Tales of childhood from Pekin’s past

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

Tales of childhood from Pekin’s past

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

The history of Pekin and Tazewell County consists of the names and the doings of pioneer settlers and Native Americans, the founding of towns and cities, the building of roads and bridges, and the lives of notable businessmen and political leaders.

However, to begin to get a better understanding of what happened in Tazewell County’s or Pekin’s past, and why it happened, we need to consider not only the prominent people and events of local history, but the stories and memories of the everyday lives of ordinary people in the community.

One example of such everyday memories is a 25-page manuscript that records personal stories written down by Mary Aydelott Robertson in the 1960s and compiled in the 1990s by her daughter, Mary Louise Robertson Wilde, entitled, “Tales From Childhood – Pekin, Illinois, c. 1898-1912.” A copy of this manuscript is preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. Wilde explains the background and the nature of her mother’s stories in some introductory remarks:

“At some point, she began writing up adventures from her own life, then typing them with carbon copies. . . . And in the late 1960s (I can place the time by her frugal use of scrap paper with various dates printed on it!), she began to write these stories about childhood as she knew it in Pekin, Illinois, at the turn of the century. I don’t know exactly why she had her older brother, John, as the main character of the tales. . . . Anyway, I’m sure that all the events in the (unfinished) manuscript actually took place. I do detect a certain creativity in the conversations and the feelings attributed to John (some of which I edited out while typing the stories). But the people, the time, and the place have come alive for me as I worked with these tales, and I hope that the same thing will happen to you.”

Here is an excerpt to give the “feel” of Robertson’s stories, from pages 19-20:

“Papa was the head of a grain and commission business. Every morning and afternoon he walked down St. Mary’s Street to his office near the river. Uncle Will often walked with him, because he worked in another grain and commission office across the street from Papa’s. The competition of the two companies did not make any difference to the two brothers, who were very close to each other. Both companies had grain elevators above the river bank, with railroad tracks between the elevators and the water. Papa’s elevator was red, and Uncle Will’s was gray, but otherwise they looked much the same. . . .

“When the children were not in school, Papa often let them walk down to work with him. They liked to watch the farmers drive their loaded wagons onto the big scales to be weighed, and then to see the little cups carrying the grain up into the upper part of the elevator, to be stored. Papa knew all of the farmers by name, and the children knew many of them, too. Particularly, they knew the farmers who lived between town and the farm where the cabin was. They were interested to hear about Marie’s new colt, which was to be her very own, or about the black and white dog that had to be tied up, because it chased the chickens. Next time they drove out to the farm, the children would watch for the colt, or for the black and white dog. . . .

“There were other interesting things about Papa’s business. The company owned other grain elevators up and down the river, but these were not on the railroad to Chicago, as the home elevator was. The company owned a fleet of barges, and a sturdy old side-wheeler to pull them. These barges brought the grain from the other elevators for transshipment to the Chicago grain market. There was also a cabin boat, which could be attached to the steamer. This boat was useful for many errands, such as transporting workmen to the river elevators. But what the children liked about it was that the family could take trips on the river . . . .

“The cabin boat could house the family comfortably, and even provide room for guests. In addition to the double-decker bunks in the two bedrooms, there were cots in the living room, and on the front deck, or porch. With a convenient little galley and a small dining room at her disposal, Mamma said it was like playing at keeping house. Sometimes the cabin boat trailed behind the steamer, or sometimes behind the whole string of barges. When it was at the end of the string, Mamma liked to sit on the rear desk, and watch things getting smaller and smaller as the boat pulled away from them. On still other trips, the cabin boat was hitched to the front of the steamer, which then pushed it up and down the river. The children liked this location best.

“Empty barges were fun to play in. One could run shouting down the length of the empty boat, listening for echoes. Or one could play ball inside, without fear of the ball flying into the water; if they played on the roof of the barge, that happened all too often. Barges loaded with wheat or corn were great fun, too. The children loved to burrow or roll in the grain, as if it were a sand-pile. Mamma was a little afraid that the children might smother in the grain, but Papa pooh-poohed the idea. Still, he made a rule that no child could go alone into a barge filled with grain. John was older than the other children, and he was not quite so interested in trying to build forts and castles of the slippery material. However, whenever the other children wanted to play on a full barge, he always went along. When Mamma realized that he would always be there, she didn’t worry as much, and enjoyed the boat rides more.”

‘The City of Pekin,’ shown here, was a rebuilt canal barge that hauled grain up and down the Illinois River in the early 20th century.

#barge, #city-of-pekin, #mary-aydelott-robertson, #mary-louise-robertson-wilde, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #tales-from-childhood-pekin-illinois-c-1898-1912

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column reviewed the story of how Pekin became an incorporated city in 1849. When the residents of Pekin formally adopted a city charter on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin opted for a mayor/alderman form of government.

The earliest published history of Pekin is found in the Sellers & Bates 1870 Pekin City Directory. On page 28 of that volume, we read, “The election for city officers occurred on the 24th of September, 1849, and resulted in the election of the following named officers: Mayor – Bernard Bailey. First Ward – John Atkinson. Second Ward – David P. Kenyon. Third Ward – Wm. S. Maus. Fourth Ward – Jacob Riblet.”

The Bailey name is an old one in Pekin – part of Pekin is known as Bailey Addition, and Lake Arlann (Meyers Lake) formerly was called Bailey’s Lake. However, Bernard Bailey does not appear to have been a member of that Bailey family. The 1880 “History of Peoria County” says he was born in Maryland on March 26, 1812, the son of Vincent and Susanna (Bernard) Bailey. He first came to Tazewell County, Illinois, around 1830, where he worked as a school teacher and worked at his father’s ox mill. Settling in Pekin, he went into the grocery business and did some wagon making, saving enough money to become a lawyer.

Shown are the federal letters patent signed by President Andrew Jackson confirming the purchase of land in Tazewell County on April 15, 1833, by Bernard Bailey of Pekin, who later was elected Pekin’s first mayor on Sept. 24, 1849. IMAGE FROM U.S. GENERAL LAND OFFICE ARCHIVES VIA ANCESTRY.COM

Bailey then left Pekin, moving to Mercer County, Illinois, and then south to Louisiana, the native state of his wife Arabella Gilmore. In East Baton Rouge Parish, he tried his hand at sugar and cotton planting, until in 1848 he returned to Pekin, being elected mayor the following year.

Originally Pekin’s mayor and aldermen were elected to serve one-year terms, with elections taking place in the spring. Because the first mayor and city council were elected in the autumn, however, they could only serve about seven months before the next election. The 1870 City Directory says the second city election was on April 15, 1850, and Mayor Bailey and three of the four aldermen were reelected (Atkinson losing his reelection bid to Peter Weyhrich).

Before Pekin could vote to incorporate as a city, a hasty enumeration of the town’s inhabitants had to be conducted to verify that Pekin had at least 1,500 residents. However, immigration and prosperity was fueling a population boom during Mayor Bailey’s two terms. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Only a year later, Pekin’s population had increased by more than 20% to 1,840, many of the new arrivals being German immigrants. Bailey was re-elected Mayor (the terms then being one year) and all seemed to be going well.”

“That did not last long, however,” the Sesquicentennial continues.

It was at this point that the fledgling city government experienced its first “hiccup.” The 1887 Pekin City Directory, page 30, briefly explains:

“On the 9th of October, 1850, it was resolved by the Council that the Mayor be requested to resign his office, that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office. On the 25th of October, Mayor Bailey sent in his written resignation which, on motion, was accepted.”

It should be noted that the 1870 City Directory mistakenly switched the calendar dates of the council resolution and Bailey’s resignation. That error was corrected in the 1887 edition, but the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial repeats the 1870 City Directory’s mistake.

The standard reference works on Pekin’s early history do not tell us why Mayor Bailey was not “attending to the duties of his office,” but Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 723, includes a brief reference to Bernard Bailey that may or may not shed some light on that question:

“In the month of October, 1848, the Tazewell Mirror was purchased from John S. Lawrence by John Smith, now of Princeton, Ill. In 1850 Smith sold to Bernard Bailey, but repurchased the Mirror in 1851 in company with Adam Henderson.”

Could Mayor Bailey have been distracted from his civic duties in 1850 by his struggle to operate a newspaper? Whatever the answer to that question, after Bailey’s resignation, a special election was held on Nov. 25, 1850, and Abram Woolston (mistakenly called Woolstein in the 1879 “History of Tazewell County”) was elected to serve the remainder of Bailey’s term.

After owning the Mirror for six months, Bailey sold out and moved to Peoria. There he bought an interest in the Peoria Republican newspaper, later going into the boot and shoe business. In 1856 he was elected Justice of the Peace. He and his wife had 11 children. Pekin’s first mayor lived to the age of 91, dying at Peoria Hospital on Aug. 22, 1903. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.

#baileys-lake, #bernard-bailey, #city-of-pekin, #pekin-becomes-a-city, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-mayor, #preblog-columns

Pekin expands northward

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Taking up again last month’s exploration of the story of Pekin’s expansion over time as shown in historical atlases and plat books of Tazewell County, in this week’s From the Local History Room column we’ll zoom in on the city’s northward expansion.

The earliest atlases and plat books indicate that development and expansion on the city’s north side was relatively slow during the 1800s. During that period, most of the land within or just outside the city’s northern borders was parceled out into a patchwork of a good number of private farms. The 1891 county atlas shows the following names of families owning and working land along the city’s north side but south of what is now Sheridan Road: Weise, Cummings, Moore, Cooper, Myer, Becker, Pfanz and Heisel. Between Sheridan and what is now Route 98, the 1891 atlas shows farms owned by the families of James Shanklin and A. Shanklin, Tucker, Heisel, A. Neirstheimer, Kratz, Wightman and Beinfohr.

The picture was little changed by 1910 – the atlas and plat book that year shows most of the same family farms in that area of the city and its northern border, and the developed city had moved only slightly further north at one or two spots. The southern part of the old Tucker place, however, had been acquired by the Worley family, for whom Worley Lake along the west side of Route 29 is named. The Velde family also appears as a land owner north of Lakeside and Sacred Heart cemeteries and south of Worley Lake on the west side of the future Route 29. The Velde name, of course, is still attached to property in that part of town – the noted car dealership on Pekin’s Auto Row, on the east side of Route 29.

Moving ahead to 1929, the plat map for Pekin Township shows that the city had acquired more land on the north side, with developed Pekin extending as far as a few blocks along the south side of Sheridan Road. Land owners and farmers in the area included the families of Pfanz, Heisel, Moore, Crager, Cunningham, Adolph Nierstheimer Jr., Soldwedel, Cummings, Urish, Jost, Clara and Emma Shanklin (operating Sunny Acres Farm), and  James Shanklin Sr. Also operating along Highway 24 (today Route 29) in 1929 was McGrath Sand & Gravel Co.

At this point of the story, we’ll jump ahead 38 years to consult the 1967 Tazewell County plat book. The Local History Room has several Pekin maps from the time between 1929 and 1967, but they’re not formal plats identifying land owners and businesses on Pekin’s north side. By 1967, Pekin had spread north of Sheridan Road, and old Highway 24 had become Illinois Route 29 while Route 98 had also received its designation. Most of the old farming families no longer appear on the map, however – only Crager, Heisel, and A.C. Nierstheimer still had farms in the area, but their acreage was greatly reduced. The old Shanklin farm had passed to Nelson Wright. Tim and David Soldwedel also had farms in the area – these were the days of the old Soldwedel Dairy.

Most of the land between Sheridan and Route 98 was held by the Pekin Park District (McNaughton Park and adjacent park lands) and McGrath Sand & Gravel Co. (or McGrath Investment Co.). Monge Homes also owned a block of land – the core of Monge’s planned subdivision of Holiday Hills which was just then beginning. Parkway Drive did not yet exist.

By 1975, the county plat book shows that the old McGrath Sand & Gravel property had been broken up among several land owners, the largest of whom was the Martin Marietta Corp. The Holiday Hills subdivision was well established. At this time, my own family lived in a house in Holiday Hills, and in the summer months my brothers and I and other neighborhood kids would sometimes play (i.e. trespass) for hours in the nearby fields north of Holiday Hills (now themselves residential subdivisions) or would tread even as far as the old McGrath gravel pit – quite an adventurous hike for young boys. The Soldwedel Dairy was gone, though the Soldwedels still had some land in the general area. Other stretches of land were held by the Park District, Herget Bank, Ray Yeakel, and CILCO. The Nelson Wright place was still in operation, but of the oldest farming families only the Nierstheimers remained. One of my brothers recalls seeing the horses on the Yeakel or Wright places off in the distance back in those days.

The area has seen a great many changes in the decades following. Consulting a few of the more recent plat books, we see that by 1982 the Marigold Estates subdivision had been established north of Holiday Hills. Martin Marietta still owned most of the former gravel pit, though McGrath Investments also held some of the land as well. The Yeakel and the Wright places were still there, and the Nierstheimer name can still be seen in the area. The city of Pekin by then owned land as far north as Route 98.

Not much had changed by 1990 in the way of land ownership, but Ray Yeakel had acquired a second plot of land. Leaping ahead another 25 years, the most recent plat book this year shows great changes with Pekin Township, with the city of Pekin embracing all the land up to Route 98. The old McGrath gravel pit has become Lake Whitehurst, surrounded by the Lake Whitehurst Cliffs subdivision. The names of Yeakel and Wright no longer appear on the map, replaced by the names of Yordy and Sites. But most remarkable is that the old Nierstheimer name, first seen on the maps at the start of our survey, still appears on property along Parkway Drive held in trust for Ken G. Nierstheimer.










#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county

Pekin’s growth traced through old maps

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room resources available for study are a series of old atlases featuring maps of the Townships, municipalities, and settlements of Tazewell County.

As we noted last week, apparently the earliest known wall map of Tazewell County was produced in 1857, just three decades after Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at a spot on a bluff above the Illinois River, the location that is today the foot of Broadway. That wall map may be examined at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, while editions of the later published maps and atlases are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

A few years later, in 1864, another large plat map of Tazewell County was produced. The 1864 plat map was the subject of a From the Local History Room column that appeared in the March 8, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. In 1979, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society prepared a copy of the 1864 map for publication in a single volume that also includes the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” and the 1891 “Plat Book of Tazewell County, Illinois.”

A third TCGHS-commissioned reprint of old county atlases includes the 1910 “Standard Atlas of Tazewell County, Illinois,” and also bring us down to 1929, with that year’s edition of the “Standard Atlas” and county plat book.

As a convenient example of the value of old maps and atlases, we may consider the growth of the city of Pekin from the time of the 1857 map down to 1929. In 1857, the streets of Pekin extended no further north than the area where North Second and Sommerset streets meet, no further south than Walnut Street, and no further east than 14th Street (then called East Street). Pekin’s streets in 1864, in the last full year of the Civil War, showed little if any change – but the city limits themselves extended to what is today Sheridan Road on the north, what is today 17th Street on the east, and what is today Koch Street on the south (those three streets did not then exist, however). Just beyond the city limits on the east was a large horse race track, something not shown on the 1857 map.

By 1873, however, Pekin’s street grid had stretched a bit further south – Derby Street was then the city’s southernmost street, while on the east the grid extended as far as Primm and Christopher streets – short north-south roadways that no longer exist, but which used to be in the general area where Coal Car Drive today cuts through Mineral Springs Park. The northernmost streets were Ruth Street (a little cul-de-sac that no longer exists, just north of the junction of Second and Sommerset) and Franklin Street (today called Amanda). That horse race track outside Pekin’s eastern city limits was then designated the “Fair Grounds of the Pekin Agricultural & Mechanical Association,” occupying 80 acres along the north side of Broadway near 18th Street (see From the Local History Room, Pekin Daily Times, Jan. 18, 2014).

The street layout of Pekin in 1891 had not expanded greatly beyond its 1873 extent, but on the east the gridwork shot out an arm or two as far as the border of Daniel Sapp’s “Pekin Driving Park,” then the name of the old horse race track. Less than two decades later, however, the atlas in 1910 shows a grid of streets in the southwestern corner of town reaching as far as Koch Street – the neighborhood of Cooper, Herget and Sapp streets. Nearby to the east, South Capitol, South Fourth, Bacon, and South Fifth streets extended as far as South Street. On the southeast of Pekin, a new subdivision south of Court Street appeared near the northwest shores of Bailey Lake (later called Lake Arlann, now called Meyers Lake). On the east, a full grid of streets reached as far as 17th Street and north to Willow Street. The race track was still there, but the “Pekin Driving Park” was then on land owned by H. G. Herget and was operated by the Pekin Trotting Association.

The 1929 atlas shows additional growth, with added subdivisions south of Court Street and east of Bailey Lake, an impressive, broad swath of new streets between Derby and Koch streets and east of South Fifth, and a new subdivision north of Willow Street and east of Eighth on part of the old Cummings estate. There still were no named or numbered streets beyond 17th on the east, however, but the race track was no more – adjacent to the former race track property was the entrance to the old Grant Coal Mine.

The photo gallery here features Pekin maps from the above mentioned maps, atlases, and plat books.

#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #tazewell-county

Pekin’s phantom suburb of Hong Kong

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Probably few Pekin residents have ever heard of the city’s little suburb of Hong Kong. In contrast, however, perhaps most Pekin residents have heard of the old tradition of how Pekin got its name. This week’s “From the Local History Room” will explain how those two topics are connected.

We explored the question of Pekin’s naming about four years ago in the column entitled, “How did Pekin get its name?” (Pekin Daily Times, Dec. 3, 2011, page C2), which included the following quote from late local historian Fred Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places”:

“After the completion of the plat of the new town in 1830, Mrs. Nathan Cromwell, for reasons still obscure, gave the city the name of PEKIN . . . It is speculated, and a common legend in Pekin, that the city was so named by Mrs. Cromwell on the belief that the site was exactly opposite the site of Peking, capital of China.”

Pekin is not, of course, “exactly opposite” the site of Beijing (Peking), but is approximately opposite Beijing on approximately the same latitude – Pekin is at about 40 degrees North while Beijing is at about 39 degrees North. In the 1800s and even the early 1900s, “Pekin” was the usual “anglicized” spelling of Peking/Beijing.

The earliest writers on Tazewell County and Pekin history also indicate, with varying certitude, an association of the naming of Pekin with Peking, China. Thus, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” says Mrs. Cromwell “gave to it the name of Pekin, we suppose after the celestial city of that name.” In his 1870 sketch of Pekin’s history, William H. Bates wrote that “we can only surmise that in the plenitude of her imagination she looked forward to the time when it would equal in size that other Pekin – the Chinese City of the Sun.”

The earliest historical reference associating Pekin with Peking is the 1860 diary of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp (father of Pekin’s first settler Jonathan Tharp), who wrote that the founders of Pekin in 1830 “were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city,” indicating that by 1860 – only three decades after Pekin’s founding – the city’s residents had already taken to associating their home town with its Chinese namesake.

It’s in the context of that old notional association of Pekin, Ill., with China that we should view a remarkable feature found on an early wall map of Tazewell County that was produced in 1857. David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, who has studied and indexed the county’s historical toponyms (place names), recently drew my attention to a particular place name on that map: “Hong Kong.”

The 1857 wall map places “Hong Kong” on the east bank of the Illinois River, due north of the old City Cemetery that once existed at the foot of Koch Street, and about two miles southwest of Pekin’s old downtown. The map displays a complete lack of a gridwork of city streets between Pekin and Hong Kong, which the map shows with nothing more than five or six streets.

This little “suburb” of Pekin is shrouded in mystery. As far as we can tell, no plat map of Hong Kong, Ill., was filed with the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds, or at least no such plat has survived. The only evidence of this Hong Kong’s existence is this 1857 map. The 1864 M. H. Thompson map of Tazewell County shows no trace of Hong Kong, displaying instead a single road (today South Front Street) and a single building (presumably some kind of factory or distillery or industrial business), nor does little Hong Kong appear on any other early maps or in any other atlases and historical documents. That area has long been Pekin’s industrial district, and Praxair Inc. now occupies a spot at or near the land formerly called Hong Kong.

According to Perkins, despite what the 1857 map says, Hong Kong may never have really existed. It’s possible that a land speculator platted out Hong Kong as a proposed town and tried unsuccessfully to attract settlers and businesses. The little settlement may have existed for a very short time, having a very small population, or perhaps Hong Kong never had a single inhabitant. It may have been nothing more than a name on a map.

The significance of the name, however, may be readily seen. Because Pekin bore a name with Chinese overtones, someone apparently thought it only fitting that there should be another town in the vicinity named for Hong Kong. We may not be able to learn anything definite about Tazewell County’s Hong Kong, but we at least can see that this mysterious name from 1857 – three years before Tharp’s diary – is an additional bit of evidence that the association of Pekin with China goes back to the days of Pekin’s pioneers.


The little settlement of “Hong Kong” is shown in this detail of an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County. The map was formerly displayed in the Kuhfuss & Kuhfuss law offices in downtown Pekin. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#1857-tazewell-county-wall-map, #city-of-pekin, #hong-kong, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-maps, #tcghs

A boat named the ‘City of Pekin’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we shine a spotlight on a boat that hauled grain on the Illinois River in the early 20th century. Named the “City of Pekin,” the boat’s history was featured in a story on the front page of the Jan. 8, 1981 Pekin Daily Times, titled, “‘City of Pekin’ Once Plied The Illinois River.” A clipping of the story is on file in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

The Daily Times writer, Mary Ann Castelluccio, says, “The ‘City of Pekin,’ originally a canal barge later rebuilt for river use, was owned by the Illinois River Packet Co. or the Turner Hudnut Company of Pekin. The captain was Joseph W. Foster, who was born on a canal boat between Morris and Seneca in the 1860’s …”

According to Castelluccio, it is uncertain what the boat’s name was before she was rebuilt for river use. Joe Lamb, president and chief organizer of the Illinois Canal Society at Lockport, Ill., told the Daily Times that the boat was probably originally “The Clyde,” a mule-hauled barge, but others think she was a different canal barge named the “City of Henry.”

Whatever her original name, she was built in Chicago in 1875, and was renamed “City of Pekin” when she was rebuilt in 1911. A 15-foot high pilot house was added, which made it “impossible to clear bridges on the Illinois and Michigan Canal or the Hennepin Canal.” Instead, she worked the Illinois River.

Captain Foster’s daughter, Mrs. Helen Poole, grew up on the “City of Pekin,” and she left the following description of the boat, detailing the furnishing that her family used when they went out on the river with their father on long hauls:

“The fore cabin was sleeping quarters for the deck hands. The walls were tongue and groove lumber painted cream color. There was a board floor with a rag rug. As you stepped down into the cabin, there was a bunk bed on either side; windows were sliding ones with green shades. Under the window at the back was a shelf with a washbasin, and there was a small mirror on the wall and a couple of hooks for hanging ‘go-to-town clothes.’ A towel hung on the door. A lantern used for lighting was stored on the shelf. Sheets and pillowcases were dark blue with small white figures (calico) and dark blankets.

“The main cabin or captain’s quarters had three rooms. The front half was dining room and kitchen. The back was divided in half with bunk beds on either side. Again sliding windows with shades, no curtains. Between the two bedrooms was a door and the doors from the dining room-kitchen had curtains made of drapery material. Not much privacy, but this was mostly a family affair. There was space for storage under the bunks, for a trunk and cases of canned goods. There were a few hooks for hanging extra clothing.

“As you entered the cabin there was a step down. Near the door was a speaking tube for communication between the pilot house and the cabin. There was brown and cream-color linoleum in a square design on the floor. Between the windows on the right side as you faced the bow of the boat was a built-in table covered with oilcloth. Stools were used instead of chairs. Dishes were white ironstone.

“Across the front of the cabin was a cupboard for dishes and a small sink. The cookstove was on the left side. There was an open shelf at the side. Iron frypans and kettles hung on hooks behind the stove. There was a sewing machine in the corner and a rocking chair. On the back wall at the right was a mirror, and at the left a large calendar.

“Menus were simple – meat, potatoes, a vegetable and a ‘sauce;’ bacon and eggs and bread with coffee for breakfast, and sometimes ‘steamboat strawberries’ (prunes) … My father put a Yeast Foam box with one side removed across the corner of the window on the left side of the pilot house where I could stand and help him ‘steer’ the boat.”

After a couple of decades on the Illinois River, in 1936 the state of Illinois hauled the old vessel to Channahon on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. The idea was to restore her as an exhibit or perhaps even have it hauled up and down the canal by mules. Nothing ever came of those ideas, though, and the “City of Pekin” was left to rot, and in 1941 a fire burned her to the waterline.


‘The City of Pekin,’ shown here, was a rebuilt canal barge that hauled grain up and down the Illinois River in the early 20th century.

#barge, #canals, #captain-joseph-w-foster, #city-of-pekin, #helen-poole, #illinois-and-michigan-canal, #illinois-canal-society, #mary-ann-castellucio