Dead and aborted towns of Tazewell County

Judging from the number of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Twitter, a great deal of interest was generated by the column last month on Pekin’s mysterious and ephemeral suburb of “Hong Kong,” marked on an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County but appearing on no other map nor in any other known historical document.

Hong Kong, of course, is far from the only toponym that has vanished from the map. In April 1979, the late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. prepared a “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois” for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. Soady’s list includes many place names that have long since disappeared, some of the settlements existing for a short time before dying out, others flourishing for a good while before succumbing to trends and pressures of migration and economics. The town of Circleville south of Pekin is a better known example of a town that was founded early in Tazewell County, flourished for many years (being on an old stage coach route), but later faded and died.

In other cases, the places on Soady’s list are still inhabited today but were renamed at some point. As this column has discussed in the past, the old neighboring settlements of Fond du Lac (Fondulac) and Blue Town merged to become Hilton, which later was renamed East Peoria. Other nearby settlements we’ve discussed include Wesley City, which later adopted the name of Creve Coeur, while North Pekin formerly was called Radio City.

As for the village of Mackinaw, which was Tazewell County’s first county seat, its original name was “Mackinawtown.” Soady’s list includes an entry for “MACKINAW TOWN” (two words), with a note saying, “oldest name (1827-28) for MACKINAW.” However, an old copy of a plat in the TCGHS archives, probably drawn during the 1850s from an original plat legally filed and recorded in the 1830s, shows the name as “Mackinawtown” (one word).

The copy of the Mackinawtown plat, along with another copy of a plat for the “Town of Mackinaw” (made from an original plat filed May 26, 1830, with Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Isaac Perkins) are among the old land records and plats in the TCGHS archival collection. One set of historical hand-drawn copies of Tazewell plats in the TCGHS collection was preserved by being interleaved long ago among the map plates of an old 1855 “Mitchell Universal Atlas” (published by Charles DeSilver) that was donated to the TCGHS in 1990. These plats, most of them drawn in the 1850s, are of towns and settlements with familiar names – such as Tremont, Delavan, Dillon, Groveland, Armington, Morton, Spring Lake, Hopedale, Washington – or else show additions to area towns, such as the Colts, Haines, and Cincinnati Additions to Pekin, or the Semples and Dorseys Additions to Washington, or Bacons Addition to Groveland.

Several of these plats, however, are of settlements that no longer appear on our maps, or may never have appeared on any map or in any atlas or plat book. We have already mentioned Circleville, which no longer exists, and Wesley City, now called Creve Coeur. The Wesley City plat inserted in the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” is chiefly remarkable for showing a grid of streets and lots that is obviously and purely a fantasy of the plat owners, and is frankly impossible geographically, for the plat fails to account for Creve Coeur’s hills, gullies, and hollers.

A number of these plats are of settlements that probably never got off the ground – “aborted towns” that never made it past the planning stage of the land speculators – or perhaps only existed for a short time, or later were merged into neighboring settlements. Among these “dead” and “aborted” towns of Tazewell County shown in this collection of plats are Liberty (surveyed July 22, 1835, plat filed June 17, 1836), Spring Garden (plat recorded by its proprietor S. A. Bumstead), Hancock (surveyed October 1836), Madison, Hamilton (surveyed August-September 1836), Cleveland (plat filed Feb. 15, 1836), Montpelier (surveyed Sept. 8-9, 1836), and Danforth (located along the old T & P railroad, surveyed by William S. Morgan for proprietors E. W. Cantwell and W. F. Evans).

The town of Cleveland, on Peoria Lake, existed – or would have existed – about where East Peoria’s Walmart is located today. Soady’s preliminary list of Tazewell County toponyms suggests that Liberty may have been another name for Dillon, which, however, has its own plat in this collection separate from the Liberty plat. Soady’s list also suggests that Danforth may have been renamed Tullamore. But Spring Garden, Hancock, Madison, Cleveland, and Montpelier do not appear on Soady’s list.

One of the “aborted” towns in this collection of plats was to be named Cincinnati. Like the proposed town of Cleveland, it was to bear an Ohio place name – many pioneer settlers of Tazewell County in general and Pekin in particular came from Ohio. The plat owners of the prospective town of Cincinnati were Jonathan Tharp and Jesse Dillon. Tharp is famous locally for settling in 1824 at a spot that is now the foot of Broadway in Pekin, where the former Franklin School now stands. The published works on Pekin’s history mention that two rival groups of Pekin settlers wished to establish a town here along the Illinois River. While one group, including Nathan Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, and William Haines, proposed a town with streets running perpendicular to and parallel with the river, Tharp and Dillon proposed their town with streets running north-south and east-west.

Tharp and Dillon filed their plat for the town of Cincinnati on July 11, 1830 (Soady’s list says Tharp laid out the plat in 1827). Cromwell, Haines, and their associates drew up their own town plans in 1829 and also formalized a plat in 1830, apparently in such a hurry to file it that they didn’t have time to think of a name – they called their desired settlement simply “Town Site” and only came up with the name “Pekin” later in 1830. Meanwhile, the plans of Tharp and Dillon failed to bear fruit. Instead, their proposed town was recast as the Cincinnati Addition to Pekin, the northern border of which was Broadway, with Tharp’s home lot (No. 160) at the northwest corner of the Addition. The “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection includes a cartographer’s fragile template and accompanying legal description for a plat of “Cincinnati,” as well as a later plat copy of Cincinnati Addition which was drawn and recorded May 28, 1857 – tellingly, the plat copy of Cincinnati “Addition” is in fact still titled “Town of Cincinnati.”

Although the town of Cincinnati never came to fruition, “Cincinnati” is, of course, still an extant Tazewell County toponym – it’s the name of the township located to the south of Pekin Township.

The photo gallery below features selections from the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection of plats, all images courtesy of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.

#blue-town, #cincinnati-addition, #circleville, #creve-coeur, #fondulac, #hilton, #hong-kong, #jonathan-tharp, #mackinaw, #mackinawtown, #mitchell-universal-atlas, #nathan-cromwell, #plats, #tazewell-county-history, #wesley-city, #william-haines

The early days of Mackinaw

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in November 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

The early days of Mackinaw

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The village of Mackinaw in eastern Tazewell County occupies a special position in the county’s history. As this column has noted previously, Mackinaw was the first seat of government for Tazewell County, and the first county courthouse was erected in Mackinaw.

One of the most important sources for the history of those days is Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County.”  Also among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room sources that tell of Mackinaw’s history is “Mackinaw Remembers 1827-1977,” edited by Gladys Garst. The story of Mackinaw’s founding is told on the first two pages of that book, along with a glance back at the prehistory of the Mackinaw area.

“The proof and importance of marks in our Indian cultural heritage,” this volume says, “lies in the fact that Dr. W. H. Holmes, Curator, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, stated the following about the cache discovered in 1916 on the James Tyrrell farm northeast of Mackinaw: ‘Undoubtedly, they represent the most skillful work in stone flaking that has yet been found in this country.’ Thirty-five bifaces (a particular cut) from the Mackinaw cache are on exhibit at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Three are in McLean County Historical Society Museum in Bloomington, and one is owned by Mr. Stuart Ruch of Champaign. These are thought to be from the Hopewell culture (100 BC to AD 300). Irvin Wyss and Ivan Lindsey are two local men who were digging when they found the cache. Many artifacts have been found by others. Ernest Fuehring has a display in the Mackinaw Federal Savings and Loan Building.”

The most obvious marks of Mackinaw’s Indian cultural heritage are the village’s name and the name of the Mackinaw River. As a rule, the names of rivers and notable natural geographical features tend to be older than the names of towns or cities.  Naturally that is the case with the village of Mackinaw. It may be a surprise to learn, however, that the village did not derive its name from the river.

According to “Mackinaw Remembers,” “It is an accepted fact [the village of Mackinaw] bears the name of Chief Mackinaw or Mackinac of the Kickapoo tribe . . . Some say Mackinaw means ‘little chief.’ It is listed in Illinois State History, No. 4, p. 57, 1963, by Virgil K. Vogel, pamphlet series of Illinois State Historical Society, as meaning turtle. It is taken from the language of the Ojibways.”

The river’s name, however, is an abbreviated form of “Michilimackinac,” a name which some people continued to use even as late as 1846. “In 1681 Father Marquette mentions the Michilimackinac River in his log. It is so-spelled on some maps published in 1822 in the Atlas of Indian Villages of Illinois, compiled by Tucker and Temple,” says “Mackinaw Remembers.”

“Mackinaw Remembers” also has this to say about the Native American peoples living in the area in the early 1800s: “The Indians left a definite mark in our area. War clouds just prior to the War of 1812 made feisty Kickapoos even more restless. They burned settlements on their move toward Lake Peoria. One band of them took up quarters with some Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa on the Mackinaw River. The peaceful Potawatomi far outnumbered the other tribes. Their chief was named Shimshack. Chief Mackina of the Kickapoos eventually became friendly; however, he and the tribes left with the mass evacuation of Indians in Illinois in 1832.”

Chapman’s Tazewell County history also includes some anecdotes of Chief Mackinaw, or “Old Machina” as Chapman calls him, and notes that his people, the Kickapoo, “dwell in the western and southwestern part of the county” (page 195).

“For some years after the first settlers came wigwams were scattered here and there over the county . . . Another extensive camping ground was on the Mackinaw river, near the present town of Mackinaw. Old Machina was the chief of this band. The Kickapoos had made a treaty shortly previous to the coming of the first settler, by which the whites acquired all their land. When the whites came, however, to settle and occupy the land the Kickapoos were angry, and some of them felt disposed to insult and annoy the settlers. When John Hendrix came to Blooming Grove the Indians ordered him to leave. Not long afterwards they frightened away a family which settled on the Mackinaw. Old Machina ordered one family away by throwing leaves in the air. This was to let the bootanas (white men) know that they must  not be found in the country when the leaves of autumn should fall. In 1823, when the Orendorffs came, Old Machina had learned to speak a little English. He came to Thomas Orendorff and with a majestic wave of his hand said: ‘Too much come back, white man: t’other side Sangamon’” (page 195-196).

Fanny Herndon, one of the “Snowbirds” (the survivors of “the Deep Snow” during the extremely harsh winter of 1830-31), “related stories of earlier settlers mentioning the many tepees here. She told of an Indian trail which came in the village [of Mackinaw] from the northeast, went past the west side of the Bryan Zehr place, and led to the present home of Clifford Rowell. It continued southwest along the bluffs.

The formal founding of the village of Mackinaw is almost coeval with the establishment of Tazewell County in 1827. Originally when Illinois legislators made plans to form a new county out of Peoria County, the proposed name was Mackinaw County, not Tazewell County. In fact, the bill that was approved by the Illinois House of Representative in January 1827 was named, “An Act Creating Mackinaw County.” The Illinois Senate, however, amended the title to read, “An Act Creating Tazewell County,” and it was in that form that the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 31, 1827. Gideon Rupert of Pekin is credited with the choice to name the county after Rupert’s fellow Virginian Littleton Waller Tazewell, U.S. Senator from Virginia.

The legislation erecting Tazewell County also fixed the county seat at Mackinaw, which then was near the center of the county. William H. Hodges, County Surveyor, was hired to lay off the town of Mackinaw, and the sale of town lots was then advertised for three weeks in the Sangamon Spectator. It was decided that the county court house – a relatively simply log structure –was to be built “at or near the spot where the commissioners drove down a stake, standing nine paces in a northeastern direction from a white oak blazed on the northeastern side.” That was Lot 1, Block 11, where the Eddy Smith family lived in 1977. The Mackinaw courthouse served the county for only three years, from 1828 to 1831. Then followed the rivalry between Pekin and Tremont for the honor of county seat which this column has previous described.

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Shown is an artist’s rendering of the log house that served as Tazewell County’s courthouse when Mackinaw was the county seat from 1828 to 1831.

#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-courthouse, #mackinaw-river, #michilmackinac, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-native-tribes

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On several occasions, this column has taken a look at the early history of white European settlement of the Illinois River Valley in our area, outlining the stories of the first French explorers and the interaction of white settlers with the native peoples of the region.

One of the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, entitled “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” edited by Daniel LaKemper and published in 1984, commences its story in the same way, telling of the explorers Marquette and Joliet, La Salle and Tonti, and the construction of the ephemeral Fort Crevecoeur early in 1680. That is the inevitable starting point for any history of a community in our area, but it’s especially fitting in the case of a history of East Peoria, since some investigators have made a compelling case that Fort Crevecoeur was probably located at a spot now within the city limits of East Peoria.

That era, however, is not specifically a period of East Peoria’s history, which strictly speaking did not begin until the 1880s. From the days of La Salle until then, the intervening two centuries saw the activities of French fur traders, the migrations and warfare of American Indian tribes, clashes between European colonial powers, the founding of the United States, and conflict between white Americans and the native peoples that ended with the wholesale clearance of all Indians from Illinois, opening the territory to unimpeded white settlement.

As this column has previously related, the first trickle of white American settlement in what was to become Tazewell County started with the arrival of William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon. Within a few years the trickle became a flood, and communities and farmsteads were planted throughout the county. Blanchard is a significant figure not only in the county’s history but in the history of East Peoria, since he was apparently the county’s first white settler and first made his residence in what would become Fondulac Township. Blanchard’s marriage to Elizabeth Donohue in 1825 was the first marriage in the township. A few years later, in 1831, the family of David Schertz arrived from Alsace-Lorraine and settled on a farmstead of 160 acres along Farm Creek. Schertz’s cabin was located around the spot where Central Junior High School was later built.

Fast forward another two decades or so, and we find a new town being platted in the area that had been settled by Blanchard – this was the town of “Fondulac” (named for Fondulac Township), platted on June 14, 1855. The plat of Fondulac “showed three streets – Mill Street, Main Street, and Depot Avenue – along with a saw mill, a cording mill, and part of the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad. It is assumed that this Main Street is the current Main Street – the area covered running from the four corners north to Farm Creek,” says “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” page 7.

About nine years after the platting of Fondulac, another town, called “Bluetown” was surveyed and platted during the winter and spring of 1864 in the area settled by the Schertz family, around East Washington Street. The Centennial History (page 7) says, “At least three explanations as to the origin of the name ‘Bluetown’ have been advanced. Following the custom in their homeland of Alsace, many of the early settlers wore blue smocks. Also, because the land was marshy and prone to floods many of the houses were built high, some on stilts, and supposedly painted blue to combat corrosion. The other suggestion was that many of the houses belonged to a mining company that bought a quantity of blue paid (sic) and painted the workers homes with that color. According to Irene (Schertz) Herbst, David Schertz’s great-granddaughter, ‘It was definitely not named for any buildings painted blue.’ It was named by Joseph Schertz and those early Alsatians, who ‘always wore blue smocks at their work.’”

In addition to Fondulac and Bluetown, another little community in the area briefly existed during this period – “Coleville,” a settlement located between Fondulac and Bluetown. It grew up around the mansion of the Riverboat Captain Almiron S. Cole, which formerly existed where First United Methodist Church was later built, at the corner of Washington and Almiron streets. Cole and his family had arrived in the future East Peoria in 1835.

The towns of Fondulac and Bluetown were the parents, so to speak, of East Peoria. As the Centennial History says on apge 9, two decades after the platting of Bluetown, the citizens of Bluetown and Fondulac on July 1, 1884, decided to incorporate their towns as a single new community – the Village of Hilton. The proposition to incorporate passed by a vote of 30-12. The village’s name presumably was chosen due to the presence of the Hilton Coal & Iron Mining Co., which was located at the east end of town. The following month, on Aug. 4, the village elected its first board of trustees, which was headed by Nicholas as village board president.

Hilton was to exist for only five years, however, for in October of 1889, the village changed its name to East Peoria.

#almiron-cole, #blue-town, #bluetown, #coleville, #east-peoria, #fondulac, #hilton, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #wiliam-blanchard

Pekin expands northward

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Taking up again last month’s exploration of the story of Pekin’s expansion over time as shown in historical atlases and plat books of Tazewell County, in this week’s From the Local History Room column we’ll zoom in on the city’s northward expansion.

The earliest atlases and plat books indicate that development and expansion on the city’s north side was relatively slow during the 1800s. During that period, most of the land within or just outside the city’s northern borders was parceled out into a patchwork of a good number of private farms. The 1891 county atlas shows the following names of families owning and working land along the city’s north side but south of what is now Sheridan Road: Weise, Cummings, Moore, Cooper, Myer, Becker, Pfanz and Heisel. Between Sheridan and what is now Route 98, the 1891 atlas shows farms owned by the families of James Shanklin and A. Shanklin, Tucker, Heisel, A. Neirstheimer, Kratz, Wightman and Beinfohr.

The picture was little changed by 1910 – the atlas and plat book that year shows most of the same family farms in that area of the city and its northern border, and the developed city had moved only slightly further north at one or two spots. The southern part of the old Tucker place, however, had been acquired by the Worley family, for whom Worley Lake along the west side of Route 29 is named. The Velde family also appears as a land owner north of Lakeside and Sacred Heart cemeteries and south of Worley Lake on the west side of the future Route 29. The Velde name, of course, is still attached to property in that part of town – the noted car dealership on Pekin’s Auto Row, on the east side of Route 29.

Moving ahead to 1929, the plat map for Pekin Township shows that the city had acquired more land on the north side, with developed Pekin extending as far as a few blocks along the south side of Sheridan Road. Land owners and farmers in the area included the families of Pfanz, Heisel, Moore, Crager, Cunningham, Adolph Nierstheimer Jr., Soldwedel, Cummings, Urish, Jost, Clara and Emma Shanklin (operating Sunny Acres Farm), and  James Shanklin Sr. Also operating along Highway 24 (today Route 29) in 1929 was McGrath Sand & Gravel Co.

At this point of the story, we’ll jump ahead 38 years to consult the 1967 Tazewell County plat book. The Local History Room has several Pekin maps from the time between 1929 and 1967, but they’re not formal plats identifying land owners and businesses on Pekin’s north side. By 1967, Pekin had spread north of Sheridan Road, and old Highway 24 had become Illinois Route 29 while Route 98 had also received its designation. Most of the old farming families no longer appear on the map, however – only Crager, Heisel, and A.C. Nierstheimer still had farms in the area, but their acreage was greatly reduced. The old Shanklin farm had passed to Nelson Wright. Tim and David Soldwedel also had farms in the area – these were the days of the old Soldwedel Dairy.

Most of the land between Sheridan and Route 98 was held by the Pekin Park District (McNaughton Park and adjacent park lands) and McGrath Sand & Gravel Co. (or McGrath Investment Co.). Monge Homes also owned a block of land – the core of Monge’s planned subdivision of Holiday Hills which was just then beginning. Parkway Drive did not yet exist.

By 1975, the county plat book shows that the old McGrath Sand & Gravel property had been broken up among several land owners, the largest of whom was the Martin Marietta Corp. The Holiday Hills subdivision was well established. At this time, my own family lived in a house in Holiday Hills, and in the summer months my brothers and I and other neighborhood kids would sometimes play (i.e. trespass) for hours in the nearby fields north of Holiday Hills (now themselves residential subdivisions) or would tread even as far as the old McGrath gravel pit – quite an adventurous hike for young boys. The Soldwedel Dairy was gone, though the Soldwedels still had some land in the general area. Other stretches of land were held by the Park District, Herget Bank, Ray Yeakel, and CILCO. The Nelson Wright place was still in operation, but of the oldest farming families only the Nierstheimers remained. One of my brothers recalls seeing the horses on the Yeakel or Wright places off in the distance back in those days.

The area has seen a great many changes in the decades following. Consulting a few of the more recent plat books, we see that by 1982 the Marigold Estates subdivision had been established north of Holiday Hills. Martin Marietta still owned most of the former gravel pit, though McGrath Investments also held some of the land as well. The Yeakel and the Wright places were still there, and the Nierstheimer name can still be seen in the area. The city of Pekin by then owned land as far north as Route 98.

Not much had changed by 1990 in the way of land ownership, but Ray Yeakel had acquired a second plot of land. Leaping ahead another 25 years, the most recent plat book this year shows great changes with Pekin Township, with the city of Pekin embracing all the land up to Route 98. The old McGrath gravel pit has become Lake Whitehurst, surrounded by the Lake Whitehurst Cliffs subdivision. The names of Yeakel and Wright no longer appear on the map, replaced by the names of Yordy and Sites. But most remarkable is that the old Nierstheimer name, first seen on the maps at the start of our survey, still appears on property along Parkway Drive held in trust for Ken G. Nierstheimer.

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PekinTownship1910

PekinTownship1929

PekinTownship1967

PekinTownship1975

PekinTownship1982

PekinTownship1990

PekinTownship2012

PekinTownship2015

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

H. P. Westerman, whiskey and the Pekin press

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The November 2015 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, page 1466, includes an excerpt and a reprint from two vintage newspapers that tell of Pekin alcohol distillery owner Henry P. Westerman (1836-1922). It’s not really the kind of news about one’s self that one likes to see in the newspaper.

The excerpt, headlined “H. P. Westerman in the Toils,” comes from the Delavan Times of Dec. 11, 1875. It reads as follows:

“The Pantagraph is responsible for the statement that a warrant was issued out of the United States District Court Saturday for the arrest of Henry P. Westerman, of the Pekin Alcohol Company. It is charged that there were frauds perpetrated by the Pekin Alcohol Manufacturing Company up to last January, when the name of the company was changed to the Pekin Alcohol Company. It is for refusing to produce the books of the old company showing the transactions during the time of the crooked work, that he is to be arrested. The penalty is from $500 to $5,000, and six months to ten years imprisonment.”

The significance of that piece of news is explained by a previous From the Local History Room column, “Pekin was encircled by the Whiskey Ring,” published in the April 7, 2012 Pekin Daily Times. The federal warrant issued for Westerman’s arrest was a part of U.S. Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow’s efforts to put a stop to a widespread conspiracy to evade the federal whiskey tax. The 1949 Pekin Centenary describes the Whiskey Ring’s activities in Pekin, which included “emptying the vast city cisterns built for fire protection here in Pekin, and filling them with highly inflammable bootleg whiskey instead of water.”

The Pekin Centenary continues, “Liquor was also cached in corn shocks, and kegs were sealed and sunk in the Illinois river, here and at Peoria and other locations.”

The Centenary’s account of the Whiskey Ring does not name any of the Pekin conspirators, but we know Westerman was involved, because, as the TCGHS Monthly’s reprint of an editorial column from the Nov. 3, 1881 Washington Republican informs us, Westerman was “the old head of the Pekin whiskey ring.”

This engraving of Henry P. Westerman was published in the 1873 "Atlas Map of Tazewell County"

This engraving of Henry P. Westerman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County”

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County, Illinois,” page 1083, mentions that John L. Smith (who served as Pekin mayor in 1885 and 1886) sold his distillery to Westerman, which may be how Westerman first got into the distilling business. Westerman’s Pekin Daily Times obituary also mentions that he “was an early resident of this city and for many years was prominent in its affairs. He at one time conducted the old Crown distillery here and was actively engaged in business here for many years.”

Allensworth’s history, page 905, says Westerman was elected Fourth Ward alderman for Pekin in 1861, but he resigned the same year. He later moved to San Francisco, Calif., where he died, his body being brought back to Pekin and buried in Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery). As an aside, Oak Grove Cemetery began as Temperance Cemetery, founded by the Pekin Sons of Temperance, so the burial of an old Pekin distiller there makes for something of a humorous irony.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County, Illinois,” page 611, includes this short biographical notice of Westerman:

“H. P. Westerman was born, Aug. 25, 1836, in St. Louis, Mo., and is the son of Conrad and Margaretha (Lang) Westerman. His father and his family came to Pekin in 1846, and old Father Westerman died here in 1873. H. P. attended the common schools of Pekin, and then entered Bell’s Commercial College, from where he graduated. In 1848 he embarked in the dry goods business as clerk, and from that time his active business career began. He was united in marriage with Mary L. Gregg, Oct. 13, 1856. Three children were born to them, two of whom are living.”

In fact, Westerman is known to have had four children: a son, Don Heaton Westerman, who died when only 9 months old in August 1866, and three daughters, May Leslie Westerman, who died at age 9 also in August 1866, Alice Breimar Westerman Chain, and Susan Leslie Westerman Brown.

Though Chapman devoted only a single paragraph to Westerman himself, Chapman continued with two pages of a biography – more of a panegyric, perhaps – of Westerman’s wife Mary, who served locally in the Soldiers Aid Society during the Civil War for four years, two as president and two as secretary. Chapman tells of dissension in the Society over how best to spend their donations, which led some local newspapers to denounce Mary Westerman unjustly, accusing her of “striking hands with the Copperheads.” (She was a Democrat, and many Democrats in Pekin during the Civil War were Copperheads, that is, they had Confederate sympathies.)

Beside’s Chapman’s information, the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” page 38, features a lengthy biography of H. P. Westerman and his wife Mary, while engravings of their mansion and of Henry’s distillery are found on pages 8-9.  Mary Westerman is also important to the history of the Pekin Public Library due to her prominent role in the founding and promotion of the Ladies Library Association, forerunner to the public library.

This detail of an 1881 newspaper column in the Washington Republican tells of an altercation between a Pekin alcohol distiller and a prominent Pekin newspaper publisher and printer. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This detail of an 1881 newspaper column in the Washington Republican tells of an altercation between a Pekin alcohol distiller and a prominent Pekin newspaper publisher and printer. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Given the number of newspaper articles over the years that showed Henry Westerman in a negative light, it’s perhaps understandable that he wouldn’t be on the friendliest of terms with the local press. It’s in that context that the first paragraph of the Washington Republican’s above quoted editorial column of Nov. 3, 1881, may be understood. The Republican editor’s column reprinted a couple items from a recent issue of the Peoria Journal, in which the Journal (and the Washington Republican) enjoyed some jokes at the expense of their Pekin newspaper rivals:

“J. B. Bates, of the Republican, who was threatened at his very domicile by H. P. Westerman, the old head of the Pekin whiskey ring, evidently wished the people to know that he carried no concealed weapons, as he marched from and to his home with the immense Missouri bush-whacker’s rifle over his shoulder. Armed with such a murderous-looking weapon, we are rejoiced to know that he will hereafter walk in the paths of peace.”

The Journal mixed up the initials of the editor of the Tazewell Republican – he was W. H. Bates, while J. B. Irwin was then editor of the Pekin Daily Times. In any case, the Washington Republican’s editorial writer remarked, “Nor is Bates the only Pekin editor who is fearful of being blown into kingdom come. Hoffman, also, sees danger ahead and while he has no fears of the hereafter he don’t propose to take passage across the rolling Jordan until he gets a good ready, and woe be unto him who tackles the Dutchman. See what the same [Peoria Journal] writer says of Jack:

“Jack Hoffman of the Freie Presse, with blood in his eye, and his ears flopping, marched boldly down Court street with a shot gun over his shoulder a la Bates. All the editors here appear to be on the war path. Peace! peace, brethern (sic), let not your angry passions rise, for we think too much of you all, to have even one of you pass out of the world in a hurry, besides you would be missing heaps of fun up here on earth.”

The Washington Republican’s editorial writer then added, using colorful language that would likely result in a libel suit today, “Bates and Hoffman are not alone in this, for Irwin has been in hot water ever since he went to Pekin, and has had more trouble with his neighbors than all the others put together. He fears neither God, hell nor the devil, and, in fact, the nearer he gets to the latter the more he feels at home. The old man will reach for him though some of these days, and then heaven pity the unfortunate imps who must endure his company throughout eternity.

#copperheads, #h-p-westerman, #j-b-irwin, #pekin-history, #w-h-bates, #whiskey-ring, #william-h-bates

Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection are a few histories of local communities in or near Tazewell County. Of that sort of publication, one recent addition to our collection is Vivian Higdon’s 116-page “Pieces From Our Past: Creve Coeur 1680-1998,” a gift to the library from Tyler Chasco. This week we’ll look back at Creve Coeur’s past with the help of Higdon’s book.

As noted in this column about a year ago, Creve Coeur is best known for its ties to Fort Crevecoeur, which was built by French explorer Rene Robert Chevalier de La Salle in January 1680. Consequently, Creve Coeur can boast a history much longer than any other Tazewell County community.
That’s not to say that the modern Village of Creve Coeur has an unbroken history tracing back to 1680, of course. It was not until May 5, 1921, that community voted to incorporate as the Village of “Crevecoeur.” Later, as Higdon explains, Mayor Carroll Patten in 1960 petitioned to have the official spelling of the village changed to “Creve Coeur,” because he believed “Crevecoeur” was a misspelling.

The village’s name was chosen because it included the site that traditionally was believed to be where La Salle’s stockade fort had briefly stood. Others doubt they had correctly identified the fort’s location, and Dan Sheen of Peoria in 1919 offered compelling arguments that the correct spot was a site in what is today East Peoria. Despite the contending theories of historians and archaeologists, the story of Fort Crevecoeur is integrally connected with Creve Coeur’s history and heritage, which is commemorated through Fort Crevecoeur Park and the events held there each year.

Prior to the incorporation of Crevecoeur, the community was known as Wesley City, an unincorporated settlement on the Illinois River which was first platted in 1836. An echo of the name of Wesley City lingers on in the name of Creve Coeur’s Wesley Road that tracks the riverfront. With the shifting of the Illinois River over the years, however, most of the streets of the original Wesley City are today submerged.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

Wesley City had grown up near the site of an old French trading post which was built around 1775, nearly a century after La Salle’s ephemeral fort. Among the French Catholic fur traders who lived and worked there were Toussant Tromley and Louis Buisson (or Besaw), “both of whom were well-known to some of the pioneers” of Tazewell County, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history of the county.

The trading post at Wesley City, located about three miles south of the Franklin Street Bridge, carried on a prosperous business with the Native Americans and white settlers until Pekin and Peoria established themselves, after which the old fur trade dwindled away. Also called “Opa Post” or Trading House, the log building was the home over the years to several French families, some of whom took Native American wives. When the State of Illinois expelled all the Indians after the 1832 Black Hawk War, some of these intermarried French-Indian families left Tazewell County and accompanied their Native American kin to reservations in Kansas.

In the meantime, a Methodist preacher named Phillips and a few other settlers built a grist and sawmill near the trading post, which led to the founding of the community that they named Wesley City, after the Methodist leader John Wesley. Around that same time, the Rusche family arrived in Illinois from Alsace-Lorraine and settled in Wesley City. Over the generations, the Rusches had a prominent role in the development of their community, and their place in the history of Wesley City/Creve Coeur is commemorated with the naming of Rusche Lane.

#creve-coeur, #fort-crevecoeur, #opa-post, #preblog-columns, #vivian-higdon, #wesley-city

Lincoln at law in Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Earlier this year, “From the Local History Room” explored one of Abraham Lincoln’s historically significant legal cases, involving an African-American woman from Pekin named Nance Legins-Costley, who secured her freedom through the 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell which Lincoln successfully argued before the Illinois Supreme Court.

That, of course, was but one of the many local cases in which Lincoln was retained as an attorney. As is well known in the local area, Lincoln’s career as a central Illinois attorney frequently brought him to Tazewell County’s courthouses in Tremont and Pekin, and many of the pioneer settlers of Pekin and Tazewell County had personal dealings with Lincoln, often because he was legal counsel for one side or the other in a legal dispute. In a pair of related Tazewell County cases, Lincoln was the attorney first for one side and afterwards for the other.

This pair of cases are Hall v. Perkins and Perkins v. Hall, actions pertaining to disputes over the sale of land, promissory notes, breach of contract, and debt collection which began in 1841 and concluded in 1853. Showing up in these court documents, which are transcribed and discussed in chapter 5 of volume one of a four-volume set, “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln: Legal Documents and Cases,” are the names of Tazewell County or Pekin pioneers Samuel Hall, Elisha Perkins, William Wilmot, Samuel Baily, and Benjamin S. Prettyman. Elisha Perkins, founder of the now vanished town of Circleville south of Pekin, one of the principals in these cases, was a brother of Pekin co-founder Isaac Perkins.

Abraham Lincoln in a daguerreotype taken in Springfield in 1846. ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, SPRINGFIELD

Abraham Lincoln in a daguerreotype taken in Springfield in 1846.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY, SPRINGFIELD

Here’s the background of these cases as explained by “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln,” vol. 1, ch. 5, pp.60-61:

“In 1838, Samuel Hall was looking for land to purchase in Tazewell County, Illinois. Elisha M. Perkins had acquired a substantial amount of property there in the 1830s and was in the process of selling much of it. On December 27, 1838, Perkins sold about sixty-five acres in Tazewell County and two town blocks of Circleville, Illinois, to Hall for $1,150. Hall agreed to give Perkins $650 in cash and two promissory notes – one for $200 due in one year and one for $300 due in two years. To guarantee that he would give Hall a deed to the property within one year, Perkins also gave Hall a bond. According to the terms of the bond, if Perkins failed to deliver the deed, he would have to pay Hall a $2,500 penalty.

“Eighteen months later, Hall had not paid either of his promissory notes, and Perkins had not given Hall a deed for the land. In May 1840, Hall sued Perkins in an action of attachment to obtain the $2,500 penalty but dismissed the case one year later in April 1841. At the next term of court, in September 1841, Perkins retained William H. Wilmot and Samuel P. Baily and sued Hall in the Tazewell County Circuit Court. Perkins sued Hall in an action of assumpsit to recover the two promissory notes and $237.75 on a separate account.”

An action of “assumpsit” refers to an attempt to recover damages for a failed contract that is not under seal. “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln” says “assumpsit” was the most commonly used legal action in pre-Civil War America. The suits and counter suits of Perkins and Hall, however, are remarkable because of how long they dragged on in the courts, even coming before the Illinois Supreme Court. As “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln” says (vol. 1, ch. 5, pp.87-88):

“While most debt-related lawsuits concerning promissory notes ended within a court term or two, the legal controversy between Perkins and Hall lasted slightly more than fourteen years. In its length and complexity, the dispute illuminates the many different options open to attorneys pleading . . .

“Lincoln’s role was also unique in this series of lawsuits. While Lincoln occasionally argued opposing sides of issues in different lawsuit, in the several cases involving Perkins and Hall and the same promissory notes, he represented Perkins in the circuit court and supreme court in the 1840s, then represented Hall in the circuit court in the 1850s. In both cases, Lincoln won and lost. In the 1840s case, Lincoln helped to secure a favorable judgment for Perkins but lost the appeal at the Illinois Supreme Court. In the 1850s case, he lost a sizable judgment as Hall’s attorney but successfully argued for a new trial and helped to mitigate the size of the judgment against his client.”

#abraham-lincoln, #circleville, #elisha-perkins, #samuel-hall, #tazewell-county-history