Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Boynton

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In highlighting Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, recently we saw that, despite its size, Spring Lake Township has no incorporated communities but instead has several unincorporated communities and subdivisions. Boynton Township, in great contrast, not only has no incorporated communities but has only one unincorporated community: the tiny village of Boynton.

The Boynton town hall, in the village of Boynton, as it appeared in 1954.

John Drury’s 1954 “This is Tazewell County,” page 27, had this to say about the village and township of Boynton:

“In the south portion of the county lies the small village of Boynton, only community in Boynton Township. It is served by the post office at nearby Delavan. Boynton Township has a population of 450. It was organized in 1854 and an old historical work says that it ‘derived its name from an individual in the East, a personal friend of one of the pioneer settlers.’ Recorded as the first settler of the township is Joseph Grout (sic), who came in 1839.”

In fact, the township’s first settler was Joseph “Grant,” not “Grout.” Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 398, presents this overview of the early history of Boynton Township:

“This township is situated in the southern portion of Tazewell county. In point of acres under cultivation it is not surpassed by neighboring townships, and when we take into consideration the fact that Boynton, but a quarter of a century ago, contained but little tillable land, the result is marvellous. It was attained only through unflagging energy on the part of its enterprizing citizens and an admirable system of tile drainage. The first settlement was made by Joseph Grant on Section 9, in 1839; the first birth, in 1842, was Albert, son of Robert Houston, who settled here about the year 1840. Benjamin Roe also came during that year, G. W. Clamon located 6 years later. Among those who settled prior to 1852, we find Samuel Falor, John Blair, Andrew Kerr, and Wm. Benton. In 1850 Wm. Milner, Charles and Richard Holden and John T. Scates, Wm. and Peyton Alexander, John Jacobus and others. In 1854 the township was organized and the following persons, some of whom are now prominent in the affairs of the township, met at the residence of James Huston as a committee on organization: James Crawford, Wm. Wooters, Daniel Bennett, Ira Judy, Wm. Burton, John T. Scates, John Jacobus, Philip Wade and others were present. The majority of the citizens assembled on this occasion declared in favor of township organization. Many were the names suggested with which to christen their township, in consequence of which a ballot was taken. After the lapse of considerable time spent in discussion, it finally received the name of Boynton, in honor of an Eastern gentleman of that name.

“There is a post-office kept in the center of the township. Mail is received three times a week. The character of the schools and school-houses are good, and every improvement in the township adds its testimony to the enterprise, thrift and culture of the people. . . .”

The seeds of the village of Boynton — a grocery store and four residences — are shown in this detail of an 1864 Tazewell County wall plat map.

Regarding the origin of the township’s name, the Illinois State Archives’ online “Tazewell County Fact Sheet” mentions that the township was organized in Nov. 1854 as “Boyington Township,” but at some unknown later date the name was shortened to “Boynton.”

Dotted with farms, this rural township’s population has fallen since 1954 – the 2010 U.S. Census found only 275 souls living in 94 households in Boynton Township. The population being low, the entire township has but one voting precinct. The township’s polling place is Boynton Township’s town hall – the seat of township government – located in the village of Boynton at 1979 Townhall Road, at the southwest corner of the intersection of Townhall and Boynton roads.

The village of Boynton did not yet not exist at the time that the 1864 and 1873 plat maps of Boynton Township were drawn. The 1864 wall plat map, however, does show a grocery store and four other structures at or very close to the Boynton-Townhall Road intersection.

That was the seed of the village of Boynton, which is shown on the 1891 Boynton Township plat map. By that time the village boasted not only the town hall but also a school, a post office, a grocery store, a black smith shop, a Methodist Episcopal church, and three or four residences.

These days, however, Rawlings Trailer Sales, Rawlings Arena, and H G & N Fertilizers are probably the most noticeable establishments for travelers through Boynton Township, on account of their location at the Route 122 interchange on Interstate 155.

At the time that the 1891 Tazewell County atlas was published, the village of Boynton boasted a grocery store, a post office, a blacksmith shop, a Methodist church, a school, the township hall, and three or four residences.

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Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Parkland

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Tazewell County’s westernmost township, Spring Lake Township, is the largest township in the county – but is also among the most sparsely populated. In fact, Spring Lake Township is one of the few townships in the county to have no incorporated communities – no incorporated cities, towns, or even villages.

Spring Lake Township today has a number of unincorporated communities or subdivisions, including Parkland, Talbott, Lakewood Terrace, and Smith-Rakestraw. The oldest of them, Parkland, has the smallest population of the four, having dwindled to a farm and a few homes.

Hainesville, later renamed Parkland, is shown in this detail of an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County. The village was established as a railroad station on land owned by Benjamin S. Prettyman, and therefore was originally known as “Prettyman.”

The plat of Hainesville, showing a store, school, and nine homes, was published in the 1891 atlas of Tazewell County.

John Drury’s “This is Tazewell County, Illinois” (1954), page 297, offers this description of Parkland:

“Only community of Spring Lake Township is Parkland, which in 1950 had a population of 20. It is located southwest of Pekin on the Chicago & Illinois Midland Railroad and is served by the post office in nearby Manito (Mason County). Among the first settlers of Spring Lake Township were the McLeashes, Hibbards and Claytons. Another early settler was Joseph Offut, who built a log cabin on the border of Spring Lake in the southwest corner of the township.”

In this detail of an 1873 plat map of Spring Lake Township, Hainesville is shown to be the location of Spring Lake School House No. 6.

By 1891 the former land of Benjamin S. Prettyman had passed to the ownership of A. Bateson, as shown in this detail of an 1891 plat map of Spring Lake Township.

Parkland started out in the 1800s as the small pioneer farming settlement of Prettyman, named for Benjamin S. Prettyman on whose farmland the settlement had been established. However, on Sept. 7, 1860, the settlement, which by then was designed as a railroad depot, was formally platted as “Hainesville.” Both the Prettyman and Haines families were early pioneer settlers of Pekin, and Benjamin S. Prettyman, who held great swaths of land in Tazewell County, served Pekin as city attorney and was later elected mayor of Pekin.

Even though the community’s name was Hainesville, the settlement’s Post Office address throughout the latter 1800s continued to be designated as “Prettyman.” In 1899, however, Hainesville was renamed “Parkland” – and this time the U.S. Postal Service went along with the name change. Parkland had its own post office until 1918.

Hainesville was renamed Parkland in 1899. This plat of Parkland from the 1910 atlas of Tazewell County two grain elevators, a train depot, a post office and general store, and the old Hainesville school house.

Parkland, formerly Hainesville, and its environs are shown in this detail of a 1910 plat map of Spring Lake Township.

The official plat of Hainesville (Parkland) resembles a checkerboard, with four streets going northwest to southeast (Prairie, Main, Highland, and South) and four intersecting streets going southwest to northeast (First, Second, Third, and Fourth, with the numbers starting at the street along the railroad). There is no trace of most of those streets today. Third Street is today called Parkland Road, while Prairie Street is Spring Lake Road. Aerial photographs today show evidence of a faint trail along what was, or would have been, Fourth Street, and an unpaved footpath exists today along the track of South Street.

The railroad on Parkland’s southeast border still operates today, but it has been long since Parkland has had a depot.

Parkland and its environs, from a 1929 Spring Lake Township plat map.

Parkland, shown here in this 1954 aerial photograph, is the oldest unincorporated community in Spring Lake Township. Originally named Prettyman, it was formally platted as a railroad depot in 1860 and named Hainesville, then renamed Parkland in 1899.

Parkland today, shown in this Google Maps satellite view, has only two streets, a farm, and a few homes.

#benjamin-prettyman, #hainesville, #parkland, #prettyman, #spring-lake-township, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities

The meandering Mackinaw changes its course

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In this column we explore topics related to the history of Pekin and Tazewell County during the period of the past two centuries or so. This week, we’ll take a look at a remarkable matter of natural history having to do with one of our area’s natural, primeval features: the Mackinaw River, an important tributary of the Illinois River.

Water has probably flowed down the Mackinaw into the Illinois River far longer than anyone can imagine. The river’s source is far to the east, near the village of Sibley in Ford County, and it then meanders and wends its way for about 130 miles through McLean, Woodford and Tazewell counties.

However, a survey of old maps and atlases reveals that the Mackinaw River’s outlet was not always where it is today. The river formerly flowed through what it now Mason County, but, as David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society recently brought to my attention, at some point between the 1830s and 1860s, the Mackinaw shifted its course. No longer did the Mackinaw River continue a generally westward course until emptying into the Illinois in Mason County near the spot where Chautauqua Lake is located today. Instead, the Mackinaw took a northward turn and found a new outlet at a location on the Illinois just west of the modern-day Powerton Fish and Wildlife Area.

Early Illinois maps and sources document the old course of the Mackinaw River. An 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), for example, shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Macanac River 1815

This 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830) shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Another early publication, Zadok Cramer’s 1808 “The Navigator,” reprinted in 1818 and excerpted in the July 2009 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, describes the “Sesemi-Quain” and “De la March” rivers, tributaries of the Illinois, before coming to:

“The river Michilimackinac, comes in on the south-eastern side, above the two just mentioned, and 195 miles from the Mississippi; it is navigable 90 miles, 50 yards wide, and has at its mouth 30 to 40 small islands, which at a distance look like a small village. Some distance up this river is a coal mine, on the banks are red and white cedar, pine, maple walnut, & c.”

“Michilimackinac” was the full, original name of the Mackinaw. But the distance of “195 miles from the Mississippi” does not accord with the course and length of the Illinois River today. A 1998 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Illinois Waterway Navigation Charts” shows the present mouth of the Mackinaw at about 148 miles upriver from Grafton, Ill. (which is where the Illinois joins the Mississippi River today), while the former mouth of the Mackinaw River was at a spot approximately 124 miles upriver from Grafton.

An 1819 map of Illinois by John Melish (Plate XLVI in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), presents the “Michilimackinac R.” flowing much as Rene Paul’s 1815 shows the “Macanac R.” The same basic water course for the Mackinaw can be found on an old 1822 atlas map. Baldwin & Cradock’s 1833 atlas also shows the mouth of the Mackinaw far to the south of its present mouth – but significantly, this atlas map illustrates that before it found the Illinois, the Mackinaw flowed into an extensive swamp in what was then Tazewell County but is today Mason County. This old swamp bears on the changed course of the Mackinaw.

A map obtained by David Perkins, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map also shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, however, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

1835 Illinois map from 1879 book

This map, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

It appears that around the mid-1800s some local event or events of a geologic nature – say, a flood, perhaps with agricultural activities in or near the swamp being a contributing cause – led to the Mackinaw River shifting its course. Abandoning its former course, the river was diverted, or diverted itself, into the channel of the northerly stream. Henceforth the Mackinaw no longer would flow through Mason County. Thus, an 1864 plat map of Tazewell County shows the Mackinaw following its present course, and all subsequent atlases and maps show the same river course.

1866 map of Illinois

This 1866 map of Illinois shows the present course of the Mackinaw River, as is typical for Illinois and Tazewell County maps from 1864 onward.

While such changes are remarkable, it’s well known that rivers can and do change their courses, whether in slight or major ways. The change in the Mackinaw River’s course no doubt was noticed and recorded by contemporaries, but as yet Perkins and I have found no historical notices of the change. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” makes no mention of it, nor do the historical essays in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” say anything about a change in the Mackinaw’s course. More recent reference works that we’ve consulted also are silent on this point.

The Mackinaw’s former course through Mason County still exists, and it even links up to the Mackinaw north of Townline Road in Tazewell County. At that point, one finds a drainage ditch that follows the line of Schuttler Road and then turns straight south along Dinky Ditch Road. Along the way south, it becomes Hickory Grove Ditch, flowing under Hickory Grove Road just east of Manito.

The ditch then makes an eastward curve before swinging diagonally southwest through Mason County – this stretch of the watercourse is known as North Quiver Ditch, but further on past Forest City, it’s the Mason Tazewell Ditch, until finally, past Topeka, it becomes Quiver Creek, which empties into the Illinois at Chautauqua Lake.

But once, way back when, it was the final western length of the Mackinaw River.

#mackinaw-river, #mackinaw-river-course, #michilmackinac, #old-maps, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-maps

Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Talbott

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Continuing our series on the unincorporated communities in Tazewell County, this week we’ll look at another of the communities of Spring Lake Township. As we noted last time, Spring Lake Township is a large, sparsely populated area – it’s long been known for farming, fishing, and hunting – with no incorporated municipalities. However, there are several unincorporated communities (subdivisions, rather) in the township.

While Parkland is the oldest surviving community in Spring Lake Township, it’s also the smallest. The largest community in Spring Lake Township is Talbott, a subdivision on both sides of the Manito Blacktop in Section 21 in the northern part of the township. Bordering Talbott Subdivision on the east is Winfield Estates (25 homes on the Winfield Drive cul-de-sac), while not quite a mile to the northeast on the north side of Manito Road is the Country View Estates subdivision.

The lots in the subdivisions of Talbott, Winfield Estates, and Country View Estates are shown in this detail of a 2017 plat map of Spring Lake Township.

The subdivisions of Talbott, Winfield Estates, and Country View Estates are shown in this detail of a 1993 plat map of Spring Lake Township.

Taken together, the subdivisions and homes in Sections 21, 22, and 15 along this stretch of the Manito Blacktop virtually make up an unincorporated village, and might even have enough population to officially incorporate if a majority of their residents voted to do so. Talbott Subdivision is the home of Spring Lake Elementary School (Spring Lake Central Consolidated School District 606), located at 13650 N. Manito Road.

Talbott’s southern border is Sky Ranch Road, which runs east-west. The other east-west streets in Talbott are Spruce and Myrtle streets, while Walnut, Laurel, and Cedar streets, and of course Manito Road, all run north-south. Most of Talbott’s streets have “tree” names, and those names can serve as a clue to the reason the subdivision is named Talbott. The origin of those street names might be guessed by any family in the area who has ever taken a drive down Illinois Route 29 a little way past South Pekin to 14143 Christmas Tree Road, to select a Christmas tree at Talbott’s Christmas Tree Farm.

One of the members of the Talbott family, which has operated their Christmas Tree Farm since 1947, was the owner of the land on which Talbott Subdivision was platted and laid out. According to the Talbott Christmas Tree Farm’s official website, the tree farm was established by Earl Talbott, who planted pine trees on a stretch of barren, sandy soil on land owned by his father Glen Talbott. “When Earl’s brother, Bob, returned from the Navy, the brothers began to cultivate the trees into Christmas trees with help from their cousin, Lacey Talbott,” the website says.

The future site of Talbott Subdivision is indicated as the land of “R. V. Talbot” on the west side of the Manito Blacktop in this detail from a 1955 plat of Spring Lake Township. The site of the grade school at Talbott is also shown.

Talbott Subdivision is marked off on both sides of the Manito Blacktop in this detail of a 1967 plat of Spring Lake Township.

An old 1955 Tazewell County plat book in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows “R. V. Talbott” – i.e. Ray Verne Talbott (1890-1987) – as the owner of the Talbott Subdivision land, along with the farmland on the south side of Sky Ranch Road. Ray was one of Glen Talbott’s brothers. It wasn’t too long after 1955 that the subdivision of Talbott was established. The next plat book in our collection, from 1967, shows the subdivision in existence with just two streets, and a sliver of land on the north side of Sky Ranch Road still in Ray’s name. By the 1990s, however, after Ray’s death, that land too had been subdivided to allow for more homes to be built.

As Spring Lake Township’s largest community and the location of a grade school, one might expect Talbott to be the home of the township’s offices. To find the Spring Lake Township town hall, however, one must drive another two miles south down the Blacktop, then turn right on Townline Road. The town hall and other township facilities are a group of whitewashed buildings on the south side of the road, and a just little further up the road is Spring Lake Missionary Church – the Spring Lake Township Cemetery is located right behind the church.

Even though Spring Garden was gone by 1910, the Tazewell County atlas that year included this plat of the former town. Lot 1 is the location of Spring Lake Township Cemetery, and Oak Street is today’s Spring Garden Road.

Old county plat atlases show that the Spring Lake town hall has been at the same spot since about 1870, back when the church and cemetery were in the (now defunct) unincorporated town of Spring Garden. The cemetery, the church, and the town hall are almost the only trace today of Spring Garden – except for the name of the north-south road that meets Townline Road at the church: Spring Garden Road. Lacking a railroad depot in those days, Spring Garden never really took off as a town, and was completely bypassed with the construction of the Manito Blacktop, a new road that enabled Talbott to take root and grow after Spring Garden had dried up and withered.

This detail from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County shows the vanished town of Spring Garden in Section 5. Talbott Subdivision would later be established in Section 21.

This detail of a 1910 plat of Spring Lake Township shows the area where Talbott Subdivision later would be established in Section 21, as well as the former site of Spring Garden in Section 5. A church, the cemetery, and the Spring Lake Township hall are still at the same site today.

#bob-talbott, #country-view-estates, #earl-talbott, #glen-talbott, #lacey-talbott, #ray-verne-talbott, #spring-garden, #spring-lake-central-consolidated-school-district-606, #spring-lake-missionary-church, #spring-lake-township, #spring-lake-township-cemetery, #talbott, #talbotts-christmas-tree-farm, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities, #winfield-estates

Where is Nance Legins-Costley’s final resting place?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we revisit once more the life of “Black Nance” Legins-Costley of Pekin, who has the distinction of being the first African-American slave freed by Abraham Lincoln.

As noted in this column on three previous occasions (Feb. 11, 2012, May 2, 2015, and June 20, 2015), Nance was brought to Pekin as a slave by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, but persistently brought legal challenges to her servitude. Through Bailey v. Cromwell, a case that Lincoln successfully argued before the Illinois Supreme Court on July 23, 1841, Nance finally obtained freedom for herself and her three eldest children, Amanda, Eliza Jane and Bill. As we learned in June, Bill later served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was present for the founding of the Buffalo Soldiers and the first “Juneteenth.”

For all that we now know of “Black Nance,” there is much that is, and perhaps always will be, shrouded in mystery. Among those mysteries are the exact time and place of her birth, the exact time and place of her death, and her final resting place.

The research of Carl Adams, formerly of North Pekin, has established that Nance’s parents were African-American slaves named Randol and Anachy Legins, who were born in the 1770s in Maryland. (See Adams’s book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln”) Nance had a brother named Ruben “Ruby” Legins, born about 1808, and a sister named Dice Legins, born about 1815. Both the 1850 and the 1860 U.S. Census returns for Pekin say Nance was born in Maryland, and her given age in those census records indicates that she was born about 1813. Illinois Supreme Court records, however, say Nance was born in the building that would be used as the Illinois Territorial Capitol in Kaskaskia, Illinois. It’s impossible to get any closer to when and where she was born than that.

As for the date of Nance’s marriage, Tazewell County records show that she and Benjamin Costley were married before Justice of the Peace M. Tackaberry on Oct. 15, 1840. U.S. Census records indicate that her eldest child Amanda was born about 1836 in Illinois, though Amanda’s burial records indicate she was born July 3, 1834. Nance had been brought to the future site of Pekin by Nathan Cromwell around 1828. Adams notes that there is no indication that her husband had ever been a slave.

But when and where did Nance die, and where was she buried? Researchers have put forward two conjectures about her death and burial. According to Adams, the first conjecture was made by the late local historian Fred Soady, whose opinion is recorded in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume as follows:

“[Nance] lived in Pekin until her death about 1873 at approximately 60 years of age … There is no record of her place of burial, although educated speculation would indicate the present site of the Quaker Oats Company.”

That would be the former city cemetery that was located at the foot of Koch Street, on the west side of Second Street. That cemetery was later closed and the burials were moved to Lakeside Cemetery along Route 29. So, if she was buried in the old cemetery, perhaps her mortal remains are now in Lakeside Cemetery, lacking a grave marker.

There are a few facts that conflict with Soady’s conjecture, however. For one thing, the 1880 U.S. Census lists “Nancy Costly,” age 85, as a resident of Pekin, along with husband Ben Costly, 87, and children Mary Costly, 50, at home, Willis Costly, 44, laborer, and Leander Costly, 35, laborer. If Nance died about 1873, why is she listed in the 1880 Census?

The answer to that question is that it seems this census record is fictitious. Adams and his collaborator Bill Maddox of Pekin had previously found a death record for Nance’s husband Ben in 1877 in Peoria, where it is known many of Nance and Ben’s children moved during the 1870s. If Ben was already dead in Peoria by 1877, he obviously couldn’t be alive and well in Pekin in 1880. It’s also significant that the ages of this 1880 census record contradict the ages listed for this family in earlier census records, which are quite consistent. Most likely this census record is a fabrication, perhaps intended to help boost Pekin’s population figures – but Nance’s family had left Pekin by 1880.

Is Soady’s conjecture that Nance died in Pekin around 1873 and was buried in the old city cemetery correct after all? Perhaps, perhaps not. Maddox has noted that if she did die in Pekin, she could have been buried on her own property, which was located at the southwest corner of Amanda and Somerset. Or perhaps she moved to Peoria with the rest of her family in the 1870s, and died there like her husband Ben. Maybe Nance and Ben are buried in Peoria.

There is, however, another possibility that came to light earlier this year when this writer was researching the column of May 2, 2015. The Minnesota State Census returns for Minneapolis, dated May 29, 1885, list “Nancy Cosley,” 72, black, born in Maryland, with James Cosley, 32, black, born in Illinois, Mary Cosley, 22, black, born in Arkansas, and Hannah Smith, 66, black, born in Virginia. “Mary Cosley” of that entry could be James’ wife, and perhaps “Hannah Smith” is Mary’s mother, living in the same house with James and Nancy. The old Pekin city directories show that “Cosley” is one of the known variant spellings of Nance and Ben’s surname “Costley.” Nance had a son named James Willis Costley, who in fact would have been 32 in 1885, just as Nance, who was born in Maryland, would have been 72 that year.

This detail from the May 29, 1885, Minnesota State Census record obtained through searching Ancestry.com databases shows a

This detail from the May 29, 1885, Minnesota State Census record obtained through searching Ancestry.com databases shows a “Nancy Cosley” who may be Nance Legins-Costley of
Pekin. IMAGE PROVIDED

Could Nance not only have left Pekin but moved out of state to Minneapolis, Minnesota, living there with her son James Willis? Further research is necessary before this conjecture could be either confirmed or disproven, but the 1885 entry in the Minnesota State Census does “fit” with the other available known facts of Nance and her family.

Significantly, Nancy’s eldest son Bill is known to have left Peoria for Iowa before moving to Minneapolis in the 1880s. Adams recently located Bill’s grave in Quarry Hill Park, in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, Rochester, Minnesota. Did James perhaps bring his mother to Minneapolis to join Bill there, or did Bill go to Minneapolis to join his brother and mother there? We can’t say for sure yet, but this state census record does raise the possibility that “Black Nance” did not die in Pekin about 1873, but perhaps died and was laid to rest in or near Minneapolis at some point after May 29, 1885.

Here are links to previous Local History Room columns on “Black Nance” and her family:

The first slave freed by Lincoln was from Pekin

Trials of the first slave freed by Lincoln

Bill Costley: Pekin’s link to “Juneteenth”

Carl M. Adams’ book on Nance Legins-Costley

#abraham-lincoln, #nance-legins-costley, #william-henry-costley

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

Here’s a chance to read an updated version of one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in July 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the shelves of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is the 1864 edition of the “City Charter and Revised Ordinances of the City of Pekin, Ill.,” a relatively slim volume that comes to only 154 pages counting the index.

Perhaps most people would say the 1864 city charter generally makes for some dry reading, since it is only a collection of laws and regulations, with no narrative or characters or plot. In all its pages, this book mentions but one person by name, on page 29, at the start of the section on the charter’s amendments.

The first amendment to the charter was approved by the Illinois General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1849, a few months before the town of Pekin would be incorporated as a city. The amendment ratified the town board’s decision granting and confirming title to “the ferry across the Illinois river within the corporate limits of said town of Pekin” to “Benjamin S. Prettyman, his heirs and assigns.”

Who was this Benjamin S. Prettyman who had the distinction of being the only individual named in the 1864 Pekin City Charter? The answer is readily available in another book in the Local History Room collection, the 1893 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” pp.457-461. Prettyman’s biography which appears in that volume is longer than most, indicating his prominence in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County. An even lengthier biography of B.S. Prettyman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois,” pp.30-31, and his portrait adorns the title page of the atlas.

This portrait of Benjamin S. Prettyman was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Benjamin Stockley Prettyman was born Nov. 21, 1819, in Smyrna, Delaware, the only son and second child of Lewis and Harriet (Mason) Prettyman. Lewis brought his wife and five children to Tazewell County in 1831, “journeying up the Delaware to Philadelphia, thence to Pittsburgh, and from there down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. The boat upon which they journeyed from St. Louis to Pekin was the second that made the passage up the Illinois.”

Lewis Prettyman settled on land by the Mackinaw River that had never been broken by a plow. He built a fort at the river bank – this was the year before the Black Hawk War – and later built a log cabin at the forest’s edge “and broke the prairie soil with the first wooden mold-board plow introduced into the neighborhood.”

His son Benjamin was intellectually gifted, but had the common experiences of growing up in a pioneer family on the American frontier, which including being mostly self-educated since there was little access to formal schooling. Benjamin’s father served twice as County Surveyor, which led Benjamin to serve four years as Deputy Surveyor. It was during those years that Tazewell County, which formerly extended from the Illinois River to Sangamon County and included the city of Chicago, was reduced to its present boundaries. As deputy surveyor, Prettyman was one of the commissioners who divided the smaller county into townships around 1841.

Prettyman’s duties led him to begin legal studies in 1844 under Judge Robbins of Springfield. “He went to the office of Logan & Lincoln, but it was crowded with law students, and Logan advised him to get some legal books, adding that he would loan him such volumes as he desired. In March, 1845, he was admitted to the Bar of Illinois, at Springfield, and afterward settled in Pekin, which then had a population of four hundred.”

Prettyman’s connection to Pekin dates to as early as April 1840 – it was in Pekin at that time that he married Sarah A. Haines, daughter of William Haines, one of Pekin’s founders. He and Sarah had a large family, and one of their sons-in-law, Daniel Sapp, later became mayor of Pekin. Benjamin’s father-in-law “owned a mercantile establishment, a distillery, as well as the ferry and other important interests here.” That is how Prettyman came to be mentioned in connection with the Pekin ferry in the 1864 city charter.

Besides the family interest in the ferry, Prettyman also played a prominent role in bringing the railroad to Pekin and helping to extend rail lines throughout central Illinois. In addition, Prettyman was elected Mayor of Pekin in 1862. His 1893 biography says, “During the war he was twice elected mayor of Pekin, and served in the same capacity several times afterward.” Other published lists of Pekin’s mayors show only his 1862 term in office – during the other times he apparently served temporarily as acting mayor.

Prettyman’s 1893 biography notes that he then had “the distinction of being the oldest attorney in Tazewell County.” He died April 8, 1895, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. His home in the 1100 block of North 11th Street still stands today.

Benjamin S. Prettyman’s home on 11th St. as it appeared in 1872 is shown in this lithograph from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Last month a descendant of Prettyman’s daughter Nellie donated to the Pekin Public Library Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a late-nineteenth-century compilation of photos of Pekin homes and locales. Prettyman signed his name in the book twice. Some of the images from “Pekin and Environs” appear in Rob Clifton’s 2004 “Pekin History: Then and Now.”

Shown here is Benjamin S. Prettyman’s signature from his copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a compilation of photographs published circa 1890.

#benjamin-prettyman, #pekin-history, #william-haines

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Union barely had time to celebrate Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, before the nation was horrified by the assassination of its Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14 – a mere five days later.

One of Pekin’s pioneers was in Washington, D.C., during those days of sorrow: Seth Kinman, who formerly operated a hotel in downtown Pekin, claimed to have been an eye-witness of the president’s assassination, and contemporary newspaper accounts say Kinman took part in Lincoln’s funeral cortege.

As a result of his assassination, Lincoln came to be revered as a martyr for the cause of preserving the Union and for the abolitionist cause. The people of Illinois in particular have held his memory in the highest esteem ever since. It is in the state capital, Springfield, where he is entombed, and in towns and cities throughout the state Illinoisans are still proud to point to buildings and locations where Lincoln once lived, worked, or stayed. This is especially true of communities in central Illinois.

One of our county’s Lincoln sites unfortunately was destroyed by fire in May 2014 – the approximately 180-year-old Lilly Inn in eastern Tazewell County, one of the county’s oldest buildings, was a local link to President Abraham Lincoln, who stayed at the inn while riding the circuit as an attorney in central Illinois from the 1830s to the 1850s.

The Lilly Inn was, of course, far from the only site in our area with ties to Lincoln. For example, his work as a lawyer sometimes brought to him Mason County, where he is known to have stayed in the home of his friend Samuel C. Conwell on Washington Street in Havana. Conwell’s home, which he built in the early 1850s, is still standing.

In Tazewell County, Washington also boasts of its connection with Lincoln. At the old Washington Hotel, which stood where a BP parking lot is today, Lincoln made a stump speech during a stop on the way to Galesburg to debate Stephen A. Douglas. Some years ago, Washington placed five Bronze footprints at locations in Washington where Lincoln is known to have stopped in his travels.

Lincoln’s work brought him to Tazewell County two or three times a year, and he represented clients at the county’s courthouses in Tremont and Pekin. Naturally this work produced numerous Tazewell County legal documents bearing Lincoln’s signature or handwriting or name, and most of these precious mementos of Lincoln’s life, while remaining the possession of Tazewell County, are now in the keeping of the state of Illinois in Springfield.

One of Lincoln’s more important cases was Bailey vs. Cromwell (1841), in which Lincoln appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield and won the freedom of Nance Legins-Costley (“Black Nance”) of Pekin, a slave of Pekin pioneer co-founder Nathan Cromwell. Lincoln successfully argued that Costley and her children had to be recognized as free under Illinois law since there was no legal documentation establishing that they had ever been the property of the principals involved in the case, or that Costley had ever agreed to a temporary contract of indentured servitude.

When he came to Pekin for court, Lincoln often stayed at the old Tazewell House hotel, which stood from 1849 to 1904 at the corner of Court and Front streets (Gene Miller Park today). After the Tazewell House hotel was demolished, its threshold was preserved at the Tazewell County Courthouse, and was inscribed with words commemorating the fact that “Hereon trod the great Abraham Lincoln – Stephen A. Douglas – John A. Logan – Robert G. Ingersoll – David Davis – Edward D. Baker and others.

Tazewell House presumably was the Pekin hotel in the lobby of which, according to Tom Wheeler’s article, “The First Wired President,” published on a New York Times blog in May 2012, Lincoln first saw a telegraph key in 1857.

Lincoln’s legal career created another tangible link between Lincoln and Tazewell County – Lincoln sometimes would purchase his clients’ land and hold it for them in his name, later returning it when cases were concluded. That’s how Lincoln came to own several parcels of land in Tazewell, including the land at the intersection of Allentown and Springfield roads (where Morton has held the annual Punkin Chuckin event).

This 2008 Pekin Daily Times informational graphic chart describes 22 sites in Pekin that have direct or indirect links to President Abraham Lincoln. The list was researched and compiled by Dale Kuntz.

In 2008, retired teacher Dale Kuntz of Pekin, who served on the Tazewell County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission preparing for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1809, proposed that the city of Pekin create a historical “Lincoln Walk” in downtown Pekin to help visitors and residents learn more about Lincoln’s ties to the city.

Kuntz’s historical research had identified 22 sites along the proposed route that can be shown to have direct and indirect Lincoln connections, starting at the bank of the Illinois River where Lincoln had landed in 1832 when his oar broke while he returned from the Black Hawk War, then heading along Front Street south to Cynthiana, then east to Broadway, out to Sixth Street, then back west along Court Street to end at Gene Miller Park, the former site of the Tazewell House hotel.

#abraham-lincoln, #black-hawk-war, #black-nance, #dale-kuntz, #illinois-bicentennial, #lilly-inn, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #preblog-columns, #robert-e-lee, #samuel-c-conwell, #seth-kinman, #tazewell-house-hotel, #washington-hotel