A succession of high schools in Pekin

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

A succession of high schools in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The demolition of the former Pekin Community High School West Campus has turned the thoughts of many Pekin residents to the history of Pekin’s high school buildings. In this column, let’s review what we can learn about Pekin’s succession of high schools from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

As mentioned recently in this column, Pekin’s first high school was the Fourth Ward School, located where Washington School exists today. A brick structure built in 1867 at a cost of $20,000, the building housed grades one through 12. It was completely destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890.

Pekin’s first high school building, known as the Fourth Ward School, stood on the site of present-day Washington Intermediate. The Fourth Ward School stood from 1867 until it was destroyed in a fire in 1890.

A new and larger brick school, dubbed Washington School, was quickly built in 1891 on the site of the Fourth Ward School, at a cost of $28,000. While it was under construction, “classes were held in nearly every church basement and vacant building in town,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. It served as Pekin’s high school until 1916, after which it became the old Washington Junior High School. It was torn down and replaced by the current Washington School in 1930.

In 1916, Pekin built its third high school, the building that would become known as the “Old Building” of West Campus. Over the decades, the high school saw several expansions to accommodate the growing student population in Pekin. First came the “west wing” of the Old Main Building in 1926, followed by the “east wing” expansion in 1929 (including the theater). Next came the gymnasium, which was ready to use in 1936. The cafeteria and the shop building were added in 1949, and the English Building (or “Red Building”) and the Leeway were built in 1955.

High school football formerly was played on James Field, but that changed in 1948 with the construction of Memorial Stadium. As student population continued its steady rise, further needed expansion of the high school campus was proposed. However, in early 1959 the city announced it planned to widen Eighth Street, which made it impossible for District 303 to utilize the area needed for the expansion plans. Instead, the school district decided to build a second campus that could accommodate 2,000 students.

Construction on East Campus began in 1962, and classes began there in 1964. The new school was erected near Memorial Stadium, on the former grounds of the Pekin Country Club. “A humorous sidelight to this whole project is that from the time the purchase of the Country Club was made until the time the club house was razed, it could be stated that Pekin was the only high school district to own a bar,” says the Pekin Sesquicentennial. The total cost of the project was $4.6 million.

The next phase of expansion of Pekin high school was the construction of the vocational center. The high school had established a vocational center in 1968, but the vocational center building was not built until 1974, at a cost of $3.1 million.

In 1998, District 303 consolidated all high school operations at East Campus, which underwent a major expansion at that time. West Campus was auctioned off and was purchased for $60,000 by Merle Huff – and the sequel to that story is being written this year [2012].

This aerial view of West Campus from circa 1956, reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” shows the high school complex soon after the completion of its final expansion projects.


#aerial-views-of-pekin, #fourth-ward-school, #old-washington-school, #pekin-country-club, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #west-campus

Pekin from the air in Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In past “From the Local History Room” columns, we have recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.

“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.

The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”

He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”

The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “birdseye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions.

The fact that many of the drawings in “Cole’s Souvenir” resemble the vintage photographs found in “Pekin and Environs,” which was published at an unknown date circa 1890, has led the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society to conclude that the photos in “Pekin and Environs” were also taken by Cole.

Since we’ve recently been featuring aerial photographic views of Pekin as it appear in days gone by, the images accompanying this column are those of the birdseye panoramas in “Cole’s Souvenir,” with 11 downtown Pekin buildings of that era shown beneath the panoramas.

On the above four pages from “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin” are two fanciful “birdseye” views of Pekin, and pictures of 11 downtown Pekin buildings as they appeared around the late 1890s. The water tower shown in the middle of the left-hand pictures was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.

Pekin from the old water tower

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following up on our comparison last month of two old aerial views of Pekin from circa 1950 and 1988, this week let’s stretch our view even further back in time – all the way back to the last couple decades of the 1800s.

Around that time, Richard Acton of Chicago prepared and published a collection of photographs of Pekin buildings and vistas, in a book entitled, “Pekin and Environs.” As we noted about a month ago, recently the library received a donation of Benjamin S. Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs.”

Among the photos in this book are two aerial views of Pekin – or “semi-aerial,” because in those days it wasn’t that easy for photographers to get themselves airborne, so instead they would have to settle for perching atop tall buildings or towers or hills.

In this case, the photos – called “birdseye views” – were taken from the old water tower of the Pekin Water Works, which was located exactly where the “water works” of Illinois-American Water are still located today – at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.

Whereas the 1950 and 1988 aerial views start at the Illinois River and look eastward over downtown Pekin and beyond, these two birdseye views look westward toward the river. One of them looks somewhat northwestward over downtown Pekin, while the other looks southwest toward the industrial district (still an industrial area today).

The downtown view encompasses an area from around Broadway out to Court St., and from the 300 block of Pekin’s downtown streets down to the river. Then as now, railroad tracks ran parallel with Third St., but there’s not much else that is the same or similar. You may notice that the streets were unpaved and much narrower than they are today. The tall white building in the middle of the photo is the old Illinois Hotel, which can be seen in the circa 1950 aerial view of Pekin, but was torn down in the 1960s. The block in the center of this photo, packed with homes that had sheds, pens and coops for livestock, is now occupied by the State of Illinois Driver’s Facility, while the block to the east of that is now occupied by Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home.

The birdseye view to the southwest looks toward some of Pekin’s old alcohol distilleries, once the backbone of the city’s economy. As you can see, the way the factories belched out smoke and fumes over the city indicates that this was long before the Clean Air Act. Even in those days, prevailing winds carried the exhaust of factory smoke stacks out over the city – but placing the distilleries downstream at least meant Pekin’s residents wouldn’t have to drink the effluent which factories discharged into the river.

These two photographs above from the circa 1890 volume “Pekin and Environs” show two “birdseye” views of Pekin looking northwest and southwest from the old water tower that was located near the southwest corner of Capitol and Broadway.

#aerial-views-of-pekin, #illinois-hotel, #old-water-tower, #pekin-and-environs, #pekin-from-the-air, #pekin-history, #pekin-water-works, #richard-acton

Pekin Country Club was once in a different location

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

Pekin Country Club was once in a different location

By Linda Mace
Library assistant

The Pekin Country Club and its golf course is located between Broadway and Sheridan. But it wasn’t always.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial has much to say about this original club.

“The first of Pekin’s ‘country clubs’ was incorporated on March 25, 1916, as the Pekin Country Club by H.G. Herget, Ben P. Schenck, and William S. Prettyman, who was the first president. Other directors were John Fitzgerald, H.W. Hippen, D.H. Jansen, Franklin L. Velde, George P. Kroll, C.G. Herget and V.P. Turner. Total membership was 98.

“On April 1 of the same year, 60 acres was purchased from the Lemuel Allen estate on the East Bluff (think East Campus) for $15,000. The farm house which occupied the original site at the time of purchase was remodeled into the club house. This was remodeled many times over the years and in 1955, a swimming pool and pro shop were added. Additional land purchases were made in 1928 and 1932, totaling approximately 95 acres by 1960, on which the club maintained a nine-hole golf course for use by its 300 members.

“This property was sold by condemnation to the Pekin Community High School (a whole other story) and the East Campus was later built on the site, but before the club moved, many notable social and golf events took place, including a golf match in which professional golfer Sam Snead played within two strokes of the course record — a 66 with a two-stroke penalty.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” notes that the old country club’s hill – now East Campus hill – was a favorite spot for sleds and toboggans in the winter. Kind of nice knowing some things never change!

Shown is the old Pekin Country Club, which was on the site of what is now Pekin Community High School.

#ben-schenck, #carl-herget, #d-h-jansen, #franklin-velde, #george-kroll, #h-w-hippen, #henry-herget, #john-fitzgerald, #linda-mace-columns, #pekin-country-club, #pekin-history, #sam-snead, #v-p-turner, #william-s-prettyman