The story of Pekin’s post offices

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

The story of Pekin’s post offices

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a look at Pekin’s post offices. Perhaps most Pekin residents know that before the current post office on Broadway near downtown Pekin, there was an “Old Post Office” in a stately old building near the Tazewell County Courthouse. But by no means are those the only post offices Pekin has seen.

Pekin’s first post office opened on Feb. 20, 1832, and Robert Alexander was Pekin’s first postmaster, according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” page 90. It is not stated where that post office was located, but “Pekin: A Pictorial History” goes on to say that prior to 1850 the post office “operated from various and sundry sites including the general store, a tavern, a hotel and several rented quarters.

The 1949 Pekin Centenary elaborates on that point on page 121: “The location of the Pekin post office during the early years seems to have had nothing on the proverbial rolling stone, for one early chronicle tells that ‘it is impossible to name all the locations.’ We do know that about 1866, it was located on the south side of the 300 block on Court Street about three doors from the railroad.

This drawing from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County shows Pekin’s post office and adjacent buildings on the south side of the 300 block of Court Street. The site is now occupied by the former Pekin Daily Times offices, which originally was the Ricks TV building.

That was approximately where the former offices of the Pekin Daily Times were located until recently, in the former Rick’s TV building. We also find recorded that the first free delivery of city mail took place in 1886.

The Centenary continues its account of Pekin’s post offices: “Then after being moved to the middle of the Mark’s block west of the railroad, it remained there until 1897; when it was again moved to the Flynn Building – in the new Boston block.” The old 1891 atlas map of Pekin shows the post office in the 200 block of Court Street (i.e. Mark’s block) on the south side. The Flynn Building, however, was in the 400 block of Court: The 1898 Pekin City Directory shows the post office’s address as 431 Court St., whereas Patrick Flynn operated a saloon nearby at 401 Court St.

By the time the post office had moved to the Flynn Building, plans had already begun on a new structure to house the post office and other federal agencies. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial tells the story at length on page 117:

“In 1892 an appropriation of $70,000 was made ‘with an additional appropriation up to $80,000,’ for a Federal Building for Pekin . . . . After much heated controversy concerning the location of the new Federal Building, the site of the former Prettyman Homestead at Elizabeth and South Capitol was chosen and purchased for $15,000. But when local bids, based on plans and specifications submitted to the supervising architect of the Treasury Department in 1904, were forwarded to Washington, they were all rejected because they were not within the limits of the contract price; and so new bids had to be submitted. Consequently, it was not until 1905 that the structure was finally completed at a cost of approximately $100,000.”

That is the building known as the Old Post Office, although it houses other federal government agencies besides the U.S. Postal Service. As the Sesquicentennial states, “Besides the post office, the building housed, on the second floor, Pekin’s Home Bureau, the Army Recruiting Office, and the Treasury Department’s offices.

Built in 1905, the structure popularly known in Pekin as “the Old Post Office” was originally more than a post office, but was a federal building also housing Pekin’s Home Bureau, the Army Recruiting Office and the Treasury Department’s local offices.

The post office operated from that structure until 1966, when the current post office building was completed. The following year, the Old Post Office was purchased by Lee Tosi, who in turn sold it to Monge Realty in June 1972. The Pekin Area Vocational Center operated out of the Old Post Office around that time, but the PAVC moved to its own building near East Campus in 1975. Later, there was an attempt to turn the building in a fine restaurant, but at last the county bought the building and still uses it today – county board meetings formerly took place there, and the 109-year-old structure continues to house county probation services.

The 1974 Sesquicentennial volume has this to say about the construction of the current postal facility:

“On November 12, 1964, Postmaster General John A. Gronouski announced that a contract had been awarded to Eckstein and Siemann of Cassville, Wisconsin, to build a new post office here, with an initial investment by the bidder of $376,750. The contract called for the building to be leased to the postal service for 20 years, with renewal options running through 30 years at an annual rental of $31,680 for the basic term. The building, now owned by Raymond Eckstein, an attorney in Wisconsin, has an interior space of 16,524 square feet. The area for parking and movement of postal vehicles totals 21,908 square feet.”

The Sesquicentennial account concludes with a brief look at the surge in business that Pekin’s post office saw in the middle and latter parts of the 20th century, when receipts increased from $139.908.24 in 1948, when Pekin’s postmaster was Roy S. “Peach” Preston, to $832,277.33 in 1973, when the postmaster was Francis J. McLinden. Bringing the story of Pekin’s post office up to date would, of course, require us to tell of the massive cultural changes brought about by the invention of the Internet, email, texting and other social media.

#flynn-building, #francis-j-mclinden, #john-a-gronouski, #lee-tosi, #marks-block, #monge-realty, #old-post-office-restaurant, #patrick-flynn, #pekin-area-vocational-center, #pekin-post-offices, #post-office-block-1864, #preblog-columns, #prettyman-homestead, #raymond-eckstein, #roy-preston

Lincoln’s speech in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This month in which we have observed President Abraham Lincoln’s 211th birthday is an ideal time to take a look back to the life of the 16th president of the United States, with a special focus on one of Lincoln’s local connections in Tazewell County.

In this column space, we have previously reviewed some of the places and events in Tazewell County to which Lincoln had a connection. Often these connections are relatively minor or obscure, some are mundane, and some are more significant, such as Lincoln’s involvement in the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, that secured the freedom of “Black Nance” Legins-Costley and her three eldest children.

At times local memories of Lincoln’s connections to Tazewell County have been garbled with the passage of time. One such garbled memory has to do with the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858: namely, whether or not – and when or where – Lincoln gave a speech in Pekin in the context of the famous debates during the U.S. Senatorial campaign of 1858, when the anti-slavery Lincoln, a Republican, attempted to unseat incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas, who was a pro-slavery Democrat.

Pekin, of course, was not one of the seven sites where Lincoln and Douglas debated issues related to the institution of slavery and whether or not black Africans should have civil equality with Americans of white European origin. However, the old Pekin Centenary volume, on pages 15 and 17, says Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1858, and addressed a large crowd in the court house square.

That would have been toward the end of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In fact, it would have been just one day before Lincoln and Douglas debated in Galesburg, which was the fifth of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It is highly unlikely that Lincoln could have spoken in Pekin one day and then traveled to Galesburg to take part in a debate the very next.

Other recollections of Lincoln’s 1858 speech in Pekin give a different date. For example, Ernest East in his “Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria” (1939), page 33, says, “The Peoria House again on the night of Tuesday, Oct. 5, 1858, was a stopping place for Lincoln. He occupied room No. 16 which five days earlier had been occupied by Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln spoke in Pekin in the afternoon . . . Lincoln left Peoria on the morning of October 6. His movements for the day are not fully known but he reached Knoxville in the evening in a violent storm.

On this subject, the Feb. 2020 issue of Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society “Monthly”, page 2717, reprints a short article from the Bloomington Pantagraph (Tuesday, March 17, 1896), entitled, “Mr. Lincoln’s Pekin Speech.” That 1896 article reads as follows:

“In the controversy about when Hon. Abraham Lincoln spoke in Pekin and whether in joint debate, Mr. Edward Roberts, an old settler at Mackinaw, says he feel sure it was the last of October, 1858, and that he spoke from the front porch of Mr. Joyce Wagonseller’s (sic – Joshua Wagenseller) dwelling, and was introduced and entertained by Mr. Wagonseller. It was not a joint debate but Mr. Lincoln spoke one day and Mr. Douglas the next.

“Mr. George Patterson, another old settler, corroborates this statement. They both went to Pekin purposely to hear this speech and heard it from beginning to end. He also spoke in Tremont the last of August the same year. Mr. Roberts heard this speech also, and had the honor of eating at the same table with Mr. Lincoln. He remembers Mr. Lincoln making the remarks when he went to get up from the table, that he could hardly get his long legs from under it, the table being quite low. The bench they sat on, rather high, made the sitting posture very uncomfortable for a long-legged person.”

This account of Lincoln’s Pekin speech provides a different date – Sunday, Oct. 31, 1858, rather than Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1858 – and a different location – the front steps of Joshua Wagenseller’s dwelling, not the court house square. In these recollections there is also no reference to Trumbull speaking with him.

The 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin, page 60, says Joshua Wagenseller then lived at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market.” At first glance, the description of that location is nonsensical, because present-day Market Street does not intersect with Broadway. During the 1870s, however, present-day Market Street did intersect with Broadway approximately where Broadway and 14th Street intersect today — more specifically, the corner of Sycamore and Broadway. That would seem to place Lincoln’s Pekin speech at the far eastern end of town, almost the opposite of what the 1949 Pekin Centenary reported.

That, however, is not where the Wagenseller house was located. In those early days, Pekin very confusingly had TWO Market Streets. Besides the one we’re familiar with today, there was a completely different Market Street in Cincinnati Addition, running south from Broadway — that stretch of roadway is today part of Second Street. It was there, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Second, that Joshua Wagenseller’s grand house was situated. The house is long gone, and today that spot is at or near the parking lot of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital, which itself is next-door to the former Franklin Grade School. (My thanks to Wagenseller’s descendant Dan Toel and to Connie Perkins for their assistance in clarifying and correcting this matter.)

Why did Pekin have two different Market Streets? Probably because Cincinnati Addition had originally been platted to be a separate, rival town to Pekin, and only became a part of Pekin later. Cincinnati’s Market Street kept its old name for a few decades even after Cincinnati was annexed by Pekin, which had its own Market Street.

The circle on this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin shows indicates the location where Broadway and Market streets formerly intersected, in the days when the stretch of present-day Second Street was known as Market Street — not to be confused with present-day Market Street, which followed an old rail bed in a generally east-west direction through town. Joshua Wagenseller’s homestead was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” (Second), which is today is at or near the parking lot of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital. According to tradition, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the front steps of Wagenseller’s house in Oct. 1858 and was a frequent visitor there.

Joshua Wagenseller’s house at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” is depicted in this detail of an 1877 aerial map of Pekin. The view looks in a southerly direction. At the western edge of the detail, marked “26,” are the old gas works. Across Main Street from the gas works are two small homes at the location of Jonathan Tharp’s 1824 log cabin, today the site of the former Franklin School. Wagenseller’s home is the grand edifice next to the two small homes.

The circle on this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin shows indicates the location where Broadway and present-day Market Street formerly intersected, in the days when Market Street followed an old rail bed through town. Joshua Wagenseller’s homestead was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” — but that was a different Market Street. Confusingly, at one time Pekin had two entirely different streets named “Market,” one of them still extant today, the other in Cincinnati Addition and now a part of Second Street. Wagenseller’s house was at the southwest corner of Broadway and Second.

The recollections of Roberts and Patterson would place this speech 16 days after the seventh and final of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and just two days before Election Day. This is may be more plausible than the statement in the Pekin Centenary, but East’s account placing the speech on Oct. 5 rather than Oct. 6 is also geographically and chronologically plausible. The Centenary’s statement would seem to be off by only one day, and appears to be a garbling of Lincoln’s Pekin speech of 1858 with his more famous Peoria speech of 1856, when Lincoln was indeed joined by Sen. Trumbull.

In fact, we can confirm that East’s date is the correct one, because a news report in the Oct. 5, 1858 Peoria Transcript (reprinted in the 6 Oct. 1858 Chicago Press & Tribune) tells us that Lincoln’s speech in Pekin was on Oct. 5, 1858:

“Mr. Lincoln was welcomed to Tazewell county and introduced to the audience by Judge Bush [John M. Bush, probate judge in Pekin] in a short and eloquently delivered speech, and when he came forward, was greeted with hearty applause. He commenced by alluding to the many years in which he had been intimately acquainted with most of the citizens of old Tazewell county, and expressed the pleasure which it gave him to see so many of them present. He then alluded to the fact that Judge Douglas, in a speech to them on Saturday, had, as he was credibly informed, made a variety of extraordinary statements concerning him. He had known Judge Douglas for twenty-five years, and was not now to be astonished by any statement which he might make, no matter what it might be. He was surprised, however, that his old political enemy but personal friend, Mr. John Haynes [sic – James Haines] — a gentleman whom he had always respected as a person of honor and veracity—should have made such statements about him as he was said to have made in a speech introducing Mr. Douglas to a Tazewell audience only three days before. He then rehearsed those statements, the substance of which was that Mr. Lincoln, while a member of Congress, helped starve his brothers and friends in the Mexican war by voting against the bills appropriating to them money, provisions and medical attendance. He was grieved and astonished that a man whom he had heretofore respected so highly, should have been guilty of such false statements, and he hoped Mr. Haynes was present that he might hear his denial of them. He was not a member of Congress he said, until after the return of Mr. Haynes’ brothers and friends from the Mexican war to their Tazewell county homes—was not a member of Congress until after the war had practically closed. He then went into a detailed statement of his election to Congress, and of the votes he gave, while a member of that body, having any connection with the Mexican war. He showed that upon all occasions he voted for the supply bills for the army, and appealed to the official record for a confirmation of his statement.

“Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to notice, successively, the charges made against him by Douglas in relation to the Illinois Central Railroad, in relation to an attempt to Abolitionize the Whig party and in relation to negro equality.

“After finishing his allusions to the special charges brought against him by his antagonist, Mr. Lincoln branched out into one of the most powerful and telling speeches he has made during the campaign. It was the most forcible argument against Mr. Douglas’ Democracy, and the best vindication of and eloquent plea for Republicanism, that we ever listened to from any man.”

One question yet remains: Did Lincoln deliver his 5 Oct. 1858 speech at Wagenseller’s home, or at the courthouse square as the Centenary claims. Unfortunately the above-quoted contemporary report does not explicitly say where the speech took place. The courthouse square would seem a more logical place for such an event. Even so, the “History of the Wagenseller Family,” compiled by George R. Wagenseller Sr., says that Lincoln was frequently a houseguest of Joshua Wagenseller – who was one of Pekin’s ardent abolitionists – and that Wagenseller even invited Lincoln to treat his home as his Pekin headquarters.

This 1896 photograph from the collection of Dan Toel shows the old Wagenseller home, formerly located at about the southwest corner of Broadway and present-day Second Street. Among those shown in the photo are members of the Toel and Wagenseller families. PHOTO COURTESY DAN TOEL

The same history asserts that Lincoln gave several speeches at different times from the second-floor balcony of the Wagenseller house. Thus, it would make sense that he might address a gathered crowd in that place on 5 Oct. 1858. Nevertheless, the recollections of pioneers sometimes grew hazy with time, and that is what happened in this case — Roberts and Patterson probably confused another talk Lincoln gave at the Wagenseller house with Lincoln’s Pekin speech of 1858, which did take place in the Tazewell County Courthouse square, as we may read in the following article from The Tazewell Register, Thursday, Oct. 7, 1858 (reprinted in the TCGHS Monthly, Oct. 2007, pages 1449-1451 (emphasis added):

The “Lincoln Rally”

Mr. Lincoln met with a very cordial reception from his friends on Tuesday [Oct. 5], and if they are satisfied with the demonstration, we see no reason why democrats should not be. The procession, numbering about one hundred teams, averaging six persons to a team — one third of whom however, were not voters — passed through the streets several times, and finally brought up at the court-house square, where Mr. Lincoln, accompanied by his abolition friend Webb and others, mounted the stand. T. J. Pickett gave the cue for “three cheers;” after which Judge Bush delivered an address of welcome suitable to the occasion. Mr. Lincoln spoke for about two hours, and then left for Peoria on his way to Galesburg, where he has a discussion today with Judge Douglas.

The crowd in town was easily estimated, and we think we are liberal enough allowing three thousand, including men, women, and children. Of course, besides the democrats, there was a large number of old line whigs present who have no idea of amalgamating with abolitionists, even to oblige Mr. Lincoln.

Trumbull was not here to take the place assigned in the bills, but Judge Kellogg was on hand, and spoke in the courthouse at night. We were not present, but understand he appeared as the peculiar advocate and representative of Lyman Trumbull, and repeated the charges for which Judge Douglas had branded Trumbull as “an infamous falsifier.”

We have conversed with a number of democrats who were in town on Tuesday and Saturday, and they assure us that the two meetings demonstrate beyond a doubt that the county is sure to go for Douglas.

From this report, it is clear that the the 1949 Pekin Centenary’s statements regarding Lincoln’s speech in Pekin were mistaken not only in the date (Oct. 5, not Oct. 6) and in stating that Trumbull was present on the occasion. The mistake regarding Trumbull’s presence was perhaps due to the fact that printed handbills advertising the planned speech had said Trumbull would be there. The author of the Centenary text have have based his statement on what was said in the handbills.

NOTE: The day after publication, this article was updated, augmented and corrected with additional information and images. The assistance of Dan Toel and Connie Perkins is especially appreciated.

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #edward-roberts, #ernest-east, #george-patterson, #george-r-wagenseller-sr, #john-m-bush, #jonathan-haines, #joshua-wagenseller, #lincoln-speech-in-pekin, #lyman-trumbull, #market-street, #stephen-a-douglas, #thomas-j-pickett

William Gaither, Tazewell County treasurer

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

William Gaither, Tazewell County treasurer

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Gaither surname occupies a special place in the history of Pekin and Tazewell County, chiefly due to the central role played by Mary Elizabeth Gaither (1852-1945) in the planning and construction of the Pekin Carnegie Library in 1902. She also compiled and wrote the early history of the library up to 1902.

Having devoted much of her years to the public library, Miss Gaither, as she was usually known (never having married), later moved to California, where she lived her remaining years in the home of her older brother Otho, outliving him by a few months and dying in Lindsay, Calif., on Jan. 11, 1945. Her obituary, published on the front page of the Jan. 13, 1945 Pekin Daily Times, surprisingly is silent about her involvement in the library, but offers these remarks on the decades-old ties of Miss Gaither and her family to Pekin:

“The news carries oldtimers down a long memory lane to Civil War days in Pekin. At the turn of the year, word came of the death of Mrs. Margaretha Neef, whose memory also included Civil War and Abraham Lincoln days in Pekin. Still living of that day and almost the same age is Mrs. Anna Schipper, now in Florida for the winter.

“The old Gaither home in Pekin was the house that now is the Congressman Dirksen home. Many remember old Mr. Gaither because of the shawl he wore. Miss Gaither is best remembered here as a music teacher – but that was long, long ago.”

Shown is a drawing of William Gaither’s home on Buena Vista Avenue in Pekin that was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” The house is more usually remembered today as the home of U.S. Senator Everett M. Dirksen and his wife Louella, but formerly was the residence of Mary E. Gaither who played a chief role in the plans to build the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library. The house still stands today and is located at 335 Buena Vista Ave.

“Mr. Gaither” was William Gaither, Esq., who held a number of public offices in Tazewell County, including that of county treasurer. His social prominence and political activities earned him a place in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County, which also includes numerous biographies of the “Old Settlers of Tazewell County.” Gaither’s biography is on page 42 of the atlas, and an engraving of his residence on Buena Vista Street is found on page 124.

William Gaither was born April 8, 1813, in Hagerstown, Maryland, the son of Zachariah Gaither (1782-1834) and Elizabeth Garver (1786-1827). The biography says William became a cabinet-maker’s apprentice at the age of 17. “After completing his apprenticeship, and business not being very brisk in his native state, he was desirous of trying his fortunes in a new country, and with that intention he started westward, and traveled overland to the Ohio river, then by steamer, landing in Pekin, Illinois, in October, 1836. He remained here but a short time, then went to Tremont, which was then the county seat of Tazewell county. He there resumed his trade, which he carried on for a number of years,” the biography says.

In 1844, he married Ann Eliza Coleman Garrett, and together they had seven children, three of whom died in childhood – William, Otho, Martha, Mary, Charles, Samuel and Lincoln. He and his family moved back to Pekin in 1863.

The biography continues, “In the year 1850 he was lured from the quiet walks of life, and was in the fall of that year elected sheriff of Tazewell county, as the candidate of the Whig party. Under the then existing constitution of the state, a sheriff was not eligible for reelection for the succeeding term. After the expiration of his term of office, Mr. Gaither turned his attention to agricultural pursuits, and to his trade, which claimed his attention for several years. In 1862 he was appointed by Sheriff Williamson, his deputy. During that year he did most of the business of the office. In the fall of 1862, Mr. Gaither was nominated by the Republican party, for sheriff, but of course was defeated, as the Democrats at that time were largely in the ascendancy in Tazewell county.

The biography goes on to tell of Gaither’s subsequent involvement in public affairs: appointed by President Lincoln a federal inspector of revenue for the Eighth District (encompassing Tazewell County), removed from that office by President Johnson over policy differences, appointed assistant county treasurer and collector in the fall of 1867, appointed county treasurer in September 1869 to fill the vacancy created by the death of County Treasurer Barber, then elected county treasurer in November 1869.

At the time of the publication of the 1873 Atlas Map, Gaither was serving a second elected term as treasurer. He died in Pekin on Jan. 11, 1892 – coincidentally the same day and month that his daughter Mary died in 1945. His widow Ann Eliza died in 1912.

Among the records and mementos preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room archives is a collection of papers and letters of William Gaither, many of them associated with his activities as treasurer and collector for the county. The collection, formerly in the possession of Miss Gaither, was donated to the library in 1970 by Miss Gaither’s niece (Otho’s daughter), Nellie Gaither Urling-Smith.

#anna-eliza-coleman-garrett, #anna-eliza-gaither, #anna-schipper, #carnegie-library, #dirksen-home, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #louella-dirksen, #margaretha-neef, #mary-elizabeth-gaither, #miss-gaither, #nellie-gaither-urling-smith, #otho-gaither, #pekin-public-library, #preblog-columns, #william-gaither

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

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

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This column has previously taken a brief look at the history of Creve Coeur, one of Pekin’s neighbors to the north, with the help of a published village history in the Local History Room collection of the Pekin Public Library.

This week we’ll turn our attention to one of Pekin’s neighbors to the south, Green Valley, with the help of another published history in the Local History Room collection – the Green Valley quasquicentennial volume, “Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years, 1872-1997,” also titled, “Quasquicentennial: Green Valley, Illinois, 1872-1997.”

Green Valley is a small rural community in the south of Sand Prairie Township, not too far north of Malone Township. As a small rural community, its history naturally would not be limited to the families and events of the village, but would include the landowners and farmers in the surrounding area. Consequently, the quasquicentennial volume puts a spotlight not only on Green Valley, but also on Sand Prairie and Malone townships.

This map, from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County, show Sand Prairie Township. The lost village of Circleville, then the largest settlement in the township, is shown in the northeast corner. Green Valley did not yet exist, but would be established on land owned by the Schureman and Dickson families in Sections 26 and 35.

Small though it is, Green Valley is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. Prior to the beginning of Green Valley’s history, however, the title of largest community in the township was held by the vanished village of Circleville. Sand Prairie Township originally was called Jefferson Township, and it used to be larger than it is today, encompassing parts of what is now Malone Township. Around 1824 – the year Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at the future site of Pekin – white settlers first came to the future site of Circleville, in Section 1 of the former Jefferson Township.

“This was the first town in the township,” the Green Valley history says. “It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Circleville later became notorious as the favored hangout of the Berry Gang, a group of outlaws led by four brothers, William, Isaac, Emanuel and Simeon Berry, who had a homestead just outside of Circleville. The criminal career and ultimate doom of the Berry Gang is told in “Lynch Law,” a book authored by local historians and retired law enforcement officers Jim Conover and James Brecher.

An 1864 atlas map of Tazewell County shows Circleville in the northeast corner of Sand Prairie Township, but one will search in vain for Green Valley on that map. In 1864, the land that would become Green Valley was then the Dickson and Schureman farmsteads. (Other long-established family names of Sand Prairie Township include Woodrow, Deppert and Talbott. The wealthy Cummings family of Pekin also used to own land in the township.)

Nine years later, the 1873 atlas map of Sand Prairie shows both Circleville and Green Valley. But visitors to Sand Prairie Township today will find no trace of Circleville, which slowly dwindled away after the heyday of the Berry Gang.

Green Valley made its debut on the map of Sand Prairie Township in this plat from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This copy of the original plat of Green Valley was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” North is down, South is up.

“The land where Green Valley now stands was purchased from the government in 1852 by Samuel Schureman for $3 an acre,” the Greek Valley history says. “He built a one-room house on the side of the present Schureman homestead. Another house was where the 1912 grade school was later built. A Schureman tale is told of the days when wild game ran through the prairie grass and prairie chickens were so thick that when they flew to roost in the evenings on the rail fences, the rail could not be seen for the number of chickens covering it.”

On Oct. 19, 1872, the unincorporated village of Green Valley was platted out by Samuel Schureman. The little settlement’s development was anchored by the Illinois Central Railroad, which was built in 1870, and the Smith-Hippen grain elevator, which was built in 1872. The village celebrated its centennial in 1972, commemorating the original platting by Samuel Schureman, but another centennial milestone came on March 11, 2016, which was exactly 100 years from the date Green Valley was incorporated as a village.

Shown are Sarah, Thomas (“Tommy”), and Stella Schureman in front of the home of Thomas Schureman at what is now 108 N. Church St. in Green Valley. Tommy Schureman’s house was also Green Valley’s first post office in the 1860s.

The community formerly boasted its own newspaper, the Green Valley Banner, which was founded by Clark Nieukirk in the late 1890s and which continued to be printed until it fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Microfilms of selected issues of the Green Valley Banner from July 15, 1897, to Dec. 28, 1922, are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #clark-nieukirk, #columbus-r-cummings, #green-valley, #green-valley-banner, #jefferson-township, #jim-brecher, #jim-conover, #malone-township, #preblog-columns, #quasquicentennial-green-valley-illinois-1872-1997, #samuel-schureman, #sand-prairie-township, #thomas-schureman, #tommy-schureman, #william-berry