The changing face of Pekin

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Oct. 2013, before the launch of this weblog.

The changing face of Pekin

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Changes and developments come to a community day by day, week by week. New buildings and homes are erected, old ones are demolished, new businesses come to town while older ones expand or close their doors.

Sometimes changes can come rapidly and dramatically, but usually they are gradual and often not noticed at first – and before we know it, years have gone by and a city’s or town’s appearance bears little or no resemblance to the way it looked in the past.

To help Pekin residents remember or discover what their city used to look like, various publications compilations of photographs are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room for study, musing and reminiscing. One of them, often quoted in this column, is “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” first published in 1998 and updated in 2004. The 1949 “Pekin Centenary” and 1974 “Pekin Sesquicentennial” volumes are also filled with old photographs.

The compilation of old Pekin photos that perhaps is the most effective way of showing the ways Pekin has changed is Rob Clifton’s “Pekin History Then and Now,” which, as the title indicates, reprints a vintage photo of Pekin on one page and then displays a contemporary photo of the same location on the opposite page. Sometimes the same structures still exist in the contemporary photos, but usually something new has taken their place.

Among Clifton’s sources or guides for finding old photos is a publication that was prepared and issued in July 1912 by The Commercial Club of Pekin (ancestral to the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce), having the length title, “Pekin, Illinois – Interesting Views of Public Buildings, Churches, Schools, Clubs, Office Buildings, Residences, Parks, Street Scenes and the Industries of the City.”

The book was arranged and compiled by Albert Walter Lewis, and almost all of its photographs and images were the work of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole. As mentioned in previous Local History Room column, Cole also produced a small booklet of engravings and photographs, “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin,” as a way to advertise Pekin to businessmen and to give visitors and tourists a handy memento of their stay.

Lewis’s publication from July 1912 is something like Cole’s “Souvenir,” only on a larger scale. It is mostly a collection of photographs, with a few drawing or engravings, but it also has a few pages of text that describe and promote Pekin as an ideal place to live, work and worship.

Those pages include section headings such as: “Pekin’s Progressiveness,” “Reasons Why Manufacturers Seeking Locations Should Come to Pekin,” “Pekin’s Manufacturing Interests,” “The Near-By Coal Mines Mean Cheap Fuel for Industries,” “Excellent Railroad Advantages and Transportation,” and, “Pekin’s Beautiful Homes, Parks, Drives, etc.”

As a sample of these promotional essays, the latter section says:

“Few cities of our size present as attractive an appearance as is given Pekin by its many handsome residences, its neatly kept broad lawns, its magnificent shade tree, clean streets and drives. Every street and avenue in each direction is adorned with great shade trees, which throw out their massive branches until they meet in the center of the streets.

“There are five public parks, and it is the aim to make them as popular as possible, and that the public should be invited to them. The largest of the parks is Mineral Springs Park, which contains a large pavilion, children’s play grounds, base ball diamond, swimming pools and natural mineral springs, whose waters have a curative power of a high value. These parks mean a healthy city for any one to live in, and is the best evidence of a spirit of progress, and among the first things that a thoughtful manufacturer looks for today in seeking a factory location.

“There are many fine drives about the city, which give to the visitor many visions of the beauties of the city.”

This vintage photograph by Pekin photographer William Blenkiron shows the old Pekin plank bridge that spanned the Illinois River from 1885 to 1930, when it was replaced by a lift bridge.
Shown is the old Pekin High School that stood at the present site of Washington Intermediate School on Washington Street. Built in 1891, this school served as the high school until a new high school was built in 1916. The old high school remained in use as an intermediate or junior high school until 1930, when it was replaced by the current Washington Intermediate School.
This old postcard shows the old Tazewell County Courthouse that served the county from 1850 to 1914, when it was razed to make way for the current, larger county courthouse that opened in 1916. Note the front columns — the bottom half of the columns were painted black to hide the stains from the hands of people leaning on the columns.
In this William Blenkiron photograph we see the old St., Paul’s Evangelical Church on Seventh Street in Pekin.
This Konisek photograph shows the gymnasium and stage in the old parish house of St. Paul’s Evangelical Church in Pekin.

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The legal profession’s earliest days in Tazewell

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

The legal profession’s earliest days in Tazewell

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” a former local judge named A. W. Rodecker was asked to write an essay on the history of the legal profession in the county. Rodecker’s essay, on pages 878-880 of Allensworth’s history, is entitled “Bench and Bar” and sketches the general shape of the legal practice in Tazewell during the county’s early years.

Rodecker began with an acknowledgement of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of Western civilization that then informed the practice of law and the functioning of the courts in America. Rodecker commented, “. . . it is true that, in the courts of the country, the Decalogue is recognized as the guide, and as embracing all law and all equity. If a law-making power declares an act to be a law which contravenes the law ‘thundered from Mount Sinai,’ it cannot be enforced, but is null and void.

Of Tazewell’s first attorneys, Rodecker said, “The lawyers of Tazewell County who came here, or grew up here in an early day, were of the kind who hewed out their way over the roughest road, and blazed it with the glory of well-earned success. They had few books from which to learn, and few decisions of the courts to guide them to settle disputes that grew up in the new State. They fell back upon the old text-books, and became well grounded in principles, and were by no means ‘case lawyers.’ They knew the reason for every rule, and backed up their opinions with a familiarity that was almost invincible. Their knowledge of common law pleadings had to be almost perfect. There was no great code of practice, no very helpful books of forms. They had to plead ‘on the spot.’ A continuance meant costs to their clients, and cases were not then ‘won by delays’ and procrastination. Even on the criminal side of the court, indictments and pleadings did not indulge in a waste of words.

To illustrate how indictments and pleadings in those days “quickly came to the point,” Rodecker copied an indictment that had been “drawn” in September 1837 by Stephen A. Douglas, who later served as senator for Illinois, but who was then Tazewell County’s interim state’s attorney. The indictment, which Douglass brought before a grand jury, but which the grand jury declined to endorse, said:

“The grand jurors chosen, selected and sworn, in and for the County of Tazewell, in the name and by the authority of the people of the State of Illinois, upon their oaths present that Clark Kellogg, on the twenty-seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Seven, at the county aforesaid, one bay mare, of the value of Fifty Dollars, of the goods and chattels of one Joseph Kelso, in the peace, then and there being found, unlawfully, and feloniously, did steal, take away, and drive away, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the same people of the State of Illinois.”

Rodecker’s essay then tells of how the first term of the circuit court in Tazewell County was convened in Mackinaw, the county seat, on May 12, 1828, with Samuel D. Lockwood as the presiding judge. “The first common law case was one of debt, and the first criminal case was for assault and battery,” Rodecker said.

Continuing, Rodecker said, “In 1831 the county-seat was moved from Mackinaw to Pekin, and court was held in what was then known as the Snell School House, which was situated on the west side of Second Street, between Elizabeth and St. Mary’s Streets. In 1826 it was moved to Tremont . . . In 1850 the present court house was completed, and, in August of that year, the county-seat was again moved to Pekin.” That was the court house building that preceded the current Tazewell County Court House.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse, which served the county from 1850 to 1914, when it was demolished to be replaced by the current courthouse.

Rodecker was evidently pleased to be able to boast in 1905 that “Not in all the years of Tazewell County’s existence has a member of its bar been convicted of a crime, or been disbarred for unprofessional conduct” – something that can no longer be said today.

After an enumeration of the county’s attorneys and judges, Rodecker told the following anecdote of swift justice concerning Judge Charles Turner, who had served as a colonel and brevet brigadier general during the Civil War:

“He was a fearless man in every emergency. I well remember that his courage was put to a strong test while he was Judge of the Circuit Court. One night, after he had retired, he heard a noise in the basement of his house, and he got out of bed to investigate and found that his home was being burglarized. He caught sight of a man stealthily creeping from room to room. The Judge as quietly crept after him, and when, in reaching distance, pounced upon him. The burglar was armed with an iron poker, and a terrible fight followed. First the Judge was on top, and then the burglar; but the Judge proved the more powerful man, and, although the burglar was a desperate fighting, the Judge soon had him at his mercy. By this time some of the female members of the family came to his aid with lights, and he bound the burglar, and marched him off to jail. The Grand Jury was in session, and the next day the burglar was indicted, and a Judge from an adjoining county called to hold court; the man plead[ed] guilty and was sentenced, and the following day sent to the penitentiary.”

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