‘The Great Fire’ and Pekin first fire companies

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

‘The Great Fire’ and Pekin first fire companies

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

More than three years ago, this column recalled “the Great Fire” of 1860 that obliterated a large part of downtown Pekin. As mentioned previously, the aftermath of that fire saw the formation of independent fire companies to ensure that the community would be better prepared to prevent structure fires from blazing out of control and so save lives and property.

The earliest surviving account of the Great Fire is found in the history of Pekin included in the 1870 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, pages 39-40, which says:

“On the night of the 22d of March, 1860, Pekin was visited by a disastrous and frightful conflagration. The fire originated in the grocery store of [Charles] Grondenburg, on the north side of Court street. From thence it spread up nearly to Capitol street and down to Third street, when it crossed to the south side, sweeping nearly all the buildings between Capitol and Third on that side, and some dwellings on Elizabeth street, south of Third. The fire was not checked until over thirty of the principal business houses, offices and other buildings were destroyed, almost completely paralyzing the business of the city, and involving a loss of over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

$150,000 was a very sizable sum in those days.

After a lengthy tally of the buildings and businesses destroyed and their damage costs, the 1870 account continues:

“The whole number of buildings destroyed was thirty-one, fourteen on one side and seventeen on the opposite side of Court street. The fire was a terrible blow to the city, but, Phoenix-like, it rose from the ashes, and now Court street, from Third to Capitol, is rebuilt on both sides with substantial brick business houses. Many of them are very fine and imposing structures, while some others reflect neither honor, enterprise nor liberality upon their owners.”

On pages 40-41 of the 1870 city directory, this historical account goes on to tell of how Pekin’s first fire companies were organized. According to the 1870 city directory, the first one, founded in November 1860, was “Rescue Fire Company No. 1,” headed by first foreman H. F. Spoonhoff, followed the same month by “Hook and Ladder Company No. 1,” headed by first and second assistant foremen John Stolz and Martin Dolcher. Then in December 1870 a third company, “Defiance Fire Company,” was established, headed by Thomas Edds, president.

In fact, the 1861 Roots city directory reveals that all three of these companies were organized in 1860 — “Rescue Fire Company No. 1” was founded in July 1860, but “Hook and Ladder Company No. 1” was founded in June 1860, while “Defiance” came along in December of that year.

This detail from a page from the 1861 Roots City Directory of Pekin provides information about Pekin’s early fire companies that functioned before the formation of the Pekin Fire Department.

The 1949 “Pekin Centenary,” pages 17 and 19, relates some colorful anecdotes about these first fire companies, including this tale about the rivalry between the first two companies, both of whom wanted to be “No. 1”:

“The fire had another by-product in that it created a fever for the organization of fire companies in the city, which, in turn produced new evidence of the growing size and strength of the German element and of the clash between the new and the old citizens of Pekin. A fire-fighting company was quickly organized after the fire and made application for a fire engine to be purchased for their use. Then a group of German population got together, and they too organized a fire company and made a similar request to the council. Both asked to be designated as the Number One company.

“The arrival of the engines by steamboat was the occasion for a public celebration. All the townspeople turned out and the two companies donned their uniforms, fell in, and marched down Court street to the dock. There it was found that the engine designated for the German company had a big ‘No. 1’ painted on it, and the engine designated for the original company was similarly painted ‘No. 2.’

“At this discovery, the original company fell into ranks again, announced that ‘Our engine isn’t here,’ and marched away, leaving the unwanted ‘No. 2’ sitting on the dock.”

Another anecdote in the 1949 Pekin Centenary tells of dangerous and unethical conduct on the part of the city’s original fire companies:

“The fire companies proved to be more social than anything else, staging a grand parade once a year and a victory celebration after each blaze; and after a time these celebrations came to be a problem too. The city offered $10 to the company that was first to reach a fire and douse it, and at that time this was about the right sum to stage a sizable victory party, with liquor about 25 cents a gallon.

“Immediately, the city was visited with a record-breaking series of fires, many of which started in a suspicious manner.

“It is said that a fire company that felt a celebration was due would muster its men, line them up at the ropes of their engine, open the door, send out a chosen member to start a fire, and then stand by, waiting for the alarm to come in. In this manner, the old companies sometimes reached fires in a remarkably short time. Facing this sort of practice, the city council withdrew the $10 bonus, which was getting expensive in more ways than one, and the number of fires was promptly reduced.”

In time, the old fire companies would give way to a professional municipal fire department, a development that was at least partly a response to the corruption that early on had infected the independent fire companies.

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#charles-grondenburg, #h-f-spoonhoff, #illinois-bicentennial, #john-stolz, #martin-dolcher, #pekin-fire-companies, #pekin-fire-department, #the-great-fire, #thomas-edds

Remembering the ‘doomed women of Ottawa’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the coming weeks, the Pekin Public Library and Pekin Community High School are presenting a programming series spotlighting a tragic facet of Illinois’ history beginning in the first half of the 20th century with repercussions continuing to the present day – the women remembered as the “Radium Girls,” who had suffered and died as a result of radium poisoning on the job in Ottawa, Ill.

The programming series opens at the library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, with “Marking Time: The Radium Girls of Ottawa,” in which Heinz Suppan will present his book “Marking Time” and tell of the plight of the young women who worked for the Radium Dial Co. in Ottawa, where the women used radium-laced paint to create watches and clocks that glowed in the dark. Through their work, the women were exposed to radioactive radium both externally and internally, as their employer, although aware of the dangers of radium, misled the women and even encouraged them to lick the ends of their paint brushes to form a fine point.

Women are shown at work in a radium dial factory. PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

As the next program in the series, the library’s Book2art book group will read Kate Moore’s book “Radium Girls.” The group will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, to discuss Moore’s book and do a craft related to the book.

The next day, at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19, the library will show the “Radium City” film documentary upstairs in the Community Room. Later the same day, at 2 p.m. actors from the Pekin Community High School show “Radium Girls” will come to the library and perform scenes from their show.

The series will conclude with the high school’s stage production of “Radium Girls” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at Pekin Community High School’s F. M. Peterson Theater.

All of the library’s programs are free and open to the public. Tickets for the high school’s three showings of “Radium Girls” are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Tickets are available at the PCHS Branch Finance Office or may be purchased at the door prior to performance.

Earlier this year, NPR Illinois published a report by Tara McClellan McAndrew entitled “The Radium Girls: An Illinois Tragedy,” in which McAndrew drew upon authorities such as Kate Moore’s book.

“Some of the Ottawa painters,” McAndrew observed, “despite their long, agonizing illnesses with crippling sarcomas, crumbling jawbones, crushed spines, amputated limbs and other maladies, were among the luckier ones. Because of Illinois’ progressive workers’ compensation laws, some of the Radium Dial workers received financial awards.”

The progress of the Ottawa Radium Girls’ lawsuit frequently made the front page of newspapers across the country in the latter 1930s – including the Pekin Daily Times, which referred to the radium-poisoning victims as the “doomed women of Ottawa.”

The plight of Ottawa’s Radium Girls made the front page of the Feb. 11, 1938 Pekin Daily Times, in a report of a workers compensation hearing that took place at the side of what would soon become the deathbed of radium poisoning victim Catherine Donahue.

According to McAndrew, dial painters who died from radium poisoning probably numbered in the thousands across the country, but only in Illinois did victims obtain legal compensation for the suffering caused by their employer’s negligence and lack of compassion. This was possible because in 1911 Illinois was one of the first states to adopt a workers compensation law, which led to the establishing of the Illinois Industrial Commission in 1917.

The first attempt of Ottawa’s Radium Girls to win compensation was denied, so the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illlinois Occupational Disease Act, which enabled the victims to obtain compensation.

McAndrew said, “Although dial painters in other states sought retribution for their fatal illness, those in Ottawa were the only ones ‘to win state sanctioned compensation for radium poisoning,’ wrote Claudia Clark in Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935.”

The terrible suffering of the Radium Girls and their families was not in vain, as their plight contributed to the eventual establishment by President Richard Nixon in 1970 of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Since 2011 a statue commemorating the Radium Girls has stood at the northwest corner of Clinton and West Jefferson streets in Ottawa.

#catherine-donahue, #doomed-women-of-ottawa, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-occupational-disease-act, #osha, #radium-dial-co, #radium-girls, #workers-compensation-law

Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

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.

Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is a newspaper clipping from the Jan. 13, 1994 Peoria Journal Star – an article written by Valari Hyatt, entitled, “Old stores haunt memories of downtown Pekin.”

The subject of the article is the old Schipper and Block building, which stands at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. “Rich in history, the building’s legacy dates back before its birth,” Hyatt wrote.

Once the location of a popular and successful clothing store, the Schipper and Block building’s history and “prehistory” reaches back to the period of the Civil War.

The business began in 1863 or 1864 as C. Bonk and Co., which ran a dry goods store with John H. Schipper as Bonk’s partner. After Bonk’s death, Henry C. Block joined the company, which became the Schipper and Block Co., located at 304 Margaret St., a block north of the corner of Court and Capitol which later would become its location. The 300 block of Margaret Street was then known as Smith’s Row, because that is where Dietrich and Teis Smith had their business operations, including their well-known Wagon Works.

In 1874, Schipper and Block moved their store to the corner of Court and Third streets – at 302 Court St., next to the post office. As their business thrived, they opened a second shop at 332 Court St., the corner of Court and Capitol streets, on Oct. 12, 1879. Some years later they opened a store in Peoria which soon after became the largest dry goods operation in Illinois outside of Chicago. The Peoria store became a Carson Pirie Scott in 1961.

The original Schipper & Block building at the corner of Court and Capitol streets opened in 1879, but was destroyed by fire in 1898.

Schipper died Sept. 25, 1893, in Louisville, Ky., while on his way home from Block Island near Rhode Island, where he had gone for a rest due to his ill health. Block continued to operate the business until the turn of the century, when the Pekin store operations consolidated at the corner of Court and Capitol streets.

That came about as the result of a fire in 1898 that destroyed the Schipper and Block store at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. A new structure was erected in its place. Then around 1900, Block sold a considerable amount of his holdings in the Pekin operation to George Ehrlicher, who had been Block’s right-hand man for many years. It was about that time that the decision was made to close the store at 302 Court St. and consolidate in the newer building at 332 Court St.

The second Schipper & Block building was erected in 1898 to replace the 1879 store after a fire, but the new building itself succumbed to flames in 1922.

The company’s name was changed to Block and Kuhl Co. on Jan. 1, 1914, when Theodore Kuhl became president – but the “Schipper & Block Co.” sign remained, so everyone continued to call it the Schipper and Block building. Another fire in Feb. 1922 destroyed the “new” building, but by December of that year the company had rebuilt at the same location. That’s the structure one can see at that corner today.

George Ehrlicher’s sons George Jr. and Arthur took over the business after their father, and they kept the business going until May 1962, when business reverses made it necessary for them to sell the store. George Jr. died in Sept. 1962, just four months after the sale. The new owners, Harold Whaley of Ottawa and William T. Malloy of Peoria, were unable to return the business to profitability, however, and the store went bankrupt in 1964, when a receiver was appointed. The store limped along for another four years, finally going out of business in March 1968. The Schipper and Block building would then remain vacant for 26 years.

The Schipper & Block building that stands vacant today is shown in this photograph taken by Ralph James Goodwin in 1966, two years before the store went out of business.

Though much of the glamour has faded,” Hyatt wrote in 1994, “the old Schipper and Block building – as it has been called for over a hundred years, no matter who owned it – still stands on solid ground. In fact, the city recently sold the property at 332 Court St. to Tobin Brothers, with a developer’s agreement. According to Lee Williams, city marketing director, the transfer of ownership occurred Jan. 4.

‘The Schipper and Block building is dear to the hearts of the mayor and (all of those on) the City Council. They had decided that the Schipper and Block building was definitely not going to be torn down . . . because of the historic background,’ Williams said, noting that Tobin Brothers is remodeling the three-story brick building for about $350,000.

Their goal is to put the building back to its original state, then lease the building to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and several other businesses.

More recently, the State of Illinois’ budget crunch led to the closing of the Pekin DCFS office. The old building once again went vacant and is for sale.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12 of this year.

#arthur-ehrlicher, #block-and-kuhl-co, #c-bonk-and-co, #george-ehrlicher, #george-ehrlicher-jr, #harold-whaley, #henry-c-block, #illinois-bicentennial, #john-h-schipper, #schipper-and-block, #theodore-kuhl, #william-t-malloy

Nearly a century of service – Rotary and Kiwanis

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

While Illinois is celebrating its bicentennial this year, and the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its quasquicentennial (125 years) next month, there are two other Pekin community organizations that have almost, but not quite, made it to their centennials: the Pekin Rotary and Pekin Kiwanis clubs.

Enthusiasm for social clubs and service organizations apparently was very high in Pekin in 1920, only two years out of the First World War. Several social clubs then active in Pekin (such as the Tazewell Club) no longer exist, but the Pekin Rotary Club and the Pekin Kiwanis Club, which both were christened in the spring of 1920, are still going strong today.

The Pekin Rotary Club – one of tens of thousands of clubs that belong to Rotary International – was organized in April 1920. The first Rotary Club was founded by Paul P. Harris and three of his friends in Chicago on Feb. 23, 1905, only 15 years before Rotary came to Pekin. The name “rotary” was chosen because the club’s meetings would rotate among the members’ business offices.

Pekin’s Rotary Club was started by five businessmen: Harry Wilmot, Walton T. Conover, Frank Beyer, Carl E. Kraeger, and Louis C. Moschel. The club began with 25 charter members, and Moschel served as the club’s first president for four consecutive annual terms before he was succeeded by Carl G. Herget in 1924. For much of its early history, Pekin Rotary met weekly in the old Tazewell Hotel located at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth streets near the courthouse.

In its early years, the Pekin Rotary Club held its regular meetings in the old Tazewell Hotel on Elizabeth Street in downtown Pekin.

With a motto of “Service Above Self,” the purpose of Rotary is to encourage business persons, professionals, and community leaders to be active in works of service and charity. Its service projects and programs over its history have included tree planting, fishing derbies, the Pekin Mobile Diner, scholarship awards, and the sponsoring and hosting of foreign exchange students.

The Pekin Kiwanis Club was organized about a month after Rotary. The Pekin Daily Times printed a story in its May 20, 1920 edition with the title, “Pekin Men Put Kiwanis Club Over the Top,” in which it was reported that “The Kiwanis Club of Pekin is in progress of formation with a membership of over fifty representative men of this city.” According to that news story, Pekin’s Kiwanis Club was the 19th Kiwanis Club in Illinois. Kiwanis was founded in 1915 in Detroit, Mich. – the name is derived from a Native American phrase, Nunc Kee-wanis, meaning “We trade [our talents].}

Pekin Kiwanis held its organizing meeting on May 24, 1920, and a story reporting that meeting appeared on page 8 of the following day’s Pekin Daily Times. “With over forty men present last night the Kiwanis Club of Pekin was formerly (sic – formally) organized in the circuit court room of the Tazewell court house,” the story said. W. S. Prettyman was elected temporary chairman for the organizing meeting.

Shown here is a detail from the May 25, 1920 Pekin Daily Times story on the organizing meeting of the Pekin Kiwanis Club which had taken place the evening before.

At the meeting, Dan Wentworth, lieut. governor of the Illinois and Eastern Iowa districts, explained the club’s purposes and aims, “declaring that the organization stood for the square deal, for service ‘to the other fellow,’ for the Golden Rule in business, and for the building up of the community, the state and the nation.” Kiwanis and Rotary thus have much the same purpose and aims.

At the first meeting, the following officers were unanimously elected: Jesse Black Jr., president; J. C. Aydelott, vice president; Ben P. Schenck, treasurer; and seven directors, W. S. Prettyman, H. J. Rust, Nelson Weyrich, R. E. Rollins, Louis Albertsen, O. W. Noel, and J. T. Conaghan.

The first regular meeting, where the club charter was presented, was then set for Wednesday evening, June 2, 1920, at the Pekin Country Club house (then located where Pekin Community High School is today), with plans made for weekly luncheon sessions.

The long years of service to the community of Rotary and Kiwanis is memorialized by the Pekin Park District, which oversees Rotary Park at the former site of Garfield School and Kiwanis Park near L. E. Starke School.

#carl-herget, #illinois-bicentennial, #jesse-black, #pekin-kiwanis-club, #pekin-rotary-club, #william-s-prettyman

The first railroads of Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Sept. 7, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of a video about Pekin trains, featuring footage of the old Chicago & Illinois Midland Railroad. The video, which is about 30 minutes in length, is a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

During the first few decades following Illinois’ admission to the Union in 1818, the new state’s growth in population and wealth was in large part driven by steam power. Initially, as indicated in last week’s From the History Room column, men and goods were transported along the waterways and canals of Illinois using riverboats, whether steamers or packet boats.

But steam-powered rail (invented in Britain in 1804, three years before Robert Fulton’s first steamboat) would soon challenge and then eclipse steamboats as the preferred means of long-distance transportation of good and people. While Illinois’ steamboats were restricted to rivers, railroad tracks could be laid across long stretches of country, crossing rivers and streams and even climbing through mountain passes.

The early rail lines of Tazewell County are highlighted in yellow on this county map from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

The groundwork for the railroad’s eclipse of riverboat transportation in Illinois was laid at a time when river transportation was preeminent. In Tazewell County, interest in laying down a rail line had already arisen by the mid-1830s, but the first attempts to build a railroad in our county were abortive. Here how those efforts are described on page 732 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County”:

“Among the very first charters granted to railroads, perhaps the second one, by the State of Illinois, was the one granted to the Pekin & Tremont Railroad. This company was incorporated by the Legislature, Jan. 13, 1835. Madison Allen, Harlan Hatch, J. L. James, John H. Harris, George W. Brodrick and Aronet Richmond were constituted a body corporate, with capital stock of $50,000, for the purpose of building said road. It ran, according to the charter, from Pekin to Tremont, in this county. The company was given the power ‘to erect and maintain toll houses along the line.’ The road bed was graded and track partially laid, but the hard times of 1837 and the failure of the grand internal improvement scheme of the State put a stop to further progress on the P. & T. road. About a year after the P. & T. road was chartered a grander scheme was undertaken, and the Legislature incorporated the Pekin, Bloomington & Wabash Railroad, Feb. 16, 1836. This was a continuation eastward of the P. & T. road. Considerable enthusiasm was at first manifested in regard to the matter, but, like many other railroad schemes, it was never carried out.”

Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates told of continued efforts to get a railroad line to Pekin in his narrative of Pekin’s early history that was included in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory. The following excerpts from Bates’ narrative demonstrate that Pekin’s city officials were willing to commit great sums of public funds to railroad projects, which were necessarily massive and expensive undertakings.

“On the 3d of June, 1853, the City Council ‘engaged to use its means and credit to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars to co-operate with the city of Canton, Fulton county, to secure the construction of the Mississippi and Wabash Railroad,’ provided said road was located so as to pass through the city of Pekin.” (Bates, page 32)

“On the 8th of September [1856], the Council ‘Resolved, That the city of Pekin, as a stockholder in the Mississippi Railroad Company, give their consent to the consolidation of the Mississippi and Wabash Railroad Company with the Pekin and Bloomington Railroad Company.’ . . . On the 23d of October the city decided by a vote of three hundred and one votes for and five against, to subscribe one hundred thousand dollars to the capital stock of the Illinois River Railroad.” (Bates, page 36)

For all that trouble, it wasn’t until 1859 – less than two years before the Civil War – that Pekin finally saw rails being laid. The city’s leaders thought that was worth celebrating, so Pekin’s Fourth of July celebrations that year included a joyous – and hopeful – inaugural ceremony of the driving of the first spike, as Bates tells:

“On the 4th day of July, 1859, the first rail was laid and the first spike driven on the prospective Illinois River Railroad. This was a gala day, full of momentous events for the future, and the birth-day of unnumbered hopes and anticipations yet to be realized. The leading citizens participated in celebrating the new enterprise on such an auspicious day as the Fourth of July.

“The road was never really completed until it passed into the hands of the present company, when the name was changed, and it is now the flourishing and well-managed Peoria, Pekin and Jacksonville Railroad.” (Bates, page 38)

Not only because it cost so much to build and operate a railroad, but also due to the interruption of the Civil War, most of Tazewell County’s railroad companies did not become fully operational until the latter 1860s. What had begun as the abortive Pekin & Tremont Railroad Company in Jan. 1835 later was taken up as a part of the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railway in Aug. 1869, a road that stretched 202 miles from Indianapolis to Pekin (later being extended to Peoria).

Similarly, the Illinois River Railroad Company, whose first spike in Pekin was driven on July 4, 1859, eventually became the Peoria, Pekin & Jacksonville Railroad Company. Chapman’s Tazewell County history includes historical accounts of that company as well as the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railway and five other railroad companies that had lines through Tazewell County: the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad, the Pekin, Lincoln & Decatur Railway, the Toledo, Peoria & Warsaw Railroad, the Illinois Midland, and the Chicago, Pekin & Southwestern Railroad.

The investors, directors, and employees of these railroad companies were among the preeminent men of Tazewell County and central Illinois – such as Benjamin S. Prettyman, Teis Smith, John B. Cohrs, James M. James, Gordis R. Cobleigh, or Columbus R. Cummings. A review of the names on the boards of directors of the early railroad companies will, not surprisingly, show many of the same names showing up on the lists of city mayors, aldermen, and successful businessmen and local attorneys.

#benjamin-prettyman, #columbus-r-cummings, #gordis-r-cobleigh, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-m-james, #john-b-cohrs, #pekin-railroads, #railroads, #tazewell-county-railroads, #teis-smith, #william-h-bates

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

Illinois in the Civil War

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Not even two whole generations had elapsed since Illinois’ admission as the 18th state in the Union when America split apart, divided between the industrialized and increasingly anti-slavery northern states of the Union and the agrarian, pro-slavery southern states of the Confederacy.

Leading up to the dreadful conflict was the collapse of the compromises and constitutional balances that had appeased the concerns of the pro-slavery and abolitionist elements. Thus, as we have previously noted, where an earlier generation had crafted the Missouri Compromise of 1820, by the 1850s that compromise had been scrapped, supplanted by the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act of Illinois Sen. Stephen A. Douglas.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was preceded by the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which sought to counter the effectiveness of the Underground Railroad by obliging citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves and imposing stiff penalties on those who assisted runaways. While the act itself was a compromise between Southern slave-owners and Northern free-soilers, abolitionists found the law intolerable. Even more outrageous to the abolitionists was the U.S. Supreme Court’s intervention in the controversy with its infamous pro-slavery Dred Scott decision of 1857 – but rather than settle the question, Dred Scott only fanned the embers that soon erupted in the flame of war.

In the presidential election of 1860, the Democrat Party broke apart into pro- and anti-slavery factions, a circumstance that helped make possible the election of the Republican Party’s candidate, a former Illinois Congressman of abolitionist principles named Abraham Lincoln.

Frustrated at their inability to elect a favorable candidate, and expecting Lincoln to curtail slavery, most of the slave-holding states of the South broke away from the Union, starting with South Carolina on Dec. 20, 1860. The states that seceded organized themselves as a separate country, the Confederate States of America, on Feb. 8, 1861, and elected their own president, former Mississippi Congressman and Secretary of War Jefferson F. Davis.

Lincoln was inaugurated as president the following month. Rejecting the legitimacy of the Confederacy, Lincoln insisted that the Union had to be preserved and declared the Confederate states to be in rebellion against the recognized federal government. Hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when the Confederacy, having demanded that the U.S. withdraw all troops and surrender all military posts, attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

So began four long years of bloodshed and sorrow in which Lincoln strove to bring the breakaway southern states back into subjection to the federal government. Usually known as the American Civil War, the conflict has also been called the War Between the States or the War of the Rebellion, while in the South it has been called the War of Northern Aggression. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” includes an account of the Civil War, which Chapman called “the War for the Union.”

A lone Union soldier stands and watches over the graves of his fallen comrades at Pekin’s Civil War Memorial in Lakeside Cemetery. PHOTO COURTESY OF CANDY REED

The different names indicate the cultural and political disputes over what the war was about. For the Confederacy, it was their Revolutionary War or a failed War of Independence, but Lincoln and Northern leaders at least initially said it was a fight to preserve the Union. As the war dragged on, however, Northerners began to see it as a holy crusade to end slavery in the United States. In his Tazewell County history, Chapman commented, “The house was indeed divided against itself, but [that] it should not fall, nor should it long continue divided, was the hearty, determined response of every loyal heart in the nation. The accursed institution of human slavery was the primary cause for this dissolution of the American Union. Doubtless other agencies served to intensify the hostile feelings which existed between the Northern and Southern portions of our country, but their remote origin could be traced to this great national evil.”

Two days after the Confederacy’s firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln requested the remaining Union states to provide 75,000 men organized in six regiments. Over the next few months, the president requested additional volunteers and the organization of more regiments, until in July 1861 he made his first request for 500,000 troops. From May to July, a total of 17 infantry regiments and five cavalry regiments were raised, with Illinois alone providing 13 infantry regiments and three cavalry regiments in July.

At the close of 1861 Illinois had sent to the field nearly 50,000 men, and had 17,000 in camp awaiting marching orders, thus exceeding her full quota by 15,000,” Chapman said. With Illinois having exceeded its quota, many of our state’s young men volunteered with Missouri’s regiments, so eager were they to fight for their country.

The following summer, Lincoln called for the states to provide 600,000 men, of which Illinois’ quota was 52,296. As war casualties increased, the president continued to call for troops. “On the 21st of December, 1864, the last call for troops was made. It was for 300,000 . . . . Illinois put into her one hundred and eight regiments 256,000 men, and into the United States army, through other states, enough to swell the number to 290,000,” Chapman said.

By the time Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, a total of about 620,000 American soldiers had died in combat or from war-related disease. The casualty numbers for the Civil War are vastly greater than any other U.S. war. Illinois alone lost 31,000 men, two-thirds of them from disease. According to the 1949 Pekin Centenary, Pekin alone had sent about 3,000 men off to fight for the Union.

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection includes a great number of resources on the Civil War and Illinois’ part in it. To name just a few, Chapman’s account of the “War for the Union” is found on pages 125-141 and 336-383 of his Tazewell County history, with rolls of Tazewell County’s Civil War volunteers on pages 351-383. In addition, the Local History Room has three volumes of Illinois regimental and unit histories drawn from the Illinois Adjutant General’s Report. Our Tazewell County cemetery indexes also include a compiled list of all of the Civil War soldiers (whether casualties or veterans) who are buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

Pekin’s Civil War heroes are listed by name on the Tazewell County War Memorial erected on the lawn of the Tazewell County Courthouse. Like vast numbers of cities and towns, Pekin also has a Civil War Memorial. In the years following the end of the Civil War, a monument of a standing Union soldier was erected in Lakeside Cemetery “IN MEMORY OF OUR SOLDIERS OF PEKIN ILL.,” like monuments of the Civil War fallen that may be found throughout the country.

A final curiosity regarding Illinois in the Civil War: the August 2018 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society’s Monthly, page 2269, reprints notes from a talk by late local historian Fred Soady, in which Soady observed that “The closest the war came to Tazewell County was the Battle of Lake Peoria, April 16, 1862.” Further information on this obscure and apparently minor battle would be appreciated.

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