A boat named the ‘City of Pekin’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we shine a spotlight on a boat that hauled grain on the Illinois River in the early 20th century. Named the “City of Pekin,” the boat’s history was featured in a story on the front page of the Jan. 8, 1981 Pekin Daily Times, titled, “‘City of Pekin’ Once Plied The Illinois River.” A clipping of the story is on file in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

The Daily Times writer, Mary Ann Castelluccio, says, “The ‘City of Pekin,’ originally a canal barge later rebuilt for river use, was owned by the Illinois River Packet Co. or the Turner Hudnut Company of Pekin. The captain was Joseph W. Foster, who was born on a canal boat between Morris and Seneca in the 1860’s …”

According to Castelluccio, it is uncertain what the boat’s name was before she was rebuilt for river use. Joe Lamb, president and chief organizer of the Illinois Canal Society at Lockport, Ill., told the Daily Times that the boat was probably originally “The Clyde,” a mule-hauled barge, but others think she was a different canal barge named the “City of Henry.”

Whatever her original name, she was built in Chicago in 1875, and was renamed “City of Pekin” when she was rebuilt in 1911. A 15-foot high pilot house was added, which made it “impossible to clear bridges on the Illinois and Michigan Canal or the Hennepin Canal.” Instead, she worked the Illinois River.

Captain Foster’s daughter, Mrs. Helen Poole, grew up on the “City of Pekin,” and she left the following description of the boat, detailing the furnishing that her family used when they went out on the river with their father on long hauls:

“The fore cabin was sleeping quarters for the deck hands. The walls were tongue and groove lumber painted cream color. There was a board floor with a rag rug. As you stepped down into the cabin, there was a bunk bed on either side; windows were sliding ones with green shades. Under the window at the back was a shelf with a washbasin, and there was a small mirror on the wall and a couple of hooks for hanging ‘go-to-town clothes.’ A towel hung on the door. A lantern used for lighting was stored on the shelf. Sheets and pillowcases were dark blue with small white figures (calico) and dark blankets.

“The main cabin or captain’s quarters had three rooms. The front half was dining room and kitchen. The back was divided in half with bunk beds on either side. Again sliding windows with shades, no curtains. Between the two bedrooms was a door and the doors from the dining room-kitchen had curtains made of drapery material. Not much privacy, but this was mostly a family affair. There was space for storage under the bunks, for a trunk and cases of canned goods. There were a few hooks for hanging extra clothing.

“As you entered the cabin there was a step down. Near the door was a speaking tube for communication between the pilot house and the cabin. There was brown and cream-color linoleum in a square design on the floor. Between the windows on the right side as you faced the bow of the boat was a built-in table covered with oilcloth. Stools were used instead of chairs. Dishes were white ironstone.

“Across the front of the cabin was a cupboard for dishes and a small sink. The cookstove was on the left side. There was an open shelf at the side. Iron frypans and kettles hung on hooks behind the stove. There was a sewing machine in the corner and a rocking chair. On the back wall at the right was a mirror, and at the left a large calendar.

“Menus were simple – meat, potatoes, a vegetable and a ‘sauce;’ bacon and eggs and bread with coffee for breakfast, and sometimes ‘steamboat strawberries’ (prunes) … My father put a Yeast Foam box with one side removed across the corner of the window on the left side of the pilot house where I could stand and help him ‘steer’ the boat.”

After a couple of decades on the Illinois River, in 1936 the state of Illinois hauled the old vessel to Channahon on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The idea was to restore her as an exhibit or perhaps even have it hauled up and down the canal by mules. Nothing ever came of those ideas, though, and the “City of Pekin” was left to rot, and in 1941 a fire burned her to the waterline.


‘The City of Pekin,’ shown here, was a rebuilt canal barge that hauled grain up and down the Illinois River in the early 20th century.

#barge, #canals, #captain-joseph-w-foster, #city-of-pekin, #helen-poole, #illinois-and-michigan-canal, #illinois-canal-society, #mary-ann-castellucio

Slideshow: Pekin United Steel Workers Local 7662

Currently on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is a selection of photographs, documents, and mementos from the historical files of Pekin United Steel Workers Local 7662, formerly a local of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers with members at the old Corn Products plant in Pekin. The display is courtesy of Laura Nickels, financial secretary/treasurer of United Steel Workers Local 7662.

Some of the displayed photos are of events at the former union hall that was located at the southeast corner of Derby and South Seventh Street. The hall afterwards was used as a banquet hall by Ernie’s Family Restaurant, but later was demolished, and the land is now parking for Ernie’s.

Slideshow photos courtesy of Library staffer Emily Lambe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

#labor-unions, #ocaw, #oil-chemical-and-atomic-workers-union, #pekin-united-steel-workers-local-7662

Time to recall ‘The Oldtimer Recalls’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Older residents of Pekin will still remember a regular column in the Pekin Daily Times that was titled, “The Oldtimer Recalls.” The columnist was Roy S. Preston (1894-1985), former postmaster at the Pekin post office, who was laid to rest in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin.

The files in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room include various clippings of Preston’s column. One of them, dated Aug. 12, 1975, describes what was found in a time capsule that had been enclosed in the cornerstone of the Illinois Sugar Refining Co., a plant later replaced by Corn Products (today Aventine).

Preston noted that the decision to build that plant was made during a stockholders meeting at the Fey Hotel in Peoria on Dec. 22, 1898. “Henry Herget was the big influence that gave the vote in favor of Pekin” as the site of the new sugar refinery. “The vote was disappointing to the Peoria delegation,” Preston wrote.

Found in the time capsule were several copies of the old pre-1881 Pekin Weekly Times and the post-1881 Pekin Daily Times. Preston discusses the contents of some of the newspapers, including one from 1888, when Albert R. Warren was mayor of Pekin and Peter Sweitzer was chairman of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, and coffee sold for 50 cents for 3 pounds.

Preston’s column from 1975 also gives some of the early history of the Illinois Sugar Refining Co. He writes, “At the start they employed Russians on the beet plantations which were located around the sound of Pekin and as far south as Green Valley. They lived in tents. The language was a problem. German were brought over from Germany. They were people who had lived on the Russian border and this solved the language problem,” since most people in Pekin at the time spoke German as a first or second language.

Continuing, Preston writes, “The owners of the land were responsible for planting and harvesting the crop. They were paid $4 a ton delivered to the plant in Pekin. They also had to protect the crop against the frost. It is hard to believe that the growers made any money.”

Another of Preston’s columns in the Local History Room files was published Aug. 21, 1971, and gave an overview of the history of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper. What had occasioned his look back at Pekin Times history was the newspaper’s switch to a new offset printing press on July 26, 1971.

In Preston’s review of local newspaper history, perhaps the most remarkable item is the following notice of an article first published in a Tazewell County newspaper in 1866, reporting on a massive brawl that broke out at a Fourth of July picnic between English-speaking Pekin residents (“Anglo Americans”) and German-speakers (“Teutons”).

“We learn that at a picnic held on Sunday near Pekin, a row was inaugurated and a fierce conflict ensued between the Anglo American and Teutonic races in which fence boards and all available weapons were used freely – three or four hundred belligerents being engaged. The battle raged fiercely all along the line but we have heard of no deaths. One Teuton who was desirous of being a peacemaker was made pieces of by having one of his ears torn off by the descent of a club and one jaw broken. In that case it is hard to see the fulfillment of the Scripture, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’”


#corn-products, #oldtimer-recalls, #pekin-daily-times, #roy-preston, #sugar-house

Kingman’s elephants from Baker’s office

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A piece of artwork with an interesting Pekin connection recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library’s collection. The artwork is a watercolor depicting a row of six seated circus elephants being directed by a trainer, with a second trainer or ringmaster standing in the background between the second and third elephant.

At the bottom right corner, the artist signed his name, “Kingman.” That was the late Dong Kingman, whose obituary, “Dong Kingman, 89, Whimsical Watercolorist,” was published in the New York Times on May 16, 2000. The obituary says Kingman was “an American-born watercolorist known for humorously illustrational cityscapes, magazine covers and contributions to Hollywood films.

Kingman was born in 1911 in Oakland, Calif., and his father was a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong. His family returned to Hong Kong when he was child, and while there he studied traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy as well as European styles. During the Great Depression, Kingman returned to the U.S. “After a successful first show of watercolors in 1933 he joined the Works Progress Administration for five years, while also teaching at the Academy of Advertising Art in San Francisco,” the obituary says.

“In 1940 the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought one of Mr. Kingman’s paintings, and later two more. His New York solo debut was at Midtown Gallery in 1942,” the obituary continues, also mentioning that, “Paintings by Mr. Kingman are owned by the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and are in private collections.”

Before coming to Pekin’s library, this watercolor had hung for many years in the Huntsville, Ala., law office of the late Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. After Baker’s death on June 26, 2014, his former law firm of Baker Donelson closed the Huntsville office on Oct. 30, and Baker’s senior adviser Fred Marcum and secretary Jewell Kidd closed out his estate. In so doing, they had this watercolor sent to the Pekin Public Library.

Why did they send it to Pekin? The immediate answer to that question is found on the back of the framed watercolor, where one may find a handwritten note that says, “From Ben Regan / Eventually wants it placed in Pekin Library.”

That, however, raises more questions — namely, who was Ben Regan, and why did Baker want this watercolor sent to Pekin’s library? Baker presumably directed that it go to Pekin because of Baker’s own link to Pekin – Baker’s late first wife Joy was the daughter of Pekin’s native son, Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen.

An interesting political column by George Tagge, printed in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 17, 1968, says Regan, formerly of Chicago, was an old friend and associate of Dirksen. The column tells of some backroom political maneuverings of Dirksen and his friends aimed at convincing Richard Nixon to choose Baker as his running mate rather than Nelson Rockefeller. Describing the maneuver of Dirksen and Regan, Tagge writes, “Sen. Dirksen hoped on convention eve that a delay in committing the largest bloc of votes Nixon was to get from any state would bring Nixon around.”

As a long-time friend and ally of Dirksen, Regan apparently acquired this Kingman watercolor as a gift for Dirksen’s son-in-law Baker. The watercolor’s circus theme is perhaps intended as a humorous allegory of the “circus” shenanigans of Washington politics. Dirksen, Regan and Baker were staunch Republicans, and the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party, so an illustration featuring six circus elephants would be a nice fit for the office of a prominent Republican.

This watercolor by the late artist Dong Kingman recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library.

This watercolor by the late artist Dong Kingman recently was
donated to the Pekin Public Library.

#ben-regan, #dong-kingman, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #howard-baker, #watercolor

Robert Strickland, lost and found

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the stories and anecdotes of Tazewell County’s early settlers, we find a tale of a little lost boy on page 535 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” The story, which concerns the earliest history of Morton Township, is as follows:

“In the early settlement of this country it was not uncommon for children to get lost, yet when they did the intensest excitement prevailed in the neighborhood. When Robert G. Strickland was only two years old, he started out to find his father. The surrounding country there was one vast wilderness of brush and timber. He was soon missed, but no traces of his whereabouts could be had for some fifteen hours. The whole settlement turned out in search of the child. Three district schools dismissed, that all might join in the search. A Mr. Baricks found him over a mile from the house, and took him to Samuel Tart’s, who had just lost a little boy, and their girl was so glad she had another little brother. Mrs. Tart had a little niece about the same age of the lost boy, who lived with her. He was tired and dirty, and his clothes all torn and face badly scratched. To this day he wears the scars on his face. He was dressed in the clothing of her little niece by Mrs. Tart, and was sleeping sweetly when his father called for him. We will close this narrative by stating that the lost boy is now the husband of the little girl whose dresses he was clothed with. He resides on the same old farm, and has seven children, none of whom has he lost either by death or straying.”

One year after Chapman included this story in his county history, Robert Strickland and his family were enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census, which shows Robert as a 44-year-old farmer in Morton Township, with his wife Rebecca, 39, and their seven children Sarah, 16, William, 15, Eva, 12, Laura, 10, Robert, 7, James, 5, and Myra, 2.

Various Ancestry.com family trees provide additional information, including published obituaries and gravestone photographs, telling of the lives and deaths of the little lost boy who had been clothed in the dress of the little girl he would eventually marry.

Robert Gilson Strickland was born in May of 1836, in Nashville, Tenn., a son of Thomas Monroe and Susan Agee (Bondurant) Strickland. Robert’s wife was Rebecca Frances Drury, born in July of 1839, daughter of William and Sarah (Wells) Drury.  In his old age, Robert and Rebecca moved to McLean, Lawndale Township, McLean County, Illinois, where they lived with their son James.

It was at his son James’ home that Robert died of a brain hemorrhage on Aug. 9, 1910. One of his published obituaries states, “At the age of 6 months he moved with his parents to Washington, Tazewell county, Ill., and there grew to manhood … He was married in 1861, and nine (sic) children were born to bless this union.” He was buried in Wiley Cemetery, Colfax, McLean County. Robert’s widow Rebecca died 13 years later in Footville, Wisconsin, on Jan. 17, 1923.

#charles-c-chapman, #morton-township, #tazewell-county-history

Where is Nance Legins-Costley’s final resting place?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we revisit once more the life of “Black Nance” Legins-Costley of Pekin, who has the distinction of being the first African-American slave freed by Abraham Lincoln.

As noted in this column on three previous occasions (Feb. 11, 2012, May 2, 2015, and June 20, 2015), Nance was brought to Pekin as a slave by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, but persistently brought legal challenges to her servitude. Through Bailey v. Cromwell, a case that Lincoln successfully argued before the Illinois Supreme Court on July 23, 1841, Nance finally obtained freedom for herself and her three eldest children, Amanda, Eliza Jane and Bill. As we learned in June, Bill later served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was present for the founding of the Buffalo Soldiers and the first “Juneteenth.”

For all that we now know of “Black Nance,” there is much that is, and perhaps always will be, shrouded in mystery. Among those mysteries are the exact time and place of her birth, the exact time and place of her death, and her final resting place.

The research of Carl Adams, formerly of North Pekin, has established that Nance’s parents were African-American slaves named Randol and Anachy Legins, who were born in the 1770s in Maryland. (See Adams’s book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln”) Nance had a brother named Ruben “Ruby” Legins, born about 1808, and a sister named Dice Legins, born about 1815. Both the 1850 and the 1860 U.S. Census returns for Pekin say Nance was born in Maryland, and her given age in those census records indicates that she was born about 1813. Illinois Supreme Court records, however, say Nance was born in the building that would be used as the Illinois Territorial Capitol in Kaskaskia, Illinois. It’s impossible to get any closer to when and where she was born than that.

As for the date of Nance’s marriage, Tazewell County records show that she and Benjamin Costley were married before Justice of the Peace M. Tackaberry on Oct. 15, 1840. U.S. Census records indicate that her eldest child Amanda was born about 1836 in Illinois, though Amanda’s burial records indicate she was born July 3, 1834. Nance had been brought to the future site of Pekin by Nathan Cromwell around 1828. Adams notes that there is no indication that her husband had ever been a slave.

But when and where did Nance die, and where was she buried? Researchers have put forward two conjectures about her death and burial. According to Adams, the first conjecture was made by the late local historian Fred Soady, whose opinion is recorded in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume as follows:

“[Nance] lived in Pekin until her death about 1873 at approximately 60 years of age … There is no record of her place of burial, although educated speculation would indicate the present site of the Quaker Oats Company.”

That would be the former city cemetery that was located at the foot of Koch Street, on the west side of Second Street. That cemetery was later closed and the burials were moved to Lakeside Cemetery along Route 29. So, if she was buried in the old cemetery, perhaps her mortal remains are now in Lakeside Cemetery, lacking a grave marker.

There are a few facts that conflict with Soady’s conjecture, however. For one thing, the 1880 U.S. Census lists “Nancy Costly,” age 85, as a resident of Pekin, along with husband Ben Costly, 87, and children Mary Costly, 50, at home, Willis Costly, 44, laborer, and Leander Costly, 35, laborer. If Nance died about 1873, why is she listed in the 1880 Census?

The answer to that question is that it seems this census record is fictitious. Adams and his collaborator Bill Maddox of Pekin had previously found a death record for Nance’s husband Ben in 1877 in Peoria, where it is known many of Nance and Ben’s children moved during the 1870s. If Ben was already dead in Peoria by 1877, he obviously couldn’t be alive and well in Pekin in 1880. It’s also significant that the ages of this 1880 census record contradict the ages listed for this family in earlier census records, which are quite consistent. Most likely this census record is a fabrication, perhaps intended to help boost Pekin’s population figures – but Nance’s family had left Pekin by 1880.

Is Soady’s conjecture that Nance died in Pekin around 1873 and was buried in the old city cemetery correct after all? Perhaps, perhaps not. Maddox has noted that if she did die in Pekin, she could have been buried on her own property, which was located at the southwest corner of Amanda and Somerset. Or perhaps she moved to Peoria with the rest of her family in the 1870s, and died there like her husband Ben. Maybe Nance and Ben are buried in Peoria.

There is, however, another possibility that came to light earlier this year when this writer was researching the column of May 2, 2015. The Minnesota State Census returns for Minneapolis, dated May 29, 1885, list “Nancy Cosley,” 72, black, born in Maryland, with James Cosley, 32, black, born in Illinois, Mary Cosley, 22, black, born in Arkansas, and Hannah Smith, 66, black, born in Virginia. “Mary Cosley” of that entry could be James’ wife, and perhaps “Hannah Smith” is Mary’s mother, living in the same house with James and Nancy. The old Pekin city directories show that “Cosley” is one of the known variant spellings of Nance and Ben’s surname “Costley.” Nance had a son named James Willis Costley, who in fact would have been 32 in 1885, just as Nance, who was born in Maryland, would have been 72 that year.

This detail from the May 29, 1885, Minnesota State Census record obtained through searching Ancestry.com databases shows a

This detail from the May 29, 1885, Minnesota State Census record obtained through searching Ancestry.com databases shows a “Nancy Cosley” who may be Nance Legins-Costley of

Could Nance not only have left Pekin but moved out of state to Minneapolis, Minnesota, living there with her son James Willis? Further research is necessary before this conjecture could be either confirmed or disproven, but the 1885 entry in the Minnesota State Census does “fit” with the other available known facts of Nance and her family.

Significantly, Nancy’s eldest son Bill is known to have left Peoria for Iowa before moving to Minneapolis in the 1880s. Adams recently located Bill’s grave in Quarry Hill Park, in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, Rochester, Minnesota. Did James perhaps bring his mother to Minneapolis to join Bill there, or did Bill go to Minneapolis to join his brother and mother there? We can’t say for sure yet, but this state census record does raise the possibility that “Black Nance” did not die in Pekin about 1873, but perhaps died and was laid to rest in or near Minneapolis at some point after May 29, 1885.

Here are links to previous Local History Room columns on “Black Nance” and her family:

The first slave freed by Lincoln was from Pekin

Trials of the first slave freed by Lincoln

Bill Costley: Pekin’s link to “Juneteenth”

Carl M. Adams’ book on Nance Legins-Costley

#abraham-lincoln, #nance-legins-costley, #william-henry-costley