News of days gone by: the 1st Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is!”

With these words, the Pekin Daily Times made its debut 139 years ago this month. It began as a four-page broadsheet, with five columns to a page, published by Joseph B. Irwin and W. T. Dowdall, and delivered by four newsboys: Ad Merrill, Charley Wagenseller, Benny Irwin, and Johnny Michael. Joseph Irwin and Dowdall had purchased the Pekin Weekly Register in 1873 and rechristened it the Pekin Weekly Times. On Jan. 3, 1881, Irwin and Dowdall made the risky decision of starting a daily edition of their newspaper.

It was only the second time anyone had ever published a daily paper in Pekin (there was an abortive attempt to publish a daily paper in 1876, when William H. Bates put out a daily called The Pekin Daily Bulletin for nine months, from Jan. 3 to Oct. 5, 1876), and even after the Pekin Daily Times was born, for a while Irwin and Dowdall continued to publish a weekly edition alongside the Daily Times. Over the decades the Daily Times continued to thrive in a local market that included several other weeklies, but one by one its rivals shuttered their offices or were purchased by the Pekin Daily Times, until by the mid-20th century the Daily Times was Pekin’s only newspaper.

Shown here is the top half of the front page of the Pekin Public Library’s copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times, Pekin’s second — and only successful — daily newspaper.

The Times has changed hands several times since Irwin and Dowdall brought it into being, including an ugly two-year period in the early 1920s when it was owned by three leading members of the Ku Klux Klan. The paper enjoyed its greatest success and prosperity under F. F. McNaughton’s leadership, who came to the Times in 1927 and passed away in 1981, when the McNaughton family sold the paper to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, which later renamed itself GateHouse Media Inc. In the last months of 2019, Gannett Co., owner of the USA Today, and GateHouse merged, so the Daily Times is now a Gannett paper.

In an editorial column apparently written by Irwin on page 3, the publishers announced the new daily paper and issued what amounts to a mission statement for their journalistic endeavor. Here are excerpts from that column:

“For a long time the citizens of Pekin have wished that they might have a daily paper printed in the place – they have wanted a home daily. This statement will not be disputed any where.

“The issuances of this sheet materializes that well-defined wish into a living reality – a palpable fact. The PEKIN DAILY TIMES is born. How long it will live depends entirely upon the good people of Pekin and Tazewell county. If it lives it will be because the people of Pekin and Tazewell sustain it. If it dies, it will be because they do not sustain it. . . .

“That a good daily paper will be of great value to Pekin, no man in his senses will deny. For years Pekin has been over-shadowed, ridiculed, sneered at and derided by the numerous daily papers of the burg on the river just above us. It has been the butt and laughing-stock, a standing subject for the cheap jibes and jokes of these papers forever. We had to bear it because we had nowhere else to go for our daily news. Pekin should have self-respect enough to change this condition of affairs at the first opportunity. That opportunity now presents itself. . . .

“We have many evidences going to show that Pekin has just entered an era of renewed prosperity. All the signs are most encouraging for our little city. It now only needs a daily to vitalize its yet partly dormant energies, to encourage its embryotic enterprises, and to thoroughly advertise its growing prosperity and its very many splendid advantages.

“The DAILY TIMES itself, from day to day, must tell the story of what it is to be. Would you know what this is, you must read it. This only do we promise: That so long as it lives it shall be in every way a credit to Pekin. Its quality shall be as good as a liberal outlay of money can make it.

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is! If you like it and want it to live, patronize it. If you don’t like it and don’t want it to live, don’t patronize it.”

The first edition of the Pekin Daily Times filled its front page with news that had come over the telegraph from Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Grand Haven, Mich., St. Paul, Minn., and New York City, as well as international news from Paris, France, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In keeping with the usual practice of 19th century newspapers, two whole columns of the front page were given over to local advertising. An opinion column on page 2 warned of the political and cultural influence of the Mormon religion, and decried the Mormon practice of polygamy (which the Mormons did not formally renounce until 1890).

The last page of the paper was taken up by local news – but not what we today would expect of local news coverage. The local news in the first Pekin Daily Times was a long string of items of a prosaic or even mundane nature, chiefly being announcements of family visits, out-of-town trips of Pekin residents, community events, or how Pekinites had enjoyed their sleighing and bobsledding during the New Year’s holiday. As an example: “Ben Towner, of Teller, Col., is in the city on a visit to old friends. He was the second city marshal of Pekin, after it became a city, and is well known by all the old residenters.

Perhaps the most remarkable local news item in the Daily Times’ first edition was the announcement that Eugene Hyers had been granted a divorce from his wife Anna in Peoria Circuit Court, accompanied by the libelous comment that Mr. Hyers “was drawn into a very unfortunate marriage with a woman who had neither honor or virtue and we congratulate the young man upon his release.

Definitely not the kind of “news” that would ever make it into print today.

A copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times is on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#ad-merrill, #anna-hyers, #ben-towner, #benny-irwin, #charley-wagenseller, #eugene-hyers, #f-f-mcnaughton, #johnny-michael, #joseph-b-irwin, #kkk, #mormons, #pekin-daily-bulletin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-weekly-times, #polygamy, #the-bulletin, #w-t-dowdall, #william-h-bates

Electric lights and a village disaster

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

Electric lights and a village disaster

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Electric street lights have been a part of our lives for so long that most of us take them for granted. Nevertheless, the introduction of street lights in the latter half of the 1800s was a revolution in the way we live – and not uncommonly in a revolution, people can get hurt, as well shall learn in this week’s exploration of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

It was during the 1860s that street lights were installed in Pekin – but they were gas lights, not electric. Here is how the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial tells the story:

“It was February 18, 1861, when an Act to Incorporate the Pekin Gas Light Company was approved by the Illinois General Assembly. It was four years later, however, before said company was organized, with William Stansbury as president. . . It was under Stansbury, though, that the first gas street lights were put in operation, and the old lamp-lighter was a familiar figure in the city from February 5, 1866, until 1888, when electric street lights replaced the old gas type.”

William H. Bates in the 1887 Pekin City Directory also notes that, “On the 5th of February, 1866, the City Council ‘deemed it expedient and proper to light the streets, lanes, avenues and alleys of the city with gas.’

The Sesquicentennial also tells of the founding of Pekin’s first electric utility companies in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The switch from gas to electric lights also meant a change in power sources. With gas lights, it was simply a matter of burning natural gas to give off light, but with electric lights the electricity must be generated.

In those early days, steam power was one of the means of power generation for electric street lights. Usually everything worked as it was supposed to, but one September day in Morton it resulted in tragedy.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” includes accounts of various “Calamitous Events” that befell the residents of Tazewell County. One of them, related on page 82, is entitled, “Fatal Explosion at Morton.” Here is Allensworth’s account:

“A 5 o’clock, p.m., September 5, 1897, the steam-boiler of the electric light plant at Morton, blew up from some cause never ascertained. The building was a one and a half story brick, and was used as a feed-mill, pumping station for the water supply, and as a saw-mill. It was owned by Barr Bros. & Co. George Grimm, foreman, had just gone to his supper leaving a pressure of 25 pounds on the boiler, when the explosion took place. The boiler was blown through the roof, and brick, iron and debris were scattered for blocks around.

“Those killed were: Tillie Buyer, aged 5 years; Emma Buyer, aged 12 years; Albert Buyer, aged 4 years, who died next day.

“The injured were: Frank Buyer, aged 14 years, and Miss Cassie White, who was visiting friends in Morton at the time the explosion occurred. The children injured and killed belonged to the family of Moses Buyer. At the time of the explosion they were playing in the back yard, and at the first intimation of danger started for the house nearby, but were caught by the falling missiles and two of them were instantly killed.

“This was the most serious calamity that has ever befallen the village of Morton.”

Shown is what was left of the Morton electric power plant after the explosion of Sept. 5, 1897, that killed three children and injured two others who were playing in the neighborhood. The photograph is from the “GHPERK/Perkins Family Tree” at, which shows the genealogy of Moses S. Beyer, who lost three of his children and had a fourth injured in the disaster.

In his account of this tragedy, Allensworth misspells the family name of the children who died or were injured. They were the children of Moses S. Beyer (1861-1933) and Susan (Zobrist) Beyer (1868-1922). Moses, an electrician, worked at the very plant that took the lives of three of his children when it exploded (and in fact, Allensworth’s “Barr Bros. & Co.” may be an error for “Beyer Bros. & Co.”). Emma, Tillie, and Albert Beyer are buried in the old Apostolic Christian Cemetery of Morton. Also buried with them is an unnamed infant of Moses and Susan who also died in 1897.

Besides their son Frank, U.S. Census records show that Moses and Susan had three other children, daughters named Mary, Lena, and Anna, who survived to mourn the loss of their siblings. Their mother Susan, severely traumatized by the loss of four of her children the same year, can also be counted as a victim of the disaster: census records show that by 1900 she was a patient living at the Peoria State Hospital near Bartonville, and remained there until her death on Oct. 16, 1922. She and Moses are buried together in Morton’s Apostolic Christian Cemetery.

#albert-beyer, #anna-beyer, #beyer-bros-and-co, #cassie-white, #electric-street-lights, #emma-beyer, #frank-beyer, #gas-street-lights, #george-grimm, #lena-beyer, #mary-beyer, #morton-power-plant-disaster, #moses-s-beyer, #pekin-gas-light-company, #peoria-state-hospital, #preblog-columns, #susan-zobrist-beyer, #tillie-beyer, #william-stansbury

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

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

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It’s not at all uncommon that the Pekin Public Library receives a research question on one subject that might lead to delving into other, related areas of local history.

For example, a few years ago a patron expressed interest in locating a photograph of a former Pekin resident named Gene Stein, who died in Peoria on Feb. 1, 1922, and was buried in Springdale Cemetery. His full name was Eugene Albert Stein, and he was born in Pekin on May 26, 1864, son of German immigrants named Herman and Emma (Hinckle) Stein. His wife was Eleanor “Lallie” Erler (1879-1946), daughter of Franklin and Elizabeth (Howells) Erler. As a first step in the search, Stein’s obituary was found in the Pekin Daily Times. Though by no means an extended account of his life, his obituary is quite informative. It turns out that Stein was well-known in Pekin.

His obituary says he was “one of the best known musicians, composers and orchestra directors of this vicinity. . . . ‘Gene,’ as he was familiarly known to nearly everyone in Pekin, grew to manhood here and always was identified with this community. . . . Known far and wide as one of the best musicians of this section, ‘Gene’ was for years identified with the Hinners Organ company here and with the Capitol theatre, where he was orchestra director. Just previous to his last illness, he gave up his orchestral work to become manager of the Pekin Music company.

This drawing of the Hinners Organ factory in Pekin is cropped from an image of the back cover of an old copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ.

The name of Hinners is prominent in Pekin’s history, and references to the Hinners’ Organ Company – that is, Hinners & Albertsen – appear several times in the standard works on the history of Pekin. For example, the 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 147, says, “For years, too, the Hinners Organ Company, founded in 1879, was one of Pekin’s leading factories, producing thousands of Hinners reed and pipe organs, sold to all parts of the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world.”

The Hinners organ factory was located at 125-131 Court Street, at the corner of Court and Second streets. Another old publication, the Industrial & Commercial edition of one of Pekin’s former newspapers, the Pekin Post-Tribune, includes the following two paragraphs about Hinners on page 21:

“In 1879 the manufacture of organs was inaugurated in Pekin by John L. Hinners. The first organs were made by him and one assistant. Small and insignificant as was the enterprise in the beginning, it has steadily developed in a natural and healthy manner and today it is one of the principal and most successful manufactories of the city. The establishment at the outset began the system of selling without agents, direct from the factory at factory prices, to private purchases.

“Messrs. Hinners & Albertsen enjoy a growing business. Only first-class lumber is used in organs. The firm procures the very best, direct from persons whose specialty is the preparing of lumber for organs and pianos. The aim of the company is not to create an opportunity for any one to gain by influencing sales of organs, but to offer to actual purchasers and users of organs the best possible organs at the lowest possible price. Reed and pipe organs are manufactured.”

Despite the well-earned reputation for quality, Hinners’ went out of business just prior to World War II, the victim of advancing technology – Hinners’ rivals had faster, more efficient, automated factories that enabled them to sell organs at much lower prices.

Because the Hinners’ company once occupied a privileged place in Pekin’s economy, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room keeps a “Hinners” file that includes newspaper clippings, essays, papers, and booklets related to the history of Hinners’. One of the books in the library’s Hinners collection is a copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ. No doubt as a musician and employee of Hinners’, Gene Stein taught organ lessons in Pekin.

One thing that is not in the history room’s collection, however, is a photograph of Gene Stein. Anyone who knows of such a photo may call the library at 347-7111, ext. 2, or the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society at 477-3044.

Front cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

Back cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

#eleanor-lallie-erler, #eugene-albert-stein, #gene-stein, #h-j-rust, #hinners-and-albertsen, #hinners-organ-company, #hinners-organ-method, #john-l-hinners, #preblog-columns

William Holland and the founding of Washington

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

William Holland and the founding of Washington

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In our past visits to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, we have delved into the stories of the pioneers and founders of the western and southern parts of Tazewell County. This week we turn our attention to the northeast of the county, the area of Washington Township.

Just as we have seen with the rest of the county, pioneer settlers first came to Washington Township in the 1820s. In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pp. 664-669, Charles C. Chapman tells the story of the township’s first settlers, beginning with William Holland Sr., who was one of the companions of William Blanchard Jr. in Tazewell County. As this column recently recalled, Blanchard was the first pioneer settler in Fondulac Township and rival to Nathan Dillon’s claim to the title of first white settler of Tazewell County.

Holland not only initiated the settlement of Washington Township and founded the city of Washington, but prior to that he also was one of the early settlers of Peoria.

The first settler in Washington township was William Holland, Sen., a native of North Carolina, and who emigrated from that State, and settled in Edwardsville, Madison county, Ill., in 1815,” Chapman says. “He remained there for three years, when he removed to Sangamon Co., and after two years residence there moved to Peoria, then Fort Clark, in the spring of 1820. He crossed the river to the flats, now Fond du Lac township, and occupied an old shanty. Here he raised a crop during the summer of the same year. He cut logs, which he hauled across the river and erected a double log cabin. This was the second dwelling built in Peoria.

Further on, Chapman says, “In the spring of 1825, he came to this township, and built a log house on section 23, and on the present site of A. G. Danforth’s residence. Here the family were surrounded by a dense wilderness, and were the only white occupants of this township until 1826. Holland commenced improving a farm on sec. 24, town 26, range 3, just east of the town of Washington, and embracing a part of the Holland, Dorsey, Walthan and Robinson addition to the town. His nearest neighbors were located on Farm creek, three miles east of Peoria, where the first settlement was made in this section. Among them were Wm. Blanchard, Elza Bethard, Jack Phillips, and his son William, Austin and Horace Crocker, and Thomas Camlin, whose cabin was located nearest Holland’s G[r]ove.”

During those early days, one of Holland’s brothers, James, briefly settled in Washington Township in 1827, coming from North Carolina, but he soon moved on to Macoupin County.

Chapman’s 1879 account of the township’s early history continues for several more pages. Following are a few key excerpts dealing with Holland and his family, and telling of Holland’s role in the founding of Washington:

“The oldest living settler of this township is Lawson Holland, eldest son of William Holland, Sr., who was born in Lincoln Co., N.C., in 1812, and came to this county with his parents. From him we gather many incidents connected with the early settlement of the township. He was married in Oct., 1833, to Miss Elizabeth Bandy, daughter of Reuben Bandy, who came from Kentucky in 1831, and bought out the claim of Ira Crosby. They were married by Rev. Nathan Curtis, a Methodist minister. This was the fourth marriage in the township. . . .

“The first school-house was built near Wm. Holland’s hut in the winter of 1827-28. It was built of logs and was 16 by 18 feet. The writing desks and seats were made of split logs, and it was lighted by sawing an aperture out of each end of one log, over which was pasted greased paper. This ancient and somewhat unique style of windows served to keep out the wind and admitted some light. The school was a subscription school and was taught by George H. Shaw, now a resident of Shaw’s Grove, who was traveling through the country, and stopped over night with Wm. Holland, Sr. He was satisfied to receive, as compensation, his board, washing and horse feed . . . .

“William Holland, Sr., laid out the original town of Washington in 1834, being part of the town lying east of main street. The first building was erected on the original town plat by Joseph Kelso, Sr., in 1834. Kelso and a Mr. Wagoner had purchased of Holland three lots for $150 each, upon one year’s credit. Much valuable timber grew in front of these lots, and in the street, which, by agreement, the first to build should be entitled to use. The question was settled by lot, which fell to Kelso, who was also the first of the pioneers to open a farm wholly on the prairie. . . . Prior to 1885 William Holland Sr., carried on the only blacksmith shop in town, at which time Brazilla Allee built a large two-story frame building on Main street, now occupied by his widow, Sarah Allee. Allee and William Spencer used this building as a blacksmith shop and wagon manufactory, it being the first place in town in which wagons were manufactured. These were primitive times, and the sight of a wagon was hailed with much joy and pleasure, and its possessor envied by all. Travelling was principally done on horseback, and hauling on sleds. . . .

“William Holland, Sr., built the first grist-mill west of his dwelling, in 1827. It was called a band-mill, and was run by horsepower, a simple arrangement consisting of one large wheel, the nave of which was a log of wood eight or ten feet long, hewed eight square, set in a perpendicular position, and supplied with spokes or arms. The lower end was secured by a pivot, on which it turned to another timber fastened in the ground, the upper end being secured in like manner. The flour produced resembled bran or Graham flour. . . . The band-mill of William Holland, Sr., was the only kind of mill in this section of country until 1836, when Wm. Kern erected a flouring-mill on the premises formerly occupied by Jaquin as a brewery.”

This detail from an 1873 plat map of Washington Township shows land near Washington that was owned by Washington’s founder William Holland and his son Lawson Holland.

#a-g-danforth, #austin-crocker, #brazilla-allee, #elizabeth-bandy, #elza-bethard, #fort-clark, #horace-crocker, #jack-phillips, #james-holland, #joseph-kelso, #lawson-holland, #preblog-columns, #reuben-bandy, #rev-nathan-curtis, #sarah-allee, #thomas-camlin, #washington, #washington-township, #william-blanchard, #william-holland, #william-phillips, #william-spencer

Bristow Motor Company and its successors

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A query regarding the automobile dealerships that once plied their trade in and around Downtown Pekin in days gone by recently prompted me to look into the history of the Bristow Motor Company, which once was Pekin’s certified Ford dealership. It opened in 1937, founded by Lester Bristow and Vern Grandia.

Older residents of Pekin will recall that Bristow Ford – which by the way would be a great name for a country music band – operated out of a building in the 700 block of Court Street, a familiar structure to those who drive along Court Street. It’s just east of St. Joseph Catholic Church and across the street from St. John Lutheran Church. A younger generation might remember it as the location of Meineke Discount Mufflers (later Meineke Car Care Center). After sitting vacant for several years, the current owners are refurbishing the old Bristow Building.

As for its street address, Bristow Motors’ official building number has varied somewhat over the years, starting out at 714-716 Court Street, later expanding to include 710 Court and even 720 Court before contracting again to just 716 Court St.

Bristow Motor Company, located at 716 Court St., is shown in this photograph from the 1949 “Pekin Centenary.” Bristow Motors was Pekin’s certified Ford dealership before Velde Ford.

The 1949 “Pekin Centenary” volume, page 114, includes the following short history of Bristow Motor Company:

“Mr. L. R. Bristow and Mr. V. A. Grandia acquired the business August 3, 1934, from James and Gerald Conaghan, when it was located at the corner of Court and Sixth Streets.

“In the fall of 1936, ground was broken on land acquired from the Haas estate, for the new 100’ x 160’ Bristow Motor Company building at 714-16 Court Street. It was the most modern garage building in the Pekin area at that time, and on May 10, 1937, the grand opening was held.

“The senior partner, L. R. Bristow, passed away on November 4, 1937, and on January 1, 1938, V. A. Grandia became sole owner of the business.

“In July of 1938, the lot adjacent to 714 Court was acquired by V. A. Grandia, which now makes the establishment 160’ x 150’.

“Mr. Grandia was 32 years old when he became sole owner, is married and has two children, Gloria and Luther. Luther is learning the business and eventually will become a partner.

“Bristow Motor Company has one of the most modern and complete service departments in Central Illinois.”

The Polk City Directories for Pekin show that Bristow Motors at 720 Court was the local Ford dealership until either 1956 or 1957. In 1956 Bristow is listed as the Ford dealership, but the library does not have a copy of the 1957 directory. In the 1958 directory, Bristow is just “Bristow Used Cars.” In that same directory, however, Velde is listed as the authorized Ford dealership, at 716 Court St. – i.e., right next door to Bristow.

Bristow Used Cars (at 720 Court) and Velde Ford (at 716 Court) continue to appear next to each other in the directories up to 1965, which is the last time Velde is listed at 716 Court. The next year, 1966, the directory shows Velde Ford out on Auto Row, where it’s been ever since.

Meanwhile, Vernon A. “Vern” Grandia continued to operate Bristow Used Cars at 716/720 Court St. until 1976. The next year, 1977, his son Luther D. Grandia is shown as Bristow’s owner, same location. Luther D. Grandia is listed as the owner/operator of Bristow Used Cars up to 1989.

The next year, 1990, “Ronald Hauke” (sic – “Hauhe”) Auto Co. is listed at 716 Court St., while the “720” street number is assigned to L & M Gymnastics. In 1991, though, 720 Court St. (at the corner of Court and 8th) became the address of Downers Furniture, while Ronald Hauhe Auto. Co. remained at 716 Court St., also being listed there in 1992.

The 1993 city directory shows 716 Court St. as “vacant,” but in 1994, Meineke Discount Mufflers first appears at 716 Court St. There it remained up to 2010. Starting in 2006, Meineke is listed as “Meineke Car Care Center.”

The directories do not having any listing for 716 Court St. in 2011 and 2012, but Meineke Car Care Center reappears in 2013, 2014, and 2015. It could be that Meineke failed to update their entry in 2011 and 2012 and so were not listed, or Meineke could have been shuttered for a couple years before reopening for three more years, or else the Polk Directory has a “ghost” entry for 2013-2015.

The 2016 and 2017 city directories have no listing for 716 Court St. In 2018, James Hoelzel appears as a new listing at 716 Court St., but the 2019 directory has no listing for that address.

#bristow-ford, #bristow-motor-company, #bristow-used-cars, #james-hoelzel, #lester-r-bristow, #luther-d-grandia, #meineke-car-care-center, #meineke-discount-mufflers, #ronald-hauhe, #ronald-hauhe-auto-co, #velde-ford, #vernon-a-grandia

A closer look at Mineral Springs Park’s first artesian well

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About a month ago we recalled the drilling of the artesian well in the early 1880s that gave Mineral Springs Park its name. This week we’ll take a closer look at the park’s first well and its location.

As we learned previously, following the drilling of the well in 1882, a bath house was built in 1883, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added. The bath house enabled people to bathe in the artesian well’s mineral waters, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (page 138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south (sic – north) of the Methodist Church.” This is precisely where the Miller Senior Center is today, to the west of the lagoon. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well was located near the old swimming pool, but does not locate it any more precisely than that.

A man collects water from the original artesian well and fountain of Mineral Springs Park in this old photograph that was reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

This 1890s photograph of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon shows the park pool and bath house on the west side of the lagoon. A tall pole next to the pool facility marks the site of the park’s original artesian well. In the distance on the right side of the picture is the factory of Cummings Harvester Works, formerly located at the corner of Christopher Street and Highland Avenue.

The original Mineral Springs Park pool and bath house are shown in this photograph taken by Henry Hobart Cole in the 1890s.

However, using reference materials such as old maps and photographs in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, it is possible to determine exactly where the original well, fountain, and bath house were.

In the library’s collection of old atlases and maps, Mineral Springs Park makes its first appearance on the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas’ map of Pekin. In those days the eastern border of the park was just past Coal Car Drive, and the park roads and paths (unpaved back then) formed loops around and to the east the lagoon.

On the west side of the lagoon, though, the map shows a prominent structure that, by a comparison with two photographs of the lagoon and the original park swimming pool from Henry Hobart Cole’s 1890s compilation of vintage photographs entitled “Pekin and Environs,” can confidently be identified as the park’s pool and bathhouse.

The map also shows a simple circle on the north side of the pool and bathhouse, and on the south side of the park’s western entrance off 14th Street, but does not identify what the circle represents. However, the maps of Pekin in the 1910 and 1929 Tazewell County atlases label that circle with the word “fountain.” It is also very significant that these early maps show Spring Street extending all the way east to an intersection with 14th Street. Although Spring Street now dead-ends at the Miller Center parking lot, its name is a clue to the location of the original well, because “Spring” Street got its name from the fact that it led up to Mineral Springs Park’s western entrance, which was adjacent to the park’s original mineral spring.

This map from the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows Mineral Springs Park, then only in existence for nine years. A simple circle to the west of the lagoon (“Artesian Lake”) and on the east side of 14th Street, marks the site of the park’s mineral spring and fountain.

Old streets and several other details from the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park have been added to this current Google Maps satellite image. The site of the original park pool and bath house are indicated in yellow and hatching. The site of the original artesian well and fountain is marked with a black circle near the center of the map.

What was shown as an unmarked circle on the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park is identified as the park fountain in this 1910 map of the park.

The boundaries of Mineral Springs Park are shown to have expanded significantly in this 1929 map of the park. But the old fountain, park pool, and bath house still remain on the west side of the park lagoon.

Old photographs of the spring and fountain in the Local History Room collection show what the well and fountain looked like – it was wide, encircled by a paved concrete walkway, with two drinking fountains at the north and south ends.

What became of the original well? On that point, all that the 1974 Sesquicentennial volume says is that the spring-fed fountain “has long since been removed,” and that, “The initial well for the park is long since inoperative.

The photograph, which was reproduced on a postcard from about 1916, shows the old spring-fed fountain that once existed on the west side of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon. The site is today marked by a sculpted metal planter in front of the Miller Senior Center.

Water sprays up in the old Mineral Springs Park fountain in this vintage photograph that was reproduced July 13, 2002, in the Pekin Daily Times’ special section on the Pekin Park District’s 100th anniversary.

By the 1930s the Pekin Park District saw the need to build a new swimming pool and bath house, so a new well was drilled off east of the lagoon in 1935, and a new pool was built in the vicinity of the new well. That pool remained in use, with occasional modifications and repairs, from 1937 to 1992, when it was replaced by the DragonLand water park.

When the new well was dug and the new pool built, the old well was no longer situated in a good location and was not adequate for the park’s needs, so it was sealed off and covered over. Today the former site of the old fountain and well in front of the Miller Center’s entrance is occupied by an old sculpted and decorative metal planter, and, probably not coincidentally, the planter looks more like a miniature fountain or fancy bird bath than a planter. Most Pekinites who drive by the lagoon on 14th Street every day probably pass the Miller Center without noticing the planter that marks the site of Mineral Springs Park’s original spring.

As for the 1935 bath house, on page 5 of the “Pekin Park District Centennial” special section that was published in the July 16, 2002 Pekin Daily Times, a photo caption says, “The Mineral Springs Bath House operated in 1935 for mineral tub baths, steam baths, massages and other health treatments. The bath house artesian well water was believed to contain minerals beneficial to health, but the bath’s popularity waned as the public changed its attitude about the curative powers of mineral water.

Out in front of the Miller Senior Center is this decorative metal fountain, used as a planter, marking the site of the former Mineral Springs Park fountain and artesian well.

#artesian-well, #cummings-harvester-works, #drilling-of-mineral-springs-park-spring, #henry-hobart-cole, #miller-senior-center, #mineral-springs-park, #mineral-springs-park-bath-house, #mineral-springs-park-fountain, #mineral-springs-park-pavilion, #pekin-pool

A Second Reformed Church retrospective

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As announced in the Pekin Daily Times last month, Pekin’s historic Second Reformed Church will hold its last worship service this Sunday, Nov. 24, due to dwindling membership. This week’s “From the Local History Room” will look into the standard works on Pekin’s past for a retrospective on the church’s history.

Starting out 145 years ago, in the 20th century Second Reformed Church became known as “the Dirksen church” because Pekin’s hometown U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen and his family were members. Though Second Reformed’s church building, at 600 State St., has had numerous renovations, remodelings, and additions, the original church building of 1876 remains intact.

Founded early in the heyday of Pekin’s German “Bean Town,” the church was born from the great influx of German immigrants who arrived in Pekin about the third quarter of the 19th century. While most Germans are Lutheran or Catholic, the Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) religion gained a foothold along the North Sea coasts of Germany – the area known as Ostfriesland, “land of the East Frisians.” The Dutch people are akin to the neighboring Ostfriesland Germans, and many of Second Reformed’s families, such as the Dirksens, have been descendants of immigrants from Ostfriesland.

Second Reformed Church was founded early enough in Pekin’s history that it merited a paragraph in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 592-593. This is how Chapman summarized the church’s first few years:

“Second Dutch Reformed Church was organized July 26, 1876 (sic – 1874), by Revs. K. B. Wieland, John Miller, and E. P. Livingston, with fifteen members. The building was erected the same year. It is a good frame, 35 by 55 feet in size, and cost $2,500. It was dedicated the first Sunday in October, 1876, and since has made great advances, and the pastorate of Rev. P. F. Schuelke, the present pastor, has been especially blessed, and the membership increased to 80. Rev. K. B. Wieland preceded Rev. Schuelke, who came in May, 1876, and was the first pastor. The Elders are U. B. Johnson, and W. Dickman. Deacons; D. Greon, and D. Klok. The Sunday-school was organized with two teachers and twelve scholars. It now numbers 125 to 150 scholars in attendance, Henry Ploepot, Superintendent. Contribution, $75 per year. Salary of pastor, $700.”

Chapman’s account misstates the year of the church’s organization, probably mistaking the year of Schuelke’s arrival and the construction of the church building for the year of organization. The church’s official website also states that Second Reformed Church began with 56 charter members, not 15. In the two years prior to the construction of the church, the members under Rev. Klaus Wieland’s pastoral care met in various homes and buildings.

This 19th century photograph from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows Second Reformed Church of Pekin as the structure appeared during the first two or three decades of its existence. The church building remains to this day, but now has wooden siding and some additions on the west side, and the steeple has been removed.

Ben C. Allensworth’s updated 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 921, adds the comment that Rev. Schuelke “filled the pastorate for eighteen years, being succeeded in 1903 by Rev. John De Beer, the present pastor. The church is in a highly prosperous condition. The church membership consists of fifty families and the Sunday school has 140 members.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, pages 16-17, offered this account of the church:

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pekin’s Second Reformed Church, organized July 26, 1874, by a group of German immigrants. The first and only building for this congregation was constructed on the corner of State and Sixth Streets in 1876. Faced with the decision of whether to remodel or construct a new building, the congregation has recently undertaken a major renovation of the old church, thus preserving one of Pekin’s oldest landmarks.

“To many Pekin residents, Second Reformed is known as the Dirksen Church, because the late Senator Everett M. Dirksen attended its services during his youth. His twin brother Tom recalls that when he and Everett were about 16, it was their responsibility to pump up the air for the organ and also stoke the two coal stoves that stood on either side of the sanctuary. The stoves are gone now, and the organ has been replaced, but the congregation of 230, led by Reverend Ralph Cordes, still meets in the same building.”

The Sesquicentennial also includes this caption under a recent photograph of the church: “The Second Reformed Church celebrated its 100th anniversary this year with a major renovation of the building which was constructed in 1876.

Second Reformed Church of Pekin as shown in a photograph reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

Finally, “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 183, provides these details:

“Conceptualized by a committee of three, organized for low and high German immigrants, Second Reformed Church of Pekin built its first building in 1876 after two years of meeting in homes and small buildings.

“Initial early improvements consisted of oil stoves replaced by a gas heating plant and kerosene lights replaced by electric ones.

“More current improvements include the Hinners’ pipe organ replaced by a new organ, augmented with an electronic keyboard and updating of the building interior and exterior.

“The church facility has modernized with additions of an annex and educational wing. The first parsonage was sold in 1973 and replaced with a newly constructed four-bedroom home to the west of the church.

“Things have been changed, but the message is the same: Jesus Christ is Lord and this is His House.

“The church building has been remodeled several times, most recently in 1978, but the original bell with its German inscription, ‘THE LORD IS SUN AND SHIELD’ still peals from the new bell tower regularly.”

#everett-mckinley-dirksen, #pekin-churches, #rev-john-de-beer, #rev-klaus-b-wieland, #rev-p-f-schuelke, #rev-ralph-cordes, #second-reformed-church, #thomas-dirksen