Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the years this columns has from time to time spotlighted a few of the scribes who played important roles in recording the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: writers and researchers such as William H. Bates, Charles C. Chapman, and Fred Soady, or Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry H. Cole. This week we’ll take a closer look at the life of another important Tazewell County historian, Ben Campbell Allensworth of Pekin.

Allensworth’s chief contribution to local history was as the editor of the 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” which updated Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history. Allensworth’s history was published in the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County.” The first volume and part of the second volume, the encyclopedia, were edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, while Allensworth was in charge of the Tazewell County history in volume two.

Allensworth was well suited to his task, because he was a school teacher and superintendent as well as an experienced and accomplished journalist. As the old saying goes, journalism gives us the first draft of history — but Allensworth had a hand in both a first and second draft of Tazewell County’s history.

This portrait and signature of Ben C. Allensworth was included in the 1905 “History of Tazewell County” of which Allensworth was the editor.

Included in Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, on pages 968-970, is his own biography, written by his friend, Judge A. W. Rodecker. “Ben C. Allensworth, the editor of the History of Tazewell County, having, from some cause, failed to furnish his own biography to the publishers of this work, they asked me to write it,” Rodecker apologetically explains. Allensworth’s portrait also is interleaved between pages 682 and 683.

Rodecker’s biography of Allensworth says, “Ben C. Allensworth was born in Little Mackinaw Township, one-half mile southeast of Tazewell, in Tazewell County, Ill., October 27, 1845. His parents were William P. and Arabel Waggener Allensworth. William P. Allensworth was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., September 25, 1820, and died in Minier, Ill., May 8, 1874. He was a kind hearted and courtly gentleman, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. He held the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court for four years, and was an efficient and popular officer. The mother of B. C. Allensworth was born in Christian County, Ky., July 9, 1827, and died in Galesburg. Ill., March 25, 1902. She was a woman of culture and refinement, anxious for the success of her children, and labored with her husband in his every endeavor to educate and make them good and useful citizens.

“The subject of this sketch was the eldest of nine children, all of whom, with the exception of two, are living. He was reared on a farm, but, when he could be spared, attended the country schools and was a diligent pupil. It was easy for him to master the studies taught, and he early evinced a purpose to be more than a common school scholar. At the age of twenty he entered the State University at Normal. He ranked high in his studies, and when he graduated in 1869, left a record in the school which gave him a high standing with the school men of the State. Soon after his graduation, he was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Elmwood, Peoria County, which place he held until the spring of 1872. . . .

“In April, 1872, Mr. Allensworth bought of W. T. Meades a half-interest in ‘The Tazewell Register,’ and connected therewith John F. Mounts, a printer and writer of some considerable reputation. In September of that year, Meades purchased Mounts’ interest in the paper. The partnership of Meades and Allensworth, in the publication of the Register, continued until January 1873, when, on account of failing health, Mr. Allensworth sold out to Meades. Then retiring from the newspaper business, he went to farming in Little Mackinaw Township. He taught school in the winter time until 1877, when he was nominated by the Democratic party for Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools, being twice elected to this position. . . .

“For a portion of the time during which he was Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Allensworth carried on farming, and was just farmer enough to be compelled to use all the salary he made out of his office to keep up the farm — or rather make an attempt at it. . . . He dropped his farming venture in 1884 and moved to Pekin, where he has since resided. In May, 1885, he took editorial charge of ‘The Pekin Times,’ but owing to a disagreement with its proprietor, J. B. Irwin, as to the policy to be pursued by the paper, he gave up this position in the following September. In 1886, Irwin having sold the paper, Mr. Allensworth accepted the position of editor and business manager for the Times Publishing Company, which position he relinquished January 14, 1894, to take charge of the Pekin Postoffice (sic), to which place he had been appointed December 21, 1893, by Grover Cleveland. After the expiration of the four-year term in the postoffice, he went into the insurance business, in which he is now engaged. For a number of years he has been a member of the Pekin Board of School Inspectors, and has served one term as President of the Board.”

Rodecker also states that Allensworth married Charity A. Tanner in Minier on Oct. 7, 1875. He and Charity had three daughters and two sons. Charity died in 1912, and Allensworth died at Pekin Hospital on the morning of Sept. 3, 1929, being survived by three of his children and four grandchildren. His lengthy obituary — which is mostly a somewhat abridged version of Rodecker’s biography — was published at the top of the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Little Mackinaw Township.

#ben-c-allensworth, #charity-a-tanner, #j-b-irwin, #john-f-mounts, #judge-a-w-rodecker, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-register, #w-t-meades

A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Dec. 2011 before the launch of this weblog.

A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

If you’ve ever wondered what Christmas celebrations were like in Pekin way back when, an old handbill from 1879 in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection can be a way to summon a visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past.

In large, bold letters, the handbill announces a “holiday concert” to be presented Friday evening, Dec. 26, 1879, at Empire Hall, one of Pekin’s earliest theaters or concert halls. Empire Hall was on the second floor of a building in the 200 block of Court Street – so that should give you an idea of just how long Pekin has been celebrating Christmas downtown.

This 1879 handbill, donated to the Pekin Public Library by late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. and now displayed in the library’s Local History Room, opens a window on Pekin’s Christmas traditions of long ago.

The holiday concert was a three-scene Christmas cantata entitled, “Santa Claus!” which was performed “by the members of the Baptist Sunday School, assisted by LEADING SINGERS OF THE CITY,” as the handbill states. Directing the cantata were Mrs. and Mrs. W. F. Henry, while Miss Josie Goodheart directed two silent tableaux vivants that were presented at the end of the first scene and at the conclusion of the cantata. The price of admission was 25 cents for adults and teens, and 10 cents for children under 12.

Lining both sides of the handbill are advertisements by the local merchants who sponsored the cantata, offering “the greatest bargains in holiday goods in the city,” “Christmas candies, nuts and fruits,” “holiday goods, toys, notions, etc.” In that respect, Christmas in 1879 wasn’t any different from Christmas today.

Also advertised are “1000 cans of oysters for Christmas!” and “oysters in every style.” Though they a part of a traditional Christmas dinner – for Christians used to abstain from meat during the penitential season of Advent, and so Christmas Eve dinners would feature seafood – oysters are probably not as popular these days as ham or turkey.

Much about the cantata also would be familiar to us today, but other things would be a little strange. The cantata tells the story of six children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but the handbill says nothing of Santa’s reindeer, who made their first appearance in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Also absent from the cantata were Santa’s elves and the toy workshop at the North Pole, which are later developments of the Santa Claus story.

Instead, the audience was treated to a character called the Frost King, as well as three Christmas fairies and Santa’s two attendants, dwarfs named Drako and Krako. Also prominent in the cantata were six goddesses, representing Dreams, Mirth, Joy, Peace, Love and Hope. It was the task of the Goddess of Dreams, played by Mrs. James Sholl, to sing a lullaby, “Now the tiny lids must close,” to ensure the six children were fast asleep before Santa’s arrival.

It wasn’t long before the 19th century’s reimagining of the Catholic St. Nicholas as the “jolly old elf” Santa Claus would take on a life of its own, more secular than religious, all but divorced from its Christian origins. This 1879 cantata, however, bears an unmistakably Christian stamp: the very first solo, sung by Miss Fannie Miller, is, “Where the Shepherds Watched by Night,” and the cantata concludes with the chorus, “Our kind and loving Father, / A glad and joyful throng / We lift our hearts and voices / To Thee in grateful song.”

A final bit of local history trivia: playing one of the children in the cantata was Fred W. Soady Sr., born Sept. 5, 1867, whose biography appears in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” page 696. Some past “From the Local History Room” columns have featured quotes from a 1960 paper of Pekin’s early history written by Fred W. Soady Jr., grandson of the child actor of 1879.

#a-visit-from-st-nicholas, #clement-clark-moore, #drako-and-krako, #empire-hall, #fannie-miller, #fred-soady, #fred-w-soady-sr, #josie-goodheart, #mr-and-mrs-w-f-henry, #mrs-james-sholl, #pekin-christmas-of-times-past, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #santa-claus, #st-nicholas-of-myra, #tableaux-vivants, #twas-the-night-before-christmas, #where-the-shepherds-watched-by-night

William W. Sellers, publisher and politician

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in July 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

William W. Sellers, publisher and politician

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

The foundation of Pekin’s historical record was laid in 1870, with the publication of the Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory. As noted more than once in this column, included in that directory was a “History of Pekin, from its earliest settlement to the present time.”

The 1870 directory billed itself as “the first history and directory of the city.” The conjunction “and” is important – it was not the first city directory (that was the 1861 Roots directory), but it does contain the first published history of Pekin. If not for the Sellers & Bates directory, our knowledge of Pekin’s early history would be greatly impoverished.

But just who were “Sellers & Bates, Printers,” to whom researchers into our local history owe such a great debt? We first answered the “Bates” part of that question in the March 17, 2012 Pekin Daily Times, in the column, “William H. Bates of Pekin, ‘the historian of the city.’

Bates was the younger half of the printing and publishing partnership of Sellers & Bates. Sellers was William W. Sellers of Pekin, a newspaper publisher and Republican politician (there was no clear line separating the two roles in those days, even as the line between journalism and politics is obscured in our day) who enjoyed a fair degree of local prominence.

The entries for William Sellers and his printing firm, Sellers & Bates, in the 1870 Pekin City Directory which his business produced and published.

Sellers briefly appears in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” p.723, in Chapman’s account of Tazewell County’s early newspapers. One of them was the Tazewell County Republican, of which Chapman writes, “. . . Wm. W. Sellers got a hold of it, in 1863 or ’64. He made it a red-hot Republican organ and one of the best papers published in the Northwest. He was a shrewd able writer and could turn the English language into a two-edge sword when in a wordy conflict with an opponent. He conducted it until his death, which occurred Dec. 15, 1872. It was then conducted by his administrators for a short time, when Jacob R. Riblett and Wm. H. Bates purchased it.

Shown is an advertisement for the Tazewell County Republican newspaper from the 1870 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory. The Tazewell County Republican was owned and published by William W. Sellers.

The reference to Sellers’ death in 1872 explains why Sellers’ name dropped from the title of subsequent editions of the Pekin City Directory. The business partnership of Sellers & Bates was ended by Sellers’ untimely death, after which Bates continued to publish the directories alone.

The “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” was published about 1873. The atlas includes several lengthy biographies of the “Old Settlers of Tazewell County,” all of them laden with fulsome praise of their subjects. On page 43 is a biography of Sellers that reads more like a funeral eulogy than a proper biography, but which nevertheless records all of the highlights of his life.

Sellers, the biography says, “was born May 19, 1833, in Mercersburg, Franklin county, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of a family of six children of Michael and Phoebe (Walker) Sellers. He is descended from one of the old and prominent families of eastern Pennsylvania. His early culture was received in the schools of his native town. His rare and eminent natural qualities, coupled with his active and studious mind, led him on to that success which, as a public man and journalist, he acquired in his after career.

Sellers went into journalism in the early 1850s as assistant editor of the Chambersburg Repository, but at age 22 he moved to McConnellsville, Pa., and became the owner and publisher of the Fulton Republican. “He was married July 8, 1856, in Indianola, Iowa, to Miss Lide Smith, with whom he first became acquainted in his native town.” They had five children. After their marriage, they returned to McConnellsville, where Sellers continued to publish the Fulton Republican. He also was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature.

Sellers settled in Pekin in November 1863 and soon after purchased the Tazewell County Republican. “The county was largely democratic at this time, but owing to the herculean labors of this gifted journalist, we may largely account for the political revolution of 1872, when we find, for the first time in its political record, that the county was republican,” his biography says.

Sellers was elected mayor of Pekin in 1865, but he resigned in the fall of 1866 after winning election as a representative in the Illinois General Assembly. Besides the elective offices he held, the biography states that Sellers also “was appointed, by President Grant, postmaster of the city of Pekin, which position he held until his death, which occurred at his residence on the 15th of December, 1872. His amiable and accomplished wife is still continuing the paper which was so ably conducted by her husband.

Somewhat remarkably for that era, after Sellers’ death, President Grant appointed Sellers’ widow as “postmistress of Pekin.” “The appointment meets the approbation of the citizens of Pekin, and it is well conducted through her management,” the biography says.

In tribute to Sellers’ journalism, his biography comments, “It is a well-established fact in the minds of our intelligent citizens, that the press is the most potent agency for good or evil in Christendom. The same is true in state or municipal affairs. Every city owes its progress, in a great measure, to its press. Newspapers are now becoming the vehicle of thought, as well as the means of heralding the virtues of every people and the beauties of every locality to the world. In respect to these facts, Pekin was indeed benefited by the short but incessant labors of William W. Sellers.

This color advertisement for Sellers & Bates Printers, a Pekin business located in an upstairs office on the south side of Court Street four doors east of Third Street, features the business trademark. Sellers & Bates produced the 1870 Pekin City Directory, in which this ad was run.

#1870-pekin-city-directory, #celestial-city, #celestials, #old-settlers, #pekin-history, #pekin-mayors, #sellers-and-bates, #tazewell-county-republican-newspaper, #william-h-bates, #william-sellers, #william-w-sellers

Tazewell County’s ‘Greatest Generation’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Our nation this week marked the 77th anniversary of the Empire of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II on the side of the Allies. From that point until the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945, the entirety of America’s military, industrial, and spiritual might was committed to the war effort.

By the war’s end, the U.S. had lost over 400,000 soldiers in a global shedding of human blood that included anywhere from 21 million to 25.5 million military deaths, 29 million to 30.5 million civilian deaths due to war or to crimes against humanity, and another 19 million to 28 million civilian deaths due to war-related famine and disease. The horrific human cost of the genocidal aims and expansionist ambitions of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.S.R. was an estimated 75 million to 85 million souls.

Most fittingly, the generation in America who bore that terrible burden of suffering, and who afterwards exerted themselves to rebuild and repair their broken world, has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation” (a title bestowed on them by retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw). With the blessed conclusion of that conflict receding further and further into the past – it’s now been more than 73 years since the end of World War II – each day that passes there are fewer and fewer men and women left to tell us of their experiences.

These were the fathers and mothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers of the current generation. My own father, Joseph, is one of them – but he wasn’t old enough to be drafted until December of 1945, so he avoided all the fighting, instead spending what he says was the most boring year of his life in the U.S. Army’s peacekeeping forces near Manila in the Philippines. How stark is the contrast between his experience and that of those who had liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation a year before – not to mention the experience of his older brothers who fought in Europe and the Pacific.

On Dec. 31, 1945, the Pekin Daily Times published a special “Victory Edition” that presented extensive lists of the men and women of Tazewell County who had served their country during World War II.

It is to help us to remember those times that the Pekin Public Library has provided opportunities this year to view oral histories such as “We Were There: World War II” (shown earlier this year on May 4) and “World War II POW Stories’ (originally scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m., but instead to be rescheduled to a time following the completion of the library’s repairs).

The library has a wide area of books and videos on World War II in its circulating collection. The above mentioned videos, however, are just two items among the resources related to the history of World War II that may be found in the library’s Local History Room Collection.

The three most notable World War II-related items in the Local History Room are three books that compile the stories of Tazewell County’s “Greatest Generation.”

Two of those volumes were the work of the late Robert B. Monge of Pekin, who in 1994 authored and edited “WW2 – Memories of Love & War: June 1937-June 1946,” a hefty 991-page book that collects personal stories, newspaper reports, and obituaries of Tazewell County World War II veterans and fallen heroes.

Three years later, in 1997, Monge collaborated with Jack Shepler and the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial Committee to produce the 261-page “Book Eternal: Tazewell County Veterans Memorial,” which tells of the planning and construction of the county’s Veterans Memorial located at the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn in downtown Pekin. “Book Eternal” also lists those whose names are inscribed on the memorial’s stones, which display the names of every Tazewell County soldier who died in the service of his country.

This photograph from the front page of the Pekin Daily Times’ “Victory Edition” on Dec. 31, 1945, reminded readers of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who had been killed in World War II.

A decade later, in 2007 the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society compiled its own book on the experiences of our local World War II veterans: “Tazewell County Veterans of World War II: Remembrances – Pearl Harbor to V-J Day,” which extends to 488 pages.

About 11 years ago, former Pekin Public Library Reference Librarian Laurie Hartshorn collected and compiled the wartime stories and recollections of 16 local women. Their personal memories are collected in “Women of the Greatest Generation Tell Their Stories.”

The Local History Room Collection also has archival boxes and files of newspaper clippings and World War II-era magazines, and even several donated complete issues of the Pekin Daily Times from those years.

One of those newspapers is the “Victory Edition” of the Pekin Daily Times, published Dec. 31, 1945. The Daily Times that year devoted its traditional “Year In Review” issue to a look back over the nation’s and Pekin’s experiences of the previous four years, preparing and publishing a list of 143 young men from Tazewell County who had been killed in the war, along with extensive Draft Board lists of names of men from Pekin and Morton who been called up to serve their country, including the county’s women who had volunteered as Army and Navy nurses.

Section Two of this special edition is headlined, “6102 Tazewell Men On World War II Honor Roll,” with other headlines including, “Nearly Half of Morton’s 3116 Out of Uniform” and “2986 Are On Pekin List; Estimate 1400 Discharged.” A separate story, “62 Tazewell County Women Serve Country,” is devoted to the honored group of women who had volunteered as WACs (Women’s Air Corps), WAVES (women in the Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard auxiliary), and the Marines women’s auxiliary force.

The special edition also struck a somber tone, however, reminding its readers of “Nine Tazewell Boys, Missing In Action, Still Unfound; Families Hold Hope.”

But the mood throughout those yellowed pages was chiefly one of gratitude and joy – gratitude for those who had fought for freedom, and joy that the war was over and peace had returned. Looking back to celebrations and the utter relief at Japan’s surrender that ended the war – “V-J Day,” “Victory-over-Japan Day” – the special edition recalled that “V-J Day Was 1945’s Gayest Day In Pekin.”

In keeping with what Bob Monge wrote, may we never forget the men and women of that generation whose names are, or soon will be, written in God’s Book Eternal.

#jack-shepler, #laurie-hartshorn, #pearl-harbor-day, #pekin-daily-times-victory-edition, #pekin-history, #robert-monge, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-veterans, #women-of-the-greatest-generation, #world-war-ii