The Arcade Building through the years

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Downtown Pekin’s historic Arcade Building, located at 15 S. Capitol St. across from the Tazewell County Courthouse, has been on the minds of many in recent weeks and months. One reason is because the Tazewell County Museum recently has completed the transfer of its collections and operations from its former Sunset Plaza location to the Arcade Building.

But this structure also has been the subject of discussions regarding whether or not the Arcade Building will have a future in the long term, after inspections found the building to be in great need of repairs to its foundation. The building is county-owned, and the county recently agreed to provide the repairs, rather than condemn and demolish it – so the Arcade Building will remain a fixture of Pekin’s downtown for years to come.

Over the course of the 110 years of its existence, the Arcade Building has seen a lengthy list of tenants come and go. Until closing its doors not very long ago, perhaps the most popular tenant – especially for county workers on lunch hour – was the Courtyard Café. The space next to that, on the south end of the building, has hosted numerous tenants over the decades, from the Palace of Sweets in the early 20th century, to the Will Harms Co. in the 1960s, to Radio Shack around 1970.

Several volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection can help us trace the history of the Arcade Building. For example, Rob Clifton says in his “Pekin History: Then and Now” (2004), “Built in 1905 the Arcade building was to house a new theater. The theater never panned out but many businesses have occupied the space.” Clifton also discusses a store that once occupied the building’s center space under the arch, where shoe shines were once offered.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on pages 52-54, tells of local realtor Robert B. Monge’s restoration work after he had acquired the Arcade Building.

“In the spring of 1946,” the Sesquicentennial says, “Robert and his brother, Emile B. Monge, Sr., started their business by building four houses. Approximately 30 homes were built within the next three years, and then the two brothers entered the subdivision business and developed Lawndale Subdivision in 1949 and 1950. There they established their first office, which served the business with several additions until December of 1971, when they moved downtown into the Arcade Building. It has since been extensively restored as a sample of Monge’s interest in the redevelopment of the downtown area.”

Monge had also sought to restore and revitalize the old Pekin Theater next door to the Arcade Building. Though his efforts to save the theater failed, he did save the Arcade Building.

An exhaustive list of all the businesses and tenants that have operated from the Arcade Building since 1905 would be several pages long, but following is the tally of the building’s tenants as shown in the 1908-09 Pekin City Directory (including the home addresses or residences of the business owners or staff):

Black, Edward E., attorney, 235-237 Arcade bldg, r 1201 Bacon

Cooney, Wm. B., attorney, suite 216-218 Arcade bldg, r 621 Hillyer

Lawley, David F., attorney, Arcade bldg, r 614 Hillyer

Wilkins, Frank, attorney, Arcade bldg, r 500 Elizabeth

Nixon, Al, barber, Arcade bldg., r 1023 Catherine

Brereton, C. L., Box Ball Alley, Arcade bldg, r 902 Park (“Box Ball” was a popular coin-operated arcade game in the early 20th century – based on bowling, the game was made of wood and somewhat resembled skee-ball.)

Willett, R. C., dentist, rms 232-234 Arcade bldg., r 417 Haines

American General Agency Co., Geo. L. Colburn pres, 217 Arcade bldg.

Pioneer Life Insurance Co., Geo. L. Colburn pres; I. P. Mantz, sec, Arcade bldg.

Buck, Chas. A., insurance agent, Arcade bldg., r 213 S. Second

Peoria Journal, Abie Schaefer, mngr, Arcade bldg.

Peoria Herald-Transcript, C. R. Barnes, representative, Arcade bldg.

Coleman, John M., physician, Arcade bldg, r 349 St. Mary


Shown is a vintage photograph of the Arcade Building in downtown Pekin, taken apparently within the first 10 to 15 years after its construction in 1905.

#arcade-building, #pekin-city-directory, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county

Donation of Barack Obama historical materials

The newest addition to our Local History Room collection is a donation of materials from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama. These materials, which include numerous U.S., European, and Canadian newspapers, magazines, and assorted political memorabilia, were donated to the library earlier this month by Amy and Mark Werner of Pekin, who until recently owned and lived in the former home of Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. The Werners’ donated materials are available for researchers in two archival boxes in the wide storage cabinet in the back corner of the Local History Room.

Shown here is a sample article highlighting some Dirksen history from the Werner collection of Obama materials.


#amy-werner, #barack-obama, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #political-memorabilia

The death of Sheriff Robert Clay

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As was reported last month in the Pekin Daily Times, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department is considering the creation of a memorial for the three Tazewell County law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

The proposed memorial would include the names of Deputy Craig Whisenand, who died in a single-vehicle crash on Aug. 11; Deputy Henry Pratt, who was shot to death in July 1869 while leading a posse against the Berry gang; and Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Clay, who died from complications resulting from a shotgun wound to his leg that he suffered in early September 1920 during a shootout with liquor thieves near Creve Coeur. Besides the proposed memorial in Pekin, according to last month’s report by Daily Times staff writer Michael Smothers, the names of Whisenand and Clay will be added to the National Law Enforcement Organization Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Even though Clay’s death is unique in the annals of Tazewell County history as the only county sheriff to die from violence suffered in the line of duty, Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston told the Daily Times that Clay’s death had been “lost track of” at the Sheriff’s Department. That his death was forgotten may be remarkable, but it does not seem as remarkable when we consider that Clay’s death is overlooked by all of the standard works on Pekin history – neither the 1949 Pekin Centenary, nor the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, nor even the 2003 “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” have anything to say about his death.

Surprisingly, until late last month, even the Pekin Public Library’s online obituary index lacked an entry for Sheriff Clay – an oversight that has been corrected. Apart from occasional items in the monthly newsletter of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, hardly anything has been published about his death.

As it happens, this column unwittingly included a brief reference to Clay’s death earlier this year. The “From the Local History Room” column published in the May 23, 2015 Pekin Daily Times, presented a compilation of “odd news of days gone by, which included the Dec. 28, 1921 obituary of Henry Clay, “once noted attorney of Pekin, Illinois, and an outstanding figure in Illinois politics,” who had died “after a life in which tragedy followed tragedy.” Among the astonishing series of tragic events which the obituary mentioned was the death of Henry Clay’s brother: “A year ago last, September, Sheriff Bob Clay of Tazewell, Ia., was shot and killed in a battle with bandits.” The reference to “Tazewell, Ia.,” of course, was an error for “Tazewell County, Ill.”

The library’s microfilmed copies of the Pekin Daily Times do not have a Sept. 2, 1920 edition of the newspaper, which is the day the newspaper would have reported on the gun battle that happened in the early morning hours of Sept. 2 between the Sheriff’s Department and the thieves who had stolen several barrels of alcohol from a freight train. It’s not clear if the microfilms lack a Sept. 2 edition because a copy was unavailable to those who made the microfilms, or rather that the Daily Times did not put out a paper that day.

The Sept. 3, 1920 Daily Times, however, ran a story headlined, “RECOVERY OF SHERIFF CLAY NOW POSSIBLE,” telling of Clay’s gunshot wound to his left knee, which was “considered extremely critical.” The Daily Times article said Clay was being treated at Proctor Hospital in Peoria for “a dangerous wound in the knee and while everything possible is being done in the case, it will be considered almost a miracle if the sheriff’s leg can be saved. Dr. J. H. Bacon, of Peoria, stated early this morning that it would be necessary to amputate the limb.”

“Yesterday morning and until late in the afternoon the attending physicians held out but faint hope that the brave officer would survive,” the Daily Times further reported. “The operation for transfusion of blood was performed in the afternoon and shortly afterwards the sheriff appeared to revive a little, and there was an evident improvement in his condition.

“When it became known yesterday that transfusion of blood would be necessary to save Sheriff Clay’s life there were over one hundred residents of Pekin and Peoria who volunteered to submit themselves to the ordeal.”

The Daily Times report says the blood donor was A. G. Gossard of 615 Fifth Ave., Peoria, “the man from whom the truck, which had been stolen from his home by the hijackers and used in their booze stealing raid.”

Then in the Saturday, Sept. 4, 1920 edition, the Daily Times published a story with the headline, “SHERIFF CLAY MAKES A BRAVE FIGHT FOR LIFE,” reporting, “There is a possibility of pneumonia, the physicians declare, but if the fearless Pekin officer can keep up his fight for another twenty-four hours he will have a little more than a fighting chance for his life.”

It was not to be, however – Clay died that same day, and the next edition of the Daily Times, on Labor Day, Sept. 6, 1920, displayed headlines such as “LAST RITES FOR SHERIFF ROBERT CLAY,” “CORONER L. R. CLARY IS NOW IN CHARGE,” and “LABOR PARADE PAYS TRIBUTE TO BOB CLAY.” Businesses in the city closed for his funeral rites, and great numbers of mourners filed past the sheriff’s body as it lay in state for several hours in the rotunda of the Tazewell County Courthouse on Tuesday, Sept. 7, after which it was interred at Lakeside Cemetery.


Shown is a detail from the Sept. 6, 1920 edition of the Pekin Daily Times showing articles reporting on the death and funeral arrangements for Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Clay, who had died from a wound suffered in a gun battle with liquor thieves.

#pekin-daily-times, #police-officers-killed, #robert-clay, #tazewell-county-sheriff

OCAW and PACE Local 7662 mementos on display

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Recent visitors to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room will have noticed the new exhibit of labor union mementos, photographs and artifacts in the history room’s display case, which was featured in a slideshow here late last month.

The items on display were provided by Laura Nickels, financial secretary/treasurer of the United Steelworkers Local 7662 in Pekin. Recently, Nickels and others in the Pekin Local went through their historical files and gathered the artifacts and photographs together. Individuals in the old photographs were identified by Hoss Richardson, Ben Richardson, and Jim Hermman.

The Pekin local, whose members worked at the old Corn Products plant (now Aventine), formerly was affiliated with the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW), then became a part of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) after OCAW merged with the United Paperworkers in 1999. PACE merged with the United Steelworkers of America in 2005, forming the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW). But all along, the Pekin local retained its number of 7662, Nickels says.

Many of the displayed photographs are group pictures of the local’s officers dating back to the 1950s, while others come from union meetings and conventions in other states. Some of the photos are of union events and parties 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.

The Local History Room display also includes old union patches, a PACE cap, and copies of union constitutions. The exhibit will be on display through the end of September.


Shown are past officers of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, Pekin Local 7662. Pictured are (back row, left to right) Howard Lisenbee, Cliff Groegin, Marvin Webb, Lyndel Hurt, Archie Mangold Jr., Leo Swisher, Jerry Hoyle, Terry Tomlinson, (front row) Cliff Denning, Willie Long, Bob Meskimen, Jim Taylor, Bob Collins, Melvin Schoonover, and George Wubben. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAURIE NICKELS AND UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 7662

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

Old recipes from the Star Society cookbook

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Labor Day, which is coming up in just a few more days, has come to represent summertime’s “last hurrah.” Like all holidays and special occasions, it’s a time for special gatherings of family and friends, which, of course, means the preparation of special meals and traditional dishes.

With the thought of traditional meals in mind, this week we will take a look at a collection of recipes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. It’s the third edition of “The Star Cook Book,” which was compiled and published in 1922 by the ladies of the Star Society of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church of Pekin.

“The Star Cook Book” opens with the following poetic celebration by Owen Meredith of cooking and dining:

“We may live without poetry, music, and art;
We may live without conscience, live without heart;
We may live without friends, we may live without books;
But civilized man can not live without cooks.

“We may live without books: what is knowledge but grieving?
We may live without hope: what is hope but deceiving?
We may live without love: what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?”

The first two editions of their cookbook were apparently very popular. “There has been a constant demand during the past four years for a Third Edition, and the time has come when it can no longer be disregarded,” says a brief introductory frontispiece.

The third edition is 276 pages in length (including the index), and the submitted recipes are categorized in 31 groupings, under subject headings such as soups, dumplings, fish and oysters, poultry and game, meats, casserole dishes, salad dressing, salads, vegetables, breads, sandwiches, cakes, puddings and desserts, and pies. Under each subject heading is an epigram pertaining in some way to dining or the preparation of food. Most of the epigrams are straightforward, such as the one for “Soups,” which has a quote from Shakespeare: “Now good digestion wait on appetite, and health on both.” Other epigrams show a wry sense of humor, such as the one under “Poultry and Game” – another Shakespeare quote (this time from “Julius Caesar”), saying, “Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass.”

Anyone interested in trying some recipes for Pekin cuisine from about 90 years ago may consult the cookbook in the Local History Room.


This vintage photograph of Grace Methodist Church in Pekin was published in 1922 in the third edition of “The Star Cook Book,” compiled by the women of the church’s Star Society.

#grace-united-methodist-church-of-pekin, #recipes, #star-cookbook