Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in October 2014 before the launch of this weblog.

Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As mentioned before in this column, the first Pekin city directory was published in 1861. One of the Pekin Public Library’s copies of the 1861 directory is a precious and fragile edition that was formerly owned by none other than Pekin’s own pioneer historian William H. Bates, who prepared the first formal history of Pekin for inclusion in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory.

The pages of Bates’ copy of the 1861 directory are amply annotated in Bates’ own hand. These notes were probably added while Bates was working on later editions of the city directory. One of the notes, on page 70 of the 1861 directory, has to do with an early Pekin city official named Peter Weyhrich Sr.

On that page is a list of the directors of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union District Schools, who were elected to three-year terms. In 1861, the school directors were “Peter Weyhrich, sr.,” whose term of office was to expire in August 1861; William Stanbery, who term was to expire in August 1862; and John Haas, whose term was to expire in August 1863. A handwritten note in Bates’ copy of this directory at bottom of this page says, “Peter Weyhrich, sr., was the pioneer German settler of Pekin.”

Thus, we see that Weyhrich, who arrived in Pekin in 1831 or 1832, held the special place in Pekin’s history as the first of a great wave of German immigrants who would choose Pekin as their new home in America during the 1800s. To be sure, Weyhrich was not the only person of ethnic German descent to arrive during those earliest years of Pekin’s history, but he was the first of them who had been born in Germany. By the latter half of the 1800s, the number of German settlers in Pekin was so large that the city had more than one German-language newspaper and many businesses had signs in their windows telling people that German was spoken there.

Peter Weyhrich Sr. was born in 1806 in Hesse-Darmstadt. A biographical sketch of the life of Peter’s nephew Adam is included in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” on pages 565-566. The sketch says Adam’s grandfather (identified in Weyhrich family histories as Peter’s father) Jacob Weyhrich, a native of Hesse-Darmstadt, settled in Tazewell County in 1828 and was later followed by other members of his family. Peter had arrived in Pekin by 1832, but Adam didn’t emigrate until the 1850s, at or around the same time that his father Philip Weyhrich, Peter’s brother, decided to join Jacob and Peter in America.

Beginning his new life in America in Pekin, the early city directories indicate that Peter was active in the community’s life and commerce. He served as Pekin’s mayor in 1858 and 1859. Peter also took part in the formation of Pekin’s first railroad companies, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” Most of the Weyhrich family, however, acquired land in Sand Prairie Township to the south of Pekin. Peter died Jan. 2, 1879, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

This detail of the map of Sand Prairie Township south of Pekin from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell shows land owned by the Weyhrich family, a pioneer Pekin family that included Pekin’s first German-born settler, Peter Weyhrich.

Early Tazewell County history tells of another Peter Weyhrich, but that Peter – apparently another nephew of the elder Peter – is only mentioned due to the sensational circumstances surrounding and following his death. Chapman tells the story briefly in two paragraphs on pages 298-299 of his Tazewell County history:

“Peter Weyhrich, an old resident of Sand Prairie, died very suddenly Wednesday night, June 20, 1877. The sudden death and incidents attending it caused grave suspicion of foul play. A jury was impanelled and a post-mortem examination made of the deceased, and the stomach sent to Chicago for examination, where it was decided that he came to his death by poison. Mrs. [Anna E.] Weyhrich, wife of the deceased, was arrested and tried for the murder. The case was taken from this to Logan county and tried the last week in March, 1878. States Attorney [William L.] Prettyman and J. B. Cohrs prosecuted, and Messrs. Roberts & Green defended.

“The trial was a long and tedious one, and the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years in the penitentiary. A motion for a new trial was made and denied, when an appeal to the Supreme Court was taken. This tribunal reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial, which took place in July, 1878, and resulted in her acquittal.”

As an aside, the prosecutor J. B. Cohrs is none of than Illinois State Sen. John B. Cohrs, a Pekin attorney whose life was previously treated in this space, and whose wife was active in the founding of the Ladies’ Library Assocation, predecessor of the Pekin Public Library.

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#adam-weyhrich, #germans-in-pekin, #john-b-cohrs, #pekin-history, #peter-weyhrich, #preblog-columns, #william-h-bates

‘Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 1939!’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Only in the imaginary realms of science fiction, or the whimsical cartoon world of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, is it possible to hop in a time machine and leap back to 1939 – but Tazewell County’s Geographic Information System Coordinator Janna Baker and her assistant Shelly Farmer have created a remarkable map of our county that can serve as a substitute for Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine.

Baker and Farmer’s cartographic creation is entitled the “Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison: 1939 and 2015.” It’s actually two maps in one: county-wide aerial maps of the whole of Tazewell County from 1939 and 2015.

The aerial map(s) may be conveniently accessed online at https://arcg.is/1iDObX. (The link has been added to the blogroll on the right of this webpage.) Clicking on the slider bar’s double arrows and dragging your mouse left and right will “unroll” each map, enabling the user to flip (or roll) back and forth, showing how much of our county has changed – and how much is still the same – in the 76 years from 1939 to 2015. There is even a “zoom” feature that makes it possible to magnify the maps’ images to allow for close inspection of specific locations in the county.

“This project began because I noticed Peoria County has something similar available. I had even used their imagery in a grad school project,” Baker wrote to me in a recent email.

Orbiting satellites created the 2015 county map. There were no satellites in 1939, but there were airplanes, dirigibles, and hot air balloons, making it possible to aerially photograph our county square mile by square mile. (Our satellites have much more powerful cameras than existed in 1939, though, so the 2015 images have a much higher resolution – more detail – than those from 1939.) To create an equivalent to the 2015 zoomable color satellite map, the 1939 black-and-white aerial images just needed to be assembled like a giant patchwork quilt: something that would be impossible without modern computer technology.

“The 1939 aerial imagery is freely available for all of Illinois at the Illinois Geospatial Data Clearinghouse. But, they are individual images that are not stitched together into a coordinate system,” Baker explained. She continued, “Shelly Farmer used her time in between her normal workload of projects to stitch the imagery together into one large image and matching the coordinate system of our current aerial imagery. This was done over two months using [geographic information system company] Esri’s GIS software.”

Baker then published the digitally-assembled imagery online as a public service, to be used in web mapping applications.

No grant was needed to fund the Historical Aerial Imagery Comparison website – all work was completed using free and/or already available resources, Baker said.

“Beyond general interest, the historical imagery has value to engineers and planners. In many cases, it can be used to prove the existence of structures or landmarks during that time. It can be used to monitor and analyze change over time,” she said.

An aerial view of the Pekin Public Library and its surrounding neighborhood can be seen in this composite image from the Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison Map of Tazewell County. At right is the 2015 aerial map, and at left is the area of Pekin and railyard to the west of the library as it appeared in 1939. The Tazewell County Courthouse is at the upper right corner. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY GIS COORDINATOR JANNA BAKER

An aerial view showing the shining dome of Pekin’s old Carnegie Library and its surrounding neighborhood in 1939 — with a sliver of the 2015 map — can be seen in this image from the Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison Map of Tazewell County. The Tazewell County Courthouse is at the upper right corner. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY GIS COORDINATOR JANNA BAKER

#esri, #geographic-information-system, #gis, #historic-aerial-imagery-comparison, #illinois-geospatial-data-clearinghouse, #janna-baker, #mr-peabody, #mr-peabody-and-sherman, #wabac

Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When Pekin celebrated its centennial as an incorporated city in 1949, the Pekin Association of Commerce’s Centenary Committee assigned the task of compiling and publishing a souvenir book of Pekin’s history to a group of eight men and women.

The result was the 1949 “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949.” Chief among those who produced this book were Thomas H. Harris, chairman, Charles Dancey, who wrote the history, Bea Falkin and Charlotte Rau, who wrote other articles, and Marge Brenneman and June Wieburg, who were in charge of selling advertisements for the book.

While the Centenary’s historical narrative is naturally the heart and core of the book, the advertisements also in their own way help to tell of Pekin’s history. Often the ads take the form of tributes and congratulations to the community from its various businesses or social organizations, and many times the tribute ads include summaries of the history of the city’s businesses or utilities.

The tribute ad of Ehrlicher Brothers, on page 29 of the Centenary, is a perfect example of one of those historically informative ads. Not only did this long-established pharmacy take the opportunity to brag about their work — “All prescriptions entrusted to our care are filled as written — no substitution — which has gained us the confidence of the physicians who wrote them. All ingredients used are pure and fresh . . .” — but the ad also includes some fascinating historical details, making it of interest even today, long after Ehrlicher Brothers went out of business.

“We have just completed 85 years of continuous drug business in the same room. We feel we have a right to be proud of our record,” the ad says. Ehrlicher Brothers Co., Druggists, 328 Court St., was founded in 1864 by Henry M. and Otto D. Ehrlicher, sons of the German immigrant Johann Georg Ehrlicher (1824-1876) whom this column featured in October 2014. As we’ve noted before, Henry and Otto are recognized as Pekin’s first druggists, and along with their brother George and their wives they donated the land where the original Pekin Hospital was built in 1918.

The most fascinating detail of the Ehrlicher Brothers tribute ad, however, was that it includes “an exact reproduction of PRESCRIPTION No. ONE filled July 7, 1865, one year after the founding of our establishment. It was written by Dr. Samuel T. Maus for Mrs. James Haines Sr., two of Pekin’s earliest pioneers.” (In fact the prescription is clearly dated July 18, 1865, not July 7.)

Shown is a reproduction of Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription, from July 1865.

Regular readers of this column will recall that the Haines and Maus families were among the first settlers of Pekin. The life of Dr. William Maus, son of Samuel, was featured in Sept. 2013, while the life of pioneer settler William Haines, older brother of James Haines, was featured in May 2014. “Mrs. James Haines Sr.” was Annie, daughter of Dr. William Maus.

#annie-haines, #charles-dancey, #dr-samuel-t-maus, #dr-william-s-maus, #ehrlicher-brothers, #henry-ehrlicher, #james-haines, #johann-george-ehrlicher, #otto-d-ehrlicher, #pekin-centenary, #pekin-hospital, #pekin-pharmacies, #preblog-columns, #william-haines

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the biographies of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County featured in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” is an extended account of the life of a Tazewell pioneer named Joshua Wagenseller. Joshua’s family is commemorated today in the name of Wagonseller Road south of Pekin. Following are excerpts of Joshua’s biographical essay — omitting most of the remarkably florid prose in which this and the other biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map” were written.

“Joshua Wagenseller is a native of Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, born July 5, 1813. He is the fifth child of Peter and Susanna (Longaker) Wagenseller. Mr. W., father of Joshua, was a native of Montgomery county, Pa., and his parents were of German descent. He followed farming as the vocation of his life. He emigrated to Ohio about the year 1832, and settled in Columbus, Franklin county, where he resided until his death, which occurred about two years after. His wife, mother of Joshua, subsequently removed to Pekin, Ill., terminating a useful life in 1866, while residing with her son Joshua. . . .

“The subject of this biography acquired his early culture mostly at Green Tree Seminary, in his native country, where he acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of a good, practical, business education. His first business engagement after completing his course was in a wholesale dry goods house in the city of Philadelphia, where he obtained a position as bookkeeper and accountant. The next business engagement was with his brother in Union county, Pa., where he remained about two years. We would remark that these experiences of his early life laid the foundation for that successful business career which in after life distinguished him in his subsequent mercantile transactions.

“He was now of age, and, looking westward for a richer field in which to enlarge and develop his energies, he went to Columbus, Ohio, and erected a saw mill on Elm creek, and was engaged in the manufacture of lumber about three years, or until the spring of 1837, when he removed to Illinois, and settled in Pekin, Tazewell county. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller formed a partnership with his brother Benjamin, and, under the firm name of ‘B. & J. Wagenseller,’ he began, in Pekin, a course of mercantile life, which business he has since followed. This original firm ceased in 1844, by the death of his brother. They went through the financial crash of 1840 unscathed. . . . Since the dissolution of this firm, Mr. Wagenseller has been at the head of subsequent business houses, and although he has been identified with other business largely in life, merchandising has been his leading vocation. He has been engaged in milling covering an aggregate of nearly ten years. He rebuilt and owned the first good grist mill propelled by water in Tazewell county. . . .

This drawing of the downtown Pekin store of J. Wagenseller & Son was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

“Mr. Wagenseller was married May 7, 1840, to Miss Harriet, daughter of Henry and Naomi Rupert, of Pekin, — formerly of Virginia. As the fruits of this union, they have had a family of six children. Two of his sons are now engaged with him in his present mercantile operations. Two of his sons are married, and all of his family are at this time (1873) residents of Pekin. Mr. Wagenseller and wife are both members of the Congregational Church of Pekin, and are among the original members of that church.

“Mr. W., in addition to his mercantile business, owns and carries on a farm near Pekin. He also owns a large area of land located in Iowa. . . . Politically, in early life, Mr. Wagenseller became a whig. His first vote for president was cast for Gen. Wm. H. Harrison, in 1836. He was anti-slavery in his sentiments, and the following circumstance, as related by himself, opened his eyes to the inhumanity of the slave traffic. While on a trip to New Orleans, on a steamboat, a slave owner came on board with a woman and six children. He witnessed the revolting spectacle of a slave girl sold on the block. ‘The scene,’ said Mr. W., ‘made me ever afterward an abolitionist.’ On the disorganization of the whig party, in 1856, he became identified with the republican party, to which he has since been strongly attached. He voted twice for the immortal Lincoln and twice for the valiant Grant, who so ably assisted in firmly planting the stars and stripes on the bulwark of American freedom. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller has been required to represent the interests of his ward for several years in the common council of the city, and was vice president of the Peoria, Pekin, & Jacksonville Railroad Company. He has been one of the active, public-spirited citizens of Pekin for thirty-six years.”

#abolitionism, #joshua-wagenseller, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #slavery, #tazewell-county-history, #wagonseller-road

Trolley cars on Pekin’s streets

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in January 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Trolley cars on Pekin’s streets

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In terms of public transportation in Pekin today, we have the Peoria-based CityLink bus system. But in the past, Pekin was served by its own bus lines — and before that, by street cars. Pekin’s trolley system began as an abortive private venture which was taken over and run by the city.

Here are excerpts from the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume’s account of Pekin’s old trolley system, on pages 24-26:

“A familiar song of many years ago begins ‘Clang, clang, clang went the trolley; ding, ding, ding went the bell . . .,’ and so it was in 1912 when the first street railway began in Pekin. Initially a private business, the line consisted of one battery-operated car that ran on track from Capitol Street near Court to the ‘Distillery Road.’ Each night the car batteries were charged to get ready for the next day’s run. The ill-fated line lasted but two years before financial problems forced it out of business.

“But all was not lost for trolley enthusiasts. The City of Pekin entered the public transportation field in July of 1914 with the passage of Ordinance Number 38: The Purchase, Rehabilitation, and Construction of a Municipal Street Railway. Voters passed a referendum which allowed the city to issue $48,000 in street railway bonds. . . .

“The city purchased the bankrupt line, including all track and equipment, for $8,500. The balance of the money was used to expand services and purchase new equipment. Very specific and demanding requirements were set forth in the law, for example: cars were required to be constructed of red cypress or cedar, 32 feet long, with one longitudinal seat on each side; gauge of the track had to be four feet, eight and one-half inches; steel poles along Court Street to Seventh Street, had to be in two sections totaling 27 feet in length, with the tops 22 feet above the pavement; the trolley wire had to be grooved, hard-drawn copper, with a minimum tensile strength of 51,000 pounds per square inch.

A trolley car heads up Court Street in downtown Pekin in the 1920s.

“Besides the route previously described, the street railway expanded from the corner of Court and Capitol Streets as far east on Court as the GM&O Railroad tracks (just west of the present hospital). The usual scheduled involved two cars, one leaving the east end of the line on Court Street, while the other would leave the west end of the line on South Second and Industry. The two cars would meet at the business district close to the Court House. There was a double track at this point, and one car would side-track until the other car passed, then proceed to its destination at the other end of the line. This operation ran seven days a week from early morning until late evening.

“Many Pekinites remember the trolley cars and the friendships which developed while riding to and from work or uptown to shop — all for a nickel fare. The street railway continued until 1935, when it was replaced by our present bus service . . . .

“The street cars went out fighting, though, with much City Council debate. C. F. Gehrig, one-time City Commissioner, appeared before the Council and urged that Court Street not be paved down the center so that the tracks could remain undisturbed because ‘we might want the street cars back.’ Many did, but the coming of the automobile was making travel too hazardous, with many auto/street car collisions. No more ‘clang, clang, clang’ — just some fond memories for many residents and a slice of nostalgia for the younger set.”

This following added detail is mentioned in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 17: “Also for 5 cents a day, local youth Roy Williams was paid to push the wooden seats back when the train reached the park so the passengers could face forward on the return trip.”

Roy Williams died just a year ago last month – but the old Pekin Municipal Street Railway garage is still there on South Second Street, the location of Walt’s Garage.

The old ‘home base’ of Pekin’s trolley cars at 1420 S. Second Street is today the home of Walt’s Garage — the building still sports the inscription “Pekin Municipal Street Railway.” Trolley rails are still visible in the garage floor.

#c-f-gehrig, #pekin-history, #pekin-municipal-street-railway, #preblog-columns, #roy-williams, #street-cars, #trolleys