By Jared Olar
Now that we’ve completed our series reprinting F. F. McNaughton’s daily dispatches relating the Pekin Kiwanis Club’s weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1932, it’s an ideal occasion to turn our attention to the mode of transportation by which the Kiwanians got from Pekin to Washington.
The Kiwanis Club members and their families back then were carried to and from the nation’s capital by passenger train. McNaughton mentioned in his editorial columns that they took “the Alton” to Chicago, and then “the B & O” to Washington. “The Alton” was the Chicago & Alton Railroad, while “the B & O” – a name that Monopoly-players will recognize – was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In the days before the construction of the interstate highway system, rail was Americans’ preferred method of long-distance cross country travel.
The Alton Depot in Pekin was often known in town simply as “the Pekin Depot.” It was located near the intersection of Broadway and 14th. Even years after passenger rail travel ended in Pekin and the old tracks were pulled up, the Alton Depot still stood in its place as a reminder of days gone by. When the historic structure was threatened by the construction of a new Walgreens, the depot was preserved for future generations by being relocated about a quarter-mile east on Broadway.
The old Alton Depot is historic not only because it served so many travelers leaving from or coming to Pekin over the years (such as the Pekin Kiwanians who toured Washington, D.C., in 1932), but in particular because it was the scene of Pekin’s first presidential campaign whistle stop on Nov. 4, 1932. On that date, President Herbert Hoover, racing at a feverish pace across the country in a valiant but ultimately vain attempt to secure reelection, made a disappointingly quick stop at the Alton Depot. His train was running late that day, so he barely had time to say, “Ladies and gentlemen,” before the train pulled away, making it necessary for several Pekinites to race down the track in order to try to give bouquets of flowers to the First Lady.
for the last few weeks, President Hoover’s whistle stop has been featured in a display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, along with articles and mementos on President Abraham Lincoln’s Pekin connections and the Pekin visits of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Vice President George H. W. Bush. The display will be exhibited through the end of this month.