The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2014 before the launch of this weblog.

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column has spotlighted on various occasions the early city directories of Pekin and Peoria in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These volumes are often useful in researching local history and genealogy in the areas of Tazewell and Peoria counties.

The Local History Room collection also includes another set of directories that help to shed light upon the history in our area. These are eight volumes of White’s Tazewell County Directory. The library’s collection includes White’s directories for the years 1914, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1928 and 1930.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Company, 405 Court St., Pekin, appeared in the 1914 White’s Tazewell County Directory. The copy of the directory in which this advertisement appeared was once owned by John Fitzgerald, who was then Citizen Telephone’s secretary and treasurer.

White’s directories were prepared and published by J. A. White, a Peoria-based publisher who debuted the first of his Tazewell County directories in 1913. To provide some historical context, that was a year before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe and the start of construction on the current Tazewell County Courthouse (which would be completed and dedicated in the summer of 1916).

Assuming a somewhat apologetic tone, White explains his reasons for publishing his county directories in his “Introductory” comments toward the front of the 1914 volume.

“In presenting this, my Second Volume of White’s Tazewell County Directory,” White says, “I believe I will fill a long-felt want. I have exerted myself to make this as complete and comprehensive a work of the kind as possible, and while not always perfect, I trust the public will overlook any small errors which may have crept in.”

The “long-felt want” referred to the difficulty people back then had in finding families and businesses that were located outside of Pekin. The Bates’ and Polk’s Pekin annual city directories, which began to be published in 1870, were of great help if one were looking for a person or a business in Pekin – but what about the rest of the county?

To supply that need, White’s directories included a compilation of all Tazewell County individuals or heads of households age 16 and up who lived outside the Pekin city limits. In addition, his directories included a Business Directory for the city of Pekin, as well as a Directory of Miscellaneous Information on Tazewell County and its towns and villages, with the “Rural Free Delivery” (R.F.D.) list showing the route on which each farmer lived out in the rural unincorporated areas of the county. White also helpfully indicated with a cross which individuals were heads of household, and with a large dot indicated which individuals owned the land that they lived on and farmed.

In the 1914 directory, each subsection on one of the towns in the county begins with a brief description of the town. Most of them are short and simple, such as the description of Deer Creek – “A village in the N E part of the county on the Lake Erie and Western R R 18 miles east of Peoria.” The description of Delavan notes that the village “had water works and electric light plant.” As the county seat, Pekin’s description naturally is the longest (although curiously lacking in punctuation):

“A beautiful city located on the east side of the Illinois River Is the county seat of Tazewell County has many large manufacturing institutions and compares favorably with many cities of greater population Has six railroads The P & P T, Santa Fe Big Four I C C P & St L and P & P U and semi-weekly boats to St Louis”

In the same directory, the “Miscellaneous Information” begins on page 230 with a list of county officers, as follows (with punctuation style as shown in the directory):

Judge County Court – J M Rahn
Clerk County Court – Geo Behrens
Treasurer – Wm E Schureman
Sheriff – C A Fluegel
Superintendent of Schools – B L Smith
Circuit Clerk and Recorder – C O Myers
States Attorney – Wm J Reardon
Surveyor – Ben F Smith
Coroner – Ernest F Masen
Master-in-Chancery – H C Frings
Probation Officer – John H Shade

Of these names, we have previously seen the Schureman surname in the survey of the early history of Green Valley. State’s Attorney William J. Reardon later was on the team of attorneys who successfully defended the Tazewell County deputies charged with the 1932 torture-murder of Martin Virant. Finally, John H. Shade will be familiar to many Pekin residents as the father of the late Mayor J. Norman Shade.

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The old Citizens Telephone Company

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Sept. 2014 before the launch of this weblog.

The old Citizens Telephone Company

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Just over the past few decades, the telecommunications industry has seen great changes both in technology and in options available to consumers — and over the past century or so, those changes have been vast.

Soon after the turn of the last century, consumer options in Pekin were limited to just two telephone companies: the Central Union Telephone Company, and the Citizens Telephone Company. A four-paragraph account of Citizens Telephone was included in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on page 80. The first two paragraphs of that account are as follows:

“The year 1901 found Pekin with two competing telephone companies: Central Union Telephone Company, first on the scene, and the newly organized Citizens Telephone Company, headed by James W. Barrett. The Citizens Company also established an exchange at East Peoria, adding to their already existing stations at Havana, Manito, Green Valley, Delavan, and Lacon, connected by a system of company-owned toll lines.

“The continuous growth of the community necessitated expansion of service, which meant much additional capital. Following the first World War, the telephone situation was discouraging for the citizens of Pekin, as there were two sets of telephone lines in town, yet many people seeking service could not get it until much of the outmoded equipment was replaced and the necessary expansion completed.”

During those years, Citizens Telephone operated out of a building at 405 Court St. in downtown Pekin -— the same building where the Pekin Daily Times offices were then located, and which suffered a wall collapse over four years ago. The 1887 Pekin City Directory lists the Times Publishing Co., “publishers of the Daily and Weekly Times,” at 507 Court St., but the 1893 directory shows that the Times had moved to 405 Court St. by that year.

However, the 1903-1904 Pekin City Directory, page 183, shows the following occupants of 405 Court St.: Times Publishing Co.; Citizens Telephone Co., 2nd floor; and J. K. Hawkins. The Times moved out of the building around 1905, and the former Times offices became the offices of the Tribune Printing Co., a Pekin newspaper that was also owned by the Times Publishing Co.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Co., encouraging the technological innovation of the residential telephone, was published 104 years ago, in the 1914 Pekin City Directory.

Citizens Telephone continued to occupy the second floor of 405 Court St., though, and the city directories around that time usually listed “405½ Court St.” as the phone company’s address. For a while, as shown in the 1913 and 1914 directories, Citizens Telephone shared the building with Idylhour Theatre, located on the ground floor, but eventually the phone company became the lone occupant of the building.

The Sesquicentennial’s account of Citizens Telephone goes on to say that, “The Citizens Company was sold to W.S. Green and associates, who had formed a new company (still called Citizens Company). They promptly traded East Peoria and Delavan service rights to Central Union (later absorbed by the Bell System) for the ‘long distance phone system’ in Pekin and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new capital to replace the mass of bare wires in town with one of the most extensive underground cable systems to be found in a similar-sized community anywhere.

“The depression years of the early thirties proved a serious blow to the company, however, and so in January of 1938 the Citizens Company was taken over by the Middle States Telephone Company of Illinois, which was a division of the Central Telephone Company (no kin to Central Union) headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois. The firm retained the name of Middle States, however, for nearly 30 years, officially changing to Central Telephone in 1967.”

Thanks to the old Pekin city directories, we are able to correct one important detail of this account. It was not in 1938 that Citizens Telephone was taken over by Middle States. Rather, the takeover must have happened about 10 years earlier, because the city directories list Citizens Telephone at 405 Court St. up until 1928 — the city directory of that year for the first time shows “Middle States Telephone” at that address, and so it would continue for the next 39 years.

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