A closer look at Mineral Springs Park’s first artesian well

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About a month ago we recalled the drilling of the artesian well in the early 1880s that gave Mineral Springs Park its name. This week we’ll take a closer look at the park’s first well and its location.

As we learned previously, following the drilling of the well in 1882, a bath house was built in 1883, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added. The bath house enabled people to bathe in the artesian well’s mineral waters, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (page 138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south (sic – north) of the Methodist Church.” This is precisely where the Miller Senior Center is today, to the west of the lagoon. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well was located near the old swimming pool, but does not locate it any more precisely than that.

A man collects water from the original artesian well and fountain of Mineral Springs Park in this old photograph that was reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

This 1890s photograph of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon shows the park pool and bath house on the west side of the lagoon. A tall pole next to the pool facility marks the site of the park’s original artesian well. In the distance on the right side of the picture is the factory of Cummings Harvester Works, formerly located at the corner of Christopher Street and Highland Avenue.

The original Mineral Springs Park pool and bath house are shown in this photograph taken by Henry Hobart Cole in the 1890s.

However, using reference materials such as old maps and photographs in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, it is possible to determine exactly where the original well, fountain, and bath house were.

In the library’s collection of old atlases and maps, Mineral Springs Park makes its first appearance on the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas’ map of Pekin. In those days the eastern border of the park was just past Coal Car Drive, and the park roads and paths (unpaved back then) formed loops around and to the east the lagoon.

On the west side of the lagoon, though, the map shows a prominent structure that, by a comparison with two photographs of the lagoon and the original park swimming pool from Henry Hobart Cole’s 1890s compilation of vintage photographs entitled “Pekin and Environs,” can confidently be identified as the park’s pool and bathhouse.

The map also shows a simple circle on the north side of the pool and bathhouse, and on the south side of the park’s western entrance off 14th Street, but does not identify what the circle represents. However, the maps of Pekin in the 1910 and 1929 Tazewell County atlases label that circle with the word “fountain.” It is also very significant that these early maps show Spring Street extending all the way east to an intersection with 14th Street. Although Spring Street now dead-ends at the Miller Center parking lot, its name is a clue to the location of the original well, because “Spring” Street got its name from the fact that it led up to Mineral Springs Park’s western entrance, which was adjacent to the park’s original mineral spring.

This map from the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows Mineral Springs Park, then only in existence for nine years. A simple circle to the west of the lagoon (“Artesian Lake”) and on the east side of 14th Street, marks the site of the park’s mineral spring and fountain.

Old streets and several other details from the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park have been added to this current Google Maps satellite image. The site of the original park pool and bath house are indicated in yellow and hatching. The site of the original artesian well and fountain is marked with a black circle near the center of the map.

What was shown as an unmarked circle on the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park is identified as the park fountain in this 1910 map of the park.

The boundaries of Mineral Springs Park are shown to have expanded significantly in this 1929 map of the park. But the old fountain, park pool, and bath house still remain on the west side of the park lagoon.

Old photographs of the spring and fountain in the Local History Room collection show what the well and fountain looked like – it was wide, encircled by a paved concrete walkway, with two drinking fountains at the north and south ends.

What became of the original well? On that point, all that the 1974 Sesquicentennial volume says is that the spring-fed fountain “has long since been removed,” and that, “The initial well for the park is long since inoperative.

The photograph, which was reproduced on a postcard from about 1916, shows the old spring-fed fountain that once existed on the west side of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon. The site is today marked by a sculpted metal planter in front of the Miller Senior Center.

Water sprays up in the old Mineral Springs Park fountain in this vintage photograph that was reproduced July 13, 2002, in the Pekin Daily Times’ special section on the Pekin Park District’s 100th anniversary.

By the 1930s the Pekin Park District saw the need to build a new swimming pool and bath house, so a new well was drilled off east of the lagoon in 1935, and a new pool was built in the vicinity of the new well. That pool remained in use, with occasional modifications and repairs, from 1937 to 1992, when it was replaced by the DragonLand water park.

When the new well was dug and the new pool built, the old well was no longer situated in a good location and was not adequate for the park’s needs, so it was sealed off and covered over. Today the former site of the old fountain and well in front of the Miller Center’s entrance is occupied by an old sculpted and decorative metal planter, and, probably not coincidentally, the planter looks more like a miniature fountain or fancy bird bath than a planter. Most Pekinites who drive by the lagoon on 14th Street every day probably pass the Miller Center without noticing the planter that marks the site of Mineral Springs Park’s original spring.

As for the 1935 bath house, on page 5 of the “Pekin Park District Centennial” special section that was published in the July 16, 2002 Pekin Daily Times, a photo caption says, “The Mineral Springs Bath House operated in 1935 for mineral tub baths, steam baths, massages and other health treatments. The bath house artesian well water was believed to contain minerals beneficial to health, but the bath’s popularity waned as the public changed its attitude about the curative powers of mineral water.

Out in front of the Miller Senior Center is this decorative metal fountain, used as a planter, marking the site of the former Mineral Springs Park fountain and artesian well.

#artesian-well, #cummings-harvester-works, #drilling-of-mineral-springs-park-spring, #henry-hobart-cole, #miller-senior-center, #mineral-springs-park, #mineral-springs-park-bath-house, #mineral-springs-park-fountain, #mineral-springs-park-pavilion, #pekin-pool

Senachwine, war chief of the Pottawatomi

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in November 2014 before the launch of this weblog.

Senachwine, war chief of the Pottawatomi

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When settlers of European descent first began to make permanent dwellings during the 1820s in what would soon become Tazewell County, they found the area inhabited by Native American tribes. The most numerous of the tribes was the Pottawatomi, who had villages in the county’s northern townships, as well as a large village at the future site of Pekin, where they were led by a chief named Shabbona.

As this column has previously related, Shabbona was a member of the Ottawa tribe who had married the daughter of a Pottawatomi chief and succeeded to the headship of his wife’s group of Pottawatomi after her father’s death. Shabbona and his family are reported to have camped to the south of where Pekin’s pioneer settler Jonathan Tharp had built his log cabin in 1824. Other Pottawatomi in the area were headed by a chief named Wabaunsee. During the Black Hawk War of 1832, however, Shabbona and Wabaunsee refused to join Black Hawk’s uprising, and Shabbona even gave active help to white settlers, warning them of impending attack. Consequently, after the war, Shabbona and Wabaunsee were rejected as chiefs, and, according to the online essay “Potawatomi War Chief (1744-1831) Chief Senachwine,” the Pottawatomi instead chose as their leader Kaltoo, also called Ogh-och-pees, eldest son of the Pottawatomi War Chief Sen-noge-wone.

In central Illinois, Sen-noge-wone is more usually called “Senachwine.” In his “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman spells the name “Snatchwine.” He and his people dwelt in and near what would become Washington Township. On pages 674-676, Chapman records some memories of Lawson Holland, an early white settler of Washington Township. Holland’s memories included recollections of Chief Senachwine and of the customs of the Pottawatomi of the area. Holland knew Senachwine for about 10 years, remembering him as often despondent.

Chapman writes that Senachwine “was honored and loved by all the braves,” and that “his word was law, and his presence and council always sought in times of disturbance or trouble. Among the whites he was generally honored and respected. To them he always extended the hand of welcome, and the fatted deer of the forest was brought to their door in token of good will.”

Chapman’s account of Chief Senachwine also includes the transcript of a lengthy speech of the chief’s. According to Chapman, Senachwine gave the speech around 1823 when he “found out the whites were becoming alarmed, and called a council with the whites, to talk. He spoke about four hours.”

“When you palefaces came to our country we took you in and treated you like brothers,” Senachwine said. “We furnished you with corn and gave you meat that we killed, but you palefaces soon became numerous and began to trample upon our rights, which we attempted to resist, but was whipped and driven off. This is returning evil for good. The graves of my forefathers are just as dear to me as yours, and had I the power I’d wipe you from the face of the earth. I have 800 good warriors, besides many old men and boys, that could be put in a fight, but this takes up a remnant of these tribes since the last war. I believe I could raise enough braves, and taking you by surprise, could clean the State. I know I could go below your capital and take everything clean. But what then? We must all die in time. You would kill us all off. You tell me that you have forbidden your men to sell whisky. You enforce these laws and I stand pledged for any depredation my people shall commit. But you allow your men to come with whisky and trinkets and get them drunk and cheat them out of all their guns and skins and all their blankets, that the Government pays me yearly for this land. This leaves us in a starving freezing condition and we are raising only a few children compared to what we raised in Old Kentuck, before we knew the palefaces. Some of my men say in our consultations, let us rise and wipe the palefaces from the face of the earth. I tell them no, the palefaces are too numerous. I can take every man, woman and child I’ve got and place them in the hollow of my hand and hold them out at arm’s length. But when I want to count you palefaces I must go out in the big prairie, where timber ain’t in sight, and count the spears of grass, and I haven’t then told your numbers.”

About eight years later, around 1831, Senachwine counseled that violent resistance to white encroachment was futile and would only lead to the annihilation of the native tribes. His counsel and the policy of Shabbona convinced the Pottawatomi not to join Black Hawk in his hostilities. The online essay “Potawatomi War Chief (1744-1831) Chief Senachwine,” quotes him as responding to Black Hawk, “Resistance to the aggression of the whites is useless; war is wicked and must result in our ruin. Therefore let us submit to our fate, return not evil for evil, as this would offend the Great Spirit and bring ruin upon us. . . . My friends, do not listen to the words of Black Hawk, for he is trying to lead you astray. Do not imbrue your hands in human blood . . . .

Senachwine died in the summer of 1831 and was buried on a bluff above his village in Putnam County. After the Black Hawk War, the Pottawatomi were deported to reservations in Kansas and Nebraska, but in subsequent years members of his band reportedly would come back from time to time to visit his grave. On June 13, 1937, the Peoria Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution placed a large stone with a bronze memorial plaque at the spot that was believed to be his grave site, about a half-mile north of the village of Putnam. Five members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi came from Kansas to attend the ceremony.

This monument was placed in 1937 at the spot that was believed to be the gravesite of Pottawatomi War Chief Senachwine, about a half-mile north of the village of Putnam.

#black-hawk, #jonathan-tharp, #kaltoo, #lawson-holland, #pottawatomi, #pottawatomi-in-pekin, #senachwine, #shabbona, #wabaunsee

A Second Reformed Church retrospective

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As announced in the Pekin Daily Times last month, Pekin’s historic Second Reformed Church will hold its last worship service this Sunday, Nov. 24, due to dwindling membership. This week’s “From the Local History Room” will look into the standard works on Pekin’s past for a retrospective on the church’s history.

Starting out 145 years ago, in the 20th century Second Reformed Church became known as “the Dirksen church” because Pekin’s hometown U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen and his family were members. Though Second Reformed’s church building, at 600 State St., has had numerous renovations, remodelings, and additions, the original church building of 1876 remains intact.

Founded early in the heyday of Pekin’s German “Bean Town,” the church was born from the great influx of German immigrants who arrived in Pekin about the third quarter of the 19th century. While most Germans are Lutheran or Catholic, the Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) religion gained a foothold along the North Sea coasts of Germany – the area known as Ostfriesland, “land of the East Frisians.” The Dutch people are akin to the neighboring Ostfriesland Germans, and many of Second Reformed’s families, such as the Dirksens, have been descendants of immigrants from Ostfriesland.

Second Reformed Church was founded early enough in Pekin’s history that it merited a paragraph in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 592-593. This is how Chapman summarized the church’s first few years:

“Second Dutch Reformed Church was organized July 26, 1876 (sic – 1874), by Revs. K. B. Wieland, John Miller, and E. P. Livingston, with fifteen members. The building was erected the same year. It is a good frame, 35 by 55 feet in size, and cost $2,500. It was dedicated the first Sunday in October, 1876, and since has made great advances, and the pastorate of Rev. P. F. Schuelke, the present pastor, has been especially blessed, and the membership increased to 80. Rev. K. B. Wieland preceded Rev. Schuelke, who came in May, 1876, and was the first pastor. The Elders are U. B. Johnson, and W. Dickman. Deacons; D. Greon, and D. Klok. The Sunday-school was organized with two teachers and twelve scholars. It now numbers 125 to 150 scholars in attendance, Henry Ploepot, Superintendent. Contribution, $75 per year. Salary of pastor, $700.”

Chapman’s account misstates the year of the church’s organization, probably mistaking the year of Schuelke’s arrival and the construction of the church building for the year of organization. The church’s official website also states that Second Reformed Church began with 56 charter members, not 15. In the two years prior to the construction of the church, the members under Rev. Klaus Wieland’s pastoral care met in various homes and buildings.

This 19th century photograph from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows Second Reformed Church of Pekin as the structure appeared during the first two or three decades of its existence. The church building remains to this day, but now has wooden siding and some additions on the west side, and the steeple has been removed.

Ben C. Allensworth’s updated 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 921, adds the comment that Rev. Schuelke “filled the pastorate for eighteen years, being succeeded in 1903 by Rev. John De Beer, the present pastor. The church is in a highly prosperous condition. The church membership consists of fifty families and the Sunday school has 140 members.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, pages 16-17, offered this account of the church:

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pekin’s Second Reformed Church, organized July 26, 1874, by a group of German immigrants. The first and only building for this congregation was constructed on the corner of State and Sixth Streets in 1876. Faced with the decision of whether to remodel or construct a new building, the congregation has recently undertaken a major renovation of the old church, thus preserving one of Pekin’s oldest landmarks.

“To many Pekin residents, Second Reformed is known as the Dirksen Church, because the late Senator Everett M. Dirksen attended its services during his youth. His twin brother Tom recalls that when he and Everett were about 16, it was their responsibility to pump up the air for the organ and also stoke the two coal stoves that stood on either side of the sanctuary. The stoves are gone now, and the organ has been replaced, but the congregation of 230, led by Reverend Ralph Cordes, still meets in the same building.”

The Sesquicentennial also includes this caption under a recent photograph of the church: “The Second Reformed Church celebrated its 100th anniversary this year with a major renovation of the building which was constructed in 1876.

Second Reformed Church of Pekin as shown in a photograph reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

Finally, “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 183, provides these details:

“Conceptualized by a committee of three, organized for low and high German immigrants, Second Reformed Church of Pekin built its first building in 1876 after two years of meeting in homes and small buildings.

“Initial early improvements consisted of oil stoves replaced by a gas heating plant and kerosene lights replaced by electric ones.

“More current improvements include the Hinners’ pipe organ replaced by a new organ, augmented with an electronic keyboard and updating of the building interior and exterior.

“The church facility has modernized with additions of an annex and educational wing. The first parsonage was sold in 1973 and replaced with a newly constructed four-bedroom home to the west of the church.

“Things have been changed, but the message is the same: Jesus Christ is Lord and this is His House.

“The church building has been remodeled several times, most recently in 1978, but the original bell with its German inscription, ‘THE LORD IS SUN AND SHIELD’ still peals from the new bell tower regularly.”

#everett-mckinley-dirksen, #pekin-churches, #rev-john-de-beer, #rev-klaus-b-wieland, #rev-p-f-schuelke, #rev-ralph-cordes, #second-reformed-church, #thomas-dirksen

The Pekin Public Library’s early history: A glimpse inside a time capsule

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

A glimpse inside a time capsule

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Each week this column delves into the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection to see what we can learn about various aspects, anecdotes and artifacts of Pekin and Tazewell County history. This week we’ll turn our attention toward the history the Pekin Public Library itself, by taking look at a few of the contents of the library’s Cornerstone Time Capsule collection.

As both longtime residents of Pekin and attentive visitors to the library know, the current library building is not the first one to be erected on it site. Prior to the construction of the current library in 1972, Pekin’s readers were served by a smaller structure that stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, where the library’s sunken plaza is located today. [NB: Since the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library, the old sunken plaza is no more, replaced by a quiet reading room and a grove of trees with water drainage.]

That earlier structure – one of the nation’s many Carnegie libraries, built in 1902 under the patronage of famous American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the first building constructed in Pekin to serve specifically as a public library. To celebrate that milestone in Pekin’s history, a formal dedication ceremony took place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902.

On that occasion, the library’s cornerstone was laid – and within the cornerstone was placed a time capsule containing an assortment of documents and relics pertaining chiefly to the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library.

The time capsule remained sealed for 70 years. When the old library was replaced with a new, expanded facility in 1972, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to be in a very good state of preservation. For many years after that, the cornerstone materials were stored at Herget Bank, later being transferred to the Pekin Public Library’s own historical archives.

Placed in the cornerstone time capsule were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)

The reason for including the two newspapers from February 1896 is probably not obvious to anyone not well versed in the library’s history, however. Those newspapers – the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896 – were chosen because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

The library’s history did not begin in 1902, but in fact reaches back to 1866, as we read in one of the documents placed in the 1902 cornerstone: a “History of the Pekin Public Library” written by Miss Mary Gaither. “On November 24th, 1866, a large number of the ladies of Pekin met to organize what was for many years known as the ‘Ladies Library Association,’” Gaither wrote. Also included in the cornerstone was one of the handwritten invitations to that meeting.

On March 5, 1883, the Pekin Library Association formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois – the original, sealed articles of incorporation from 1883 also were included in the cornerstone time capsule.

Ten years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, the Library Association petitioned the city to have the library and its collection handed over to the city’s ownership. The process of transferring the library from private to public control was completed three years later, in 1896.

Shown here is part of the front page of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

Shown here is the top front of the outer sleve of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

#andrew-carnegie, #carnegie-library, #ladies-library-association, #library-cornerstone, #mary-gaither, #pekin-daily-evening-post, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-daily-tribune, #pekin-freie-presse, #pekin-library-association, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule

Tazewell County’s Spanish-American War volunteers didn’t lose a single man

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Of all the many wars that the United States has fought in its history, the ones that are most prominent in the memory of the American people are, understandably, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the First and Second World Wars. In comparison, other important conflicts, such as the War of 1812 or the Mexican War, are not as well remembered.

One such conflict that is not as well remembered is the Spanish-American War of 1898, a speedy 10-week conflict toward the end of the period of America’s imperialist expansion. The war broke out between the U.S. and Spain when the Maine, a U.S. battleship, exploded and sank in the harbor of Havana, capital of Spain’s colony of Cuba. The Maine was sent to signal U.S. opposition to Spain’s control of Cuba. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but many people in the U.S. thought the explosion was an act of Spanish sabotage.

The conflict was a U.S. victory, due chiefly to American naval superiority. It opened with a declaration of war in April 1898 and was concluded by the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898. By the war’s end, the U.S. had acquired all of Spain’s remaining Pacific colonies as well as Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, and had achieved hegemony over Cuba.

Spurred on by vengeful cries of “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!,” large numbers of American men enlisted in the U.S. armed forces to fight. Among them were 200 men from Tazewell County, as may be learned by consulting Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 755-756.

Tazewell County’s Spanish-American War volunteers formed two companies of the Fifth Illinois Regiment – but since the lopsided conflict was quickly concluded in the U.S.’s favor, none of Tazewell County’s volunteers saw any action. They got as far as boarding a ship at Newport News, Va., bound for Puerto Rico when fighting came to an end. “The boys were disappointed that they had not been able to get to the front, but it was not their fault,” Allensworth wrote.

Here are excerpts from Allensworth’s account of Tazewell County’s regiments in the Spanish-American War:

“Tazewell County furnished 200 soldiers for the Spanish-American war. April 27, 1898, Company K of Delavan, and Company G of Pekin, both of the Fifth Illinois Regiment, left their respective homes for the Rendevous (sic) Station, Springfield. Company K in charge of Captain Watkins and First and Second Lieutenants C. H. Ball and Dickinson, respectively; Company G being in charge of Capt. E. L. Conklin and First and Second Lieutenants E. H. Mullen and W. W. Sellers. These companies were mustered into United States service May 4th . . . and left Springfield for Chickamauga Park Camp on May 17th, being the first volunteer regiment to arrive there. The Fifth Illinois Volunteer Regiment was packed up for embarking for war on July 4th, but this order from Washington was rescinded in favor of an Ohio regiment. Along about July 20th another order to move was given. The regiment marched to Rossville, Tenn., to embark for Porto Rico (sic). While there a telegraph order was received by Colonel Culver to turn the transportation and travel rations over to the One Hundred and Sixtieth Indiana and return to camp, which was done in a justly moody manner. This regiment was then given a new camp in the Park, and brigaded with the First Georgia and Thirty-first Michigan under General Roe. On August 3d, the regiment again received orders to move. The regiment marched to Ringgold, Ga., and there boarded cars for Newport News. On arriving there a second time they were put in General Fred Grant’s brigade. On August 10th, the regiment completely boarded the Obdam to go to Porto Rico, but fate seemed to have decreed otherwise. While on board the Colonel received an order from the Adjutant-General to disembark and form camp. This order was the result of the final consummation of the peace protocol on that date. After camping there about two weeks, this regiment moved by railroad transportation to Lexington, Ky., from which camp it left for Springfield, Illinois, arriving September 10th. . . .

“On Saturday, September 10th, 1898, a telegram was received by Major Conklin, in this city, stating that Company G would arrive home on Monday morning, the 12th inst. The committee, having in charge the reception of Company G, were immediately notified, and citizens generally, to be on hand at the Court House square at 11 o’clock that morning, to welcome the return of the soldier boys.”

Tazewell County’s soldiers were officially greeted by Pekin Mayor Dan Sapp and Judge W. R. Curran, followed by a grand celebration and dinner on the courthouse lawn. “The boys enjoyed the whole thing exceedingly, and at the end of thirty days at home they returned to Springfield and were mustered out October 16, 1898,” Allensworth added.

And so Tazewell County’s Spanish-American War veterans made it through the war without losing a man in battle and without seeing even a moment of action.

This group photo shows the men of Company G of the Fifth Illinois Volunteer Regiment, who were organized in Pekin for service during the Spanish-American War of 1898. The war was concluded so speedily, however, that none of the companies of the Fifth Illinois ever deployed to the Caribbean, nor saw even a minute of action. PHOTO FROM THE PEKIN PUBLIC LIBRARY’S LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

#judge-w-r-curran, #spanish-american-war, #uncle-dan-sapp

Memories of Pekin’s lost hotels

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Memories of Pekin’s lost hotels

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Modern travelers passing through Pekin or staying for a few days have a few hotels to choose from out on the east end of town, but in the past downtown Pekin had an array of hotels where visitors to “the Celestial City” could find food and a place to lay their heads at night. Following are some of the interesting details about the history of Pekin’s lost hotels may be gleaned from the files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

Gideon H. Hawley opened the first hotel in Pekin in 1830, but little is known about his venture. In 1839, the Columbia Hotel was opened at Margaret and Fourth streets, where the Windsor Hotel later was built. Another prominent hotel of early Pekin was the American, which was torn down in 1874.

In 1848, two ‘first class’ hotels were established in Pekin. One of them, the Eagle, was on the riverfront at the foot of Court Street. The Eagle’s keeper was Seth Kinman, who later achieved notoriety as a hunter and trapper, presenting Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson with buckhorn and bearclaw chairs that he had made. The other hotel was the Taylor House, later called the Mansion House, whose keeper was “Uncle Bill” Tinney, a veteran of the Mexican-American War who was one of the American soldiers who captured General Santa Ana’s wooden leg (the general leaving it behind during his escape on the back of a mule).

The late former Pekin resident Charles B. Smith in 1946 related the following anecdote he’d heard from those days, when Pekin still had much of the character of a wild frontier town:

“A traveler came off an Illinois river boat one day and went to the Eagle Hotel. There had been a little western scrimmage at the Eagle the night before and, though things had not yet been put in order, the proprietor, Seth Kinman, was sitting in front of the door playing his favorite tune, the Arkansas Traveler, with the greatest self-satisfaction. The stranger stopped and asked Seth: ‘Are you the proprietor here?’ Seth, without resting his bow, replied: ‘Wal, I reckon I be, stranger.’ ‘Do you keep tavern?’ ‘Of course I do, keep tavern like hell’ said Seth fiddling away with all his might, ‘Just pile in, hang your freight on the floor and make yourself at home.’ ‘The boys,’ continued Seth, ‘have been having a little fun but if there’s a whole table or plate in the house I’ll get you some cold hash toward night.’

“The stranger didn’t like the place and took his departure leaving the proprietor still enjoying his violin.

“Late in the afternoon the stranger presented himself at the Taylor House. Uncle Bill Tinney met him outside with his most austere expression. His greeting was: ‘Good morning, good morning, sir. Walk in, sir, and take a seat. Shave you as soon as water gets warm.’ The stranger, not requiring the services of a barber, walked away in haste and amazement and Uncle Bill swore audibly: ‘Some infernal Yankee come out west to steal honest people’s money.’

“The next steamboat that came along found the discomfited traveler on the river bank, awaiting passage for anywhere out of Pekin.”

Tinney later became Pekin’s Justice of the Peace and police magistrate, and also served terms as Tazewell County Sheriff and Coroner, acquiring the nickname “Five Dollars and Costs” because that was the fine he would hand down except in major cases. He was even better known for his stance in support of the voting rights of blacks — after the Civil War, he made a name for himself locally when he, a white man, escorted an African-American man of Pekin to the polls to exercise his newly-won right to vote.

The old Tazewell House hotel, owned and operated by Tazewell County Sheriff “Uncle Bill” Tinney, as depicted in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County

In 1859, Tinney also became the manager of the Eagle, which he renamed “Tazewell House.” Both Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas stayed at the Eagle or Tazewell House when they were in town on lawyerly business at the Tazewell County Courthouse.

Even so, business at the Tazewell House wasn’t very good, so the property passed in 1867 to Thomas K. Bemis, who rechristened the hotel “Bemis House.” Under his direction, as Charles B. Smith recalled from his own youth, Bemis House became Pekin’s preeminent hotel and the center of Pekin’s social life until the 1880s, when it suffered major damage during a tornado. The structure was repaired, but after Bemis’ death it became a boarding house and finally was razed during the 1940s.

Bemis House, at one time Pekin’s preeminent hotel, is shown in this early 20th-century photograph. Under its original name of Tazewell House, the hotel once hosted Abraham Lincoln and other notable local attorneys when they came to Pekin on legal business at the Tazewell County Courthouse. The site at the corner of Court and Front streets is now a part of Gene Miller Park, adjacent to Pekin’s Riverfront Park. PHOTO COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

In 1879, Mrs. E. Barber converted a building into a hotel on Elizabeth Street across the street from the courthouse. This was Woodard House or Woodard’s, which burned down in 1899. The Tazewell Hotel was built in its place. In 1962, the building was sold to Herget National Bank, which razed it to make way for a parking lot. At the time, the Tazewell was the only remaining major hotel in downtown Pekin.

Woodard’s Hotel on Elizabeth Street across the street from the courthouse was opened by Mrs. E. Barber in 1879. It burned down in 1899 and was later replaced by The Tazewell Hotel.

The Tazewell Hotel stood until 1962, when it was purchased by Herget Bank and demolished to make space for a parking lot.

Around the turn of the century, the Tazewell was one of seven hotels in the city. One of them, the Illinois Hotel (formerly called Sherman House), outlived the Tazewell by little more than a year, being torn down in the spring of 1963. Sherman House was built in 1874 by John Weber at the corner of Second and St. Mary streets. The Union House was opened in 1881 by Leonhard Dietrich. Two others, the Central House and the Columbia (opened in 1893), were torn down in the 1950s. By then, however, the era of Pekin’s grand downtown hotels was already past.

The Illinois Hotel, originally called Sherman House in the 1800s, was located at the northeast corner of Second and St. Mary streets. It was torn down in the spring of 1963. The block of St. Mary Street between Second and Third streets no longer exists, now occupied by public housing.

Central Hotel, or Central House, was operated by the Rossi family at 333 Margaret St. It was demolished in the 1950s.

The Columbia Hotel, at the corner of N. Fourth and Margaret streets, was opened in 1893 by William H. Lauterbach. It was demolished in the 1950s.

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The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Pekin Park District was established in 1902, but the history of Pekin’s parks in fact begins 20 years earlier, when Mineral Springs Park – called “the jewel in the crown” of the Park District system by “Pekin: A Pictorial History” – was founded as a privately-owned park.

Mineral Springs Park gets its name from an artesian well that was bored in 1882 to provide a water source for the planned park. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 943-945, tells the story of the founding of Mineral Springs Park and the creation of the Pekin Park District. Like many other improvements to Pekin at that time, the establishment of Pekin’s first park is credited to Thomas Cooper.

Allensworth writes, “In the spring of 1882 a citizens’ meeting was held in Pekin, for the purpose of taking into consideration the organizing of a company, purchasing ground, laying out a park and boring an artesian well. Thomas Cooper was selected as Chairman and A. B. Sawyer, Secretary. Henry Roos, John Caufman and William Prettyman were appointed a committee to see contractors and get prices for boring a well 1,000 feet deep. . . . Forty-five lots were bought in East Addition, besides ten acres in the south side bought from Frank E. Rupert, making altogether something over 40 acres.

“Thomas Cooper was made President and A. B. Sawyer Secretary of the company. A contract was made for boring a well to a depth of 1,000 for $1,900; but when down 990 feet, the drill broke and, after a long and tedious wait, a settlement was made with the contractor for $1,500. Salt water was struck at a depth of 400 feet. It ran out of the pipe at the surface for some time and then settled back about twenty feet from the surface.”

This 1882 photograph shows the drilling of the artesian well that gives Mineral Springs Park in Pekin its name.

In his account, Allensworth goes into some detail about the drilling of the well and the purported medicinal properties of the water.

“The well is 990 feet deep. Flowing water was struck at a depth of 850 feet. It is cased with 4-inch pipe down to bed rock, which is 250 feet deep. A coal vein was struck at 250 feet, and below this was rock and shale under the Niagara Limestone was reached, in which was the water, as this stone was like honey-comb. The flow is 400,000 gallons every 24 hours, and the temperature of the water, as it comes from the well, is 72 degrees F.

“The medicinal properties of this spring are highly attested by no less a personage than Dr. Emil Pfeifer, head physician in the Weisbaden (Germany) sanitarium, who, in a letter to the owner, Mr. Henry Schnellbacher, says of it: ‘From the analysis of the spring owned by you, I find that it nearly resembles the spring of Baden-Baden. You do not state the temperature of the spring. The same is naturally warm, and will produce the same effects of Baden-Baden, or Wiesbaden, especially in gout, rheumatism, stomach troubles or sick headache.’”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 78, also notes that “Some families remember their parents bringing home gallons of the well water, believing it had ‘healing properties.’ The children remembered it smelled and tasted like ‘rotten eggs,’ but they still drank it.”

According to Allensworth, about 3,000 trees were then planted and a lake – the Mineral Springs Park lagoon – was “scraped out.” In 1883, a bath house was built, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added, “and the people of Pekin were happy in having a fine park, without cost to the citizens.”

Misfortune befell the Mineral Springs Park company in the form of a destructive tornado, which “blew down the bath house and the pagoda; also a fine band-stand, which left the company in bad shape,” Allensworth writes.

“No money could be raised to pay the indebtedness. It was then that Mr. Cooper took hold, paid the bills, bought up the stock, put up a new up-to-date building on the east side of the lake, repaired the bath-house and again had everything in good shape. Before this he made an offer to the City Council to sell the park to the city for $6,000, but the offer was rejected. Mr. Cooper sometime after this sold it to Fred and Henry Schnellbacher and Henry Saal for $9,000. Soon after this a fire burned the large club house. It was then offered to the City for $13,000, but by vote was rejected.”

Proponents of a public park district tried again in 1902. The Pekin Park District was established by a vote of 633-111 in a special election on Oct. 28, 1902. The Pekin Park District Commissioners then agreed on May 12, 1903, to purchase Mineral Springs Park from Henry Schnellbacher for $22,500.

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