Pekin’s growth traced through old maps

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room resources available for study are a series of old atlases featuring maps of the Townships, municipalities, and settlements of Tazewell County.

As we noted last week, apparently the earliest known wall map of Tazewell County was produced in 1857, just three decades after Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at a spot on a bluff above the Illinois River, the location that is today the foot of Broadway. That wall map may be examined at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, while editions of the later published maps and atlases are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

A few years later, in 1864, another large plat map of Tazewell County was produced. The 1864 plat map was the subject of a From the Local History Room column that appeared in the March 8, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. In 1979, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society prepared a copy of the 1864 map for publication in a single volume that also includes the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” and the 1891 “Plat Book of Tazewell County, Illinois.”

A third TCGHS-commissioned reprint of old county atlases includes the 1910 “Standard Atlas of Tazewell County, Illinois,” and also bring us down to 1929, with that year’s edition of the “Standard Atlas” and county plat book.

As a convenient example of the value of old maps and atlases, we may consider the growth of the city of Pekin from the time of the 1857 map down to 1929. In 1857, the streets of Pekin extended no further north than the area where North Second and Sommerset streets meet, no further south than Walnut Street, and no further east than 14th Street (then called East Street). Pekin’s streets in 1864, in the last full year of the Civil War, showed little if any change – but the city limits themselves extended to what is today Sheridan Road on the north, what is today 17th Street on the east, and what is today Koch Street on the south (those three streets did not then exist, however). Just beyond the city limits on the east was a large horse race track, something not shown on the 1857 map.

By 1873, however, Pekin’s street grid had stretched a bit further south – Derby Street was then the city’s southernmost street, while on the east the grid extended as far as Primm and Christopher streets – short north-south roadways that no longer exist, but which used to be in the general area where Coal Car Drive today cuts through Mineral Springs Park. The northernmost streets were Ruth Street (a little cul-de-sac that no longer exists, just north of the junction of Second and Sommerset) and Franklin Street (today called Amanda). That horse race track outside Pekin’s eastern city limits was then designated the “Fair Grounds of the Pekin Agricultural & Mechanical Association,” occupying 80 acres along the north side of Broadway near 18th Street (see From the Local History Room, Pekin Daily Times, Jan. 18, 2014).

The street layout of Pekin in 1891 had not expanded greatly beyond its 1873 extent, but on the east the gridwork shot out an arm or two as far as the border of Daniel Sapp’s “Pekin Driving Park,” then the name of the old horse race track. Less than two decades later, however, the atlas in 1910 shows a grid of streets in the southeastern corner of town reaching as far as Koch Street – the neighborhood of Cooper, Herget and Sapp streets. Nearby to the west, South Capitol, South Fourth, Bacon, and South Fifth streets extended as far as South Street. On the southwest of Pekin, a new subdivision south of Court Street appeared near the northwest shores of Bailey Lake (later called Lake Arlann, now called Meyers Lake). On the east, a full grid of streets reached as far as 17th Street and north to Willow Street. The race track was still there, but the “Pekin Driving Park” was then on land owned by H. G. Herget and was operated by the Pekin Trotting Association.

The 1929 atlas shows additional growth, with added subdivisions south of Court Street and east of Bailey Lake, an impressive, broad swath of new streets between Derby and Koch streets and east of South Fifth, and a new subdivision north of Willow Street and east of Eighth on part of the old Cummings estate. There still were no named or numbered streets beyond 17th on the east, however, but the race track was no more – adjacent to the former race track property was the entrance to the old Grant Coal Mine.

The photo gallery here features Pekin maps from the above mentioned maps, atlases, and plat books.

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#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #tazewell-county

Pekin was encircled by the Whiskey Ring

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

Pekin was encircled by the Whiskey Ring

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The era of Prohibition during the 1920s is remembered as a time of speakeasies, bootlegging and larger-than-life gangster kingpins. Not as well-remembered, however, is an earlier time when a vast and lucrative bootlegging conspiracy operated in the United States.

Known as the Whiskey Ring, this criminal enterprise got its start in St. Louis about 1870, spreading to several other major cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and New Orleans, also putting down roots in Peoria and Pekin. It was aided and abetted by corrupt political officials both high and low. Among the leading conspirators was none other than Gen. Orville E. Babcock, private secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant (though the president himself was never implicated).

In the 1949 Pekin Centenary, we read, “The power of the ring was said to be tremendous in a wide area with headquarters at St. Louis, and something of its potency here in Pekin is indicated by the incident in which a revenue man was reportedly arrested by local authorities and held in custody on a trumped up charge while a boat-load of whiskey was cleared off the dock and hidden away.”

Alcohol was not illegal in those days — quite the contrary, it was a booming business. However, during the Civil War the federal government had imposed heavy taxes on whiskey to help finance the war effort, and the tax remained in force even after the war’s end. Before the war, whiskey cost only 25 cents a gallon, but the federal tax of $2 a gallon sharply increased the cost of doing business. Added to that were local taxes and fees, such as the doubling of Pekin’s liquor license fee from $100 to $200 per year in 1870 (as recorded in the 1887 Pekin City Directory).

It wasn’t too long before many distillers began to come up with ways to evade the tax, chiefly through bribery, smuggling and bootlegging.

“Officials were party to the secret alliances which made it possible for some whiskey makers to present false reports, with the effect of paying taxes on as little as one-third of their actual whiskey shipments. In 1870 the vast bootleg conspiracy received some attention, although it continued until 1874, using less bold methods,” says the Pekin Centenary.

“On the other hand,” continues the Centenary’s account, “there was nothing bashful about the business of emptying the vast city cisterns built for fire protection here in Pekin, and filling them with highly inflammable bootleg whiskey instead of water. Liquor was also cached in corn shocks, and kegs were sealed and sunk in the Illinois river, here and at Peoria and other locations. Hundreds of those invaluable kegs were recovered by federal agents dragging the river later.”

Powerful and well-connected though they were, the ringleaders of the conspiracy could not escape justice forever. On May 10, 1875, U.S. Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow, using secret agents from outside his own department (since he couldn’t trust his own men), coordinated a series of raids and broke up the ring. Due to Gen. Babcock’s closeness to the president, Bristow did not inform Grant of the operation.

According to the Centenary, “(T)he break-up finally came with wholesale arrests all over the state. It is recorded that Pekin people at that time saw whole carloads of prisoners hauled through to St. Louis to face a Federal court. Actually, however, no one of importance was ever sent to jail, as only a few ‘mediocrities’ took the punishment and the whole thing passed over; but at any rate the ‘whiskey ring’ was broken and the millions of dollars being sidetracked from the U.S. treasury into private hands, while never recovered, was at least discontinued.”

In fact, although Babcock managed to secure an acquittal, 110 people were convicted in federal court and more than $3 million in diverted taxes were recovered by the federal government.

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This Feb. 1876 drawing from “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper” depicts a hearing in St. Louis, Mo., at the start of the trial of Gen. Orville E. Babcock, private secretary of President Ulysses S. Grant. Babcock was one of the ringleaders of the Whiskey Ring tax fraud conspiracy, but was acquitted in federal court.

#pekin, #preblog-columns, #whiskey-ring

Pekin’s phantom suburb of Hong Kong

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Probably few Pekin residents have ever heard of the city’s little suburb of Hong Kong. In contrast, however, perhaps most Pekin residents have heard of the old tradition of how Pekin got its name. This week’s “From the Local History Room” will explain how those two topics are connected.

We explored the question of Pekin’s naming about four years ago in the column entitled, “How did Pekin get its name?” (Pekin Daily Times, Dec. 3, 2011, page C2), which included the following quote from late local historian Fred Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places”:

“After the completion of the plat of the new town in 1830, Mrs. Nathan Cromwell, for reasons still obscure, gave the city the name of PEKIN . . . It is speculated, and a common legend in Pekin, that the city was so named by Mrs. Cromwell on the belief that the site was exactly opposite the site of Peking, capital of China.”

Pekin is not, of course, “exactly opposite” the site of Beijing (Peking), but is approximately opposite Beijing on approximately the same latitude – Pekin is at about 40 degrees North while Beijing is at about 39 degrees North. In the 1800s and even the early 1900s, “Pekin” was the usual “anglicized” spelling of Peking/Beijing.

The earliest writers on Tazewell County and Pekin history also indicate, with varying certitude, an association of the naming of Pekin with Peking, China. Thus, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” says Mrs. Cromwell “gave to it the name of Pekin, we suppose after the celestial city of that name.” In his 1870 sketch of Pekin’s history, William H. Bates wrote that “we can only surmise that in the plenitude of her imagination she looked forward to the time when it would equal in size that other Pekin – the Chinese City of the Sun.”

The earliest historical reference associating Pekin with Peking is the 1860 diary of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp (father of Pekin’s first settler Jonathan Tharp), who wrote that the founders of Pekin in 1830 “were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city,” indicating that by 1860 – only three decades after Pekin’s founding – the city’s residents had already taken to associating their home town with its Chinese namesake.

It’s in the context of that old notional association of Pekin, Ill., with China that we should view a remarkable feature found on an early wall map of Tazewell County that was produced in 1857. David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, who has studied and indexed the county’s historical toponyms (place names), recently drew my attention to a particular place name on that map: “Hong Kong.”

The 1857 wall map places “Hong Kong” on the east bank of the Illinois River, due north of the old City Cemetery that once existed at the foot of Koch Street, and about two miles southwest of Pekin’s old downtown. The map displays a complete lack of a gridwork of city streets between Pekin and Hong Kong, which the map shows with nothing more than five or six streets.

This little “suburb” of Pekin is shrouded in mystery. As far as we can tell, no plat map of Hong Kong, Ill., was filed with the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds, or at least no such plat has survived. The only evidence of this Hong Kong’s existence is this 1857 map. The 1864 M. H. Thompson map of Tazewell County shows no trace of Hong Kong, displaying instead a single road (today South Front Street) and a single building (presumably some kind of factory or distillery or industrial business), nor does little Hong Kong appear on any other early maps or in any other atlases and historical documents. That area has long been Pekin’s industrial district, and Praxair Inc. now occupies a spot at or near the land formerly called Hong Kong.

According to Perkins, despite what the 1857 map says, Hong Kong may never have really existed. It’s possible that a land speculator platted out Hong Kong as a proposed town and tried unsuccessfully to attract settlers and businesses. The little settlement may have existed for a very short time, having a very small population, or perhaps Hong Kong never had a single inhabitant. It may have been nothing more than a name on a map.

The significance of the name, however, may be readily seen. Because Pekin bore a name with Chinese overtones, someone apparently thought it only fitting that there should be another town in the vicinity named for Hong Kong. We may not be able to learn anything definite about Tazewell County’s Hong Kong, but we at least can see that this mysterious name from 1857 – three years before Tharp’s diary – is an additional bit of evidence that the association of Pekin with China goes back to the days of Pekin’s pioneers.

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The little settlement of “Hong Kong” is shown in this detail of an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County. The map was formerly displayed in the Kuhfuss & Kuhfuss law offices in downtown Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#1857-tazewell-county-wall-map, #city-of-pekin, #hong-kong, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-maps, #tcghs

Appointing Sheriff Clay’s successor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago, this column recalled the death of Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Ingersoll Clay, who died Sept. 4, 1920, from complications of a gunshot wound to his knee that he suffered in a Sept. 2 gun fight with liquor bandits near Wesley City (Creve Coeur). Clay is notable in local history as one of three members of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office to die from injuries received in the line of duty, and is the only Tazewell County Sheriff to die in office from such injuries.

Clay’s death was the occasion of a great outpouring of grief on the part of the community and sympathy for his family. It also raised the practical question of who would be chosen to serve out the remainder of Clay’s term. Somewhat remarkably for that time, community sentiment strongly was in favor of naming Clay’s widow, Mrs. Louie A. (Miller) Clay (1871-1954), to serve out the remaining months of his term.

Prior to naming Clay’s replacement, however, state law already provided for a “line of succession” to determine an interim sheriff – when a sheriff dies or becomes incapacitates, the county coroner automatically becomes interim sheriff. The Pekin Daily Times on Sept. 6, 1920, reported on the initial provisions for succession in the sheriff’s office as follows:

“With the death of Sheriff Robert Clay, Coroner L. R. Clary becomes the sheriff of Tazewell county and he has assumed charge of the duties of the office. The same deputies sreving (sic) under Sheriff Clay will continue in office, under the coroner and no change will be made in the conduct of affairs of the office until a successor has been appointed by the board of supervisors which convene September 14.

“The appointee of he (sic) board will serve until a successor to the sheriff has been elected, this election to take place this fall. The suggestion that Mrs. Claybe (sic) named to fill out the unexpired term of her deceased husband has met with universal favor.”

Though the proposal that Mrs. Clay be appointed sheriff was unusual, the people in the county felt strong sympathy for her as the widow of a well-loved sheriff, as can be seen in various articles and columns in the Pekin Daily Times that month. Along with letters of tribute and sympathy, the newspaper also reported on the establishment of a “testimonial fund” or memorial foundation to aid Mrs. Clay and her family.

Another thing working in favor of the proposal to name Mrs. Clay sheriff were some significant changes then under way in societal attitudes and laws regarding appropriate public roles for women. It was less than a month before Sheriff Clay’s death, on Aug. 18, 1920, that the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified. On Sept. 8, right next to a prominent report on the establishment of the “Bob Clay Testimonial Fund,” the Pekin Daily Times ran a story under the headline, “FIRST WOMEN JURORS IN THE COUNTY COURT,” telling of the first women’s names to be drawn from the Tazewell County rolls of registered voters.

“This morning in the county court, the first jury composed partly of women, to be called in this county, reported to Judge Schaefer. Those called to serve were Anna Hall, Ida Cooper, Belle Kunce, Emma Richmond, Ida Smith, Belle Smallwood, James Coggins, Frank Reise, W. H. Woost, Edward Conaghan, J. H. Shade and W. G. Fair.”

Those societal changes perhaps helped make the idea of a woman sheriff conceivable to many people in a county that had already seen women post masters in the 1800s and even – as this column recalled in March this year – a female sheriff’s deputy appointed in 1916. And after all, state law has never restricted the office of county sheriff to members of the male sex.

Indeed, one need not even have any law enforcement training or experience to hold the office of sheriff, though that is naturally to be preferred. And by the time the county board met on Sept. 14 to consider Clay’s successor, a few candidates with law enforcement experience had put their names forward in addition to Mrs. Clay, whose experience with the sheriff’s department stemmed from her job as matron of the Tazewell County Jail. With additional candidates to consider, the county board decided not to take immediate action on the question of the sheriff’s successor, as the Pekin Daily Times reported on Sept. 15, 1920:

“No action was taken by the board yesterday in the matter of filling the vacancy caused by the death of Sheriff Robert Clay. There are four applicants, Mrs. Clay, Harm H. Smith, J. L. Wilson and A. S. Whitmore. Herman Becker has been mentioned for the position and there may be others. No definite action will be taken though, until next week.”

Shown is a detail from the Sept. 15, 1920 issue of the Pekin Daily Times, reporting on procedures for naming a successor for Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Clay, who had succumbed to complications from a gunshot wound suffered during a gunfight with liquor bandits.

Shown is a detail from the Sept. 15, 1920 issue of the Pekin Daily Times, reporting on procedures for naming a successor for Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Clay, who had succumbed to complications from a gunshot wound suffered during a gunfight with liquor bandits.

Each of the four men worked in law enforcement, and in particular, Whitmore and Becker were two of Clay’s deputies. When the county board met again on Sept. 20, the majority of the board members decided against naming Mrs. Clay to complete her late husband’s term. One board member proposed at least granting her the salary her husband would have received, but that proposal was tabled and instead the board decided that Mrs. Clay would continue as jail matron. The Daily Times reported as follows on Sept. 21:

“The appointment by the board of A. S. Whitmore to fill out the unexpired term of the late Sheriff Robert Clay, met with general approval and it is the prevailing opinion that the supervisors acted wisely in their selection. Sheriff Whitmore will not asume (sic) the duties of his office until he has received his commission from the state and his bond had been approved by the supervisors.

“It is understood that there will be little change in the present efficient force of deputies connected with the sheriff’s office. Herman Becker will probably remain as office deputy and one deputy will be name to fill the vacancy made by the appointment of Whitmore. Under the arrangement as made by the board of supervisors, Mrs. Clay is to be retained as matron at the jail. She will have charge of feeding of prisoners and the use of the residence, with the exception of two rooms which are to be set aside for the use of a deputy who is to remain at the jail at nights. Mrs. Clay is to be allowed $100 per month and her living expenses by the board. . . .

“. . . but one ballot was taken on the appointment of sheriff. Whitmore received 14, E. O. Neef 5, and Herman Becker, Chas. R. Towne and H. L. Cales 1 each. A resolution which had been offered by Supervisor H. F. Johns of Pekin, to pay Mrs. Clay the salary which her husband, Robert Clay, would have earned had he survived the full term, was tabled on motion of Supervisor Wadsworth.”

#mrs-louie-a-miller-clay, #pekin-daily-times, #robert-clay, #tazewell-county-sheriff, #womens-rights

Three public pools for Pekin

With the news this week of the uncovering of a portion of Pekin’s first public swimming pool during construction at the Miller Senior Center, we thought some might like to read again one of our old Local History Room columns on this subject, first published in August 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Three public pools for Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A new school year has begun and the end of summer is approaching, but there will probably still be some time to go swimming before the cooler weather of autumn sets in. In Pekin, for the past two decades, DragonLand Water Park in Mineral Springs Park has been the primary place for fun in the water.

Prior to the construction of DragonLand, though, Mineral Springs Park had two different earlier public swimming pools. According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002), p.82, the origin Pekin pool was built in 1882. However, that date is a mistake. The park began in 1882, but, as the 1949 “Pekin Centenary” makes clear (p.131), it wasn’t until later in the 1880s that the first park swimming pool was built.

“Three thousand trees were soon set out in the newly purchased 40 acre tract, a lagoon scraped out, and in 1883 a bath house was erected,” the Pekin Centenary says. “During the next years were constructed a swimming pool, a pagoda, and roads and fountains; and the people of Pekin were happy to have a fine park without cost to the citizens.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (p.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 of the Methodist Church.” This is where the Miller Senior Center is today. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well, from which Mineral Springs Park derives its name, was located near the old swimming pool.

“Bathhouses surrounded the pool so there was not much room to ‘lay out’ in the sun (as some girls still remember from the 1930s). The bathhouse was built with two wings, each containing six tubs, two showers and two treatment rooms,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

By the mid-1930s, the need was obvious for a new, larger public pool. The Pekin Centenary says, “In the summer of 1935, after a second sulphur well had been sunk to a depth of 1,080 feet to establish an adequate water supply, a new 532,000 gallon capacity outdoor pool was constructed, the second largest in the state and one of the finest in the Middle West. In May 1937, the pool project was completed with the opening of a splendid new bath house at a total cost of $150,000 including the pool. The new bath house has 15,000 square feet of floor space, 12 individual tub rooms, 13 private dressing rooms for women swimmers and hot and cold mineral water for tubs and shower baths.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” adds that the new pool included a slide, and “was 60 feet wide, 160 feet long with a diving wing on each side 17 feet wide and 30 feet long. Filled daily with fresh sulphur water and holding 532,000 gallons of water, the new pool was located behind the Park District offices. Check rooms provided baskets for 756 women swimmers and an equal number of men swimmers. It also had public showers and dressing rooms.”

That pool continued to serve the community for almost six decades, though it underwent renovations from time to time. Finally, in 1992, the 1937 pool was retired and replaced with DragonLand. The new water park was built southeast of the old pool, and a new miniature golf park, Magic Dragon Golf and Games, was constructed on the site of the pool.

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This photograph shows Pekin’s original public swimming pool, which was located where the Miller Senior Center stands today across from the lagoon on 14th Street. The old pool, built in the 1880s, was replaced in 1937.

#dragonland, #miller-senior-center, #mineral-springs-park, #pekin-pool, #preblog-columns

Obama historical materials and memorabilia donated

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week’s “From the Local History Room” column spotlights a recent addition to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection (previously announced here).

The library last month received a donation of an impressive collection of materials and memorabilia from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Barack Obama as well as some historical materials from Obama’s time as a U.S. Senator for Illinois from 2004 to 2008.

These materials, which include numerous U.S., European, and Canadian newspapers, magazines, and assorted political campaign and convention memorabilia, were donated by Amy and Mark Werner of Pekin. Amy Werner was the first director of Pekin Main Street, and she and her husband are active in Democratic Party politics.

Obama’s chief place in history is as the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. Notably, one of the articles in the Werners’ collection is a Peoria Journal Star opinion column by James Unland, formerly of Pekin, which recalls the link between Obama’s historic election in 2008 and perhaps the most important achievement of U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen of Pekin.

“As President-elect Obama prepares to enter the White House,” Unland wrote in the Jan. 4, 2009 Journal Star, “it is worth remembering that it was central Illinois’ own Senator Everett Dirksen who orchestrated what has been called the single most important congressional vote of the 20th century, the U.S. Senate’s vote to close off the civil rights debate on June 10, 1964.

“That vote, which ended a 12-week filibuster by southern Democratic senators, paved the way for the final passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The move was significant enough that it landed Dirksen on the cover of Time magazine on June 19, 1964.

“Without the support of Dirksen and Republican senators, who were in the minority, this landmark legislation would have been dead at the starting line . . .”

As it happens, the Werners until recently owned and lived in Dirksen’s former home. Obama’s own direct link to Pekin is a visit to the Pekin Public Library during his time in the U.S. Senate.

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.

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

William H. Bates of Pekin, ‘the historian of the city’

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

William H. Bates of Pekin, ‘the historian of the city’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When this photo was taken in March 1930, William H. Bates, longtime printer and pioneer historian of Pekin, was approaching his 90th birthday. He was a printer for more than 77 years.

When this photo was taken in March 1930, William H. Bates, longtime printer and pioneer historian of Pekin, was approaching his 90th birthday. He was a printer for more than 77 years.

It’s simply impossible to study the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County without running across the name, and relying on the publications, of William H. Bates of Pekin. Regular readers of this column will recall that Bates was the first to publish a history of Pekin, which was included in the old Bates Pekin City Directories starting in 1870. But just who was William Bates, and how did he become Pekin’s pioneer historian?

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room files hold the answers to those questions, specifically in the lengthy obituary of William H. Bates published the day after his death in the Nov. 12, 1930, edition of the Pekin Daily Times.

“Few men had contributed as much of their time and means for the betterment of Pekin as Col. Bates,” the obituary says. “He gave the city its first daily newspaper, back in the early seventies, the Bulletin, but the venture did not pay and the paper was discontinued after nine months. He was one of the publishers of the Weekly Republicans, printed numerous city directories containing much historical data and issued the souvenir booklet at the dedication of the court house, Wednesday, June 21, 1916. He was the historian of the city and knew more of the story of its early history and growth to its present population than any living man.”

Bates was born in New London, Ohio, on April 28, 1840, the son of Truman and Elizabeth Bates. The Bates family settled in Lafayette, Ind., in 1848, and it was there that William went to school and learned the printer’s art. He got a job on Sept. 15, 1853, in the Lafayette Daily Argus print shop, and the next year he transferred to the Lafayette Daily Courier. There he would compose a column of type and feed one end of an old-fashioned wood-framed Adams press. In 1855 he joined the staff of the Daily Morning Journal at Lafayette.

Fate brought him to Pekin in 1858. Desiring to visit some of America’s larger cities, he “packed his carpet-bag and took the train for Chicago,” his obituary says. He was only in Chicago for three weeks, however, when he received a letter from a sister who was living in Pekin, urging him to come and visit her. His visit was extended, and apart from his three years of Civil War service in the Union army, he remained in Pekin until the end of his life.

Bates volunteered for the U.S. Army from 1861 to 1864, serving in Companies C and H, 8th Missouri Infantry, 15th Army Corps. He “took part in twenty-six engagements, his regiment having the distinction of never losing a battle. He and other printers in his regiment issued a paper from a print shop they took over at Mexico, Mo., printing the edition on manila wrapping paper, the only kind available, the owner having secreted the print paper at the approach of the troops.”

Prior to war, Bates happened to meet Abraham Lincoln in Metamora. “During the time he worked at his trade in Peoria he was sent to Metamora to overhaul a print shop there that was badly run down. During his short stay the young printer stopped at the local hotel or tavern, and Abraham Lincoln, who was later to become president and a world figure, was there attending court. For a week the gaunt railsplitter entertained the crowd around the office stove with his stories, and he had no more attentive listener than young Bates. The latter remembered some of the stories Lincoln told and delighted in retelling them. In Lincoln he saw one of the future great men of the republic, became one of his ardent admirers and was always a consistent republican.”

Bates played a central role in many of the affairs of his community. Active in local politics, he was Fourth Ward alderman in 1887-88, was elected city treasurer in 1903 for two years, and made an unsuccessful bid for the mayor’s office in 1914. He also supervised Pekin’s Memorial Day celebrations until 1929.

“He was at the fore in all public demonstrations and old-timers still talk about ‘Giasticutus,’ a mechanical elephant Mr. Bates constructed for the Fourth of July parade of 1876,” says his obituary.

“Patriotic to the last, he said only a few days ago: ‘I don’t care what there is on the casket so there is a flag.’ And a flag covers him as he reposts at this home on Haines avenue.” The obituary also commented how fitting it was that, “While the nation paused for Armistice day, marking the end of the world’s greatest war, an heroic figure in civil war history, William H. Bates, passed out of life into that realm of eternal peace. . . . “ Daily Times publisher F.F. McNaughton went to the trouble of making sure Bates received a grand military funeral, the first one in Pekin’s history.

Bates never retired from his trade. At the time of his death, Bates was said to be the third oldest printer in the U.S., and perhaps the oldest active printer in the country.

#pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #w-h-bates, #william-h-bates