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).

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