Road trips before the Interstate

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The summer months are when American families traditionally hit the road for recreation and vacations. Over the past couple of decades, modern technology has introduced great changes in how we plan our trips and trace the routes to our destination.

Most of us probably rely on GPS to navigate from place to place, or plan our trips online using Google Maps or Mapquest. But many of us might still have glove boxes crammed with folded maps, or bring large road atlases along for long trips. Not very long ago, reading folded maps – and losing our tempers while wrestling with maps that just refused to fold back together properly – was simply the way long-distance road trips were done.

Another big change that helped cut down on our driving times was the construction of the Interstate Highway System starting in the mid-1950s. Originally conceived during the Cold War as a means to move troops and armaments rapidly in case the U.S. was attacked by another nation (in those days, such an attack was thought most likely to come from the Communist U.S.S.R.), instead the Interstates proved to be a boon to commerce and tourism.

Before the Interstate, however, travelers and truckers drove on state and national highways, usually just two lanes wide. Interchanges and on- and off-ramps were much rarer then, nor were there many bypasses of four or more lanes enabling drivers to avoid having to drive through cities and towns along the way to their destinations. Under such conditions, paper road maps and printed atlases were absolutely essential.

As it happens, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection can offer a glimpse of what America’s highway system look liked, and what road travel was like, before the construction of the Interstates. In the Local History Room collection is a road atlas of the contiguous 48 states that was published in 1955. It was designed for Brown & Bigelow of St. Paul, Minn., by Chicago-based H.M. Gousha Company, and printed by Brown & Bigelow for Kriegsman Warehouses of Pekin. The front and back covers of the atlas, and the inside front cover, are advertisements for Kriegsman Warehouses and Transfer Co. and Mayflower Warehouses. (We recently reviewed the historical connection between Kriegsman Transfer Co. and the founding of international moving conglomerate Crown Worldwide.)

Shown is the cover of a Brown & Bigelow road atlas, printed in 1955 with a cover advertisement for Kriegsman Warehouses of Pekin.

Formerly owned by the late local historian Fred Soady of Pekin, the atlas includes guides and advice for drivers as well as mileage charts and other resources for planning trips. Turning to the maps themselves, Illinois and its neighboring states are found on pages 22 and 23. The only route out of or through Pekin that the atlas shows is Illinois Route 29, but other state and U.S. routes with familiar numbers are shown nearby – U.S. Route 24, U.S. 150, U.S. 136, and Illinois Route 116.

This detail from the Illinois map in a 1955 Brown & Bigelow road atlas shows central Illinois’ main highways in the days before the construction of the Interstate Highway System.

Another chart summarizes each state’s speed laws and gasoline tax rates. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents may recall that in 1955, the speed limit in Illinois was . . . well, in fact Illinois had no speed limit at all, other than, “Reasonable and Proper.” As for gasoline taxes, in 1955 the state imposed a mere 5 cents per gallon and the federal government imposed a paltry 2 cents per gallon (the state tax is now 34.01 cents per gallon and the federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon).

A couple of pages provide space for writing down one’s starting points, destinations, route numbers, miles, driving time, hotel reservations, and travel expenses.

Most of those are the kinds of things that Mapquest or Google Maps does for us automatically now.

A succession of high schools in Pekin

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

A succession of high schools in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The demolition of the former Pekin Community High School West Campus has turned the thoughts of many Pekin residents to the history of Pekin’s high school buildings. In this column, let’s review what we can learn about Pekin’s succession of high schools from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

As mentioned recently in this column, Pekin’s first high school was the Fourth Ward School, located where Washington School exists today. A brick structure built in 1867 at a cost of $20,000, the building housed grades one through 12. It was completely destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890.

Pekin’s first high school building, known as the Fourth Ward School, stood on the site of present-day Washington Intermediate. The Fourth Ward School stood from 1867 until it was destroyed in a fire in 1890.

A new and larger brick school, dubbed Washington School, was quickly built in 1891 on the site of the Fourth Ward School, at a cost of $28,000. While it was under construction, “classes were held in nearly every church basement and vacant building in town,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. It served as Pekin’s high school until 1916, after which it became the old Washington Junior High School. It was torn down and replaced by the current Washington School in 1930.

In 1916, Pekin built its third high school, the building that would become known as the “Old Building” of West Campus. Over the decades, the high school saw several expansions to accommodate the growing student population in Pekin. First came the “west wing” of the Old Main Building in 1926, followed by the “east wing” expansion in 1929 (including the theater). Next came the gymnasium, which was ready to use in 1936. The cafeteria and the shop building were added in 1949, and the English Building (or “Red Building”) and the Leeway were built in 1955.

High school football formerly was played on James Field, but that changed in 1948 with the construction of Memorial Stadium. As student population continued its steady rise, further needed expansion of the high school campus was proposed. However, in early 1959 the city announced it planned to widen Eighth Street, which made it impossible for District 303 to utilize the area needed for the expansion plans. Instead, the school district decided to build a second campus that could accommodate 2,000 students.

Construction on East Campus began in 1962, and classes began there in 1964. The new school was erected near Memorial Stadium, on the former grounds of the Pekin Country Club. “A humorous sidelight to this whole project is that from the time the purchase of the Country Club was made until the time the club house was razed, it could be stated that Pekin was the only high school district to own a bar,” says the Pekin Sesquicentennial. The total cost of the project was $4.6 million.

The next phase of expansion of Pekin high school was the construction of the vocational center. The high school had established a vocational center in 1968, but the vocational center building was not built until 1974, at a cost of $3.1 million.

In 1998, District 303 consolidated all high school operations at East Campus, which underwent a major expansion at that time. West Campus was auctioned off and was purchased for $60,000 by Merle Huff – and the sequel to that story is being written this year [2012].

This aerial view of West Campus from circa 1956, reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” shows the high school complex soon after the completion of its final expansion projects.

#aerial-views-of-pekin, #fourth-ward-school, #old-washington-school, #pekin-country-club, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #west-campus

Pekin from the air in Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In past “From the Local History Room” columns, we have recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.

“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.

The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”

He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”

The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “birdseye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions.

The fact that many of the drawings in “Cole’s Souvenir” resemble the vintage photographs found in “Pekin and Environs,” which was published at an unknown date circa 1890, has led the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society to conclude that the photos in “Pekin and Environs” were also taken by Cole.

Since we’ve recently been featuring aerial photographic views of Pekin as it appear in days gone by, the images accompanying this column are those of the birdseye panoramas in “Cole’s Souvenir,” with 11 downtown Pekin buildings of that era shown beneath the panoramas.

On the above four pages from “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin” are two fanciful “birdseye” views of Pekin, and pictures of 11 downtown Pekin buildings as they appeared around the late 1890s. The water tower shown in the middle of the left-hand pictures was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.

Pekin from the old water tower

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following up on our comparison last month of two old aerial views of Pekin from circa 1950 and 1988, this week let’s stretch our view even further back in time – all the way back to the last couple decades of the 1800s.

Around that time, Richard Acton of Chicago prepared and published a collection of photographs of Pekin buildings and vistas, in a book entitled, “Pekin and Environs.” As we noted about a month ago, recently the library received a donation of Benjamin S. Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs.”

Among the photos in this book are two aerial views of Pekin – or “semi-aerial,” because in those days it wasn’t that easy for photographers to get themselves airborne, so instead they would have to settle for perching atop tall buildings or towers or hills.

In this case, the photos – called “birdseye views” – were taken from the old water tower of the Pekin Water Works, which was located exactly where the “water works” of Illinois-American Water are still located today – at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.

Whereas the 1950 and 1988 aerial views start at the Illinois River and look eastward over downtown Pekin and beyond, these two birdseye views look westward toward the river. One of them looks somewhat northwestward over downtown Pekin, while the other looks southwest toward the industrial district (still an industrial area today).

The downtown view encompasses an area from around Broadway out to Court St., and from the 300 block of Pekin’s downtown streets down to the river. Then as now, railroad tracks ran parallel with Third St., but there’s not much else that is the same or similar. You may notice that the streets were unpaved and much narrower than they are today. The tall white building in the middle of the photo is the old Illinois Hotel, which can be seen in the circa 1950 aerial view of Pekin, but was torn down in the 1960s. The block in the center of this photo, packed with homes that had sheds, pens and coops for livestock, is now occupied by the State of Illinois Driver’s Facility, while the block to the east of that is now occupied by Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home.

The birdseye view to the southwest looks toward some of Pekin’s old alcohol distilleries, once the backbone of the city’s economy. As you can see, the way the factories belched out smoke and fumes over the city indicates that this was long before the Clean Air Act. Even in those days, prevailing winds carried the exhaust of factory smoke stacks out over the city – but placing the distilleries downstream at least meant Pekin’s residents wouldn’t have to drink the effluent which factories discharged into the river.

These two photographs above from the circa 1890 volume “Pekin and Environs” show two “birdseye” views of Pekin looking northwest and southwest from the old water tower that was located near the southwest corner of Capitol and Broadway.

#aerial-views-of-pekin, #illinois-hotel, #old-water-tower, #pekin-and-environs, #pekin-from-the-air, #pekin-history, #pekin-water-works, #richard-acton

Pekin Country Club was once in a different location

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in September 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pekin Country Club was once in a different location

By Linda Mace
Library assistant

The Pekin Country Club and its golf course is located between Broadway and Sheridan. But it wasn’t always.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial has much to say about this original club.

“The first of Pekin’s ‘country clubs’ was incorporated on March 25, 1916, as the Pekin Country Club by H.G. Herget, Ben P. Schenck, and William S. Prettyman, who was the first president. Other directors were John Fitzgerald, H.W. Hippen, D.H. Jansen, Franklin L. Velde, George P. Kroll, C.G. Herget and V.P. Turner. Total membership was 98.

“On April 1 of the same year, 60 acres was purchased from the Lemuel Allen estate on the East Bluff (think East Campus) for $15,000. The farm house which occupied the original site at the time of purchase was remodeled into the club house. This was remodeled many times over the years and in 1955, a swimming pool and pro shop were added. Additional land purchases were made in 1928 and 1932, totaling approximately 95 acres by 1960, on which the club maintained a nine-hole golf course for use by its 300 members.

“This property was sold by condemnation to the Pekin Community High School (a whole other story) and the East Campus was later built on the site, but before the club moved, many notable social and golf events took place, including a golf match in which professional golfer Sam Snead played within two strokes of the course record — a 66 with a two-stroke penalty.”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” notes that the old country club’s hill – now East Campus hill – was a favorite spot for sleds and toboggans in the winter. Kind of nice knowing some things never change!

Shown is the old Pekin Country Club, which was on the site of what is now Pekin Community High School.

#ben-schenck, #carl-herget, #d-h-jansen, #franklin-velde, #george-kroll, #h-w-hippen, #henry-herget, #john-fitzgerald, #linda-mace-columns, #pekin-country-club, #pekin-history, #sam-snead, #v-p-turner, #william-s-prettyman

Cutting a new road to Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A couple of items in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection provide a fascinating glimpse of the history of the changes in transportation in our area.

These items are two 1920s-era newspaper clippings from the Peoria Journal-Transcript, one of the predecessors of the Peoria Journal Star. The clippings are photographs of what was then the new paved road that linked Pekin with East Peoria and Peoria. The road was laid down to assist with the transit of both commerce and workers between Pekin and Peoria, because the old unpaved road – adequate for the old days of horses, wagons, and stagecoaches – no longer was suitable for the heavier traffic of early 20th century automobiles.

But evidently erosion was a recurring problem in the early years of this new road’s life.

The photos are from April 1927 and March 1929, and they show the road in the area of what is now known as Creve Coeur Hill after some springtime rains had caused mud to slide down onto the pavement from the slopes of the surrounding hills and hollers through which work crews had cut the road.

This photograph from the April 10, 1927 Peoria Journal-Transcript shows work crews clearing the mud from the then-new paved road that cut through the hollers at what is now known as Creve Coeur Hill. In the new road’s infancy, before vegetation was able to take root along the sides of the road, erosion caused by heavy rains often swept mud from the walls onto the pavement.

The April 1927 photo is headlined, “PEORIA-PEKIN TRAFFIC KEEPS ROAD MEN BUSY,” with the caption, “Sometimes they work day and night on the new Peoria-Pekin road, especially when it rains. The hill, just outside East Peoria, is the place where the walls of the new ‘cut’ slide. Here is a road gang busy clearing the pavement after a slide.”

The March 1929 photo’s headline is, “‘TAKE A CUT,’ SAYS THE WEATHERMAN,” and the caption says, “And those who took the cut on the Pekin – East Peoria hard road after the heavy rains a week ago found the steep dirt walls of the cut had washed down to make traffic very slippery.”

This March 1929 photograph from the Peoria Journal-Transcript shows a stretch of the Peoria-Pekin hard road after early spring rains had caused a mud washout.

Before this road was built, Pekin and East Peoria were linked by an unpaved road that passed through the village then known as Wesley City (today Creve Coeur) on the way to East Peoria. While going through Wesley City, the road came near the east bank of the Illinois River.

The new road, however, was plotted out to track further to the east, ascending through the land above the Wesley City bluffs before cutting through the hollers to descend and then join up with the old roadway from Wesley City to East Peoria.

The old roadway through Wesley City along the river no longer gets the traffic it once did in the 1800s and early 1900s, but it’s still there, of course – it’s Wesley Road.

#creve-coeur, #creve-coeur-hill, #pekin-east-peoria-road, #peoria-journal-transcript, #peoria-pekin-road, #transportation-changes, #wesley-city, #wesley-road

Another visit to Lake Arlann

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last July this column asked the question, “What do you call that lake?” as we reviewed the history of the large body of water in southern Pekin that has been known successively as Bailey’s Lake, Lake Arlann, and now Meyers Lake. This week we revisit that question, presenting one or two pertinent facts that have come to my attention.

The lake first came to be known as Bailey’s Lake around the mid-1800s because Cincinnati Township pioneer settler Samuel P. Bailey (or Baily), a Pekin attorney, owned a couple parcels of land along the east and west shores toward the north end of the lake.

This photograph of Bailey’s Lake, a copy of which is preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, was probably taken circa 1890, perhaps by Henry Hobart Cole.

Coal mining and ice harvesting were big business at Bailey’s Lake until the middle of the 20th century. Afterwards, real estate development at the lake in the 1950s brought the new designation “Lake Arlann,” after the developer, named Arlann, who added some new subdivisions at the lake.

Finally, a few years ago Tazewell County plat books and online maps of Pekin began to show the lake’s name as “Meyers Lake” instead of “Lake Arlann.” It’s still not clear how or why that name-change came about – but recently I chanced upon a bit of information that shed a little more light on the “Meyers Lake” designation . . . but also makes things a bit more complicated.

This information is found on page 97 of John Drury’s 1954 volume, “This is Tazewell County, Illinois,” where we find this description of the community of Schaeferville (emphasis added):

“Another hamlet in Elm Grove Township is Shaferville. It is located just south of Pekin city and near it is Meyer’s Lake. A highway, State 9, runs through the community.”

As an aside, “Shaferville” is properly known as “Schaeferville,” which is the subdivision’s legal name and the way online maps spell the name – but the latest Tazewell County plat book has “Shaferville” just as Drury showed in 1954. The family for which it is named spelled their name “Schaefer,” however.

But as for the lake’s name, according to Drury’s old book on Tazewell County, Lake Arlann apparently was called “Meyer’s Lake” for a while in the 1950s. Furthermore, the 1967 Tazewell County plat book also called it “Meyer’s Lake.”

And now, according to the official Tazewell County plat books, and according to Internet maps of Pekin, it’s again called “Meyers Lake” (seemingly having misplaced its apostrophe in the intervening decades while the lake was known as Lake Arlann).

But the question remains: Why “Meyers” Lake?

#baileys-lake, #lake-arlann, #meyers-lake, #samuel-p-bailey, #schaeferville