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 March 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor
By Jared Olar
Previously this column reviewed the story of how Pekin became an incorporated city in 1849. When the residents of Pekin formally adopted a city charter on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin opted for a mayor/alderman form of government.
The earliest published history of Pekin is found in the Sellers & Bates 1870 Pekin City Directory. On page 28 of that volume, we read, “The election for city officers occurred on the 24th of September, 1849, and resulted in the election of the following named officers: Mayor – Bernard Bailey. First Ward – John Atkinson. Second Ward – David P. Kenyon. Third Ward – Wm. S. Maus. Fourth Ward – Jacob Riblet.”
The Bailey name is an old one in Pekin – part of Pekin is known as Bailey Addition, and Lake Arlann (Meyers Lake) formerly was called Bailey’s Lake. However, Bernard Bailey does not appear to have been a member of that Bailey family. The 1880 “History of Peoria County” says he was born in Maryland on March 26, 1812, the son of Vincent and Susanna (Bernard) Bailey. He first came to Tazewell County, Illinois, around 1830, where he worked as a school teacher and worked at his father’s ox mill. Settling in Pekin, he went into the grocery business and did some wagon making, saving enough money to become a lawyer.
Bailey then left Pekin, moving to Mercer County, Illinois, and then south to Louisiana, the native state of his wife Arabella Gilmore. In East Baton Rouge Parish, he tried his hand at sugar and cotton planting, until in 1848 he returned to Pekin, being elected mayor the following year.
Originally Pekin’s mayor and aldermen were elected to serve one-year terms, with elections taking place in the spring. Because the first mayor and city council were elected in the autumn, however, they could only serve about seven months before the next election. The 1870 City Directory says the second city election was on April 15, 1850, and Mayor Bailey and three of the four aldermen were reelected (Atkinson losing his reelection bid to Peter Weyhrich).
Before Pekin could vote to incorporate as a city, a hasty enumeration of the town’s inhabitants had to be conducted to verify that Pekin had at least 1,500 residents. However, immigration and prosperity was fueling a population boom during Mayor Bailey’s two terms. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Only a year later, Pekin’s population had increased by more than 20% to 1,840, many of the new arrivals being German immigrants. Bailey was re-elected Mayor (the terms then being one year) and all seemed to be going well.”
“That did not last long, however,” the Sesquicentennial continues.
It was at this point that the fledgling city government experienced its first “hiccup.” The 1887 Pekin City Directory, page 30, briefly explains:
“On the 9th of October, 1850, it was resolved by the Council that the Mayor be requested to resign his office, that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office. On the 25th of October, Mayor Bailey sent in his written resignation which, on motion, was accepted.”
It should be noted that the 1870 City Directory mistakenly switched the calendar dates of the council resolution and Bailey’s resignation. That error was corrected in the 1887 edition, but the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial repeats the 1870 City Directory’s mistake.
The standard reference works on Pekin’s early history do not tell us why Mayor Bailey was not “attending to the duties of his office,” but Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 723, includes a brief reference to Bernard Bailey that may or may not shed some light on that question:
“In the month of October, 1848, the Tazewell Mirror was purchased from John S. Lawrence by John Smith, now of Princeton, Ill. In 1850 Smith sold to Bernard Bailey, but repurchased the Mirror in 1851 in company with Adam Henderson.”
Could Mayor Bailey have been distracted from his civic duties in 1850 by his struggle to operate a newspaper? Whatever the answer to that question, after Bailey’s resignation, a special election was held on Nov. 25, 1850, and Abram Woolston (mistakenly called Woolstein in the 1879 “History of Tazewell County”) was elected to serve the remainder of Bailey’s term.
After owning the Mirror for six months, Bailey sold out and moved to Peoria. There he bought an interest in the Peoria Republican newspaper, later going into the boot and shoe business. In 1856 he was elected Justice of the Peace. He and his wife had 11 children. Pekin’s first mayor lived to the age of 91, dying at Peoria Hospital on Aug. 22, 1903. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.
By Jared Olar
Two months ago we recalled the history of one of Pekin’s early industrial businesses, the A. & J. Haines Harvester Factory that operated at the corner of Broadway and Ninth from 1849 to 1890. As a busy and noisy mid-19th century factory, the Haines manufacturing outfit was located in the midst of the sparsely populated fields and meadows of what was then Pekin’s outskirts so as not to disturb the city’s residents.
But this week we’ll turn our attention to the Haines factory’s much quieter next-door neighbors, who slept so soundly that no industrial cacophony could rouse them. These were the “residents” of the old Tharp Burial Ground, which was located at the corner of Broadway and 11th from the 1830s until the 1880s. The Tharp Burial Ground was one of the early cemeteries from Pekin’s pioneer days that is no more, the burials having been later moved to make way for the expansion and development of the city.
The Tharp Burial Ground is named for the Tharp family, who were among the earliest pioneers to settle in what was soon to become the “Town Site” that was formally named Pekin in Jan. 1830. In fact, Jonathan Tharp was the very first white settler here, erecting a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that is today at the foot of Broadway. Tharp’s cabin was not far from the wigwams of Shabbona, leader of the Pottawatomi who lived in a large village here. The following year, Jonathan’s father Jacob and other family members followed him from Ohio and built their own homesteads near his.
Later, the Tharps operated a farm in the area now occupied by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and School, and a historical marker at the St. Joseph’s Parish Center tells visitors that the Tharp farm was once located there, on the street once called Tharp Place (now St. Joseph Place). If one were to extend the line of Tharp/St. Joseph Place straight eastward out to 11th Street, one would reach the southeast corner of the Tharp Burial Ground, which began as a family burying ground for the Tharps.
The Tharp pioneer cemetery is marked with a Christian cross and the word “cemetery” on the 1864 M. H. Thompson wall plat map of Tazewell County. An 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” also identifies the cemetery as “Tharps Burial Ground.” However, by 1891 the Tazewell County atlas plat shows only the outline of where the cemetery had been.
What became of the Tharp Burial Ground? The answer is found in the Local History Room’s index for Oak Grove Cemetery, which the index describes as follows (emphasis added):
“Oak Grove consists of six acres originally under the supervision of Sons of Temperance, instituted April 10, 1848, known as Temperance Cemetery. Warranted by William and Jerusha Stansberry for the sum of $150.00. It is now a part of Lakeside Cemetery Association, located on North side of Pekin, West side of Route 29. Some burials were on the East bluff at the Old Sons of Temperance Burial Ground. They were moved to Oak Grove to make way for the building of McKinley School. Also moved here was the Tharpe (sic) Burial Ground which was at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh Streets, to make way for the building of the Old Douglas School.”
The Old Douglas School was built in 1881-2 and was originally called “the East Side School,” and thus on the 1891 plat map of Pekin we find the Tharp Burial Ground replaced by “the East Side School House.” That school building stood until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a larger Douglas School. That school in turn stood until 1988, when it was demolished to make way for a new shopping center, originally K’s Supersaver (now Schnucks).
Construction work at that site in 1988 led to the somewhat unsettling discovery that when the Tharp Burial Ground was closed down and the pioneer remains interred there were moved to Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery), a number of burials had been overlooked. In June 1988, anthropologist Alan Hern of Dixon Mounds Museum was called in to assist Tazewell County Coroner Bob Haller with the investigation and removal of the burials. Hern and Haller determined that the burials were probably victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 who had been buried in haste.
A video of Hern’s work at the site of the former Tharp Burial Ground was made by retired Pekin police officer and local historian Jim Conover. A DVD copy of Conover’s video is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection and is available for viewing at the library.
Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in July 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
High school history and the “Old Brick”
By Jared Olar
Recently in this column, we reviewed the history of the buildings that were constructed for the purpose of high school education in Pekin. As we noted then, that history begins with the Fourth Ward School, which was built in 1867 at the site where Washington Junior High School exists today.
However, the history of high school education in Pekin starts several years earlier than that. Pekin’s first high school yearbook was prepared and published by the Class of 1908, and that yearbook commences with a “Brief History of Old ‘P. H. S.’” Here is the 1908 Pekinian’s account of Pekin’s early high school history leading up to the construction of the Fourth Ward School:
“The first building in Pekin in which high school studies were taught was on Ann Eliza Street. It was a tumble down brick building in 1859 when Mr. Blenkiron took charge of the work.
“The studies given were Algebra, Geometry, History – Ancient and Modern, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Etymology, and some Physics and Chemistry.
“Latin and German were not taught, for it seems the State Laws forbade the teaching of any foreign language in the public schools. The pupils who wanted languages were compelled to go to private schools, or, if the teacher was willing, he could teach such studies outside the school hours. (Mr. Blenkiron was one of the willing ones and so taught Latin after four o’clock.)
“If any experimental work was necessary the students and teacher were supposed to make their own apparatus, as none was furnished by the school.
“The pupils put up with all sorts of inconveniences, such as, a crowded and poorly heated room, and a nearly collapsable (sic) building. At last the ‘Old Brick’ became so dangerous that thoughts were directed to a new building.
“In 1865 the citizens were appealed to for support and enough money was collected to go ahead with a new structure. Some financial difficulty arose after the foundation was laid and further progress was stopped until 1867.
“Because of the long delay one of the teachers wrote a poem, two lines of which I will quote:
“‘The foundation stands in big bug town,
But the castle is in the air.’
“This poem caused much merriment at the time and will long be used in jest by the old citizens.”
Additional information can be gleaned from other sources in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. For example, the 1949 Pekin Centenary has this to say about the “Old Brick”:
“Sometime, too, between 1840 and 1850, a two story brick building was erected on Margaret Street (sic), between Third and Capitol, by the ‘Sons of Temperance’, the upper floor being used for the lodge meetings and the lower occupied for many years as a ‘pay school’. After the adoption of the state free school system, the entire building was occupied by the free schools of Pekin. For many years older residents of the community referred affectionately to ‘the old Brick’.”
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial provides further details, correcting the Centenary’s error about the location of the “Old Brick”:
“Roots City Directory of 1861 listed six ‘free schools of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District.’ These included the ‘Brick School House,’ built in 1849 on Ann Eliza Street between Third and Capitol. The Superintendent of the district was W. Blenkiron, a noted Pekinite of the day, and the two-story structure was the first brick building erected for school purposes. The school occupied only the ground floor of the building, so the upper story was used for a time a meeting place for both the Masons and the Sons of Temperance. Eventually the property was sold to the T. & H. Smith Company.”
It’s unclear whether or not the “Old Brick” had been erected for school purposes, however.
But who was Pekin’s first school superintendent, named simply “Mr. Blenkiron” in the 1908 Pekinian?
“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) tell us that he was William Blenkiron, “a Pekin resident for 60 years. He taught at Old Jubilee College and served as superintendent of Pekin schools. A prominent amateur athlete in his younger days, he pitched for Pekin’s first baseball team. In the area of philanthropy, he, along with his daughter, Anna, donated the land on which the Blenkiron Park for children or Tot Lot is located on Park Avenue.”
By Jared Olar
The summer months are when American families traditionally hit the road for recreation and vacations. Over the past couple of decades, modern technology has introduced great changes in how we plan our trips and trace the routes to our destination.
Most of us probably rely on GPS to navigate from place to place, or plan our trips online using Google Maps or Mapquest. But many of us might still have glove boxes crammed with folded maps, or bring large road atlases along for long trips. Not very long ago, reading folded maps – and losing our tempers while wrestling with maps that just refused to fold back together properly – was simply the way long-distance road trips were done.
Another big change that helped cut down on our driving times was the construction of the Interstate Highway System starting in the mid-1950s. Originally conceived during the Cold War as a means to move troops and armaments rapidly in case the U.S. was attacked by another nation (in those days, such an attack was thought most likely to come from the Communist U.S.S.R.), instead the Interstates proved to be a boon to commerce and tourism.
Before the Interstate, however, travelers and truckers drove on state and national highways, usually just two lanes wide. Interchanges and on- and off-ramps were much rarer then, nor were there many bypasses of four or more lanes enabling drivers to avoid having to drive through cities and towns along the way to their destinations. Under such conditions, paper road maps and printed atlases were absolutely essential.
As it happens, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection can offer a glimpse of what America’s highway system look liked, and what road travel was like, before the construction of the Interstates. In the Local History Room collection is a road atlas of the contiguous 48 states that was published in 1955. It was designed for Brown & Bigelow of St. Paul, Minn., by Chicago-based H.M. Gousha Company, and printed by Brown & Bigelow for Kriegsman Warehouses of Pekin. The front and back covers of the atlas, and the inside front cover, are advertisements for Kriegsman Warehouses and Transfer Co. and Mayflower Warehouses. (We recently reviewed the historical connection between Kriegsman Transfer Co. and the founding of international moving conglomerate Crown Worldwide.)
Formerly owned by the late local historian Fred Soady of Pekin, the atlas includes guides and advice for drivers as well as mileage charts and other resources for planning trips. Turning to the maps themselves, Illinois and its neighboring states are found on pages 22 and 23. The only route out of or through Pekin that the atlas shows is Illinois Route 29, but other state and U.S. routes with familiar numbers are shown nearby – U.S. Route 24, U.S. 150, U.S. 136, and Illinois Route 116.
Another chart summarizes each state’s speed laws and gasoline tax rates. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents may recall that in 1955, the speed limit in Illinois was . . . well, in fact Illinois had no speed limit at all, other than, “Reasonable and Proper.” As for gasoline taxes, in 1955 the state imposed a mere 5 cents per gallon and the federal government imposed a paltry 2 cents per gallon (the state tax is now 34.01 cents per gallon and the federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon).
A couple of pages provide space for writing down one’s starting points, destinations, route numbers, miles, driving time, hotel reservations, and travel expenses.
Most of those are the kinds of things that Mapquest or Google Maps does for us automatically now.
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.