The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park

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

The mineral spring of Mineral Springs Park

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Pekin Park District was established in 1902, but the history of Pekin’s parks in fact begins 20 years earlier, when Mineral Springs Park – called “the jewel in the crown” of the Park District system by “Pekin: A Pictorial History” – was founded as a privately-owned park.

Mineral Springs Park gets its name from an artesian well that was bored in 1882 to provide a water source for the planned park. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 943-945, tells the story of the founding of Mineral Springs Park and the creation of the Pekin Park District. Like many other improvements to Pekin at that time, the establishment of Pekin’s first park is credited to Thomas Cooper.

Allensworth writes, “In the spring of 1882 a citizens’ meeting was held in Pekin, for the purpose of taking into consideration the organizing of a company, purchasing ground, laying out a park and boring an artesian well. Thomas Cooper was selected as Chairman and A. B. Sawyer, Secretary. Henry Roos, John Caufman and William Prettyman were appointed a committee to see contractors and get prices for boring a well 1,000 feet deep. . . . Forty-five lots were bought in East Addition, besides ten acres in the south side bought from Frank E. Rupert, making altogether something over 40 acres.

“Thomas Cooper was made President and A. B. Sawyer Secretary of the company. A contract was made for boring a well to a depth of 1,000 for $1,900; but when down 990 feet, the drill broke and, after a long and tedious wait, a settlement was made with the contractor for $1,500. Salt water was struck at a depth of 400 feet. It ran out of the pipe at the surface for some time and then settled back about twenty feet from the surface.”

This 1882 photograph shows the drilling of the artesian well that gives Mineral Springs Park in Pekin its name.

In his account, Allensworth goes into some detail about the drilling of the well and the purported medicinal properties of the water.

“The well is 990 feet deep. Flowing water was struck at a depth of 850 feet. It is cased with 4-inch pipe down to bed rock, which is 250 feet deep. A coal vein was struck at 250 feet, and below this was rock and shale under the Niagara Limestone was reached, in which was the water, as this stone was like honey-comb. The flow is 400,000 gallons every 24 hours, and the temperature of the water, as it comes from the well, is 72 degrees F.

“The medicinal properties of this spring are highly attested by no less a personage than Dr. Emil Pfeifer, head physician in the Weisbaden (Germany) sanitarium, who, in a letter to the owner, Mr. Henry Schnellbacher, says of it: ‘From the analysis of the spring owned by you, I find that it nearly resembles the spring of Baden-Baden. You do not state the temperature of the spring. The same is naturally warm, and will produce the same effects of Baden-Baden, or Wiesbaden, especially in gout, rheumatism, stomach troubles or sick headache.’”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), page 78, also notes that “Some families remember their parents bringing home gallons of the well water, believing it had ‘healing properties.’ The children remembered it smelled and tasted like ‘rotten eggs,’ but they still drank it.”

According to Allensworth, about 3,000 trees were then planted and a lake – the Mineral Springs Park lagoon – was “scraped out.” In 1883, a bath house was built, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added, “and the people of Pekin were happy in having a fine park, without cost to the citizens.”

Misfortune befell the Mineral Springs Park company in the form of a destructive tornado, which “blew down the bath house and the pagoda; also a fine band-stand, which left the company in bad shape,” Allensworth writes.

“No money could be raised to pay the indebtedness. It was then that Mr. Cooper took hold, paid the bills, bought up the stock, put up a new up-to-date building on the east side of the lake, repaired the bath-house and again had everything in good shape. Before this he made an offer to the City Council to sell the park to the city for $6,000, but the offer was rejected. Mr. Cooper sometime after this sold it to Fred and Henry Schnellbacher and Henry Saal for $9,000. Soon after this a fire burned the large club house. It was then offered to the City for $13,000, but by vote was rejected.”

Proponents of a public park district tried again in 1902. The Pekin Park District was established by a vote of 633-111 in a special election on Oct. 28, 1902. The Pekin Park District Commissioners then agreed on May 12, 1903, to purchase Mineral Springs Park from Henry Schnellbacher for $22,500.

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Columbus R. Cummings, 20th Mayor of Pekin

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

Columbus R. Cummings, 20th Mayor of Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

After Pekin was incorporated as a city in 1849, for the first 25 years its history the city of Pekin was headed by mayors who served one-year terms. During that time, 18 men were elected mayor, several of them winning a second term. In 1874, however, the people of Pekin decided city government would operate more smoothly if city hall didn’t have a changing of the guard every year. That’s when Pekin began to elect mayors who would serve two-year terms.

Columbus R. Cummings (1834-1897), Pekin’s 20th mayor, was the first of our mayors to be elected to a two-year term, holding office during the years 1875 and 1876. The following biographical sketch of his life is drawn from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, including the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), and Cummings’ obituary published in the New York Times.

Columbus R. Cummings (1834-1897)

Cummings was born in Canton, St. Lawrence County, New York, on Oct. 14, 1834, one of the 11 eleven children of James P. Cummings and Clarissa Wilson. His father was a well-known attorney. When he was 16, Cummings became a school teacher, later working as a store clerk in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Leaving that job, he moved to Chicago and worked in the store of Potter Palmer for a short time. In 1859, however, he got a better job working for the Illinois Harvesting Machine Company in Pekin. His brother Cornelius B. Cummings came to Pekin at the same time, and the brothers went into business together as dry goods merchants under the name of C.B. Cummings & Co.

Their partnership ended in 1861, but Columbus went on to other successful endeavors, becoming a prominent businessman and landowner. Through his wife Sarah Caroline Mark, Columbus became the heir of David Mark, whose real estate holdings were the largest in Tazewell County at the time of his death. “C.R.” was one of the owners of the Pekin Railway Construction Co. and later was president of the Pekin, Lincoln & Decatur Railway. He also was one of the founding trustees of the Pekin Agricultural and Mechanical Association.

The 1974 Sesquicentennial summarizes his political career in Pekin in this way:

“With due credit, during his administration Pekin paid off all bonds on the due date – a rare achievement in those days, as already indicated. However, when Cummings sought re-election, he was defeated by 33 votes in a hard-fought campaign against A. B. Sawyer. Cummings became embittered, never again appeared at city hall, did not preside over the vote canvass, and shortly thereafter left Pekin and moved to Chicago. An Englishman in a predominantly German community, Cummings may have had other reasons for his dissatisfaction.

“He became even wealthier after his move to Chicago, and both he and his descendants were quite philanthropic through the years, making sizeable endowments to many institutions. But nary a penny was given to Pekin, which paid handsomely for much of the land which later was purchased from the Cummings estate. Until quite recently, the Cummings estate, now known as the Adwell Corporation, still maintained an office in Pekin, but that has recently been moved to Jacksonville, Illinois.”

The words “became even wealthier” are an understatement. In fact, “C.R.” became one of the nation’s millionaire tycoons of the Gilded Age, and the New York Times obituary calls him “the Well-Known Chicago Capitalist.” He was president of Union National Bank and a large stockholder in First National Bank, and was a member of the syndicate that sold the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad to W.H. Vanderbilt. The town of Cummings, now a part of Chicago, was named after him in 1882. Originally called Irondale, the town was rechristened Cummings when a Nickel Plate Railroad station was established there, because Cummings was the first president of the Nickel Plate. He also was president of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad and of the Peoria & Evansville Railroad. He died at his Chicago home at 1641 Indiana Ave. on July 12, 1897.

Today, one visible remnant of the Cummings estate remains prominent in Pekin – James Field. Columbus’ son David Mark Cummings, born 1866, married Ruth Dexter in 1893, and had two daughters, Edith and Dorothy, and a son, Dexter. David and Ruth were two of the four people who, on June 5, 1916, sold nine lots in Pekin’s old Colts Addition to Pekin School District of Tazewell County, the predecessor of Pekin Public School District 108. The land was sold to provide an athletic field and playground for the school children of Pekin. A few years ago it was restored through the efforts of the Save James Field Committee, and is now supervised and maintained by the Pekin Park District.

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