Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .
This one provides an illustration of how to use old Pekin city directories to trace the history of a property in town and the people who lived at a particular address.
Through the years in Pekin’s directories
By Jared Olar
Although a phone book or a city directory isn’t exactly the sort of thing one should read before turning in for the night – unless one suffers from insomnia – nevertheless, old city directories are “must-reads” for historians and genealogists, as well as for sociologists, demographers or economists wishing to track a community’s growth and development over time.
To illustrate, this week we’ll take a look inside the old Pekin city directories in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, in order to explain what they can show us about one specific location in Pekin over a period of about eight decades. For this exercise, a random location was chosen from the very first Pekin city directory – Roots’ directory of 1861, which has the following entry for the spot that is today known as 201 Catherine Street:
“Jones Sophia, widow of Richard, res. ne. cor. Second and Catharine.” That means Sophia Jones, widow of Richard Jones, resided at the northeast corner of Second and Catherine streets.
The next city directory was published by Sellers & Bates in 1870-71. Finding the same location in this and later directories took some work, because these earliest directories only had lists of residents and businesses in alphabetical order, but did not have a cross-referenced street index. In addition, numbering of houses for postal addresses didn’t begin until about 1880. Consequently, tracking locations in the earliest Pekin directories requires poring over each page until one finds the spot one is looking for.
And so we find the following in the 1870-71 directory: “Smith Hardin, teamster, res ne cor Catharine and Second.” The widow Sophia Jones may have died or remarried and moved away after her name was recorded in the 1861 directory.
There was only one Sellers & Bates directory due to the death of Sellers, but his partner Bates carried on after him. Thus, the 1876 Bates directory shows “Smith Hardin, retired, res ne cor Catharine and Second.”
Smith presumably died sometime after that. At any rate, in 1887 the directory shows: “Haas Abraham, res. 201 Catherine.” This is the first appearance of house numbers in the directories – and the spelling of the street name had changed from “Catharine” to “Catherine.”
Abraham Haas continued to live at 201 Catherine St. until about the turn of the century, when he apparently died. The 1893, 1895 and 1898 directories list him as (successively) “Haas Abraham,” “Haas Abram,” and finally “Haas Abe, retired.”
The next Bates directory is from 1903-04, and this is when the very helpful cross-referenced street index first appears, making it much simpler to track single locations through the years. In this edition of the directory we find “Williamson, Frank G., clk John Oberly, r 201 Catherine” – Frank G. Williamson, a clerk working for John Oberly, residing at 201 Catherine St.
The residence on that corner would then remain the home of the Williamson family until about 1925. The Bates directory for 1908-09 shows “Williamson, Frank, wks C. P. Mfg Co., r 201 Catherine” and “Willliamson, Hugo, r 201 Catherine.” Then in 1913 we find “Williamson, Frank, wks C. P. Rfg. Co., r 201 Catherine” and “Williamson, Hugo, wks A. H. Co., r 201 Catherine.” We find the identical entries in 1914, but in 1922 we see that Frank had moved to a home next door, 506 N. Second St., while “Williamson Hugo (Anna) fore Keystone” are listed at 201 Catherine – Hugo and his wife Anna.
The 1922 directory was the last Bates city directory – since then, Polk has published Pekin’s city directories. The first one, in 1924, shows “Williamson Hugo (Anna) formn h201 Catherine” (with Frank still living next door at 506 N. Second St.). By 1926, however, Hugo and Anna had moved to 911 N. Fourth St., while Frank still lived at 506 N. Second. Living at 201 Catherine St. that year were “Spencer Harold C (Bertha M) (1) wirewkr” and “Pool Edw (Golda F) lab” – the “(1)” indicates Harold and Bertha had a minor child living with them.
Harold Spencer and his wife and child remained at 201 Catherine St. until about 1935. In 1928, though, Edward and Golda Pool had been replaced by “Fahnders George J (Jessie) hod carrier.” The directories in 1930, 1932, and 1934 show only the Spencers at that address. In 1930 and 1932, Harold is identified as a “lab” (laborer), while in 1934 he is a “fence opr” (fence operator). The 1934 directory also shows “Spencer Robt J student” at 201 Catherine – no doubt Harold and Bertha’s son.
By the time of the 1937 directory, Harold Spencer, “fence mkr,” and his wife Bertha had moved to 435½ Court St., and 201 Catherine was the home of “Kickler Herman H (Bessie L) sheet mtl wkr C&NWRy.” The Kicklers didn’t live there long, though, because the 1939 directory shows “Tracy Calvin E (Thelma M; 4) lather h201 Catherine.”
Thus, we find that the Pekin city directories enable us to track without much difficulty the residents of 201 Catherine St. during the 78 years from the eve of the Civil War to the eve of World War II – a succession of families and individuals named Jones (1861), Smith (1870-76), Haas (1887-1898), Williamson (1903-1924), Spencer (1926-1934), Pool (1926), Fahnders (1928), Kickler (1937) and Tracy (1939).