Cities, towns, and counties across the state of Illinois held ceremonies today to formally inaugurate the Illinois Bicentennial Year, which officially began yesterday, 3 Dec. 2017. The City of Pekin’s ceremony took place this morning at 11:45 a.m. at the foot of the Pekin Municipal Building’s front steps in downtown Pekin, presided over by Pekin Mayor John McCabe and concluding with the raising of the Bicentennial Flag by the Pekin Fire Department Honor Guard. Meanwhile Tazewell County had a simultaneous ceremony nearby on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn that included a choir, bagpiper, and a 21-gun salute (since Illinois is the 21st state) by the County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard.
Pekin Public Library staff member Jared Olar was invited by Mayor McCabe to talk for a few minutes about Illinois history at the city’s Bicentennial Year inaugural ceremony. Following is the gist of Olar’s remarks:
I’m honored that the Mayor has invited me to talk about the history of our state. As we take the time today to remember our state’s history, I’d like to talk about what NAMES can tell us about our history.
The history of Illinois can be traced in the names of its rivers, towns, and cities. Place names such as Chicago, Peoria, Mackinaw, Kankakee, Wabash, Kewanee, Kaskaskia (Illinois’ first state capital), Ottawa, Cahokia, Winnebago, Macoupin, and the very name of our state are Native American in origin — relics of the original inhabitants of our state. The name of our state, “Illinois,” is the French version of the designation of the confederation of Native American tribes who inhabited this region when the French first arrived here in the 1600s. In 1640, Father Paul LeJeune, a Jesuit missionary priest, was the first to tell of a nation called the Eriniouai — a name that eventually would be changed into forms such as “Illini” and “Illiniwek,” said by the early French missionaries and colonists who had dealings with them to mean “the men,” but today some linguists speculate that it may have derived from a Miami-Algonquin term that means “one who speaks the normal way.”
Other place names, such as La Salle, Joliet, Marquette Heights, Menard, Bureau, and Creve Coeur, are reminders of the time when Illinois was explored and claimed by France as a part of France’s colonial empire. Illinois passed to British control in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, but the French settlers here remained. Here in Tazewell County there was a French fur trading house at the future site of Creve Coeur, existing from about 1775 to the 1830s. The French traders at the house, Tromly and Besaw, who had married American Indian women, were there when Jonathan Tharp built his cabin here in what was soon become Pekin. When Illinois became a state, the trading house was already there — six years before Tharp built his cabin in 1824, twelve before Pekin was founded in 1830.
But, naturally enough, the vast majority of Illinois’ place names testify to the fact that Illinois was established as a territory and state of the United States of America in the early decades of the 1800s by the arrival of vast numbers of people whose ancestors had come from England, Scotland, and Ireland. By far most Illinois place names are English — named for men of English descent, or named after towns and places in Britain.
Occasionally we come across Illinois place names such as New Salem, Zion, and Loami that testify to the Christian faith of Illinois’s pioneers. But sometimes we encounter names that arose from Americans’ old romance or fascination with the exotic, ancient, noble culture of far-off China — names like Canton, and, yes, Pekin.
The Illinois Bicentennial offers everyone in the state a whole year of opportunities to recall our past: but it’s also a perfect opportunity for us to remember the history of our city and our county — even if Tazewell County didn’t come along until nine years after statehood and Pekin wasn’t founded until three years after that.
Events to celebrate the bicentennial will continue in our area up until Dec. 3 next years. The County Bicentennial Committee chaired by Christal Dagit of the Tazewell County Museum is helping to coordinate celebrations for the coming year, and if you hear of something in the works or have an idea, let Christal know and she’d be happy to help you.
The Pekin Public Library has also been making plans for the Illinois Bicentennial, and working for the library I’d like talk a little about that. The library is commemorating the bicentennial all year long with an Illinois Bicentennial Movie Series that will run January to December 2018. On the first Friday of each month at 11 a.m., the library will show a historical video dealing with an aspect of the history of Illinois, Tazewell County, or Pekin. The movies will be shown in the Community Room on the second floor of the library, and admission is free. The movie series commences on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, with a video on Pekin history.
In addition to the movie series, the libraries “From the History Room” blog is featuring a yearlong series of special articles on Illinois, Tazewell, and Pekin history. The first in the series, “Illinois as the French found it,” was just posted online on the History Room blog on Friday and then published in the Pekin Daily Times on Saturday. New articles in the series will appear each week, first online on Friday and then in the paper on Saturday. The articles will generally follow the historical timeline that you’ve been given, starting with Illinois at the time of the arrival of the French and coming down to the founding of Pekin in Jan. 1830.
We hope the article series will be interesting, informative, and above all, accurate , and everyone is more than welcome to join us for our movie series. Thank you!