Dedication of the Pekin Carnegie library cornerstone

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In recent weeks, we have looked back to the way the groundwork was laid for the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library. By early 1902, the library board’s building committee had selected Paul O. Moratz as the architect to design the new library building, and Moratz had submitted his plans to the board on March 13, 1902.

This photograph from the 1930s shows Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, which was built to the design of Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz in 1902-1903. The cornerstone was located to the right of the front steps. One of the two wrought-iron lamps at the entrance steps was saved when the library was demolished in the early 1970s. The lamp stood in the new library’s plaza until 2014, at which time it was restored and refurbished so it could be moved to the remodeled and expanded library’s new Local History Room.

In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither told of the next steps in the process:

“In June, the reports of this Committee stated that the contracts had been let, as agreed upon, reserving certain details, and the bid of Mr. J. D. Handbury was, after due deliberation, accepted by said committee.”

In the bidding competition, J. D. Handbury had gone up against Conklin-Hippen-Reuling Co. and E. Zimmer & Co. All three construction firms were based in Pekin. Besides those three Pekin contractors, the building committee had also considered bids from a Peoria contractor and two or three Bloomington contractors.

After the selection of the contractor, the ground at 301 S. Fourth Street was prepared and staked off. Plans were then made for a grand public ceremony and parade in which the Carnegie library’s cornerstone would be dedicated and laid. Within the cornerstone a time capsule would be stored.

The date for the ceremony, which drew a large crowd of Pekin residents both great and small, was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902. The library board members at the time were Franklin L. Velde, William J. Conzelman, Carl G. Herget, Henry Birkenbusch, Ben P. Schenck, Mrs. W. E. Schenck, Mrs. J. L. Hinners, Miss Emily Weyrich, and (of course) Miss Gaither.

One of them items in the cornerstone time capsule was a telegram received at 9:04 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1902, from John Oglesby, private secretary of Illinois Lieut. Gov. William A. Northcott (1854-1917), expressing Northcott’s regrets that he could not attend the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Shown here is one of the invitations to the ceremonial laying of the Pekin Carnegie Library’s cornerstone and time capsule, which took place following a grand parade on Aug. 19, 1902.

It is likely that Pekin’s own historian William H. Bates (1840-1930) oversaw the selection and preparation of the contents of the time capsule, as he later did in the case of the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ obituary recalled that “He was at the fore in all public demonstrations” (i.e. celebrations or ceremonies), and it is telling that one of the items in the library’s 1902 cornerstone was the 1883-1884 library card of Bates’ own daughter Ida.

In any event, the contents of the cornerstone chiefly consisted of an assortment of documents and relics pertaining to the library’s early history, the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library, lists of the local governmental officials in office at the time of the laying of the cornerstone, and mementos of the 38 local service clubs that took part in the cornerstone ceremony.

Also placed in the cornerstone time capsule were a number of mementos and artifacts that are not directly related to the library, such as postages stamps, calling cards, an Oct. 1899 Pekin Street Fair brochure, and a Smith Wagon Co. catalog. Also included 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 two newspapers from February 1896 were the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896. They were chosen for the time capsule because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

With the library cornerstone laid, construction proceeded apace and the new Pekin Public Library opened its doors to a proud and grateful community on Dec. 10, 1903, with a formal dedication ceremony on Dec. 14, 1903..

When we continue the story of Pekin’s library next week, we’ll turn our attention to some of the Carnegie’s library’s special furnishings – which included a pair of beautiful clocks.

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Carnegie library architect Paul O. Moratz

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither tells of how the library board planned the construction of Pekin’s new $15,000 Carnegie library. In Miss Gaither’s words:

“In January, 1902, a building committee, consisting of four members of the Board, namely, Mr. C. G. Herget, Mrs. Emily P. Schenck, Mr. W. J. Conzelman, and Mr. F. L. Velde, were duly authorized to proceed to the selection of a suitable plan, and the recommendation of an architect. Mr. Paul O. Moratz of Bloomington was chosen as the architect, at a subsequent meeting, and the plans were submitted to the Board on March 13th, 1902.”

Shown is one of the surviving original blueprints of Pekin’s Carnegie library, designed by accomplished Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz (1866-1939), who also designed many other Carnegie libraries across the Midwest, as well as numerous Bloomington homes and landmarks.
Shown here is another of the surviving original blueprints of Pekin’s Carnegie library, designed by accomplished Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz.
Shown in this clipping from a 1901 edition of the Pekin Daily Times is Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz’s sketch of his proposed design for the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library.

Even 119 years later, it is not difficult to find out who the building committee members were, for they all came from the old, prominent Pekin families, leaders of Pekin society and civic life. “Mr. C. G. Herget” is Carl Herget (1865-1946), nephew of George Herget who had donated the land where the new library was to be built. The Carl Herget mansion at 420 Washington St., which Carl Herget built in 1912, is a well-known Pekin historical landmark – and was (as we noted last week) built at the former site of the Thomas N. Gill residence, where the meeting took place in 1866 founding the Ladies Library Association. We also recalled last week that Carl Herget in early 1901 made a matching donation of $1,000 to supply books for the new library.

Mrs. Emily P. Schenck (1846-1904) was Emily A. (Prettyman) Schenck, daughter of prominent Pekin pioneer settler Benjamin S. Prettyman, a former mayor of Pekin. Her son Ben P. Schenck (1871-1930), that is, Benjamin Prettyman Schenck, was a cashier at the German-American National Bank of Pekin and a long-time library board member, serving in the past as board secretary.

Mr. W. J. Conzelman was William John Conzelman (1865-1916), who served two terms as mayor of Pekin, from 1901 to 1904 and again from 1909 to 1911. Conzelman purchased the grand brick mansion that had been built by John Herget, located at 800 Washington St. As for Mr. F. L. Velde, that was Franklin L. Velde (1866-1963), a partner with William J. Prettyman in the Pekin law firm of Prettyman & Velde. Velde was a long-time library board member who often served as the board president.

When considering an architect for Pekin’s Carnegie library, the building committee did not limit itself to the Pekin-Peoria area, but selected Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz (1866-1939), who had risen to prominence among central Illinois architects when he became one of three architects chosen to rebuild downtown Bloomington following a terrible fire there in 1900 that destroyed four and half city blocks (45 buildings).

Moratz was a German immigrant, born in Prussia’s Grand Duchy of Posen (today Poznan in Poland) on April 14, 1866, the son of Herman and Emelie (Eisner) Moratz. Paul’s father, a carpenter, came to America in the 1860s, finding work and a place to live in Bloomington, and then in 1868 he sent for Emelie and Paul, then age 2. The three of them are listed in the 1870 U.S. Census as the Bloomington residents “Harmon Moratz,” 29, “Amelia Moratz,” 26, and “Powel Moratz,” 4.

Paul grew up helping his father at carpentry, by which he learned building and construction skills, and conceived an interest in architecture. He studied architectural drawing at an industrial school in Illinois from 1888 to 1889, taking over his father’s business around that time. Moratz oversaw the constructing of planing mills and woodworking factories in Bloomington. In 1893, Paul married Emma Riebsame, a daughter of German immigrants. During their life together, they had two sons, Roland and Armin, and together they lived in homes that Paul built on Wood Street in Bloomington.

In 1897, he received his architect’s license from the State of Illinois, and the same year he built Bloomington’s original “Coliseum” convention center. During his career, Moratz built numerous homes in Bloomington, as well as several schools, libraries, and churches (including Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Locust Street in Bloomington).

The 1903 Carnegie library of Tuscola, Illinois, shown here, was designed by Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz, who also designed Pekin’s Carnegie library. The libraries of Pekin and Tuscola were built around the same time.

His work on the Coliseum came to the attention of the Lincoln, Neb., convention center building committee, which hired him in 1899 to design the old Lincoln Auditorium. Years later, in 1911 he was hired to design the Carnegie library in Neligh, Neb. Because of these projects, a biographical sketch of his life, on which this column in part relies, was included in “Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects.”

By the time the Pekin library board’s building committee named him as the architect for our Carnegie library, Moratz had designed or built eight homes, two churches, a convent, three schools, a park bridge, iron and rock gates for a subdivision, two auditoriums, a public library for Loda, Ill., and an addition to Withers Public Library in Bloomington.

The 1904 Carnegie library of Paxton, Illinois, shown here, was designed by Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz, who also designed Pekin’s Carnegie library, which was built in 1902-1903, a year before Paxton’s library.

After designing Pekin’s Carnegie library, Moratz went on to design or build 11 more Carnegie public libraries in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Nebraska. Moratz also operated his own planing mill in Bloomington, and he invented and patented his own ready-to-install hardwood flooring. Despite the setback of a couple fires in 1925 and 1931, he continued to operate his plant until his death in Bloomington on March 4, 1939. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, Bloomington, with his wife Emma, sons Roland and Armin, and granddaughter Betty (Moratz) Singh Purewal (1920-2007).

Next week we will continue the story of the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library and tell of the laying of the library’s cornerstone and sealing of its time capsule.

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Early years of the Pekin Public Library

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In our ongoing series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, last week we recounted the story of how the Pekin Library Association Inc. became the city-owned and operated Pekin Public Library by February of 1896.

This transition was overseen by Mrs. George Rider, library board president, and Miss Emily Weyrich, board secretary. At the time, the library had 2,449 books in its collection, 341 library card holders, and a weekly circulation of 600 books. According to Miss Mary Gaither’s history of the library, it cost the city $300 to operate the library in 1896, but by 1899 operating costs had increased to $500 annually.

Under city ownership, the library was governed by a nine-member board whose members were appointed by the mayor. The board’s first president was Mr. Henry M. Ehrlicher, and the secretary was Mr. Ben P. Schenck.

This column has mentioned on previous occasions that Henry Ehrlicher and his brother Otto operated Ehrlicher Bros. drug store at 338 Court St., and along with their brother George and their wives they donated land to serve as the site of Pekin Public Hospital.

When the library was transferred to city ownership, a set of by-laws were drawn up governing the function and powers of the library board and the operation of the library. The by-laws set the library’s weekly hours that it would be open to the public as “Tuesday and Saturday evenings of each week from 7:30 till 9 o’clock and on each Saturday afternoon from 2 till 5 o’clock.”

Shown is a detail from the first page of the by-laws adopted at the first meeting of the board of the Pekin Public Library in 1896.

The by-laws also stipulated that every resident of Pekin and every Pekin business-owner was eligible to a free library card, while non-residents had to pay a fee of 75 cents every six months for a library card. Individual patrons were allowed to check out only one book or magazine at a time, while heads of families could check out up to three items at a time. Books could be checked out for two weeks and magazines for one week, and could be renewed once. Patrons were not allowed to take books from the shelves themselves, but were required to ask a librarian to retrieve desired books for them. Overdue books would accrue fines of 2 cents a day, and a patron’s borrowing privileges would be suspended if he had any outstanding fines of any amount at all.

Shown here is the front of a Pekin Public Library card in the form that was adopted in 1900. When a patron borrowed books or magazines, she handed her card to the librarian, who recorded the items and their due dates on the back of the library card. The library then kept the card in a file, and the card was returned to the patron when the items were brought back, but was held until late fees were paid. This particular card was preserved in the 1902 Carnegie library cornerstone time capsule.

During the first few years of its existence as the Pekin Public Library, the library continued to operate from a building at 616 Court St., the junction of Court and Broadway. In 1899, however, the library moved to the second floor of the Steinmetz Building in the 330-363 block of Court Street (today the location of Hamm’s Furniture). That same year, the library board voted to increase the librarian’s salary to $35 per month.

Another important change in the library’s operation arrived in 1900. That year, library board member William Conzelman moved that the library be opened every weekday afternoon and evening – an indication that public use of the library’s services was increasing. The new hours took effect in July 1900.

That was not the only important change at the library that year. That same year, library board member Mary Gaither on her own initiative decided to write a letter to the millionaire industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, requesting his monetary assistance in the construction of a Carnegie library building for Pekin.

Over the coming weeks, we will tell the story of how Pekin got its first library building, including a closer focus on the lives of such notables as Andrew Carnegie and of our own Mary Gaither, “mother” of Pekin’s Carnegie library.

Shown here are the front and back of the Pekin Public Library card application that was used from 1900 onward. This particular application was preserved in the 1902 Carnegie library cornerstone time capsule.

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The ‘Pekin Public Library’ comes on the scene

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

As we continue the story of the early history of Pekin’s library, this week we will learn how “Pekin Library Association Inc.” became the Pekin Public Library.

As we recalled last week, it was on April 5, 1883, that the Ladies Library Association of Pekin was formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois under the new name of “Pekin Library Association” (a name the association had begun to use by 1882). In this way, the library ceased its existence as a local service club.

The decision to incorporate was taken with an eye toward possibly reestablishing the library association as a free community service that would be owned and provided by Pekin’s city government. Thus, Miss Mary Gaither’s history tells:

“In June, 1883, a committee called upon the City Council with a proposition to make the Library a free city Library, but the Council committee, to whom was referred the request, reported adversely.”

With that, the idea of turning the library into a department of city government was to lay dormant for another decade.

Three years later, Gaither’s history notes that the Library Association employed Miss Agnes Alexander was employed as librarian at a salary of $8 per month. The library cards that the association issued to its patrons had to be renewed every three months.

This 1883 Pekin Library Association library card was among the items preserved in the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library cornerstone time capsule. The card belonged to one of the daughters of Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates, a local printer and journalist.

The library in those days continued to operate from the second floor of downtown Pekin buildings along Court Street. The 1888 Bates City Directory of Pekin says the Pekin Library Association then had its Library Room at 411 Court St., with its entrance between 413 and 414 Court. The library’s hours were, “Open every Tuesday evening and on Saturdays from 3 to 5 and from 7 to 9 p.m.,” the directory says.

According to Gaither’s history of the library, in the Spring of 1889, the library association relocated from the Frederick Building on Court Street to Pekin’s old city hall and firehouse at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.

In 1892, the library board approved a resolution that the Pekin Library Association should seek to become a municipal library operated by the Pekin city government. On Feb. 6, 1893, the association formally submitted a petition to the city government asking that the library and its collection be transferred to the city’s ownership.

The work to bring this transfer to completion took about three more years. It was through the efforts of Mrs. George Rider, library board president, and Miss Emily Weyrich, board secretary, that transfer of ownership to the city was accomplished, thereby converting library into a department of the city, called “the Pekin Public Library.” The library then had 2,449 books in its collection, 341 library card holders, and weekly circulation was 600 books.

Under city ownership, the library board’s first president was Mr. Henry M. Ehrlicher, and the secretary was Mr. Ben P. Schenck – men who would continue to play important roles in the library’s history in the coming years, as we shall see.

Most interestingly, although it wasn’t until mid-February of 1896 that the city assumed full ownership of the library, the Pekin Library Association began using the new name “Pekin Public Library” as early as 1893, the year the association submitted its petition to the city.

Thus, the Bates City Directories of Pekin for the years 1893 and 1895 both list the library as “Pekin Public Library, junction Court and Broadway” (i.e. Seventh and Court). The library was then operating out of a building at 616 Court St., which is now the parking lot of First Federal Savings of Pekin, and it would remain at that spot until 1899.

Next time we will tell of the Pekin Public Library’s early years as a city-run library.

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