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
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.
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.