A man, a bank and a library

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

A man, a bank and a library

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Herget name has been prominent in Pekin’s history since the 1850s and 1860s, when the Herget family left Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany and came to America. Of that family, the immigrant brothers John, George and Philip each played significant roles in the development of Pekin. Evidence of the continuing legacy of the Herget family is found today in the name of the Herget House (or Herget Mansion) at 420 Washington Street, and, of course, in Herget Bank.

Another of the indications of the prominence of the Hergets in Pekin’s history and community life may be found in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois.” Included in that volume were the biographies of four members of the Herget family: the three immigrant brothers John, George and Philip, and John’s second son John H. Herget.

The lives of the three brothers were intertwined, as they often partnered in various business ventures. The eldest, John, also served as Mayor of Pekin in 1873 and 1874. Rather than presenting an account of all three brothers, however, this column will take a look at the life of George Herget, relying chiefly on the account of his life in “Portrait and Biographical Record,” page 384.

George Herget

This photograph of George Herget was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule. Herget donated the land on which the library was built that year.

At the time that biography was published, George Herget was president of the Globe Distilling Co., president of the Pekin Electric Light Co., and president of the Pekin Steam Coopering Co. The biography said that he “ranks among the most prominent and successful business men of central Illinois, and has not only sustained the reputation of the family name, but by his honorable and worthy life has added to its lustre,” praising him for his “superior intelligence, sound principles and noble character,” and commenting that, “he is always an earnest advocate of the cause of justice and right, and has exerted a beneficial influence in the community with whose interests his own have long been identified.”

The biography continues, “Born May 9, 1833, the subject of this sketch is a native of Hergeshausen, Kreis Deiburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany . . . . In his native land he spent the days of boyhood, and learned the trade of a wagon-maker. In 1852 he took passage at Havre, France, on a sailing-vessel bound for America, and after landing in New York, proceeded to Gettysburg, where he engaged in the trade of a carriage-maker until the fall of 1853.

“Coming west at that time via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, Mr. Herget settled in Pekin, where he became a carriage-maker in the T. & H. Smith Carriage Works. In 1858 he embarked in the retail grocery business, and two years later he was joined by his brother John.” Together, John and George founded J. & G. Herget Inc. of Pekin, wholesale sellers of groceries and liquor.

The sketch continues, “In 1870 he built a block containing two stores, and there, since 1871, he has conducted an extensive business, being for some time in the wholesale grocery and liquor business, but now devoting his attention wholly to the latter line of work.

“In 1888 Mr. Herget assisted in the organization of the Pekin Steam Coopering Company, and has since been its President. In the fall of 1892 he built the Globe Distillery, which was completed and opened in April of the following year. This concern is situated on the Jacksonville South-eastern Railroad, and has a capacity of five thousand bushels per day, being the largest distillery in Pekin. In addition to these enterprises, Mr. Herget is interested in the Globe Cattle Company, which owns about thirty-eight hundred head of cattle. In the organization of the Electric Light Company he was a prominent factor, and has been its only President.”

It was George’s nephew Carl Herget, son of John, who built the Herget Mansion on Washington Street in 1912. One the most significant parts of the Herget family’s legacy, however, was the establishment of Herget Bank on April 17, 1905. George Herget and his sons Henry G. Herget and William P. Herget founded the bank as George Herget and Sons, and were among the bank’s original board of directors. The bank was chartered nationally in 1910, when it became Herget National Bank of Pekin, Ill.

Another lasting legacy of George Herget was the construction of the Pekin Carnegie Library in 1902. Herget played an important role in the events leading up to the library’s construction. When Mary Gaither had begun to drum up support for a Carnegie Library, Herget responded favorably, writing in a letter of Nov. 8, 1900, “I will be pleased to give to the City of Pekin a site for a Library building according to the terms of a certain letter to you from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, dated October 8th., 1900.”

Copies of that and other related letters were included in the library’s cornerstone time capsule in August 1902. Also included in the time capsule was the title deed conveying the land for the library from George and Caroline Herget to the city of Pekin, along with a photograph of George Herget.

#andrew-carnegie, #carl-herget-mansion, #george-herget, #herget-national-bank, #library-cornerstone, #mary-gaither, #pekin-history, #pekin-public-library

Old Settlers Enoch and Quintus Orendorff

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the old families of the Delavan and Hopedale areas are the Orendorffs, whose ancestors settled on land in what would become Tazewell County during the 1820s. This family name has previously appeared in this space, when we recalled the shocking account of the brutal murder in 1860 of the wife and little daughters of George W. Orendorff of Delavan. Most of the clan, of course, experienced far less tragedy than did George, but their lives were often notable and sometimes attracted the attention of early historical writers.

An extended biography of Darius White Orendorff, with a detailed genealogical narrative of the branches of the Orendorff family in Tazewell County, was included in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” pages 656-660. Mentioned in this genealogy was Darius’ kinsman Enoch Thomas Orendorff, who was born Nov. 29, 1799, in Jefferson County, Va., first coming to the territory that would soon become Tazewell County in 1826. (See also Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 445 – the Orendorff name is frequently met in Chapman’s history.)

As pioneers of the county, Enoch and some of his Orendorff siblings and kin (name originally spelled “Ohrendorff,” and sometimes later spelled and misspelled “Orndorff” or “Orendorf”) were grouped among Tazewell County’s “Old Settlers.” Thus, among the biographies of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County that were published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” the following brief, glowing sketch of the lives of Enoch Orendorff and his son Quintus is found on page 90:

“Quintus Orendorff was born in the present limits of Tazewell county, November 10, 1828. He is the oldest child of Enoch T. and Rosanna Orendorff, who were both natives of Kentucky (sic). He emigrated to Illinois and settled in the present limits of Tazewell county in 1826, where he was soon after married to Miss Rosanna Orendorff. They have had by this union a family of four sons and one daughter; three of the former are still living, viz.: Quintus, residing in Delavan; Dr. Charles, residing at Kansas City, Mo.; and John L., who is engaged in the jewelry business at Delavan. Mr. Orendorff followed farming through life. He was called out near the close of the Black Hawk war, but was not engaged actively in any of its campaigns. Himself and family were members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He was one of those energetic and moral citizens, whose influence in the community for good was duly felt and appreciated. His earthly labors closed April 2, 1852. The death of his worthy and estimable wife occurred April 15, 1851.

“Quintus Orendorff, in his early culture, was indebted to parental training and the common school facilities of Tazewell county. To these he had, by application and observation, coupled with his own experience, added a fair practical business education. He was married September 24, 1854, to Miss Emma E., daughter of John and Anna Kelly, of Delavan, and formerly of Providence, R. I. They have had, by this marriage, a family of two sons and three daughters, in the following order of birth, viz.: Oren B., Anna B., Olive B. (deceased in infancy), Charles B., and Jesuline B. They are living with their parents. Mr. Orendorff began life as a business man with some capital. He erected a steam flouring mill in Delavan in 1855, which was the first in the town. This enterprise, in the sequel, was a convenience to the community and a loss to himself. He commenced a mercantile career in Mason County, Ill., where he established in December, 1858, and continued there until December, 1869, when he located in Delavan, where he is now engaged in the sale of groceries, queensware, and confectionaries. As a husband and a parent he is kind and affectionate; as a citizen and business man he is public spirited and reliable. He unites to an active temperament probity and an earnest zeal. His first impressions are usually correct, although he is sometimes impulsive. He is a firm supporter of moral and intellectual culture, and takes pride in the education of his children. As Mr. Orendorff is one of the oldest native citizens of Tazewell county, and having been long identified with its interests, he is too well known to need any eulogy at our hands, as the record of his past life is the true index which points out his real value as a citizen and upright business man.”

Quintus died Sept. 24, 1904, and is buried with his wife and children in Prairie Rest Cemetery, Delavan. Many other members of the Orendorff family, including the parents of Quintus, are buried in Orendorff Cemetery in rural Hopedale.

#enoch-orendorff, #old-settlers, #quintus-orendorff, #tazewell-county-history

Cincinnati in standard Pekin historical works

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last month, in an exploration of some of the lost place names and forgotten settlements of Tazewell County’s, we reviewed a bit of the history of the proposed town of Cincinnati, which never was a separate town but instead became Pekin’s Cincinnati Addition.

This week, we’ll conveniently compile the references to the “aborted” town of Cincinnati from the standard publications on Pekin’s history.

Let’s start with “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” which was published by Herget Bank in 1998 and updated in 2003. On page 10, we find two brief mentions of Cincinnati. First is the caption to the photo of Jacob Tharp, father of Pekin’s founding settler Jonathan Tharp. The caption says:

“Jacob and a brother erected a permanent dwelling next to Jonathan and his family in 1825 and, being from Ohio, laid out a town they called ‘Cincinnati.’”

Just below that caption, we find the following text in a grey box:

“It seems appropriate to attempt an explanation of the unusual mixture of triangular intersections, jogs, and other odd features of the layout of [Pekin] city streets. In 1831, two rival land-owning groups plotted their ground next to each other, using different layouts. One plotted the town of ‘Cincinnati,’ using a strict north/south grid; the second group plotted the town of ‘Pekin,’ following the line of the Illinois River bank, which resulted in a northeast/southwest grid.”

Though there is no indication that the grey box text is a quote, in fact it comes directly from the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, which has the following account on page 23:

“. . . but first it seems appropriate to attempt an explanation – especially for newcomers — of the unusual mixture of triangular intersection, jogs, and other odd features of the layout of city streets.

“In 1831 (after the land auction in Springfield discussed in the Overview) two rival land-owning groups plotted their ground next to each other, using different layouts. One plotted the town of ‘Cincinnati,’ using a strict north/south grid; the second group plotted the town of ‘Pekin,’ following the line of the Illinois River bank, which resulted in a northeast/southwest grid.

“Other land owners who acquired their property after the 1829 land auction did not develop their holdings into lots immediately. When they did (during the mid-1830’s), they followed the north/south grid established by ‘Cincinnati.’ Broadway, which followed the grid system of Cincinnati, separated the two original street systems. Court Street was the only thoroughfare extending out of ‘Pekin’ into ‘Cincinnati’; the intersection of this northwest/southeast street with ‘Cincinnati’s’ north/south ones accounts for many of the confusing intersections west of Eighth Street.

“When the County Seat was moved to Pekin from Mackinaw, the town ‘Cincinnati’ was made an addition to the town of Pekin by an Act of the State Legislature – hence, our present system of unusual street layouts in the older part of Pekin. (A re-reading of this section with a city map in hand would prove beneficial if you are still confused.)”

Given that we know the plats of Pekin and Cincinnati were both completed and filed in 1830, it appears the Sesquicentennial is off a year in its date of when the “two rival land-owning groups plotted their ground next to each other.”

The aborted plans for the town of Cincinnati are not discussed in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, nor in William H. Bates’ account of Pekin history which he included in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory. However, Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 899, notes as follows:

“The original Town of Pekin was enlarged in 1830 by the addition of 160 lots, which was named ‘Cincinnati Addition.’”

The date of 1830 given by Allensworth agrees with the known dates associated with the surveying and recording of the Pekin and Cincinnati plats, thus supporting the conclusion that the date of 1831 found in the Sesquicentennial and in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” is in error.

Allensworth’s history, page 834, provides a history of Cincinnati Township which includes an account of the plans for the town of Cincinnati. This account was in fact reprinted verbatim from page 416 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County”:

“In 1850, on the eve of adapting the township mode of conducting affairs, the commission appointed to divide the county into townships, laid off Cincinnati a full congressional township, which included 36 sections. Subsequently the northern tier of sections was cut off and added to Pekin township. In this portion of the township, near where the P. L. & D. Railway shops are now located, Jonathan Tharp settled in 1824. He was the first settler both in the city of Pekin and in this township, in that that section he located upon, was afterwards included in Pekin. Jacob Tharp Sr., came in 1826 and erected the second house, south of the corner of Broadway and Court streets. Jonathan Tharp laid his farm off into town lots, and named his prospective village Cincinnati, whence the present name of the ‘township.’ Pekin was laid off and the two places so close together, were known as Pekin and Cincinnati. Finally they were united under the name of Pekin.”

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Pekin’s Cincinnati Addition is shown as the southwest section of the city in the 1864 wall map of Tazewell County.

#cincinnati-addition, #jacob-tharp, #jonathan-tharp, #pekin-history

The days of Uncle Dan Sapp’s Race Track

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

The days of Uncle Dan Sapp’s Race Track

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Though we’re now caught in winter’s icy grip, this week we’ll take a brief look at a tradition of summer and autumn – the county fair.

Tazewell County’s communities host several popular local fairs and festivals, though the major fair in this part of central Illinois is probably the Heart of Illinois Fair that takes places in July across the river in Peoria. In Pekin, Mineral Springs Park hosts the annual 4-H Fair in late July, but apart from the facilities and area used by that fair, Pekin does not otherwise have any fairgrounds.

If we look back about a century or more, however, we find that Pekin used to have its own fairgrounds, located not far from Mineral Springs Park.

According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002), page 84, the fairgrounds were built and laid out prior to 1872 by the Pekin Agricultural & Mechanical Association. The grounds occupied 80 acres along the north side of Broadway near 18th Street, and “Pekin History – Then and Now” also notes that the fairgrounds extended from Broadway to Willow. The most prominent feature of the fairgrounds was a one-mile racetrack and grandstand.

The 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 41, also recalls that in the 1890s “the Santa Fe railroad ran shuttle trains all afternoon to Pekin’s race track, the finest one-mile track in Illinois, where the greatest harness-racing horses of the era competed.” (Pekin Centenary p. 41)

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, page 152, provides these added details:

“Racing fans enjoyed going to the Tazewell County Fair Grounds at 15th and Court Streets where races were held every year from July to September for approximately 25 years, until the track was moved to Delavan. Bookmakers waited in front of the grandstand for bets, and there was a 20’ x 40’ gambling tent. People came and stayed all day to see the world’s fastest horses race on ‘Uncle Dan Sapp’s Race Track,’ considered the fastest mile track in Illinois.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” tells us who “Uncle Dan Sapp” was:

“For three decades, county fairs and other events were held at this location. Dan Sapp, two-time mayor and noted horseman, was one of the organizers. Sapp, along with Carl G. Herget, organized the Pekin Trotting Association which sponsored national recognized harness racing each September until about 1910.”

Dan Sapp was Pekin’s mayor from 1897 to 1898 and again from 1905 to 1907. Sapp Street in southwest Pekin is named for him. As for Carl Herget, as this column has mentioned previously, he built the Herget mansion on Washington Street near Washington School and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

As for Uncle Dan Sapp’s Race Track, however, not a trace of it remains.

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This photograph from 1908 shows the horse race track at the former Tazewell County Fair Grounds, which were located near 18th Street on the north side of Broadway in Pekin.

#county-fairgrounds, #daniel-sapp, #horse-racing, #pekin-history, #uncle-dan-sapp

How did Pekin get its name?

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in December 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

How did Pekin get its name?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The question of how Pekin got its name is shrouded in a haze of mystery and legend, but the resources of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room can help bring the question into better focus.

All the standard reference works on the history of Pekin and Tazewell County affirm that Pekin was named in 1830 by Ann Eliza Cromwell, wife of Major Nathan Cromwell, one of Pekin’s earliest settlers. However, early accounts disagree about the year she gave Pekin its name.

Local historian Fred W. Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places,” says, “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, and thus it has remained to the present,” adding in a footnote, “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.”

The first known published sketch of Pekin’s history is found in the 1870 Pekin City Directory of W.W. Sellers & W.H. Bates, which says: “In 1829 a survey of ‘Town Site’ was made by William Hodge of Blooming Grove, then County Surveyor . . . The survey made, and the town laid out, Mrs. Cromwell being called upon, exercised her share of women’s rights in that early day by christening the embryo city of the new Celestials, PEKIN. Why she thus named it the legendary history of the days gone by fail to record, and 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.”

During the 1800s, “Pekin” was the standard English-language spelling of the Chinese capital, Peking or Beijing.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” substantially repeats the same account, though he dates Hodge’s survey to 1827 (apparently a printer’s error for 1829). “Doubtless with a prophetic eye [Mrs. Cromwell] could see a brilliant future for their town in the not far distant time, and, therefore, gave to it the name of Pekin, we suppose after the celestial city of that name,” Chapman comments.

The story that Pekin was named after Peking (Beijing) appears to be an authentic tradition handed down by Pekin’s original settlers. Chapman quotes from the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, who came to Pekin in 1825. In his diary, Tharp gives an account of how the town’s proprietors (including Major Cromwell) surveyed and laid out the original town in 1830, and comments, “The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city.” His comment seems to be the earliest allusion to the story that Pekin was named for China’s Celestial City Beijing. “The Celestial City” has long been one of our city’s appellatives.

However, these old accounts do not mention the “common legend” to which Soady refers, that Mrs. Cromwell believed Pekin was on the opposite side of the earth from Peking. Perhaps that legend is only a later embellishment of the original tradition. It is worth noting, however, that Pekin, Ill., and Beijing are at about the same latitude on the globe – about 40 degrees for Pekin, about 39 degrees for Beijing.

Our city is not the only U.S. community with that name, nor was it the first. For example, Pekin in Washington County, Indiana, got its name around the same time as Pekin, Ill. There is also a small eastern Ohio community called Pekin, located near Minerva in Brown Township, Carroll County. Ohio’s Pekin may have received its name prior to 1815, judging from a statement in the 1921 “History of Carroll and Harrison Counties, Ohio.” Is it just a coincidence that Pekin, Ohio, is also at about the same latitude (39 or 40 degrees) as Pekin, Ill., and Beijing, China?

Several of our city’s first settlers came from or through Ohio – but did any of them know about Ohio’s Pekin? Could that have been what suggested the name to Ann Eliza Cromwell? It might be a worthwhile project for a contemporary researcher of our local history to investigate that question.

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Early historical accounts indicate that Pekin, Ill., was named for the capital of China, Beijing or Peking. During the 1800s, a common English-language spelling of China’s capital was “Pekin,” as shown in this detail of a map from an 1874 grade school geography textbook, “Monteith’s Independent Course — Elementary Geography,” by James Monteith, page 62.

#ann-eliza-cromwell, #beijing, #celestial-city, #china, #fred-soady, #pekin, #pekin-history, #pekin-ohio, #peking

Dietrich Jansen and the railroad bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Older Pekin residents will remember the old railroad bridge that once spanned the Illinois River just to the north of the old Pekin lift bridge. Both bridges were removed in the 1970s and 1980s to make way for the John T. McNaughton Bridge.

The current bridge’s advantage over the old bridges is, of course, that it is high enough to allow barge traffic to pass beneath without regular and frequent interruptions of automobile and rail traffic. Formerly, when barges had to pass Pekin, the old Pekin bridge had to be raised while the railroad bridge had to use its swingspan to open a passage.

While the railroad bridge is remembered by many, probably not many remember who oversaw its construction. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 1030, informs us that Dietrich H. Jansen (1872-1951), Pekin city engineer and Tazewell County surveyor, “had charge of the construction of the Peoria & Pekin Terminal Railroad bridge across the Illinois River at Pekin” in 1899 and 1900.

Allensworth’s history provides the following brief biography of Dietrich Jansen:

“Dietrich H. Jansen, City Engineer, Pekin, Ill., was born in the city where he now resides, August 8, 1872. His early education, obtained in the public and high schools of Pekin, was supplemented by a course in civil engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana. After completing the latter course of study, he returned to Pekin and occupied the position of Assistant City Engineer for two years and that of City Engineer from 1896 to 1900. From 1898 to 1902 he was Surveyor of Tazewell County, and in the latter year was again appointed City Engineer, his term of office expiring in 1906. In 1901 he was admitted to the firm of Jansen & Zoeller, of which his father was the senior partner. . . . He is the son of John D. and Anna (Steen) Jansen, and his paternal great-grandparents were Dietrich and Anna (Steen) Jansen, while on the maternal side they were John and Theresa (Wineberg) Jacobs, his grandparents being Dietrich and Addie (Jacobs) Jansen, all natives of Germany. In social affiliation Mr. Jansen is a member of the Tazewell Club, while politically he casts his vote with the Republican party. In November, 1900, he was united in marriage at Pekin to Miss Norma Roos, and they have one child, James Nathan, born February 9, 1902.”

Jansen and his wife Norma later had a second son named Norman Roos Jansen in 1907, when Norma died. Jansen passed away on Oct. 22, 1951, and he is buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin, where his sons, who both died in 1980, are also buried.

As for Jansen’s bridge, a 1987 historical calendar of Pekin published by Herget Bank says, “Built in 1899 to bring the Peoria & Pekin Traction Company tracks into Pekin, this steel swingspan structure became the ‘Terminal Bridge’ through the 1906 name change of that company. It later served the Peoria Terminal Company as part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific system.”

Over the decades, the Terminal Bridge was struck several times by barges. Among the final collisions was one in the early 1970s that left the swingspan drooping sadly into the river. No longer usable or needed, a few years later the bridge finally was spectacularly dynamited and its steel ruins hauled away as preparations began for the construction of the new Pekin bridge.

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This vintage photograph shows the old Terminal Bridge at Pekin, a swingspan railroad bridge built in 1899-1900 under the direction of Pekin City Engineer Dietrich H. Jansen (1872-1951).

#dietrich-jansen, #john-t-mcnaughton-bridge, #pekin-bridges, #pekin-history, #pekin-railroads, #terminal-bridge

The lost town of Circleville

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

The lost town of Circleville

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In a recent Local History Room column, we reviewed the history of Green Valley, which is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. However, as noted in that column, prior to the founding of Green Valley, the title of largest community in the township belonged to Circleville.

Those who might wish to visit Circleville today will search for it in vain – the village is long gone, the land upon which once stood houses and businesses and streets ploughed under. The community was located a few miles southeast of South Pekin. Circleville Road, which used to be East Street in Circleville, is still there, but other than that all that remains of Circleville today is the Prettyman Burial Ground, the old cemetery that was located just south of town. If you’d like to pay your respects to those buried there, you can follow these directions, found at the Illinois Ancestors website:

“Starting from Pekin, at Koch and 14 street, travel south on 14th for about 6 miles, to Townline Road. Turn east (left) on Townline to Pfanz Rd. and travel 1/2 a mile. Travel south (right) on Pfanz Rd. for about  1/2 a mile. The cemetery will be on the left in the middle of a cornfield between Pfanz and Circleville Roads. Or you may take Route 29 south from Pekin to Townline Rd. Then east on Townline.”

If you do visit the Prettyman Burial Ground, don’t forget to wear your clod-stompers.

The previous column on Green Valley’s history quoted a passage about Circleville from page 13 of ”Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years! – 1872-1997.” Here again is what it says about Circleville, which was located in Section 1 of Sand Prairie Township, at the township’s northeast corner:

“This was the first town in the township. It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 617,” has the following to say about the first settlers of Section 1 of the township, including the founding inhabitants of Circleville. We recently reviewed the life and death of one of those settlers, Major Isaac Perkins:

“Elisha and Major Isaac Perkins settled on sec. 1, about 1824. Both of these gentlemen were active, enterprising pioneers, and were prominent in the early history of the county. Major Perkins was killed in the famous battle of Stillman’s Run, during the Black Hawk war. Isaac [sic – Elisha] moved to Iowa about twenty-five years ago. They came here from near Shawneetown, Ill. Gideon Hawley came from the East and settled on the section with the Perkins’. He died on the farm where Jas. Hamson now lives . . . Jno. Sommers was from North Carolina; he erected his cabin on section 1 . . . John Vancil was among the first to come; he settled on section 9, and is the only one of the earliest pioneers of this township now living. He resides in the town of Circleville. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1798. When he was but two years of age, his parents moved to Kentucky. Here he remained until he was nineteen years old, when he was married to Miss Nancy Tuley, who was born in North Carolina, Jan. 20, 1800. Her parents also moved to Kentucky when she was a child. Shortly after their marriage they came to Illinois, and to Tazewell county.”

On page 620 of his history, Chapman in passing mentions the founding of Circleville:

“There are two towns in the township. One of them, Circleville, is located upon section 1. It was laid off Aug. 7, 1837, by Spencer Field and E. M. Perkins. It will be seen, therefore, that Circleville is one of the oldest towns in the county.”

Circleville is perhaps best remembered as the home of the Berry Gang, a group of horse thieves and cattle rustlers who committed numerous crimes in Tazewell County during the lawless and violent 1860s. The core of the gang were four brothers of the Berry family, William (“Bill”), Isaac (“Ike”), Emanuel (“Man”) and Simeon (“Sim”). The story of their crimes and how the law caught up with them, leading to Bill Berry’s lynching in Pekin on July 31, 1869, is told at length in the book “Lynch Law,” written by retired Pekin police officers Jim Conover and James Brecher. The book includes photographs taken around 1939 of two buildings of Circleville that were key locations in the story – McFarland’s Saloon, where the Berry gang plotted an ambush of the lawmen who were seeking to arrest then, and Ditmon’s Grocery and Tobacco across the street from the saloon. Both structures, which were on East Street (Circleville Road) are long gone, and even by 1939 had long been abandoned.

What happened to Circleville that caused it to die? It could be that the bad reputation and painful memories from the Berry Gang days made it the sort of place where people preferred not to live and businessmen preferred not to invest money. Be that as it may, this pioneer prairie community thrived while it was on the old stage coach line, but during the golden age of railroads, communities that hoped to prosper needed a railroad. Being bypassed by the rail lines, in time Circleville dwindled and faded away.

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The layout of the streets and lots of old Circleville are shown in this plat map. The Prettyman Burial Ground is indicated by the cross at the bottom.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #elisha-perkins, #green-valley, #isaac-perkins, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history