The Pekin Public Library’s early history: A glimpse inside a time capsule

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

A glimpse inside a time capsule

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Each week this column delves into the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection to see what we can learn about various aspects, anecdotes and artifacts of Pekin and Tazewell County history. This week we’ll turn our attention toward the history the Pekin Public Library itself, by taking look at a few of the contents of the library’s Cornerstone Time Capsule collection.

As both longtime residents of Pekin and attentive visitors to the library know, the current library building is not the first one to be erected on it site. Prior to the construction of the current library in 1972, Pekin’s readers were served by a smaller structure that stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, where the library’s sunken plaza is located today. [NB: Since the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library, the old sunken plaza is no more, replaced by a quiet reading room and a grove of trees with water drainage.]

That earlier structure – one of the nation’s many Carnegie libraries, built in 1902 under the patronage of famous American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the first building constructed in Pekin to serve specifically as a public library. To celebrate that milestone in Pekin’s history, a formal dedication ceremony took place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902.

On that occasion, the library’s cornerstone was laid – and within the cornerstone was placed a time capsule containing an assortment of documents and relics pertaining chiefly to the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library.

The time capsule remained sealed for 70 years. When the old library was replaced with a new, expanded facility in 1972, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to be in a very good state of preservation. For many years after that, the cornerstone materials were stored at Herget Bank, later being transferred to the Pekin Public Library’s own historical archives.

Placed in the cornerstone time capsule were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)

The reason for including the two newspapers from February 1896 is probably not obvious to anyone not well versed in the library’s history, however. Those newspapers – the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896 – were chosen because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

The library’s history did not begin in 1902, but in fact reaches back to 1866, as we read in one of the documents placed in the 1902 cornerstone: a “History of the Pekin Public Library” written by Miss Mary Gaither. “On November 24th, 1866, a large number of the ladies of Pekin met to organize what was for many years known as the ‘Ladies Library Association,’” Gaither wrote. Also included in the cornerstone was one of the handwritten invitations to that meeting.

On March 5, 1883, the Pekin Library Association formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois – the original, sealed articles of incorporation from 1883 also were included in the cornerstone time capsule.

Ten years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, the Library Association petitioned the city to have the library and its collection handed over to the city’s ownership. The process of transferring the library from private to public control was completed three years later, in 1896.

Shown here is part of the front page of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

Shown here is the top front of the outer sleve of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

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A man, a bank and a library

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in May 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

A man, a bank and a library

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Herget name has been prominent in Pekin’s history since the 1850s and 1860s, when the Herget family left Hesse-Darmstadt in Germany and came to America. Of that family, the immigrant brothers John, George and Philip each played significant roles in the development of Pekin. Evidence of the continuing legacy of the Herget family is found today in the name of the Herget House (or Herget Mansion) at 420 Washington Street, and, of course, in Herget Bank.

Another of the indications of the prominence of the Hergets in Pekin’s history and community life may be found in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois.” Included in that volume were the biographies of four members of the Herget family: the three immigrant brothers John, George and Philip, and John’s second son John H. Herget.

The lives of the three brothers were intertwined, as they often partnered in various business ventures. The eldest, John, also served as Mayor of Pekin in 1873 and 1874. Rather than presenting an account of all three brothers, however, this column will take a look at the life of George Herget, relying chiefly on the account of his life in “Portrait and Biographical Record,” page 384.

George Herget

This photograph of George Herget was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule. Herget donated the land on which the library was built that year.

At the time that biography was published, George Herget was president of the Globe Distilling Co., president of the Pekin Electric Light Co., and president of the Pekin Steam Coopering Co. The biography said that he “ranks among the most prominent and successful business men of central Illinois, and has not only sustained the reputation of the family name, but by his honorable and worthy life has added to its lustre,” praising him for his “superior intelligence, sound principles and noble character,” and commenting that, “he is always an earnest advocate of the cause of justice and right, and has exerted a beneficial influence in the community with whose interests his own have long been identified.”

The biography continues, “Born May 9, 1833, the subject of this sketch is a native of Hergeshausen, Kreis Deiburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany . . . . In his native land he spent the days of boyhood, and learned the trade of a wagon-maker. In 1852 he took passage at Havre, France, on a sailing-vessel bound for America, and after landing in New York, proceeded to Gettysburg, where he engaged in the trade of a carriage-maker until the fall of 1853.

“Coming west at that time via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, Mr. Herget settled in Pekin, where he became a carriage-maker in the T. & H. Smith Carriage Works. In 1858 he embarked in the retail grocery business, and two years later he was joined by his brother John.” Together, John and George founded J. & G. Herget Inc. of Pekin, wholesale sellers of groceries and liquor.

The sketch continues, “In 1870 he built a block containing two stores, and there, since 1871, he has conducted an extensive business, being for some time in the wholesale grocery and liquor business, but now devoting his attention wholly to the latter line of work.

“In 1888 Mr. Herget assisted in the organization of the Pekin Steam Coopering Company, and has since been its President. In the fall of 1892 he built the Globe Distillery, which was completed and opened in April of the following year. This concern is situated on the Jacksonville South-eastern Railroad, and has a capacity of five thousand bushels per day, being the largest distillery in Pekin. In addition to these enterprises, Mr. Herget is interested in the Globe Cattle Company, which owns about thirty-eight hundred head of cattle. In the organization of the Electric Light Company he was a prominent factor, and has been its only President.”

It was George’s nephew Carl Herget, son of John, who built the Herget Mansion on Washington Street in 1912. One the most significant parts of the Herget family’s legacy, however, was the establishment of Herget Bank on April 17, 1905. George Herget and his sons Henry G. Herget and William P. Herget founded the bank as George Herget and Sons, and were among the bank’s original board of directors. The bank was chartered nationally in 1910, when it became Herget National Bank of Pekin, Ill.

Another lasting legacy of George Herget was the construction of the Pekin Carnegie Library in 1902. Herget played an important role in the events leading up to the library’s construction. When Mary Gaither had begun to drum up support for a Carnegie Library, Herget responded favorably, writing in a letter of Nov. 8, 1900, “I will be pleased to give to the City of Pekin a site for a Library building according to the terms of a certain letter to you from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, dated October 8th., 1900.”

Copies of that and other related letters were included in the library’s cornerstone time capsule in August 1902. Also included in the time capsule was the title deed conveying the land for the library from George and Caroline Herget to the city of Pekin, along with a photograph of George Herget.

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