Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .
Joseph Irwin, founder of the Pekin Daily Times
By Jared Olar
Pekin’s hometown newspaper, the Pekin Daily Times, has a history that stretches back to Oct. 1873, when the Peorians Joseph B. Irwin and Col. W.T. Dowdall bought and renamed a failed weekly paper called the Pekin Register (1856-1873), the successor of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer (1854-1856), which in turn was born of the merger of the Tazewell County Mirror (1836-1854) and the Pekin Weekly Reveille (1850-1854).
The Pekin Times remained a weekly until Jan. 3, 1881, when Irwin turned the paper into a five-column daily. Ever since, the Pekin Daily Times has been published Monday through Saturday. But rather than trace the newspaper’s history, let’s take a look at the life and career of the paper’s founder.
Irwin’s life story is told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pp. 720-722, as well as the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” 1894, p.254. Additional details are found in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County.”
Irwin was born Oct. 11, 1849, in Circleville, Ohio, the son of John E. and Catherine (Tobias) Irwin, who were natives of Pennsylvania. He passed his boyhood days in Circleville, receiving his schooling at Circleville Academy. His lifelong interest in local politics began in Ohio, where he served a term as city clerk of Portsmouth. In Jan. 1872, Irwin married Inez M. Fifer, a cousin of Illinois Gov. Joseph W. Fifer (1889-1893). They had two children, but both had died before 1879.
Irwin moved to Peoria, where he worked for the Peoria Democrat until 1873. After moving to Pekin and founding the Pekin Times in partnership with Dowdall, Irwin also served as school inspector for three years, and was elected Pekin’s city supervisor in the spring of 1894. In his day, the founder of the Pekin Daily Times was one of Tazewell County’s prominent newspapermen and politicians. Back then, usually journalists were openly partisan – politically independent newspapers were rare.
“When the first issue of the Times appeared [in 1873] there was no subscription list, as the paper had changed hands so often that its reputation was well nigh gone and the outlook was extremely discouraging. But by much hard work, natural ability and perseverance, our subject soon placed the paper on a solid basis, and as a newsy and literary production it ranked among the leading weeklies of the northwest,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record.
According to Chapman, “Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and by untiring energy and rare business tact, built up a larger circulation than it ever enjoyed before. In July, 1877, Geo. E. Schaumleffle purchased a third interest of the paper.” Schaumleffle, born in Pekin in 1854, often wrote the paper’s editorials.
B.C. Allensworth’s Tazewell County history supplies these additional details: ““Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and the county having passed into the control of the Democratic party, the paper was recognized as the organ of that party and prospered from that time on, when in May, 1886, it was purchased from Irwin by A.W. Rodecker, F. Shurtleff, Thomas Cooper, and B.C. Allensworth.”
After leaving the Pekin Daily Times, Irwin joined the Post Publishing Company and was made editor and manager of the weekly Republican Post, formerly called the Tazewell County Republican. Irwin’s time at the Republican Post was financially successful, but politically it was controversial. Allensworth mentions that Irwin “antagonized republican interest to such an extent that Colonel Bates” – Pekin historian W.H. Bates, who had retired from the Tazewell County Republican – “came back into the paper business with the Tazewell County Tribune.” Also in 1886, says Allensworth, Irwin founded the Pekin Daily Post, and he continued the publication of the Republican Post and the Daily Post until his death in Pekin on Jan. 13, 1900.
“There is perhaps no better campaigner among the politicians of the county than Mr. Irwin,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record, “who is well known to every prominent citizen in both parties, and being acquainted with all the main roads and byways in this vicinity, can get over and around Tazewell County and in every township and political center quicker than any other man. He has met with several business reverses, but his fine financial standing, business ability and honesty have never been questioned. Among politicians and newspaper readers generally he is conceded to be one of the best editors in the county.”