Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

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

Changing Times: a look back at the Old Times building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a look back at the history of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper and of the buildings where the Daily Times has been located since 1906.

The Times Building was longtime a landmark in downtown Pekin, while the new home of the Daily Times is a much newer structure built in 1989 by Rick Woith, recently retired owner of Rick’s TV and Appliances.

In the May 5, 2012 “From the History Room” column, we recalled how the Zerwerkh family came from Württemberg (now in Germany) and settled in Pekin around 1861. Albert Zerwekh (1859-1908) established himself as a successful baker, and in the early 1890s he built the Zerwekh Building to house his bakery and confectionary at 20 S. Fourth Street.

At the time the Zerwekh Building was erected, the Pekin Daily Times was just one of five newspapers that were based in Pekin. All five of Pekin’s papers were located on Court Street, and the home of the Daily Times was at 405 Court Street (which more recently was the address of Timothies Interiors). In 1905-1906, however, the Daily Times relocated to a newly-built structure adjacent and attached to the Zerwekh Building.

A lost landmark of downtown Pekin, the Old Times Building — originally the Zerwekh Building — was the home of the Pekin Daily Times from 1906 to 2012. The building was demolished six years ago, in Oct. 2013.

After Albert Zerwekh’s death, his two sons carried on the business for another two or three decades. Other businesses and organizations also occupied the Zerwekh Building during this time, such as the Masonic Lodge and Noel Funeral Home (antecedent of Henderson Funeral Home), as well as attorneys and insurance agents.

For a while a vaudeville theater operated in the space that later would become the office of Times owner and publisher F.F. McNaughton. In the early 1920s, when the Daily Times was owned by Ku Klux Klan Grand Titan Oscar W. Friedrich, the hall on the second floor (which is now the Times newsroom) reportedly was used by the KKK for recruiting socials. In the 1930s, it was a popular venue for young people in town, serving as a dance hall where bands provided live music.

After the Zerwekh brothers closed their business and left Pekin, in 1941 F.F. McNaughton, who had come to the Times in 1927, bought the Zerwekh Building. The Times operations thus spread into the first floor area where the bakery and confectionary had been. At the same time, McNaughton installed a rotary printing press in the basement. That press served the paper until the summer of 1971, when a new offset printing press was installed in the Times press room – a part of the building that had been added in 1905-1906.

Under the McNaughton family, the Daily Times was established as a pillar and bulwark of the community and Pekin’s civic life. McNaughton died Dec. 29, 1981. The family sold the Times that year to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, now known as GateHouse Media Inc. and soon to become Gannet Co.

With the advance of years have come technological advances that have transformed how newspapers are printed and published. The rise of the Internet also has had a severe impact on newspaper circulation numbers. Together, these trends have led to staff reductions and consolidation of operations across the industry. That is why, although it was still produced in Pekin, the Times has been printed on the GateHouse press in the Peoria Journal Star building for several years. The last run of the 1971 offset press was in Sept. 2007, and the press was sold and parted out earlier in 2012.

The next major change for the Pekin Daily Times came the weekend of Aug. 25-26, 2012, when the newspaper returned to Court Street, specifically 306 Court St., a few blocks west of its pre-1906 location. In the seven years following that move, the Pekin Daily Times operated from the former Rick’s TV and Appliance building, built by Rick Woith in 1989. In September, the Times newsroom and production of the newspaper were relocated to the Journal Star Building in Peoria.

Looking ahead to the fate of the Old Times Building, in January 2012 the Daily Times reported:

“GateHouse Media Inc., which owns the Daily Times, sold the current Daily Times building to Tazewell County for $255,000 in September 2011, after the paper had been trying for years to unload the historic yet deteriorating and drafty old building. With staff reductions over the years, the building became too big for the paper’s space needs. The county intends to raze the building, along with the building next door, to create a county parking lot.”

The Old Times Building succumbed to the wrecking ball on Oct. 7, 2013.

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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.

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Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Midway

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Picking up once more on our series of profiles of Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, this week we’ll move a few miles further down the road from Normandale to take a look at the village of Midway.

John Drury’s “This is Tazewell County, Illinois” (1954), page 97, briefly describes Midway Addition and explains the village’s name as follows: “On State 29, north of the Pekin Airport, lies the small village of Midway. It is about midway between the city of Pekin and South Pekin. Near it flows Lost Creek. The Chicago & North Western Railroad runs along its eastern border.”

Drury’s 1954 description is still pretty accurate today, the only difference being that the Chicago & North Western railroad on Midway’s eastern border is now the Union Pacific.

Like Normandale Addition to the north, Midway Addition took shape as a community in the years after World War II. Midway does not appear on the Tazewell County plat book in 1945 – at that time the land that would soon become Midway was owned by Catherine Fornoff and John M. Shade. Curiously, however, the 1955 plat map of Cincinnati Township – compiled only a year after Drury had included Midway in his book – designates Midway as an unnamed “SUBDIVIDED” parcel of land.

The land that is today the village of Midway formerly was owned by John Shade and Catherine Fornoff, as shown in this detail of a 1945 plat map of Cincinnati Township.

By the time this 1955 plat map of Cincinnati Township was drawn, Midway had been established on land formerly owned by John M. Shade. “Midway” is not named on this map, however, but is instead designated merely as “SUBDIVIDED.”

A comparison of county maps from the 1950s with current maps shows that Midway’s geographical extent has not changed since the village was established. Midway’s western boundary is Illinois Route 9, while the railroad tracks mark the eastern boundary. The village consists of a northern and southern section that are not linked with each other – one must use Route 29 to move between the northern and southern streets. The northern section has only three streets: Woodford Drive (east-west), First Street (north-south), and North Street (east-west). The southern section is larger, having seven streets – three east-west streets: Garman Road, Main Street, and South Street; and four north-south streets, numbered First, Second, Third, and Fourth. The only difference between Midway’s 1950-era street layout and today’s layout is that Third and Fourth streets are now linked at their northern ends, whereas originally both streets ended in cul-de-sacs.

The fact that both Pekin and Midway have streets numbered Second, Third, and Fourth sometimes leads to confusion, since Midway is designated by the U.S. Postal Service as “rural Pekin.” It’s easy to spot the difference between a Pekin and a Midway address, though, because the street numbers of Pekin’s Second, Third, and Fourth streets never have more than four digits, whereas Midway’s have five digits.

The households in Midway are in South Pekin School District 137. Fire protection is provided by the Cincinnati Fire Protection District, volunteer fire department whose 14 members operated out of a station is on Chester L Road a short jog south of Midway.

Midway is also the home of Crossroads Full Gospel Church, located at 13895 First St. In the way of businesses, Midway’s most well-known is Watkins Marine in the southern section of the village at 13950 Illinois Route 29. Across the road from Midway’s South Street is Becks Farm. In the northern section, a tavern, Stones Midway Tap, is located at 14202 Illinois Route 29. Just north of Stones Midway Tap is Mayberry Brothers Discount Truck & Van Accessories, at 14320 Illinois Route 29, and just north of that on the west side of Route 29 is the Pekin area’s Recycling Center.

This detail of a 1957 highway map of Tazewell County shows the village of Midway.

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

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“To rescue a name worthy to be remembered and honoured
To recall great events,
To look back upon the deeds of those gone before us,
Are objects worthy of all consideration.”

— U.S. Secretary of State and Illinois historian E. B. Washburne, 1882

It’s not every day that historical researchers discover new facts that solve long-standing mysteries – but today is one of those days.

Several times in recent years, “From the History Room” has had the opportunity to tell of the life and family of one of Pekin’s most notable historical figures – Nance Legins-Costley, remembered as the first African-American slave freed by Abraham Lincoln. Most of what we know of Nance is the fruit of the research of local historian Carl Adams. Only two weeks ago we took another look at the lives of Nance and her son Private William Henry Costley.

Following close upon the heels of that column, we now return once more to the subject of Nance in order to announce that the answer has been found to the three-fold question, “When and where did Nance die and where was she buried?

We previously addressed that question here in Aug. 2015. At that time we noted the speculation of late Pekin historian Fred Soady, who thought Nance died circa 1873 in Pekin and had probably been buried in the old City Cemetery that formerly existed at the southwest corner of Koch and South Second streets. We also considered a May 29, 1885 Minnesota State Census record of “Nancy Cosley,” identified in the record as age 72, black, born in Maryland, and living in Minneapolis with James Cosley, 32, born in Illinois. This record is a perfect match for Pekin’s Nance Costley and her son James Willis Costley, especially considering that Nance’s son William was then living in Minneapolis and died three years later in Rochester, Minn.

Lacking any further information, I wondered if Nance may have died in Minneapolis and was buried there or nearby.

We now know the answer to that question is, “No.” Although the 1885 census record shows Nance in Minneapolis, she later returned to central Illinois (presumably after her son William’s death in Rochester in 1888). A few years later, Nance died and was buried in Peoria.

Those facts were discovered by Debra Clendenen of Pekin, a retired Pekin Hospital registered nurse and local genealogical researcher who has been engaged in a project of creating Find-A-Grave memorials for deceased individuals whose names are recorded in the old Peoria County undertakers’ records.

While engaged in that project, Clendenen came across the burial records of Nance Legins-Costley, her husband Benjamin Costley, their son Leander “Dote” Costley, their daughter and son-in-law Amanda and Edward W. Lewis, and Amanda’s and Edward’s sons Edward W., William Henry, Ambrose E., Jesse, and John Thomas. Clendenen has created Find-A-Grave memorials for all of those members of Nance’s family. She added Benjamin’s memorial on March 8 this year, and then added Nance’s memorial on March 12.

Clendenen described her discoveries earlier this month in an email dated June 6, 2019:

“The heroes of this tale are the undertakers who kept such remarkably detailed records and the Peoria County Clerks who have housed their records for nearly 150 years.

“The records began in 1872 and were discovered in the basement of the Peoria Courthouse a few years ago by Bob Hoffer of Peoria. He photographed the records and gave them to the Peoria County Genealogical Society who transcribed and published them.

“I have been photocopying pages of the books at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society in Pekin and creating Find-A-Grave memorials from them. I am ‘blessed’ with an enormous curiosity gene. I use Ancestry.com to research the folks I create memorials for. I have created 35,000 memorials over an eight-year period.

“So that is the journey Nance’s burial took from the undertaker to my hands.”

The Peoria County undertaker’s report for Nance says she was born in Maryland and died of old age at the remarkable age of 104, on April 6, 1892. The report lists her residence at 226 N. Adams St., which means she was living with her daughter Amanda and son-in-law Edward. According to the report, Nance was buried in Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria.

Moffatt Cemetery, as shown on an 1896 plat map of Peoria, from the “Illinois Ancestors Presents Peoria County” website.

Her husband Ben had died nine years earlier. His undertaker’s report says he died at the age of 86 on Dec. 4, 1883, with the cause of death listed as unspecified “injuries.” His residence was 517 Hale St., and he was, according to the report, buried in Springdale Cemetery.

Clendenen has expressed doubt about whether or not Benjamin and Nance were really buried in different cemeteries. The undertaker’s reports for their children Amanda and Leander are similar, showing Amanda buried in Springdale and Leander buried in Moffatt. Even though Benjamin is said to have been buried in Springdale, Springdale Cemetery has no record of his burial, so Clendenen thinks it is possible he may have really been buried in Moffatt Cemetery.

Moffatt Cemetery, at 3900 S.W. Adams St. (the corner of Adams and Griswold), was one of Peoria’s oldest cemeteries, starting as early as 1836 as a burying ground for the family of Peoria pioneer Aquila Moffatt (1802-1880). The cemetery has long been defunct, however, being officially closed in 1905 after burial space ran out. Eventually the cemetery sank into decrepitude and neglect, overgrown and the gravestones crumbling and fallen. As Bob Hoffer discovered in his research, the Peoria City Council finally voted in 1954 to rezone the property as light industrial, after which it appears that most of the burials were relocated – but many burials are probably still there, at the site that is now the location of a roofers union office, muffler shop, an electrician, and a parking lot. (See the story of Hoffer’s research efforts in “Peoria searching for Civil War grave finds forgotten cemetery,” in the May 27, 2017 edition of the Peoria Journal Star)

A large part of the site of Peoria’s defunct Moffatt Cemetery, at the corner of Griswold and Adam streets, is today paved over as a parking lot, as shown in this Google Maps Street View image. Nance Legins-Costley was buried in Moffatt Cemetery in April 1892.

Although study of the Peoria County undertaker’s reports for Benjamin and Nance Costley has at last revealed when and where Nance and her husband Ben died, their reports do raise some questions. First of all, in both Nance’s and Ben’s reports their stated ages at death are obviously erroneous. Earlier U.S. and state census records indicate that Nance was born circa 1813 while Ben was born circa 1811 or 1812. In fact even those earlier census records give varying ages. Knowing that Nance and Ben were illiterate, and that Nance had been born in slavery, most likely they themselves were unsure of when they were born.

Carl Adams, leading expert on Nance’s life, has identified Nance as a daughter of the slaves Randall and Anachy Legins, who are known to have had a daughter in Kaskaskia, Illinois, in December 1813 – this matches Nance’s age from the census records, and thus we can narrow down Nance’s birth to that month and year. Their owner Nathan Cromwell was born in Maryland. Nance may have appropriated that as her place of birth, either because she was confused or because, given the grave injustices that Illinoisans had inflicted upon her in her younger days, she disavowed the place of her birth. Or, as Adams suspects, it may have been a census-taker’s error, attributing to the slaves the place of the birth of their master. Be that as it may, Nance was 78 when she died, not 104. Nance’s daughter Amanda was likely the one who supplied the undertaker with her mother’s age, and Amanda herself likely did not know how old her mother really was. Unfortunately we’ll never know how Nance’s age came to be inflated from 78 to 104. As for Nance’s husband Ben, based on census records he probably died at the age of 70 or 71, not 86.

There is still doubt regarding the disposition of the burials that were removed from Moffatt Cemetery. Were they moved to another cemetery, and if so which one? Were the remains of Nance and Leander among those that were removed, or are they still in situ, covered over by a parking lot? There’s no way to be sure at this time.

Even so, with Clendenen’s discovery of the undertaker’s reports for Nance and her family, and her creation of online memorials for them at Find-A-Grave, we can finally write the final chapter of Nance’s remarkable life. Memory eternal!

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Dead and aborted towns of Tazewell County

Judging from the number of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Twitter, a great deal of interest was generated by the column last month on Pekin’s mysterious and ephemeral suburb of “Hong Kong,” marked on an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County but appearing on no other map nor in any other known historical document.

Hong Kong, of course, is far from the only toponym that has vanished from the map. In April 1979, the late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. prepared a “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois” for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. Soady’s list includes many place names that have long since disappeared, some of the settlements existing for a short time before dying out, others flourishing for a good while before succumbing to trends and pressures of migration and economics. The town of Circleville south of Pekin is a better known example of a town that was founded early in Tazewell County, flourished for many years (being on an old stage coach route), but later faded and died.

In other cases, the places on Soady’s list are still inhabited today but were renamed at some point. As this column has discussed in the past, the old neighboring settlements of Fond du Lac (Fondulac) and Blue Town merged to become Hilton, which later was renamed East Peoria. Other nearby settlements we’ve discussed include Wesley City, which later adopted the name of Creve Coeur, while North Pekin formerly was called Radio City.

As for the village of Mackinaw, which was Tazewell County’s first county seat, its original name was “Mackinawtown.” Soady’s list includes an entry for “MACKINAW TOWN” (two words), with a note saying, “oldest name (1827-28) for MACKINAW.” However, an old copy of a plat in the TCGHS archives, probably drawn during the 1850s from an original plat legally filed and recorded in the 1830s, shows the name as “Mackinawtown” (one word).

The copy of the Mackinawtown plat, along with another copy of a plat for the “Town of Mackinaw” (made from an original plat filed May 26, 1830, with Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Isaac Perkins) are among the old land records and plats in the TCGHS archival collection. One set of historical hand-drawn copies of Tazewell plats in the TCGHS collection was preserved by being interleaved long ago among the map plates of an old 1855 “Mitchell Universal Atlas” (published by Charles DeSilver) that was donated to the TCGHS in 1990. These plats, most of them drawn in the 1850s, are of towns and settlements with familiar names – such as Tremont, Delavan, Dillon, Groveland, Armington, Morton, Spring Lake, Hopedale, Washington – or else show additions to area towns, such as the Colts, Haines, and Cincinnati Additions to Pekin, or the Semples and Dorseys Additions to Washington, or Bacons Addition to Groveland.

Several of these plats, however, are of settlements that no longer appear on our maps, or may never have appeared on any map or in any atlas or plat book. We have already mentioned Circleville, which no longer exists, and Wesley City, now called Creve Coeur. The Wesley City plat inserted in the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” is chiefly remarkable for showing a grid of streets and lots that is obviously and purely a fantasy of the plat owners, and is frankly impossible geographically, for the plat fails to account for Creve Coeur’s hills, gullies, and hollers.

A number of these plats are of settlements that probably never got off the ground – “aborted towns” that never made it past the planning stage of the land speculators – or perhaps only existed for a short time, or later were merged into neighboring settlements. Among these “dead” and “aborted” towns of Tazewell County shown in this collection of plats are Liberty (surveyed July 22, 1835, plat filed June 17, 1836), Spring Garden (plat recorded by its proprietor S. A. Bumstead), Hancock (surveyed October 1836), Madison, Hamilton (surveyed August-September 1836), Cleveland (plat filed Feb. 15, 1836), Montpelier (surveyed Sept. 8-9, 1836), and Danforth (located along the old T & P railroad, surveyed by William S. Morgan for proprietors E. W. Cantwell and W. F. Evans).

The town of Cleveland, on Peoria Lake, existed – or would have existed – about where East Peoria’s Walmart is located today. Soady’s preliminary list of Tazewell County toponyms suggests that Liberty may have been another name for Dillon, which, however, has its own plat in this collection separate from the Liberty plat. Soady’s list also suggests that Danforth may have been renamed Tullamore. But Spring Garden, Hancock, Madison, Cleveland, and Montpelier do not appear on Soady’s list.

One of the “aborted” towns in this collection of plats was to be named Cincinnati. Like the proposed town of Cleveland, it was to bear an Ohio place name – many pioneer settlers of Tazewell County in general and Pekin in particular came from Ohio. The plat owners of the prospective town of Cincinnati were Jonathan Tharp and Jesse Dillon. Tharp is famous locally for settling in 1824 at a spot that is now the foot of Broadway in Pekin, where the former Franklin School now stands. The published works on Pekin’s history mention that two rival groups of Pekin settlers wished to establish a town here along the Illinois River. While one group, including Nathan Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, and William Haines, proposed a town with streets running perpendicular to and parallel with the river, Tharp and Dillon proposed their town with streets running north-south and east-west.

Tharp and Dillon filed their plat for the town of Cincinnati on July 11, 1830 (Soady’s list says Tharp laid out the plat in 1827). Cromwell, Haines, and their associates drew up their own town plans in 1829 and also formalized a plat in 1830, apparently in such a hurry to file it that they didn’t have time to think of a name – they called their desired settlement simply “Town Site” and only came up with the name “Pekin” later in 1830. Meanwhile, the plans of Tharp and Dillon failed to bear fruit. Instead, their proposed town was recast as the Cincinnati Addition to Pekin, the northern border of which was Broadway, with Tharp’s home lot (No. 160) at the northwest corner of the Addition. The “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection includes a cartographer’s fragile template and accompanying legal description for a plat of “Cincinnati,” as well as a later plat copy of Cincinnati Addition which was drawn and recorded May 28, 1857 – tellingly, the plat copy of Cincinnati “Addition” is in fact still titled “Town of Cincinnati.”

Although the town of Cincinnati never came to fruition, “Cincinnati” is, of course, still an extant Tazewell County toponym – it’s the name of the township located to the south of Pekin Township.

The photo gallery below features selections from the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection of plats, all images courtesy of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.

#9jaway, #bbnaija, #bet9ja, #blue-town, #cincinnati-addition, #circleville, #creve-coeur, #fondulac, #hilton, #hong-kong, #jonathan-tharp, #mackinaw, #mackinawtown, #mitchell-universal-atlas, #nathan-cromwell, #plats, #tazewell-county-history, #wesley-city, #william-haines

Settlers pour into Peoria and Tazewell counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, March 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the third video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is 34 minutes in length and is entitled, “Farming in Tazewell County During the ’30s and ’40s,” presented by Tom Finson. Like last month’s Finson video, it includes vintage film footage from around the county. Admission is free and the public is invited.

For the pioneer settlers of central Illinois, farming wasn’t merely a business, but was crucial for a settler family’s survival. Our column this week recall the first of the post-War of 1812 settlers in our area.

The summer before Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union in 1818, a territorial census counted 40,258 souls living in the soon-to-be state – but the new state’s population rapidly increased over the next decade. Up to that time, American settlers in Illinois had come chiefly from southern states and had settled almost exclusively in southern Illinois.

But with the dawn of statehood a new wave of migration arrived, in which settlers from southern Illinois began to move north, joined by newcomers from states north of the Ohio River. These new arrivals to central Illinois came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs – and as we shall see, these newcomers included William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon, names prominent in early Tazewell County history.

As we saw previously, American soldiers built Fort Clark in 1813 on the ruins of the old French village of La Ville de Maillet, which Capt. Thomas Craig had burned the year before during an Illinois militia campaign meant to warn the Indians of Peoria Lake not to ally with Britain during the War of 1812 (but which likely had the opposite effect).

In relating the story of Craig’s burning of the French village, S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” says (italics as in original), “Capt. Craig excused himself for this act of devastation, by accusing the French of being in league with the Indians, with whom the United States were at war; but more especially, by alledging (sic) that his boats were fired upon from the town, while lying at anchor before it. All this the French have ever denied, and charge Capt. Craig with unprovoked, malignant cruelty.”

Craig’s accusation that the French Americans of Peoria Lake were in league with Indians hostile to the U.S. was based on the fact that the French not only lived peaceably with the tribes of the area, but even sometimes intermarried with them. But the tribes of Peoria Lake had declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy and were considered to be friendly until the unprovoked attacks of Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards and Capt. Craig.

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet essentially ended the French phase of the European settlement of central Illinois – afterwards only the French fur traders of Opa Post at the present site of Creve Coeur were left in the area. The early historians of Peoria and Tazewell counties tended to disparage the early French settlers of central Illinois, even to the point of claiming that they weren’t really settlers at all. For example, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” described the men and women of Opa Post in this way:

“These French traders cannot be classed as settlers, at least in the light we wish to view the meaning of that term. They made no improvements; they cultivated no land; they established none of those bulwarks of civilization brought hither a half century ago by the sturdy pioneer. On the other hand, however, they associated with the natives; they adopted their ways, habits and customs; they intermarried and in every way, almost, became as one of them.”

Chapman’s comments reveal that his disparaging appraisal of the French fur traders was due not only to disdain for the social class and lifestyle of a fur trader, but also the pervasive racist bias against Native Americans that spread westward with American expansion. Other influences included the age-old enmity between England and France that stemmed from the medieval Hundred Year’s War, with religious estrangement and animosity between Protestants and Catholics also thrown into the mix.

Those same attitudes toward the Indians and the French were also exhibited by Charles Ballance in his 1870 “History of Peoria.” In his history, Ballance argues at length that the French Americans of La Ville de Maillet were culturally and socially greatly inferior to the Americans of British origin who supplanted them, finding fault with the style of the homes they built and even denying the reports of the village’s former inhabitants that their settlement included a wine cellar and a Catholic church or chapel. Maybe behind Ballance’s common ethnic, racial, and social disdain for the Indians and French, there was an uneasy conscience over the fact that the city of Peoria of Ballance’s day only existed because the French settlement had been wiped out in 1812.

The construction of Fort Clark at the site of the French village in 1813 planted the seed of the present city of Peoria, for a new village quickly grew up around the fort (the site is today Liberty Park on the Peoria Riverfront, at Liberty and Water streets). According to Chapman, the fort itself burned down five years later. But in 1819, one year after Illinois statehood, the pioneer founders of Peoria arrived: Joseph Fulton, Abner Eads, William Blanchard (1797-1883), and four other men, who had traveled by keelboat and on horseback.

The next few years saw the arrivals of even more settlers. In 1825 the state legislature created Peoria County, which originally covered a large area of central and northern Illinois, including the future Cook County and the soon-to-be formed Tazewell County. Ten years later, Peoria was officially incorporated as a town, and by 1845 Peoria was large enough to incorporate as a city.

Three years after William Blanchard’s arrival at Fort Clark, he and a few companions crossed Peoria Lake to present-day Fon du Lac Township in Tazewell County, building a dwelling and growing crops south of the future Woodford County border. Here is how Chapman told the story of Blanchard’s earliest pioneer activities:

“Wm. Blanchard, Jr., is a native of Vermont, where he was born in 1797; left that State when seven years of age, and with his parents went to Washington Co., N. Y., where his father, William, died. When seventeen years of age he enlisted in the regular army, and took an active part in the war of 1812, serving five years, when he, with Charles Sargeant, Theodore Sargeant and David Barnes, veterans of the war, started West, coming to Detroit, Mich., thence to Ft. Wayne, whence they journeyed in a canoe to Vincennes, thence to St. Louis. From there they came up the Illinois in a keel boat manned by a fishing crew, and commanded by a man named Warner, and landed at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, in the spring of 1819.

“Crossing the river to what is known as the bottom lands they found a cleared spot, and with such tools as they could arrange from wood put in a patch of corn and potatoes. This land is now embodied in Fond du Lac township. Looking farther down the stream they found, in 1822, an old French field of about ten acres, on which they erected a rude habitation, and soon this soil was filled with a growth of blooming corn and potatoes. This was the first settlement between Ft. Clark and Chicago, and was the first dwelling erected. The site is now covered by the fine farm of Jacob Ames.”

In this map detail from an 1873 atlas of Tazewell County, the farm of Jacob Ames —
designated on the map as land owned by “Rachael Ames” — is shown in Sections 11 and 12 of Fondulac Township, around the area of Grosenbach Road. William Blanchard’s “rude habitation” is said to have been built in 1822 on land that later was included in the farm of Jacob Ames.

One year before Blanchard came to the future Tazewell County, North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823.

Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after Blanchard and long after the Frenchmen of Opa Post. The confusion arose from the haste with which Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error. The monument at Dillon’s grave erroneously pronouncing him the county’s first white settler stems from Chapman’s mistake.

But regardless who was first, Blanchard and Dillon both possessed pioneering courage and grit, paving the way for many others who were soon to follow.

Next week we’ll review the story of the creation of Tazewell County.

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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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