By Jared Olar
When telling the story of Pekin’s growth and development, often the best way to explain the kinds of changes our city has seen is simply to show someone a picture.
The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a trove of photographs from Pekin’s past – some of them in file folders, some of them clipped from newspapers, and some of them published in books on Pekin’s history.
Two photos in particular show the great changes in Pekin over the course of approximately four decades, from about 1950 to 1988. These are panoramic aerial views of Pekin taken from airplanes flying over the Illinois River (shown in the foreground) and looking east.
The aerial view from circa 1950 shows downtown Pekin and was published on pages 192-193 of the 2004 revised edition of “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” The panorama encompasses an area extending from a few blocks north of the old Pekin lift bridge south to Elizabeth Street, with a vista that stretches out well past the old Pekin Country Club golf course where Pekin Community High School’s East Campus (now sole campus) was built in the early 1960s.
The second aerial view was a photograph taken on Sept. 20, 1988 (a drought year, as the color of the vegetation and ground indicates) for a wall calendar produced and distributed by Skyflick. Taken at a higher altitude, this panorama extends from the new John T. McNaughton Bridge south to Broadway, and stretches out to the cornfields behind the Kmart shopping center area.
Comparison of the photos will show numerous structures in 1950 were no longer there in 1988, while others in 1988 did not yet exist in 1950. For example, not only was the new PCHS campus not there in 1950, but neither was the English Building or “Red Building” at the old West Campus. The old Neo-Gothic St. Joseph Catholic Church of circa 1950 would also be replaced by a larger modernist edifice about 20 years later.
But instead of my explaining what is in the 1950 panorama that’s no longer there in 1988, and what is in the 1988 panorama that wasn’t there in 1950, and what was in both of these photos but is no longer there today, just take a look and see for yourself – and remember.
Pekin riverfront and downtown circa 1950
Pekin from the air on 20 Sept. 1988