The Civil War’s ‘rough draft of history’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In an essay entitled, “The Educational Value of ‘News,’” published in the Dec. 5, 1905, edition of The State of Columbia, S.C., George Helgesen Fitch wrote, “The newspapers are making morning after morning the rough draft of history. Later, the historian will come, take down the old files, and transform the crude but sincere and accurate annals of editors and reporters into history, into literature. The modern school must study the daily newspaper.”

For those who would like to study the Civil War’s “rough draft of history,” a very useful resource is “The Civil War Extra – From the Pages of The Charleston Mercury & The New York Times” (1975, Arno Press, New York), edited by Eugene P. Moehring and Arleen Keylin. A copy of Moehring and Keylin’s tome recently was added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

“The Civil War Extra” is a compilation of facsimile reprints of the front pages of the Pro-Union New York Times and the Pro-Confederacy Charleston (S.C.) Mercury, beginning with The New York Times issue of Jan. 16, 1861 (on page 4), and the 13 April 1861 issue of The Charleston Mercury, and carrying the newspapers’ account of the tragic conflict up to the Feb. 11, 1865, edition of The Charleston Mercury (on page 287) and the April 18, 1865, edition of The New York Times (page 309). Moehring and Keylin also selected various Civil War-era photographs, drawings, lithographs, and engravings to illustrate the pages of “The Civil War Extra.”

The leading headlines of the April 13, 1861 New York Times (a Pro-Union newspaper) announced the Confederacy’s bombardment of Fort Sumter, S.C., the beginning of hostilities in the Civil War. This New York Times front page was reprinted in “The Civil War Extra.”

The leading headlines of the April 13, 1861 Charleston Mercury (a Pro-Confederate newspaper) announced the Confederacy’s bombardment of Fort Sumter, S.C., the beginning of hostilities in the Civil War. This Charleston Mercury headline was reprinted in “The Civil War Extra.”

Then as now, newspapers published stories and editorial essays that were colored by spoken and unspoken political biases. The advantage of a compilation of issues from leading Northern and Southern newspapers is that the reader can examine news reports of major Civil War events from both sides of the conflict. The difference in perspective is evident from the first reports of the bombardment of the Union’s Fort Sumter by Confederate forces. Where The New York Times announced, “THE WAR COMMENCED – The First Gun Fired by Fort Moultrie Against Fort Sumpter” (sic), making sure to mention the “Spirited Return from Major Anderson’s Guns,” for its part The Charleston Mercury heralded the “BOMBARDMENT OF FORT SUMTER! – Splendid Pyrotechnic Exhibition,” adding the boasts, “FORT MOULTRIE IMPREGNABLE” and “‘Nobody Hurt’ on Our Side.”

The war dragged on over the next four years, claiming 600,000 casualties – among them United States President Abraham Lincoln, felled by a Confederate assassin’s bullet. The Charleston Mercury continued to publish throughout the war until, the tide having turned decisively in favor of the Union, the Confederate forces in South Carolina were vanquished. In its final three issues, The Charleston Mercury reprinted the desperate but futile call-to-arms of South Carolina Governor A. G. Magrath: “The doubt has been dispelled. The truth is made manifest, and the startling conviction is now forced upon all. The invasion of the State has been commenced; . . . I call now upon the people of South Carolina to rise up and defend, at once, their own rights and the honor of their State . . .”

From that point “The Civil War Extra” carries on the story from the perspective of The New York Times, through the surrender of the Confederate forces up to the announcement of Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth in the edition of Sunday, April 16, 1865 – “OUR GREAT LOSS – Death of President Lincoln. – The Songs of Victory Drowned in Sorrow.” The final front page tells of the capture of Mobile, Ala., by Union forces, and the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassin and Booth’s co-conspirators. The book concludes with a drawing of President Lincoln’s funeral procession in Washington, D.C.

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#abraham-lincoln, #charleston-mercury, #civil-war, #fort-sumter, #george-helgesen-fitch, #john-wilkes-booth, #lincoln-assassination, #new-york-times, #the-civil-war-extra

The Tazewell County Poor Farm

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in April 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

The Tazewell County Poor Farm

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously, this column told of the means by which the poor of Tazewell County were provided for during the early years of the county’s history, before the establishment of private charitable organizations and public social welfare programs. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” devoted several pages to the subject of how Tazewell’s pioneers cared for their “paupers.”

The next chapter in that story may be read in Ben C. Allensworth’s updated 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 739-742, where we find an extended account of the Tazewell County Poor Farm, which was located at the site of the Tazewell County Emergency Managament Agency, the Tazewell County Health Department and other county facilities off Illinois Route 9 near Tremont.

This is how Allensworth tells of how the Poor Farm came to be established:

“Prior to the purchase of the present Poor Farm site and the erection of the buildings thereon, the paupers of the county had been ‘let out’ for their ‘keep’ to the lowest bidder in the respective townships where they resided. It occurred to the authorities that the expense was greater than it would be should the county itself provide a home for its unfortunate poor. The feeling at this time was expressed by a resolution offered at the January term of the Board of Supervisors, in 1864, when Mr. Wenger presented the following preamble which was received, read and adopted:

“‘Whereas, the present system of supporting the poor of the townships of Tazewell county is very expensive and inefficient, and only tends to make pauperism fashionable; therefore,

“‘Resolved, that the chairman of the Board of Supervisors appoint a committee of three, to take into consideration the subject of purchasing a Poor Farm for the use of the county poor, and report to the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors.’

“Whereupon Messrs. Elias Wenger, W. S. Mans and Dillon were appointed said committee.

An initial proposal in August 1866 to purchase Lemuel Allen’s farm for $7,000 for use as a Poor Farm was rejected by the Tazewell County Board. After further investigation and deliberation, by May 1871 the county had agreed to the purchase of the 211 ½-acre farm of James Smith in Elm Grove Township and to prepare it for occupancy for a total price of $4,550.10. Allensworth writes, “There were at that time nineteen paupers in the home in the care of Mrs. E. Hall, who had been engaged as matron, with Dr. Bumstead as physician. . . . Not all the paupers in the County were lodged at the Poor Farm. In 1872, at a May meeting of the Board, it was shown that since the building of the Poor House, the sum of $1,624.07 had been paid out by the county on account of the poor. For the same time — that is, from the August term, 1871, to the February term, 1872 — the county had paid the current expenses of the Poor Farm $5,997.31, and had sold property from the farm to the amount of $1,097.85. The net expense of the Poor Farm was, therefore, $4,899.46, from which cost must be deducted the improvements made, making a net cost of the paupers at the Poor Farm $2,344.56.”

The Poor Farm was operated by a superintendent appointed by the County Board, which originally would let out the superintendency to the lowest bidder. The farm’s first superintendent, appointed in March 1873, was J. B. Cooper of Washington. A few months later, Allensworth writes, the county committee on the Poor Farm reported to the County Board that “they had visited the Poor Farm and, by observation and conversation with the paupers, they found the inmates without exception as happy and well contented as any class of like persons could be expected to be.”

From Allensworth’s account can be gleaned a hint of the social stigma that was attached to poverty, as he writes, “The education of the minor inmates of the Poor Farm has been constantly a source of agitation since the beginning of the institution. Some of the resident patrons of the school district object to the presence of the pauper children in the public school, and it became a matter of some importance to the school district on the ground that the school quite frequently became overcrowded; and it was held by some that a sufficient amount was not paid as tuition for these children, as they were not recognized as being legally entitled to the privileges of the school.” At the time of publication of Allensworth’s 1905 history, the issue of whether or not poor children should be permitted to receive an education in Tazewell County’s public schools, and how the community should pay for their education, was still unresolved.

By the 1890s, the facilities at the Poor Farm were no longer adequate, and the County Board moved to finance the construction of new buildings. To find out how to improve the Poor Farm, a county committee toured poor farms in other Illinois counties that had more modern facilities. The county opted for a plan modeled closely on Ford County’s Poor Farm, and the new buildings were completed on May 18, 1900, at a total cost of $18,377.74.

Shown in this 1954 aerial photograph from “This is Tazewell County, Illinois,” is the former Tazewell County Poor Farm. The site, now the location of the Tazewell County Health Department and Emergency Management Agency, was then the location of a nursing home.

Allensworth concluded his account with a list of the Poor Farm’s superintendents. “The present Superintendent of the Farm is J. l. Hollingsworth, who has had charge since February, 1898. The first Superintendent was Sarah C. Hall, who was succeeded by a Mr. Brown, who had charge from March, 1873, when J. B. Cooper was elected Superintendent, and remained until March, 1882. Following him was Jefferson Ireland, who was succeeded in 1885 by Milton Kinsey. Mr. Kinsey died suddenly, after nearly two years at the farm, when S. H. Puterbaugh, of Mackinaw, was elected Superintendent, and held the position until February 13, 1898. This institution has, in the main, been well managed from the very start, and owes its prosperity almost altogether to Superintendents Cooper, Puterbaugh and Hollingsworth.”

Eventually changes in how society provides for the underprivileged led to the closing of the Poor Farm, which was turned into a children’s home and a later a nursing home before the old structures were replaced with the current county facilities. The Poor Farm cemetery still exists, however, in a grove about a half-mile behind the TCEMA and TCHD facilities, where one may find a monument erected in 1910 “In Memory of the Unfortunate of Tazewell County.”

This photograph of the Tazewell County Poor Farm Cemetery was taken by Linda T. and uploaded to the Find-A-Grave website.

#paupers, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-ema, #tazewell-county-health-department, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-poor-farm, #tcema, #tchd

Caring for paupers in pioneer times

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

Caring for paupers in pioneer times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Modern society has numerous private charitable organizations and public social welfare programs that provide assistance to those who are poor or in need. However, in the early years of Tazewell County, the poor – usually called by the older term, “paupers” – had few options. Those who were unable to work, and whose relatives could not or would not help them, could have their living expenses defrayed at public expense.

Often this form of assistance involved the county reimbursing private individuals for their expenses in providing for a pauper. This is what was done in the case of an elderly pauper of Tazewell County named Nicholas Miller, as explained on pages 246 and 253-254 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Chapman writes, “In June, 1832, John Summers was allowed $78 for keeping old man Miller. In the June previous Summers came into Court and explained that a certain Nicholas Miller, a pauper, was living at county expense while he had a well-to-do son named Joseph, who should, both in equity of the law and from filial affection, support his father. Thereupon the Sheriff was posted after the undutiful Joseph. It appears, however, that Joseph was not found at the time, nor until 1834, if we rely upon the records for information, for no mention is made of him until that time. He then appears and gives as his reason for not supporting his parent, ‘inability to do so.’”

This episode illustrates the public welfare system then in use. The expectation was that a pauper’s family would provide for him. If they couldn’t do so, or refused to do so, then the county would provide money – but it would not be given directly to the poor person, but rather to whoever was “keeping” the pauper, and his keeper would have to petition the county court for the reimbursement.

Today, of course, $78 would not be much money, but the sum that Tazewell County paid to Summers for his year’s worth of expenses was not a small sum for the year 1832. To get a better idea of how much money that was, Tazewell County’s entire budget for 1832 consisted of only $689.50 in expenses and $729.24 in revenue.

In fact, money for paupers living at the county’s expense made up a not insignificant portion of Tazewell County’s expenditures in 1832. That is probably why the county court that year tried to rid the county of the expense of caring for its paupers Sarah Stout and Nicholas Miller – by attempting to sell them into servitude. According to Chapman, during the same court session when Miller’s son Joseph claimed an inability to provide for his father, Stout’s relatives Hosea Stout and Benjamin Jones also said they couldn’t provide for her.

“Thus,” Chapman writes, “the veteran and venerable paupers were thrown back upon the county, whereupon the Court ordered ‘Nathan Dillon and Wm. McClure to dispose of said paupers at public sale or private contract.’ It seems that they were not regarded as valuable paupers and not one bid was made for them. But all through the records for years are bills allowed for their maintenance. In 1835 the Court, being worried with the many claims for bills for supporting Miller, lifted up its voice and peremptorily commanded the Sheriff to sell him. The poor old man had outlived his years of usefulness and even became a burden to the indulgent county.”

Miller would remain on the county’s pauper rolls for the next decade. This is how Chapman tells the story of “The Last of Poor Old Nic. Miller”:

“During the years 1840 and ’41 we find a remarkable increase in the number and amount of bills allowed for keeping paupers. Throughout the record during these two years are bills upon bills of this nature. The increase seemed surprising to the Commissioners themselves, and they made particular inquiry into the status of affairs before granting the bills. It seems the county was imposed upon in several instances by the unnatural actions of those who preferred that their relations should be kept at the county’s expense rather than their own. One Jane Morrill it was found had a husband living able to provide for her.

“Poor old Nic. Miller, the ancient pauper, was still on hand, but his bill these years was curtailed to nearly one-half. Year after year the customary bill for his support was handed in, until through familiarity the name of ‘Nic. Miller’ became a by-word. We doubt not that when the old veteran died, and no more bills for his care were presented to the Court, the generous, kind-hearted Commissioners dropped a tear, felt a pang of sorrow steal through the tender cords of their heart, and softly muttered, ‘Poor old Nic. Miller is no more!’ Death, the poor man’s best friend, called the old gentleman away during the year 1845. The poor old man who had been refused bread by his own son, and who had been buffeted about by many adverse winds, now returned to trouble them no more.”

#nathan-dillon, #nicholas-miller, #paupers, #tazewell-county-history

Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

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

Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As mentioned before in this column, the first Pekin city directory was published in 1861. One of the Pekin Public Library’s copies of the 1861 directory is a precious and fragile edition that was formerly owned by none other than Pekin’s own pioneer historian William H. Bates, who prepared the first formal history of Pekin for inclusion in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory.

The pages of Bates’ copy of the 1861 directory are amply annotated in Bates’ own hand. These notes were probably added while Bates was working on later editions of the city directory. One of the notes, on page 70 of the 1861 directory, has to do with an early Pekin city official named Peter Weyhrich Sr.

On that page is a list of the directors of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union District Schools, who were elected to three-year terms. In 1861, the school directors were “Peter Weyhrich, sr.,” whose term of office was to expire in August 1861; William Stanbery, who term was to expire in August 1862; and John Haas, whose term was to expire in August 1863. A handwritten note in Bates’ copy of this directory at bottom of this page says, “Peter Weyhrich, sr., was the pioneer German settler of Pekin.”

Thus, we see that Weyhrich, who arrived in Pekin in 1831 or 1832, held the special place in Pekin’s history as the first of a great wave of German immigrants who would choose Pekin as their new home in America during the 1800s. To be sure, Weyhrich was not the only person of ethnic German descent to arrive during those earliest years of Pekin’s history, but he was the first of them who had been born in Germany. By the latter half of the 1800s, the number of German settlers in Pekin was so large that the city had more than one German-language newspaper and many businesses had signs in their windows telling people that German was spoken there.

Peter Weyhrich Sr. was born in 1806 in Hesse-Darmstadt. A biographical sketch of the life of Peter’s nephew Adam is included in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” on pages 565-566. The sketch says Adam’s grandfather (identified in Weyhrich family histories as Peter’s father) Jacob Weyhrich, a native of Hesse-Darmstadt, settled in Tazewell County in 1828 and was later followed by other members of his family. Peter had arrived in Pekin by 1832, but Adam didn’t emigrate until the 1850s, at or around the same time that his father Philip Weyhrich, Peter’s brother, decided to join Jacob and Peter in America.

Beginning his new life in America in Pekin, the early city directories indicate that Peter was active in the community’s life and commerce. He served as Pekin’s mayor in 1858 and 1859. Peter also took part in the formation of Pekin’s first railroad companies, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” Most of the Weyhrich family, however, acquired land in Sand Prairie Township to the south of Pekin. Peter died Jan. 2, 1879, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

This detail of the map of Sand Prairie Township south of Pekin from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell shows land owned by the Weyhrich family, a pioneer Pekin family that included Pekin’s first German-born settler, Peter Weyhrich.

Early Tazewell County history tells of another Peter Weyhrich, but that Peter – apparently another nephew of the elder Peter – is only mentioned due to the sensational circumstances surrounding and following his death. Chapman tells the story briefly in two paragraphs on pages 298-299 of his Tazewell County history:

“Peter Weyhrich, an old resident of Sand Prairie, died very suddenly Wednesday night, June 20, 1877. The sudden death and incidents attending it caused grave suspicion of foul play. A jury was impanelled and a post-mortem examination made of the deceased, and the stomach sent to Chicago for examination, where it was decided that he came to his death by poison. Mrs. [Anna E.] Weyhrich, wife of the deceased, was arrested and tried for the murder. The case was taken from this to Logan county and tried the last week in March, 1878. States Attorney [William L.] Prettyman and J. B. Cohrs prosecuted, and Messrs. Roberts & Green defended.

“The trial was a long and tedious one, and the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years in the penitentiary. A motion for a new trial was made and denied, when an appeal to the Supreme Court was taken. This tribunal reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial, which took place in July, 1878, and resulted in her acquittal.”

As an aside, the prosecutor J. B. Cohrs is none of than Illinois State Sen. John B. Cohrs, a Pekin attorney whose life was previously treated in this space, and whose wife was active in the founding of the Ladies’ Library Assocation, predecessor of the Pekin Public Library.

#adam-weyhrich, #germans-in-pekin, #john-b-cohrs, #pekin-history, #peter-weyhrich, #preblog-columns, #william-h-bates

‘Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 1939!’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Only in the imaginary realms of science fiction, or the whimsical cartoon world of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, is it possible to hop in a time machine and leap back to 1939 – but Tazewell County’s Geographic Information System Coordinator Janna Baker and her assistant Shelly Farmer have created a remarkable map of our county that can serve as a substitute for Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine.

Baker and Farmer’s cartographic creation is entitled the “Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison: 1939 and 2015.” It’s actually two maps in one: county-wide aerial maps of the whole of Tazewell County from 1939 and 2015.

The aerial map(s) may be conveniently accessed online at https://arcg.is/1iDObX. (The link has been added to the blogroll on the right of this webpage.) Clicking on the slider bar’s double arrows and dragging your mouse left and right will “unroll” each map, enabling the user to flip (or roll) back and forth, showing how much of our county has changed – and how much is still the same – in the 76 years from 1939 to 2015. There is even a “zoom” feature that makes it possible to magnify the maps’ images to allow for close inspection of specific locations in the county.

“This project began because I noticed Peoria County has something similar available. I had even used their imagery in a grad school project,” Baker wrote to me in a recent email.

Orbiting satellites created the 2015 county map. There were no satellites in 1939, but there were airplanes, dirigibles, and hot air balloons, making it possible to aerially photograph our county square mile by square mile. (Our satellites have much more powerful cameras than existed in 1939, though, so the 2015 images have a much higher resolution – more detail – than those from 1939.) To create an equivalent to the 2015 zoomable color satellite map, the 1939 black-and-white aerial images just needed to be assembled like a giant patchwork quilt: something that would be impossible without modern computer technology.

“The 1939 aerial imagery is freely available for all of Illinois at the Illinois Geospatial Data Clearinghouse. But, they are individual images that are not stitched together into a coordinate system,” Baker explained. She continued, “Shelly Farmer used her time in between her normal workload of projects to stitch the imagery together into one large image and matching the coordinate system of our current aerial imagery. This was done over two months using [geographic information system company] Esri’s GIS software.”

Baker then published the digitally-assembled imagery online as a public service, to be used in web mapping applications.

No grant was needed to fund the Historical Aerial Imagery Comparison website – all work was completed using free and/or already available resources, Baker said.

“Beyond general interest, the historical imagery has value to engineers and planners. In many cases, it can be used to prove the existence of structures or landmarks during that time. It can be used to monitor and analyze change over time,” she said.

An aerial view of the Pekin Public Library and its surrounding neighborhood can be seen in this composite image from the Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison Map of Tazewell County. At right is the 2015 aerial map, and at left is the area of Pekin and railyard to the west of the library as it appeared in 1939. The Tazewell County Courthouse is at the upper right corner. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY GIS COORDINATOR JANNA BAKER

An aerial view showing the shining dome of Pekin’s old Carnegie Library and its surrounding neighborhood in 1939 — with a sliver of the 2015 map — can be seen in this image from the Historic Aerial Imagery Comparison Map of Tazewell County. The Tazewell County Courthouse is at the upper right corner. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY GIS COORDINATOR JANNA BAKER

#esri, #geographic-information-system, #gis, #historic-aerial-imagery-comparison, #illinois-geospatial-data-clearinghouse, #janna-baker, #mr-peabody, #mr-peabody-and-sherman, #wabac

Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When Pekin celebrated its centennial as an incorporated city in 1949, the Pekin Association of Commerce’s Centenary Committee assigned the task of compiling and publishing a souvenir book of Pekin’s history to a group of eight men and women.

The result was the 1949 “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949.” Chief among those who produced this book were Thomas H. Harris, chairman, Charles Dancey, who wrote the history, Bea Falkin and Charlotte Rau, who wrote other articles, and Marge Brenneman and June Wieburg, who were in charge of selling advertisements for the book.

While the Centenary’s historical narrative is naturally the heart and core of the book, the advertisements also in their own way help to tell of Pekin’s history. Often the ads take the form of tributes and congratulations to the community from its various businesses or social organizations, and many times the tribute ads include summaries of the history of the city’s businesses or utilities.

The tribute ad of Ehrlicher Brothers, on page 29 of the Centenary, is a perfect example of one of those historically informative ads. Not only did this long-established pharmacy take the opportunity to brag about their work — “All prescriptions entrusted to our care are filled as written — no substitution — which has gained us the confidence of the physicians who wrote them. All ingredients used are pure and fresh . . .” — but the ad also includes some fascinating historical details, making it of interest even today, long after Ehrlicher Brothers went out of business.

“We have just completed 85 years of continuous drug business in the same room. We feel we have a right to be proud of our record,” the ad says. Ehrlicher Brothers Co., Druggists, 328 Court St., was founded in 1864 by Henry M. and Otto D. Ehrlicher, sons of the German immigrant Johann Georg Ehrlicher (1824-1876) whom this column featured in October 2014. As we’ve noted before, Henry and Otto are recognized as Pekin’s first druggists, and along with their brother George and their wives they donated the land where the original Pekin Hospital was built in 1918.

The most fascinating detail of the Ehrlicher Brothers tribute ad, however, was that it includes “an exact reproduction of PRESCRIPTION No. ONE filled July 7, 1865, one year after the founding of our establishment. It was written by Dr. Samuel T. Maus for Mrs. James Haines Sr., two of Pekin’s earliest pioneers.” (In fact the prescription is clearly dated July 18, 1865, not July 7.)

Shown is a reproduction of Ehrlicher Brothers’ first prescription, from July 1865.

Regular readers of this column will recall that the Haines and Maus families were among the first settlers of Pekin. The life of Dr. William Maus, son of Samuel, was featured in Sept. 2013, while the life of pioneer settler William Haines, older brother of James Haines, was featured in May 2014. “Mrs. James Haines Sr.” was Annie, daughter of Dr. William Maus.

#annie-haines, #charles-dancey, #dr-samuel-t-maus, #dr-william-s-maus, #ehrlicher-brothers, #henry-ehrlicher, #james-haines, #johann-george-ehrlicher, #otto-d-ehrlicher, #pekin-centenary, #pekin-hospital, #pekin-pharmacies, #preblog-columns, #william-haines

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the biographies of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County featured in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” is an extended account of the life of a Tazewell pioneer named Joshua Wagenseller. Joshua’s family is commemorated today in the name of Wagonseller Road south of Pekin. Following are excerpts of Joshua’s biographical essay — omitting most of the remarkably florid prose in which this and the other biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map” were written.

“Joshua Wagenseller is a native of Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, born July 5, 1813. He is the fifth child of Peter and Susanna (Longaker) Wagenseller. Mr. W., father of Joshua, was a native of Montgomery county, Pa., and his parents were of German descent. He followed farming as the vocation of his life. He emigrated to Ohio about the year 1832, and settled in Columbus, Franklin county, where he resided until his death, which occurred about two years after. His wife, mother of Joshua, subsequently removed to Pekin, Ill., terminating a useful life in 1866, while residing with her son Joshua. . . .

“The subject of this biography acquired his early culture mostly at Green Tree Seminary, in his native country, where he acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of a good, practical, business education. His first business engagement after completing his course was in a wholesale dry goods house in the city of Philadelphia, where he obtained a position as bookkeeper and accountant. The next business engagement was with his brother in Union county, Pa., where he remained about two years. We would remark that these experiences of his early life laid the foundation for that successful business career which in after life distinguished him in his subsequent mercantile transactions.

“He was now of age, and, looking westward for a richer field in which to enlarge and develop his energies, he went to Columbus, Ohio, and erected a saw mill on Elm creek, and was engaged in the manufacture of lumber about three years, or until the spring of 1837, when he removed to Illinois, and settled in Pekin, Tazewell county. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller formed a partnership with his brother Benjamin, and, under the firm name of ‘B. & J. Wagenseller,’ he began, in Pekin, a course of mercantile life, which business he has since followed. This original firm ceased in 1844, by the death of his brother. They went through the financial crash of 1840 unscathed. . . . Since the dissolution of this firm, Mr. Wagenseller has been at the head of subsequent business houses, and although he has been identified with other business largely in life, merchandising has been his leading vocation. He has been engaged in milling covering an aggregate of nearly ten years. He rebuilt and owned the first good grist mill propelled by water in Tazewell county. . . .

This drawing of the downtown Pekin store of J. Wagenseller & Son was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

“Mr. Wagenseller was married May 7, 1840, to Miss Harriet, daughter of Henry and Naomi Rupert, of Pekin, — formerly of Virginia. As the fruits of this union, they have had a family of six children. Two of his sons are now engaged with him in his present mercantile operations. Two of his sons are married, and all of his family are at this time (1873) residents of Pekin. Mr. Wagenseller and wife are both members of the Congregational Church of Pekin, and are among the original members of that church.

“Mr. W., in addition to his mercantile business, owns and carries on a farm near Pekin. He also owns a large area of land located in Iowa. . . . Politically, in early life, Mr. Wagenseller became a whig. His first vote for president was cast for Gen. Wm. H. Harrison, in 1836. He was anti-slavery in his sentiments, and the following circumstance, as related by himself, opened his eyes to the inhumanity of the slave traffic. While on a trip to New Orleans, on a steamboat, a slave owner came on board with a woman and six children. He witnessed the revolting spectacle of a slave girl sold on the block. ‘The scene,’ said Mr. W., ‘made me ever afterward an abolitionist.’ On the disorganization of the whig party, in 1856, he became identified with the republican party, to which he has since been strongly attached. He voted twice for the immortal Lincoln and twice for the valiant Grant, who so ably assisted in firmly planting the stars and stripes on the bulwark of American freedom. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller has been required to represent the interests of his ward for several years in the common council of the city, and was vice president of the Peoria, Pekin, & Jacksonville Railroad Company. He has been one of the active, public-spirited citizens of Pekin for thirty-six years.”

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