Tazewell County’s ‘Historical Hall’

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The late Christal Dagit (1943-2019) was long-time president of the Tazewell County Historic Places Society, and also served as long-time director of the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center. In the four years since her passing, however, the museum to which she devoted so many years has had to close and its collection be placed in storage, with the Tazewell County Board now making plans to demolish the historic Arcade Building where the museum had been housed.

Many years before the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center was established, however, artifacts and mementos of the history and heritage of Pekin and Tazewell County were displayed in a “Historical Hall” within the Tazewell County Courthouse. A part of this old collection is displayed at the courthouse still today, even as monuments on the grounds outside the courthouse help to commemorate the county’s military veterans and the numerous visits that Abraham Lincoln to Pekin and Tremont.

In the years from 1914 to 1916, when plans were made for a larger and grander Neo-Classical edifice to replace the 1850 county courthouse, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors made provisions to establish and maintain what it said would be a permanent museum in a room of the new courthouse.

The Historical Hall’s collection was under the care of the long-defunct Tazewell County Historical Society, which was among other things a museum board appointed by the Tazewell County Board. In the 1950s, however, the collection was moved to rooms in the courthouse basement and the former Historical Hall room became the County Assessor’s Office.

In the latest issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society “Monthly” (March 2023), page 555-557, are presented the Tazewell County Board’s proceedings related to the courthouse Historical Hall, from 1914 to 1968. Since these proceedings are sure to be of interest to many in our area who wish to learn more of our local history, I will transcribe them here:



12 Sept. 1914 – The permanent building committee would recommend that the historical step formerly at the entrance of the Bemis House, but now at the north-west corner of the Court House block be placed in the historical room of the new Court House in a place to be selected by the Architects.

This early 20th century Pekin postcard shows the threshold of the former Tazewell House hotel displayed at the northwest corner of the Tazewell County Courthouse grounds. The threshold was moved inside the new courthouse during construction from 1914 to 1916. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIP SNYDER
Bemis House, at one time Pekin’s preeminent hotel, is shown in this early 20th-century photograph. Under its original name of Tazewell House, the hotel once hosted Abraham Lincoln and other notable local attorneys when they came to Pekin on legal business at the Tazewell County Courthouse. The site at the corner of Court and Front streets is now a part of Gene Miller Park, adjacent to Pekin’s Riverfront Park. PHOTO COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

14 March 1916 – On motion of Supervisor Strubhar the rules were suspended and . . .  Mr. Allensworth, Miss Gaither and Mr. Prettyman addressed the Board in reference to having an historical association in Tazewell County; and Mr. Cole in reference to preserving the photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County; and Mr. Bates in reference to issuing a souvenir containing historical facts of Tazewell County and distributing same when court house is dedicated and urged the appointment of a committee to confer with him in regard to the matter.

16 March 1916 – Supervisor Quigg suggested that the Board take up the matter of what the Historical room is to contain, Mr. H. H. Cole addressed the Board in reference to the matter. Resolution offered by Supervisor Birkenbusch was read. Supervisor Gulon moved as an amendment to the resolution that Mr. H. H. Cole be granted the privilege of using the North, East and part of the South wall of the historical room for placing photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County. The amendment was carried.

Resolved, That the Public Printing Committee be authorized to confer with W. H. Bates in reference to souvenir issue in connection with the dedication of the Tazewell County Court House, also to take up the matter with H. H. Cole of placing our Art Gallery in the Tazewell County Court House. Offered by Henry Birkenbusch, Supervisor Quigg moved that the first room, opening on the East and West Corridor and East of the South entrance be designated as the historical room; Supervisor Porter moved as an amendment that the room be designated as the Historical and Soldiers Rest Room of Tazewell County. Supervisor Quigg accepted the amendment, and the motion as amended was on vote declared carried. On motion of Supervisor Reardon each Member of the Board was urged to present the names of at least three persons residing in their township, who would interest themselves in reference to historical matters pertaining to Tazewell County not later than the next adjourned meeting.

Communication from Joe Hanna Post No. 1176 G.A.R. of Pekin, Illinois in reference to Historical Room was read.

Mr. H. H. Cole stated that he desired to have a group photograph of the Members of the Board, the same to be placed in the historical room.

29 March 1916 – Supervisor Gulon inquired whether or not the Spanish American War Veterans would be permitted to hold their meetings in the Historical Room. On motion of Supervisor Reardon, the Spanish American War Veterans were granted permission to use the Historical Room for their meetings.

26 April 1916 – Resolution offered by the Permanent Building Committee, in reference to the Historical and G.A.R. rooms was read. On motion of Supervisor Nixon the resolution was adopted. Be it resolved by the Building Committee of the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, that the two rooms situated in the southeast corner on the first floor of the court house shall be designated “Historical Hall” and that there shall be placed therein the photographic exhibits heretofore made and now being made by H. H. Cole and that the placing of said exhibits shall be under the personal supervision of H. H. Cole and the Public Building Committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Resolved, that the room on the first floor of the court house on the south side and immediately west of Historical Hall shall be designated Grand Army Hall; that it shall be used and occupied by the Grand Army of the Republic, The Sons of Veterans, The Spanish-American War Veterans and the Women’s Relief Corps, and all similar organizations of Tazewell County that may hereafter be organized. Resolved, that the three rooms designated in the preceding sections of this resolution as a whole shall be known as the Memorial Section of the court house in the County of Tazewell and State of Illinois. Peter Sweitzer, C. C. Reardon, B. F. Quigg, J. S. Nixon.

15 Sept. 1916 – Mr. W. H. Bates addressed the Board in reference to having cases made of the walnut benches which were in the Old Court House, for the G.A.R. and Historical room. On motion of Supervisor Porter the matter was referred to the Committee on Public Buildings.

13 June 1916 – Order #26338 to H. H. Cole for labor and materials furnished for Historical Photograph Room.

10 June 1918 – The report of the committee on the claim of H. H. Cole was read. Your committee to whom was referred the adjustment of the claim of H. H. Cole for portraits, cases etc. placed in Historical Room in Court House . . .  . we allow H. H. Cole the sum of $450 in full payment for same and it is further agreed that any more work done, for which he expects payments from the County, must be authorized by someone with authority before proceeding.

7 Dec. 1920Judge W. R. Curran was granted permission to address the Board in reference to the memorial services of the Tazewell County Historical Society, commemorating the organization of the Union League of America, to be held in the Circuit Court room at 2 P.M. December 7th, 1920.

13 June 1949 – Mr. Canaday, Representative from State Historical Society, Springfield, was introduced by Chairman McClarence, who stated that he had been sent to Pekin in regard to the matter of transferring original records signed by Abraham Lincoln, now in Tazewell County files to Springfield Library. Chairman McClarence appointed Supervisors J. A. Henderson of Little Mackinaw, D. H. Snell of Washington and Clark Barton of Tremont to serve on the Lincoln Records Special Committee.

8 March 1955 – It is recommended after a special meeting between the Building Committee and representative of the Women’s Relief Corps and the Grand Army of the Republic that the Building Committee be authorized to obtain the services of an architect and lay plans for the creation of a suitable room in the basement to be occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps, Grand Army of the Republic and Historical Society. The room on the main floor which presently is occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps and Grand Army of the Republic will be taken over by the Supervisor of Assessments after the establishment of the basement quarters.

25 April 1955 – Supervisor Condon of Pekin moved that the Chairman appoint a committee of six to confer with the Fair and Park Boards in regard to having Historical Rooms, Veteran Rooms and Museum in the Fair Buildings.

13 June 1955 – Chairman Mooberry stated there was a delegation present representing the Womens Relief Corps and the Spanish American War Veterans. Mrs. Minnie Stockert was their spokesman and addressed the Board in respect to the Historical or G.A.R. room, and brought up the question of what would become of the war relics as the law stated that, if they were moved from their present location, they would have to be returned to the State Museum.

Motion was made by Supervisor Lowry of Spring Lake, seconded by Supervisor McKenzie of Fondulac that letters received by the Board in regard to the G.A.R. and Historical Room be read. Motion carried.

Twelve letters from individuals and organizations of Tazewell and Peoria Counties were read by the Clerk. Motion was made by Supervisor Robins of Washington, seconded by Supervisor Schilling of Pekin that the letters be received and placed on file. Motion carried.

8 Sept. 1959 – A letter from George H. Iftner in regard to Items of Historical Value now in the Historical Room in the basement. Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint three to act as Trustees of the Historical Society . . . to take care of the items of Historical Value.

8 Dec. 1959 – Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint a nine member committee to act as Trustees for the Tazewell County Historical Society. Motion was seconded by Supervisor VanderHeyden of Pekin. Motion carried and Chairman Schilling of Pekin appointed the following Committee:

TAZEWELL COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Vera Dille, Gary Planck, Dale Sarver, William Hoffman, Dr. R. K. Taubert and Gene Sangalli all of Pekin, Thomas Pinkham of East Peoria, Forrest Altine of Morton, and Howard Simpson of Mackinaw.

21 Feb. 1968 – Moved by Supervisor Urish of Malone, seconded by Supervisor Hoffman of Mackinaw, that the Building Committee investigate the Historical items in the basement of the Court House. The Committee is to make plans of what to do with said items.

15 Aug. 1968 – Be it resolved by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that, whereas, the Tazewell County Historical Society, the G.A.R.’s and D.A.R.’s have for past years held their meetings in rooms provided them in the Court House and, Whereas, a great collection of articles, antique furniture, relics, documents, pictures, etc. have been housed in these rooms, and Whereas, during the past few years these items have not had proper care and protection in the present basement room, with the end result that valuable pieces have been removed and other articles have been broken, damaged or defaced and Whereas, each item in this collection is of great value as such and can never be replaced, but should be preserved for the benefit of future generations, now therefore BE IT Resolved, by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that the Building Committee be authorized to have the contents of this room sorted, packed, and stored in a bonded warehouse, at County expense, until such time as arrangements can be made to have this collection placed where it can be properly displayed and protected.

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The pioneer doctors of Pekin

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

The pioneer doctors of Pekin

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

When local historian and journalist Ben C. Allensworth in 1905 undertook to update and augment Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” he no doubt saw that one aspect of local history that Chapman had overlooked was the origin and development of the medical profession in Tazewell County. Allensworth therefore asked Dr. W. E. Schenck to write a special chapter providing an account of the “Pioneers in the Medical Profession,” found on pages 880-882 of Allensworth’s history.

Dr. Schenck began his account with a general description of “the pioneer doctor,” who

“was not educated in his profession as the modern physician has been. He was scholastic, often polished, but many things are now in common use that were unknown in his day. He had no knowledge of chloroform. The elegant pharmaceutical products which we now dispense were not to be had in his day. The X-ray had not been dreamed of, and modern surgery, which has astonished the world by its boldness, and gratified suffering humanity by its success, would have been considered cruel rashness a generation ago. With his ponderous saddle-bags he went from his humble domicile on hi mission of humanity and never refused to respond to a call, no matter what the prospects for remuneration. He was often compelled to make long rides in all kinds of weather and all conditions of roads; was often detained for many hours where his only compensation was the gratitude of a suffering patient, and not always even that. His powers of observation were very acute. He usually readily discovered the nature of the difficulty and promptly gave a suitable remedy; though it was not always pleasant to take. He lived, and loved to live, for his work, and the good he did lives after him. He was, by all odds, the most useful man in the community, the most universally beloved and most missed when he died.”

After sketching the life of a pioneer doctor in general terms, Schenck provided a list with brief personal descriptions of Tazewell County’s early doctors and physicians, grouped according to the communities in which they lived and worked. Schenck’s list covers Pekin, Washington, Tremont, Groveland, Delavan, Mackinaw and Minier. Following is how Schenck summarized the story of Pekin’s first doctors:

Dr. John Warner was the first physician of whom we can find any account in Tazewell County. He was located in Pekin at the time of the Deep Snow — the last days of December, 1830. Nothing more can be learned.

Dr. S. Pillsbury came to Pekin in 1831 and was prominent in the profession and in society for many years. He died here and is still favorably remembered by the oldest citizens. In 1834 one Dr. Perry and his wife died of cholera in Pekin. Drs. Pillsbury and Griffith were the only doctors left in Pekin after the death of Dr. Perry.

Dr. William S. Maus came to Mackinaw in 1831 and to Pekin in 1838. He served one term in the legislature in 1838. He died in Pekin in 1870.

Dr. Joseph S. Maus came to Mackinaw in 1838 and to Pekin in 1853. He died in Pekin in 1872. The Doctors Maus were highly educated and successful physicians. They had the confidence and esteem of the community for many years and their memory is still fondly cherished by all who knew them.

Dr. Samuel Wagenseller was one of the most noted characters that the profession ever had in this county. He came to Pekin in 1849. He read with Dr. Fitch and began practice in 1855. He was for many years at the head of the profession in this county, and no man ever succeeded in getting such a hold on the people as he. He was killed by accident October 7, 1877.

Dr. R. C. Charlton was born in Ireland. He was a graduate at the ‘School of Medicine, Apothecaries’ Hall,’ Dublin, December 5, 1837. He practiced many years in Pekin and died of pneumonia, the result of exposure in his professional duties, at the age of 73.”

In this frame of Jim Conover’s video of the 30 June 1988 excavation of the Tharp Pioneer Burying Ground (now under the parking lot of Pekin’s Schnucks grocery store), the remains of a victim of the July 1834 cholera epidemic is shown. In the upper left corner an archaeological site worker picks up a coffin nail and points to the spot on the skull where the nail had been found embedded. Another coffin nail was found in the left femur. The nails are evidence that the coffin was hastily built around the cholera victim to reduce the possibility of exposure to the disease. Pekin’s local physician Dr. Perry helped treat Pekin’s cholera victims in July 1834, but he and his wife both succumbed to the disease themselves.

#ben-c-allensworth, #cholera, #cholera-epidemic, #dr-fitch, #dr-griffith, #dr-john-warner, #dr-joseph-s-maus, #dr-perry, #dr-r-c-charlton, #dr-samuel-pillsbury, #dr-samuel-wagenseller, #dr-w-e-schenck, #dr-william-s-maus, #jim-conover, #mrs-perry, #pekin-pioneer-doctors, #preblog-columns, #tharp-burial-ground

Voting on the Fort Crevecoeur Controversy

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

Voting on the Fort Crevecoeur Controversy

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

On more than on occasion, this column has touched on the brief but significant history of Fort Crevecoeur, a wood stockade outpost built by the French explorers La Salle and Tonti in January 1680 at a location in or near Creve Coeur.

Because the fort did not exist for very long, the exact location of Fort Crevecoeur is shrouded in mystery and doubt, with proposed sites ranging from north of East Peoria to as far south as Beardstown. The controversy over the true site of Fort Crevecoeur was especially a hot topic in the early 20th century, as can be discerned from the May 2015 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, pages 1284-5.

In that issue are reproduced the agenda of the old Tazewell County Historical Society for its annual meeting on May 4, 1918, as published on April 22 and May 6, 1918, in the Pekin Daily Times by the Society President W. L. Prettyman and Society Secretary Mrs. W. R. Curran. In the April 22, 1918 Pekin Daily Times was the following agenda item for the annual meeting:

“To decide on the location of Fort Creve Coeur. The true location of Fort Creve Coeur has been the subject of several important meetings of this society and the state historical society desires that the members of the Tazewell County Historical Society shall as speedily as possibly, decide where, in their opinion, the actual location of said fort was located. The members at this meeting will take a vote on this question and settle the matter in controversy, so far as they can do so. It is therefore important that all the members of this society and their friends be sure to attend this important meeting.”

The minutes of the society’s annual meeting were published in the May 6, 1918 edition of the Daily Times. On the question of Fort Crevecoeur’s location, the minutes say:

“Tazewell County Historical Society had its meeting last Saturday afternoon, and formally decided upon the Wesley City site, as the logical place where old Fort Creve Coeur was located by Chevalier de Tonty and his comrades.

“The discussion which preceded the formal vote of the membership was participated in by Dan Sheen, of Peoria, Luke Keil of East Peoria, and others. Mr. Keil who has been a resident of East Peoria vicinity for over two score years contended that the site was directly across the river from Peoria.

“Postmaster B. C. Allensworth, of this city discussed the different locations which have been suggested as having been the site of the fort and quoted some letters from Judge Beckwith and Judge McCollough which indicated that they did not agree as the site selected by the D.A.R. and that they were as a matter of fact in doubt as to the location. The Le Grone site at Wesley City finally won on the vote taken. It was the statements of engineer James Buchanan as to what he found there when he surveyed for the railroad yards which determined the location by those present. Judge Curran explained the meaning of these and the finding is perhaps as conclusive as it can be made at the present day.

“J. L. Frazee of Eureka, of the state historical society spoke interesting. (sic) He did not advocate specifically any site but strongly urged that a geologist of state wide reputation be asked to investigate the soil and condition of the several sites before a determination is made.”

This detail from Franquelin’s 1684 map of the Illinois Country, reproduced in Dan R. Sheen’s “Location of Fort Crevecoeur” (1919), shows the location of “Fort de Crevecouer” at the southeastern shore of Lac de Pimiteoui (Peoria Lake). The site of Fort Crevecoeur has been a matter of controversy.

Historical and scientific truth, of course, cannot be determined by a majority vote. The vote of the old Tazewell County Historical Society notwithstanding, serious doubt remains that Fort Crevecoeur was really located in the former Wesley City (which later renamed itself Creve Coeur). A year after the society’s vote, the abovementioned Dan Sheen of Peoria published a study paper, “Location of Fort Crevecoeur,” in which he detailed the historical and archaeological arguments in support of the site for which Keil had advocated at the society’s annual meeting. Sheen’s paper also provided arguments against the site favored by the Tazewell County Historical Society. His paper has been digitized and may be read online at https://archive.org/details/locationoffortcr00shee

#ben-c-allensworth, #dan-sheen, #fort-crevecoeur, #franquelins-map, #henri-de-tonti, #j-l-frazee, #judge-w-r-curran, #la-salle, #le-grone-site, #luke-keil, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #wesley-city, #william-prettyman

Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

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

Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In the first few years of the 20th century, Ben C. Allensworth, a past editor of the Pekin Daily Times, undertook to update Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history. Allensworth was assisted in that task by his friend and colleague Alfred Wilson Rodecker.

Rodecker, who generally was called Judge Rodecker, was owner and editor of the Pekin Daily Times. Relying on his own knowledge and experience, he wrote the historical account of the Tazewell County Bar for the 1905 “History of Tazewell County.” Rodecker also wrote Allensworth’s biography for the same volume, and as a newspaper owner and a former judge, naturally Rodecker’s own biography also was included in the updated county history.

Following are excerpts from that biography:

“Alfred W. Rodecker, Pekin, is the son of David Rodecker, who was born in Bellefontaine, Logan County, Ohio, in 1812, and of Jane (Wilson) Rodecker, born in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, in 1817. The parents were married in 1835, and moved to Peoria, lll., in 1838. . . . Failing health compelled [David Rodecker] to sell his business in that city, and he afterward located in Dillon, Tazewell County, where he conducted a general store. His death occurred in 1859, five children surviving him, four of whom are still living.

“Our subject was born in Peoria, May 15, 1844. For six years he attended the Hinman School, in that place . . . and afterward the country school in Dillon. On the 2nd day of April, 1862, he located at Pekin, went to work in the old ‘Register’ newspaper office, and has resided in that city ever since. In 1865 he entered Eureka College and, after completing his course, passed a year in teaching school and reading law. He then entered the law office of A. B. Sawyer, formerly of Pekin, and now of Salt Lake City.

“Being admitted to the bar, in 1869, Judge Rodecker formed a copartnership with M. N. Bassett, now Probate Judge in Peoria. This copartnership was dissolved at the end of three years, and he continued to practice alone until 1877, when he was elected County Judge of Tazewell County. . . . and served as Judge until 1886. This is the only office which he has ever held, except that of School Inspector in the City of Pekin, to which position he was elected to fill a vacancy in 1871. He was twice re-elected, serving in that capacity for a period of seven years. During this official term as School Inspector, he delivered an address to the first graduating class of the Pekin High School.

“On June 22, 1871, Judge Rodecker was married to Ida F. Fenner, in Tremont, Ill. Their son Thaddeus, business manager for the Times Publishing Company, is their only child.

“In 1886, Judge Rodecker became one of the proprietors of the Times Publishing Company, that plant having been purchased from J. B. Irwin. Since January 1, 1894, he has been actively connected with the publication of the ‘Daily and Weekly Times,’ two-thirds of the ownership being vested in him, and the other one-third in Dr. F. Shurtleff. [Note: Shurtleff’s wife was Rodecker’s half-sister Mary Rodecker.] The editorial management of the paper is in Judge Rodecker’s charge. The Judge is a trenchant writer. He does not affect especially literary finish, but has a terse way of stating all the facts involved in the treatment of a given topic.

“Accompanied by his wife, our subject has traveled extensively throughout the Southern States, having for a number of years made an annual trip through that section during the winter season. His published letters descriptive of conditions there — social, commercial, political, and otherwise — are highly appreciated by all those admirers of graphic writing whose pleasure it has been to read them.”

This detail from the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Pekin shows several homes near the intersection of Washington and South Fourth streets. The home designated 345 S. Fourth St. was the residence of Judge A. W. Rodecker (though in his lifetime the house number was 343). The lot is now occupied by The Golden Arms apartment building.

Rodecker’s biographical sketch concludes with the following laudatory appraisal of his life and character:

“The career of A. W. Rodecker furnishes an illustration of the possibilities of American citizenship. His early manhood was one of unremittent toil in the face of obstacles which, for many men, would have lost the battle of life. The incentive of a laudable ambition to deserve an honorable place among his fellow men; untiring industry and persistence in every endeavor, and, above all, a worthy, upright purpose in every undertaking, have been the elements of character contributing to the success he has achieved in life. In his personal relations, his loyalty to his friends has never been questioned. While he forgives a wrong, it must not be said of him that he has as yet reached such sublime heights as to forget the wrongdoer. With all those manly characteristics which stand for individual worth he is richly endowed, and be well deserves the honored place he holds in the hearts of those who know him best.”

After the publication of the updated Tazewell County history, Rodecker survived for another five years, dying Oct. 4, 1910. His widow Ida lived for another four decades, dying in Pekin at the age of 89 on Jan. 23, 1941. Their only child Thaddeus (who himself named one of his sons Alfred Wilson Rodecker) died of a sudden heart attack on May 1, 1933, and his obituary, written by his co-workers at the Daily Times and expressing shock and grief, was printed on the front page of that day’s paper.

Thaddeus’ obituary described his parents as “builders of the Times building and highly respected citizens.” (That refers to the old Times building at 405 Court Street, before the newspaper moved to the Zerwekh building at 30 S. Fourth St.) Thaddeus and his parents are buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

The former location of Judge Rodecker’s home as it appears in a recent Google Maps satellite view.

#a-w-sawyer, #alfred-w-rodecker, #alfred-wilson-rodecker, #ben-c-allensworth, #david-rodecker, #dr-f-shurtleff, #golden-arms-apartments, #ida-f-fenner, #j-b-irwin, #jane-wilson-rodecker, #judge-rodecker, #mary-rodecker, #pekin-daily-times, #preblog-columns, #thaddeus-rodecker

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

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

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the years this columns has from time to time spotlighted a few of the scribes who played important roles in recording the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: writers and researchers such as William H. Bates, Charles C. Chapman, and Fred Soady, or Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry H. Cole. This week we’ll take a closer look at the life of another important Tazewell County historian, Ben Campbell Allensworth of Pekin.

Allensworth’s chief contribution to local history was as the editor of the 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” which updated Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history. Allensworth’s history was published in the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County.” The first volume and part of the second volume, the encyclopedia, were edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, while Allensworth was in charge of the Tazewell County history in volume two.

Allensworth was well suited to his task, because he was a school teacher and superintendent as well as an experienced and accomplished journalist. As the old saying goes, journalism gives us the first draft of history — but Allensworth had a hand in both a first and second draft of Tazewell County’s history.

This portrait and signature of Ben C. Allensworth was included in the 1905 “History of Tazewell County” of which Allensworth was the editor.

Included in Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, on pages 968-970, is his own biography, written by his friend, Judge A. W. Rodecker. “Ben C. Allensworth, the editor of the History of Tazewell County, having, from some cause, failed to furnish his own biography to the publishers of this work, they asked me to write it,” Rodecker apologetically explains. Allensworth’s portrait also is interleaved between pages 682 and 683.

Rodecker’s biography of Allensworth says, “Ben C. Allensworth was born in Little Mackinaw Township, one-half mile southeast of Tazewell, in Tazewell County, Ill., October 27, 1845. His parents were William P. and Arabel Waggener Allensworth. William P. Allensworth was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., September 25, 1820, and died in Minier, Ill., May 8, 1874. He was a kind hearted and courtly gentleman, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. He held the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court for four years, and was an efficient and popular officer. The mother of B. C. Allensworth was born in Christian County, Ky., July 9, 1827, and died in Galesburg. Ill., March 25, 1902. She was a woman of culture and refinement, anxious for the success of her children, and labored with her husband in his every endeavor to educate and make them good and useful citizens.

“The subject of this sketch was the eldest of nine children, all of whom, with the exception of two, are living. He was reared on a farm, but, when he could be spared, attended the country schools and was a diligent pupil. It was easy for him to master the studies taught, and he early evinced a purpose to be more than a common school scholar. At the age of twenty he entered the State University at Normal. He ranked high in his studies, and when he graduated in 1869, left a record in the school which gave him a high standing with the school men of the State. Soon after his graduation, he was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Elmwood, Peoria County, which place he held until the spring of 1872. . . .

“In April, 1872, Mr. Allensworth bought of W. T. Meades a half-interest in ‘The Tazewell Register,’ and connected therewith John F. Mounts, a printer and writer of some considerable reputation. In September of that year, Meades purchased Mounts’ interest in the paper. The partnership of Meades and Allensworth, in the publication of the Register, continued until January 1873, when, on account of failing health, Mr. Allensworth sold out to Meades. Then retiring from the newspaper business, he went to farming in Little Mackinaw Township. He taught school in the winter time until 1877, when he was nominated by the Democratic party for Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools, being twice elected to this position. . . .

“For a portion of the time during which he was Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Allensworth carried on farming, and was just farmer enough to be compelled to use all the salary he made out of his office to keep up the farm — or rather make an attempt at it. . . . He dropped his farming venture in 1884 and moved to Pekin, where he has since resided. In May, 1885, he took editorial charge of ‘The Pekin Times,’ but owing to a disagreement with its proprietor, J. B. Irwin, as to the policy to be pursued by the paper, he gave up this position in the following September. In 1886, Irwin having sold the paper, Mr. Allensworth accepted the position of editor and business manager for the Times Publishing Company, which position he relinquished January 14, 1894, to take charge of the Pekin Postoffice (sic), to which place he had been appointed December 21, 1893, by Grover Cleveland. After the expiration of the four-year term in the postoffice, he went into the insurance business, in which he is now engaged. For a number of years he has been a member of the Pekin Board of School Inspectors, and has served one term as President of the Board.”

Rodecker also states that Allensworth married Charity A. Tanner in Minier on Oct. 7, 1875. He and Charity had three daughters and two sons. Charity died in 1912, and Allensworth died at Pekin Hospital on the morning of Sept. 3, 1929, being survived by three of his children and four grandchildren. His lengthy obituary — which is mostly a somewhat abridged version of Rodecker’s biography — was published at the top of the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Little Mackinaw Township.

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