor.”

The Centenary does not say what Mayor Smith thought about the prank, but the Daily Times story says that he and the aldermen were very upset and even sent Police Chief Tim Sheehan to have Holland arrested. Jennings and Kidd, however, were tall and imposing men, and Jennings told Sheehan that if he arrested Holland he would have to arrest him too, so Holland was left unmolested.

The story, of course, does not end there. On pages 67 and 69, the Centenary tells of the construction and dedication of Pekin’s new lift bridge 45 years later, and mentions that Holland, by then a well known and respected insurance man, was there too:

“The stock market had fallen apart in 1929, and the Great Depression was underway in 1930, and yet the record shows that in this year the new half-million dollar Pekin bridge was completed . . . Completion of that bridge marked one of the biggest celebrations in Pekin history. Rep. Martin B. Lohmann (now Senator) who led the fight for state funds, drove the first car across. It was Fred Moenkemoeller’s car, and this time they forestalled any double-shuffle such as had taken place at the opening of the old bridge by having Charles Holland, now getting along in years, ride across with the others in the first car. It was Holland, the reader will remember, who had driven over Pekin’s old bridge ahead of the mayor to be the first to cross, and make a joke of the opening ceremony.”

Jump ahead another 50 years or so, and Pekin celebrated the opening of the new John T. McNaughton Bridge. Holland had died long before, of course, but one of the leader dignitaries at the 1930 festivities, Martin Lohmann, was there for the bridge dedication in 1982.

Lohmann’s name is attached to another bridge across the Illinois River: the Shade-Lohmann Bridge at Creve Coeur, named in joint honor of Lohmann and former Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade.

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