The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

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

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column has spotlighted on various occasions the early city directories of Pekin and Peoria in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These volumes are often useful in researching local history and genealogy in the areas of Tazewell and Peoria counties.

The Local History Room collection also includes another set of directories that help to shed light upon the history in our area. These are eight volumes of White’s Tazewell County Directory. The library’s collection includes White’s directories for the years 1914, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1928 and 1930.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Company, 405 Court St., Pekin, appeared in the 1914 White’s Tazewell County Directory. The copy of the directory in which this advertisement appeared was once owned by John Fitzgerald, who was then Citizen Telephone’s secretary and treasurer.

White’s directories were prepared and published by J. A. White, a Peoria-based publisher who debuted the first of his Tazewell County directories in 1913. To provide some historical context, that was a year before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe and the start of construction on the current Tazewell County Courthouse (which would be completed and dedicated in the summer of 1916).

Assuming a somewhat apologetic tone, White explains his reasons for publishing his county directories in his “Introductory” comments toward the front of the 1914 volume.

“In presenting this, my Second Volume of White’s Tazewell County Directory,” White says, “I believe I will fill a long-felt want. I have exerted myself to make this as complete and comprehensive a work of the kind as possible, and while not always perfect, I trust the public will overlook any small errors which may have crept in.”

The “long-felt want” referred to the difficulty people back then had in finding families and businesses that were located outside of Pekin. The Bates’ and Polk’s Pekin annual city directories, which began to be published in 1870, were of great help if one were looking for a person or a business in Pekin – but what about the rest of the county?

To supply that need, White’s directories included a compilation of all Tazewell County individuals or heads of households age 16 and up who lived outside the Pekin city limits. In addition, his directories included a Business Directory for the city of Pekin, as well as a Directory of Miscellaneous Information on Tazewell County and its towns and villages, with the “Rural Free Delivery” (R.F.D.) list showing the route on which each farmer lived out in the rural unincorporated areas of the county. White also helpfully indicated with a cross which individuals were heads of household, and with a large dot indicated which individuals owned the land that they lived on and farmed.

In the 1914 directory, each subsection on one of the towns in the county begins with a brief description of the town. Most of them are short and simple, such as the description of Deer Creek – “A village in the N E part of the county on the Lake Erie and Western R R 18 miles east of Peoria.” The description of Delavan notes that the village “had water works and electric light plant.” As the county seat, Pekin’s description naturally is the longest (although curiously lacking in punctuation):

“A beautiful city located on the east side of the Illinois River Is the county seat of Tazewell County has many large manufacturing institutions and compares favorably with many cities of greater population Has six railroads The P & P T, Santa Fe Big Four I C C P & St L and P & P U and semi-weekly boats to St Louis”

In the same directory, the “Miscellaneous Information” begins on page 230 with a list of county officers, as follows (with punctuation style as shown in the directory):

Judge County Court – J M Rahn
Clerk County Court – Geo Behrens
Treasurer – Wm E Schureman
Sheriff – C A Fluegel
Superintendent of Schools – B L Smith
Circuit Clerk and Recorder – C O Myers
States Attorney – Wm J Reardon
Surveyor – Ben F Smith
Coroner – Ernest F Masen
Master-in-Chancery – H C Frings
Probation Officer – John H Shade

Of these names, we have previously seen the Schureman surname in the survey of the early history of Green Valley. State’s Attorney William J. Reardon later was on the team of attorneys who successfully defended the Tazewell County deputies charged with the 1932 torture-murder of Martin Virant. Finally, John H. Shade will be familiar to many Pekin residents as the father of the late Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#b-l-smith, #ben-f-smith, #c-a-fluegel, #c-o-myers, #citizens-telephone, #ernest-f-masen, #george-behrens, #h-c-frings, #j-a-white, #j-m-rahn, #john-h-shade, #martin-virant, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #preblog-columns, #r-f-d, #rural-free-delivery, #whites-tazewell-county-directories, #william-e-schureman, #william-reardon

The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in November 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In March 2013, this column concluded a 25-part series that had begun in Sept. 2012 on a pair of sensational murders that occurred in East Peoria and Pekin in the early 1930s. The series put a magnifying glass on different aspects of life, law and crime in Tazewell County toward the end of the Prohibition Era.

The era of Prohibition, of course, is commonly known as the Roaring ’20s, a colorful description of a generally high-spirited time of material prosperity and swift social change. It’s now been a century since the start of that decade. A book about that time is included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection: “Roaring in the ’20’s in Tazewell County,” produced in 2002 by the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society and compiled by Vivian Higdon.

The book is only 46 pages, yet “Roaring in the ’20’s” has individual chapters on all of the things for which that era is known: not only gangsters and organized crime, or Prohibition and speakeasies, but also the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, fashions, automobiles and roads, new inventions, sport and entertainment, and heroes and daredevils.

The Roaring Twenties weren’t all gangsters, speakeasies, and flappers. Sometimes it was a group of neighborhood boys in Pekin shooting a game of marbles, as in this undated 1920s photo from the Peoria Journal-Transcript. Shown left to right are Urban Albertsen (1917-1999), Edwin Hamilton, Dan Reardon, Howard Riopel (on bicycle), Chester Marshall, Harvey Bennett, Paul Herren (1917-1986), Joe McNaughton (1919-2002), Murray Revoid, and Robert Hamilton. The photographer was Brooks Watson.

Among the social changes of that decade were changes in the language, so it makes sense that “Roaring in the ‘20’s” also has a handy one-page glossary of 1920s-era slang, from “applesauce” to “whoopee.”

Here are some selections from the glossary:

Applesauce: Horsefeathers!
Bee’s knees: An excellent idea, person, thing
Berries: Similar to bee’s knees
Big cheese: Big shot
Bluenose: Prude
Bump off: Murder or kill
Bunk: Nonsense
Cake-eater: A ladies’ man
Cat’s meow: See “Bee’s knees”
Cat’s pajamas: See “Cat’s meow”
Cheaters: Eyeglasses
Crush: Infatuation
Darb: Reliable to pay a check
Drugstore cowboy: A man who tries to pick up girls on the corner
Dumb Dora: A stupid woman
Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman wearing short skirts and shorter hair
Giggle water: Alcoholic beverage
Heebie-jeebies: The jitters
Hoofer: Dancer
Hotsy-totsy: Pleasing
Jake: It’s OK
Joint: A club, usually serving alcohols
Keen: Attractive, appealing
Nerts: To show disgust (“Nuts!”)
Scram: Leaving quickly after being told to
Sheba: Woman with sex appeal
Sheik: Man with sex appeal
Spifflicated: Drunk
Struggle buggy: Backseat of a car (a parent’s worst nightmare)
Swell: Wonderful; or a rich man
Take for a ride: Drive off with someone to bump him off
Torpedo: A hired gun
Upchuck: To vomit as a result of drinking too much
Whoopee: To have a good time

#brooks-watson, #chester-marshall, #dan-reardon, #edwin-hamilton, #harvey-bennett, #howard-riopel, #joe-mcnaughton, #murray-revoid, #paul-herren, #preblog-columns, #roaring-20s, #roaring-in-the-20s-in-tazewell-county, #robert-hamilton, #the-third-degree, #urban-albertsen, #vivian-higdon

News of days gone by: the 1st Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is!”

With these words, the Pekin Daily Times made its debut 139 years ago this month. It began as a four-page broadsheet, with five columns to a page, published by Joseph B. Irwin and W. T. Dowdall, and delivered by four newsboys: Ad Merrill, Charley Wagenseller, Benny Irwin, and Johnny Michael. Joseph Irwin and Dowdall had purchased the Pekin Weekly Register in 1873 and rechristened it the Pekin Weekly Times. On Jan. 3, 1881, Irwin and Dowdall made the risky decision of starting a daily edition of their newspaper.

It was only the second time anyone had ever published a daily paper in Pekin (there was an abortive attempt to publish a daily paper in 1876, when William H. Bates put out a daily called The Pekin Daily Bulletin for nine months, from Jan. 3 to Oct. 5, 1876), and even after the Pekin Daily Times was born, for a while Irwin and Dowdall continued to publish a weekly edition alongside the Daily Times. Over the decades the Daily Times continued to thrive in a local market that included several other weeklies, but one by one its rivals shuttered their offices or were purchased by the Pekin Daily Times, until by the mid-20th century the Daily Times was Pekin’s only newspaper.

Shown here is the top half of the front page of the Pekin Public Library’s copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times, Pekin’s second — and only successful — daily newspaper.

The Times has changed hands several times since Irwin and Dowdall brought it into being, including an ugly two-year period in the early 1920s when it was owned by three leading members of the Ku Klux Klan. The paper enjoyed its greatest success and prosperity under F. F. McNaughton’s leadership, who came to the Times in 1927 and passed away in 1981, when the McNaughton family sold the paper to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, which later renamed itself GateHouse Media Inc. In the last months of 2019, Gannett Co., owner of the USA Today, and GateHouse merged, so the Daily Times is now a Gannett paper.

In an editorial column apparently written by Irwin on page 3, the publishers announced the new daily paper and issued what amounts to a mission statement for their journalistic endeavor. Here are excerpts from that column:

“For a long time the citizens of Pekin have wished that they might have a daily paper printed in the place – they have wanted a home daily. This statement will not be disputed any where.

“The issuances of this sheet materializes that well-defined wish into a living reality – a palpable fact. The PEKIN DAILY TIMES is born. How long it will live depends entirely upon the good people of Pekin and Tazewell county. If it lives it will be because the people of Pekin and Tazewell sustain it. If it dies, it will be because they do not sustain it. . . .

“That a good daily paper will be of great value to Pekin, no man in his senses will deny. For years Pekin has been over-shadowed, ridiculed, sneered at and derided by the numerous daily papers of the burg on the river just above us. It has been the butt and laughing-stock, a standing subject for the cheap jibes and jokes of these papers forever. We had to bear it because we had nowhere else to go for our daily news. Pekin should have self-respect enough to change this condition of affairs at the first opportunity. That opportunity now presents itself. . . .

“We have many evidences going to show that Pekin has just entered an era of renewed prosperity. All the signs are most encouraging for our little city. It now only needs a daily to vitalize its yet partly dormant energies, to encourage its embryotic enterprises, and to thoroughly advertise its growing prosperity and its very many splendid advantages.

“The DAILY TIMES itself, from day to day, must tell the story of what it is to be. Would you know what this is, you must read it. This only do we promise: That so long as it lives it shall be in every way a credit to Pekin. Its quality shall be as good as a liberal outlay of money can make it.

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is! If you like it and want it to live, patronize it. If you don’t like it and don’t want it to live, don’t patronize it.”

The first edition of the Pekin Daily Times filled its front page with news that had come over the telegraph from Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Grand Haven, Mich., St. Paul, Minn., and New York City, as well as international news from Paris, France, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In keeping with the usual practice of 19th century newspapers, two whole columns of the front page were given over to local advertising. An opinion column on page 2 warned of the political and cultural influence of the Mormon religion, and decried the Mormon practice of polygamy (which the Mormons did not formally renounce until 1890).

The last page of the paper was taken up by local news – but not what we today would expect of local news coverage. The local news in the first Pekin Daily Times was a long string of items of a prosaic or even mundane nature, chiefly being announcements of family visits, out-of-town trips of Pekin residents, community events, or how Pekinites had enjoyed their sleighing and bobsledding during the New Year’s holiday. As an example: “Ben Towner, of Teller, Col., is in the city on a visit to old friends. He was the second city marshal of Pekin, after it became a city, and is well known by all the old residenters.

Perhaps the most remarkable local news item in the Daily Times’ first edition was the announcement that Eugene Hyers had been granted a divorce from his wife Anna in Peoria Circuit Court, accompanied by the libelous comment that Mr. Hyers “was drawn into a very unfortunate marriage with a woman who had neither honor or virtue and we congratulate the young man upon his release.

Definitely not the kind of “news” that would ever make it into print today.

A copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times is on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#ad-merrill, #anna-hyers, #ben-towner, #benny-irwin, #charley-wagenseller, #eugene-hyers, #f-f-mcnaughton, #johnny-michael, #joseph-b-irwin, #kkk, #mormons, #pekin-daily-bulletin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-weekly-times, #polygamy, #the-bulletin, #w-t-dowdall, #william-h-bates

Electric lights and a village disaster

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

Electric lights and a village disaster

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Electric street lights have been a part of our lives for so long that most of us take them for granted. Nevertheless, the introduction of street lights in the latter half of the 1800s was a revolution in the way we live – and not uncommonly in a revolution, people can get hurt, as well shall learn in this week’s exploration of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

It was during the 1860s that street lights were installed in Pekin – but they were gas lights, not electric. Here is how the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial tells the story:

“It was February 18, 1861, when an Act to Incorporate the Pekin Gas Light Company was approved by the Illinois General Assembly. It was four years later, however, before said company was organized, with William Stansbury as president. . . It was under Stansbury, though, that the first gas street lights were put in operation, and the old lamp-lighter was a familiar figure in the city from February 5, 1866, until 1888, when electric street lights replaced the old gas type.”

William H. Bates in the 1887 Pekin City Directory also notes that, “On the 5th of February, 1866, the City Council ‘deemed it expedient and proper to light the streets, lanes, avenues and alleys of the city with gas.’

The Sesquicentennial also tells of the founding of Pekin’s first electric utility companies in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The switch from gas to electric lights also meant a change in power sources. With gas lights, it was simply a matter of burning natural gas to give off light, but with electric lights the electricity must be generated.

In those early days, steam power was one of the means of power generation for electric street lights. Usually everything worked as it was supposed to, but one September day in Morton it resulted in tragedy.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” includes accounts of various “Calamitous Events” that befell the residents of Tazewell County. One of them, related on page 82, is entitled, “Fatal Explosion at Morton.” Here is Allensworth’s account:

“A 5 o’clock, p.m., September 5, 1897, the steam-boiler of the electric light plant at Morton, blew up from some cause never ascertained. The building was a one and a half story brick, and was used as a feed-mill, pumping station for the water supply, and as a saw-mill. It was owned by Barr Bros. & Co. George Grimm, foreman, had just gone to his supper leaving a pressure of 25 pounds on the boiler, when the explosion took place. The boiler was blown through the roof, and brick, iron and debris were scattered for blocks around.

“Those killed were: Tillie Buyer, aged 5 years; Emma Buyer, aged 12 years; Albert Buyer, aged 4 years, who died next day.

“The injured were: Frank Buyer, aged 14 years, and Miss Cassie White, who was visiting friends in Morton at the time the explosion occurred. The children injured and killed belonged to the family of Moses Buyer. At the time of the explosion they were playing in the back yard, and at the first intimation of danger started for the house nearby, but were caught by the falling missiles and two of them were instantly killed.

“This was the most serious calamity that has ever befallen the village of Morton.”

Shown is what was left of the Morton electric power plant after the explosion of Sept. 5, 1897, that killed three children and injured two others who were playing in the neighborhood. The photograph is from the “GHPERK/Perkins Family Tree” at, which shows the genealogy of Moses S. Beyer, who lost three of his children and had a fourth injured in the disaster.

In his account of this tragedy, Allensworth misspells the family name of the children who died or were injured. They were the children of Moses S. Beyer (1861-1933) and Susan (Zobrist) Beyer (1868-1922). Moses, an electrician, worked at the very plant that took the lives of three of his children when it exploded (and in fact, Allensworth’s “Barr Bros. & Co.” may be an error for “Beyer Bros. & Co.”). Emma, Tillie, and Albert Beyer are buried in the old Apostolic Christian Cemetery of Morton. Also buried with them is an unnamed infant of Moses and Susan who also died in 1897.

Besides their son Frank, U.S. Census records show that Moses and Susan had three other children, daughters named Mary, Lena, and Anna, who survived to mourn the loss of their siblings. Their mother Susan, severely traumatized by the loss of four of her children the same year, can also be counted as a victim of the disaster: census records show that by 1900 she was a patient living at the Peoria State Hospital near Bartonville, and remained there until her death on Oct. 16, 1922. She and Moses are buried together in Morton’s Apostolic Christian Cemetery.

#albert-beyer, #anna-beyer, #beyer-bros-and-co, #cassie-white, #electric-street-lights, #emma-beyer, #frank-beyer, #gas-street-lights, #george-grimm, #lena-beyer, #mary-beyer, #morton-power-plant-disaster, #moses-s-beyer, #pekin-gas-light-company, #peoria-state-hospital, #preblog-columns, #susan-zobrist-beyer, #tillie-beyer, #william-stansbury

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

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

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It’s not at all uncommon that the Pekin Public Library receives a research question on one subject that might lead to delving into other, related areas of local history.

For example, a few years ago a patron expressed interest in locating a photograph of a former Pekin resident named Gene Stein, who died in Peoria on Feb. 1, 1922, and was buried in Springdale Cemetery. His full name was Eugene Albert Stein, and he was born in Pekin on May 26, 1864, son of German immigrants named Herman and Emma (Hinckle) Stein. His wife was Eleanor “Lallie” Erler (1879-1946), daughter of Franklin and Elizabeth (Howells) Erler. As a first step in the search, Stein’s obituary was found in the Pekin Daily Times. Though by no means an extended account of his life, his obituary is quite informative. It turns out that Stein was well-known in Pekin.

His obituary says he was “one of the best known musicians, composers and orchestra directors of this vicinity. . . . ‘Gene,’ as he was familiarly known to nearly everyone in Pekin, grew to manhood here and always was identified with this community. . . . Known far and wide as one of the best musicians of this section, ‘Gene’ was for years identified with the Hinners Organ company here and with the Capitol theatre, where he was orchestra director. Just previous to his last illness, he gave up his orchestral work to become manager of the Pekin Music company.

This drawing of the Hinners Organ factory in Pekin is cropped from an image of the back cover of an old copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ.

The name of Hinners is prominent in Pekin’s history, and references to the Hinners’ Organ Company – that is, Hinners & Albertsen – appear several times in the standard works on the history of Pekin. For example, the 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 147, says, “For years, too, the Hinners Organ Company, founded in 1879, was one of Pekin’s leading factories, producing thousands of Hinners reed and pipe organs, sold to all parts of the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world.”

The Hinners organ factory was located at 125-131 Court Street, at the corner of Court and Second streets. Another old publication, the Industrial & Commercial edition of one of Pekin’s former newspapers, the Pekin Post-Tribune, includes the following two paragraphs about Hinners on page 21:

“In 1879 the manufacture of organs was inaugurated in Pekin by John L. Hinners. The first organs were made by him and one assistant. Small and insignificant as was the enterprise in the beginning, it has steadily developed in a natural and healthy manner and today it is one of the principal and most successful manufactories of the city. The establishment at the outset began the system of selling without agents, direct from the factory at factory prices, to private purchases.

“Messrs. Hinners & Albertsen enjoy a growing business. Only first-class lumber is used in organs. The firm procures the very best, direct from persons whose specialty is the preparing of lumber for organs and pianos. The aim of the company is not to create an opportunity for any one to gain by influencing sales of organs, but to offer to actual purchasers and users of organs the best possible organs at the lowest possible price. Reed and pipe organs are manufactured.”

Despite the well-earned reputation for quality, Hinners’ went out of business just prior to World War II, the victim of advancing technology – Hinners’ rivals had faster, more efficient, automated factories that enabled them to sell organs at much lower prices.

Because the Hinners’ company once occupied a privileged place in Pekin’s economy, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room keeps a “Hinners” file that includes newspaper clippings, essays, papers, and booklets related to the history of Hinners’. One of the books in the library’s Hinners collection is a copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ. No doubt as a musician and employee of Hinners’, Gene Stein taught organ lessons in Pekin.

One thing that is not in the history room’s collection, however, is a photograph of Gene Stein. Anyone who knows of such a photo may call the library at 347-7111, ext. 2, or the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society at 477-3044.

Front cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

Back cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

#eleanor-lallie-erler, #eugene-albert-stein, #gene-stein, #h-j-rust, #hinners-and-albertsen, #hinners-organ-company, #hinners-organ-method, #john-l-hinners, #preblog-columns