Bricks, paved roads, and coal mines

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

Bricks, paved roads, and coal mines

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the most prominent industries in Pekin’s past were coal mining and brick manufacturing, and one company had a hand in both: the Jansen & Company.

Jansen & Zoeller was located on Pekin’s East Bluff by Reservoir Road, the area where Sunset Hills is located today. “Millions of bricks used for building many of Pekin’s early businesses and residences were supplied from that location, which was chosen because of the type of clay found in the area,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” pp. 96-97.

The senior partner in the company was John D. Jansen, who emigrated from Germany to Peoria when he was only 22. It was in Peoria where Jansen learned brick masonry. After a time, he moved to Pekin, where he partnered in a brick-making company with Thomas Snyder. Soon after that, in 1894, he joined with Henry Jost and Charles Zoeller to form the Jansen, Jost & Zoeller Company. Jost later left the partnership, but Jansen and Zoeller continued the business, which incorporated in 1899 and was located at 212 N. Capitol St.

“Zoeller had left Germany, at age 16, arriving in Philadelphia, in 1868, with his brother where he learned the trade of a brick mason,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History. “Seeking greater opportunity, Zoeller set out for Pekin where he enjoyed a 21-year prosperous career with fellow bricklayer, John Jansen. Zoeller left the firm in 1915 and died in 1935.”

In addition to brick-making, the firm’s owners also were involved in brick paving of streets. They also were building contractors, and among their projects were Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, St. John’s Lutheran Church and the old Peoria & Pekin Terminal railroad bridge that crossed the Illinois River.

According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” “In 1891 Jansen’s son, Dietrich, the Pekin City engineer, was admitted as a partner. Dietrich Jansen later partnered with Fred Schaefer to organize one of the most prominent road-paving companies in the state” ¬— the business known as the Jansen & Zoeller Brick Company.

Shown is some Jansen & Schaefer road paving equipment from about 1920.

Dietrich Jansen and Fred Schaefer took the reins of the company in 1915, with Schaefer serving as “outdoor supervisor” and Jansen taking care of inside equipment. They “built their first state highway in 1919 as well as many similar projects in every part of Illinois,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” which goes on to say, “Beside building the roads in the north end of Pekin, Jansen and Schaefer also constructed the Pekin Park Swimming Pool in 1937 (which was razed in 1998); Pekin High School Memorial Stadium and the Kriegsman Transfer Co. Warehouse.”

In 1946 Jansen & Schaefer built a ready-mix concrete plant on Broadway at 15th Street, which is today the location of Kroger and a strip mall.

Jansen & Schaefer also built the very first paved load road — a work path that stretched from the Ubben Coal Mine on the East Bluff to what is today Court Street. Horse-drawn wagons would carry coal from the mine to the Big Four sidetrack, where a crew would shovel the coal into the waiting train cars.

Schaefer shifted to coal mining in May 1939, when he bought one of the old Grant coal mines. It was one year after the dismantling of the Ubben Mine’s tipple structure. The Ubben Mine formerly had been one of the largest businesses in the area, generating more than a million tons of coal from the time it was first opened in 1880 until it closed in 1930. Schaefer’s coal company was known as the Schaefer’s Mining Company or the Pekin Mining Company, and the mine’s entrance was located just off Broadway Road, where the Herget Bank Parkway-Broadway branch was located for many years.

Schaefer’s was the last mine in Pekin, closing around 1951. After the death of Fred Schaefer, his daughter Anna and son-in-law Harold McNally, with Jansen’s sons Norman and James, inherited the business. Soon after, an inspection of the mine determined it to be unsafe. So ended the days of coal mining in Pekin.

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Dietrich Jansen and the railroad bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Older Pekin residents will remember the old railroad bridge that once spanned the Illinois River just to the north of the old Pekin lift bridge. Both bridges were removed in the 1970s and 1980s to make way for the John T. McNaughton Bridge.

The current bridge’s advantage over the old bridges is, of course, that it is high enough to allow barge traffic to pass beneath without regular and frequent interruptions of automobile and rail traffic. Formerly, when barges had to pass Pekin, the old Pekin bridge had to be raised while the railroad bridge had to use its swingspan to open a passage.

While the railroad bridge is remembered by many, probably not many remember who oversaw its construction. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 1030, informs us that Dietrich H. Jansen (1872-1951), Pekin city engineer and Tazewell County surveyor, “had charge of the construction of the Peoria & Pekin Terminal Railroad bridge across the Illinois River at Pekin” in 1899 and 1900.

Allensworth’s history provides the following brief biography of Dietrich Jansen:

“Dietrich H. Jansen, City Engineer, Pekin, Ill., was born in the city where he now resides, August 8, 1872. His early education, obtained in the public and high schools of Pekin, was supplemented by a course in civil engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana. After completing the latter course of study, he returned to Pekin and occupied the position of Assistant City Engineer for two years and that of City Engineer from 1896 to 1900. From 1898 to 1902 he was Surveyor of Tazewell County, and in the latter year was again appointed City Engineer, his term of office expiring in 1906. In 1901 he was admitted to the firm of Jansen & Zoeller, of which his father was the senior partner. . . . He is the son of John D. and Anna (Steen) Jansen, and his paternal great-grandparents were Dietrich and Anna (Steen) Jansen, while on the maternal side they were John and Theresa (Wineberg) Jacobs, his grandparents being Dietrich and Addie (Jacobs) Jansen, all natives of Germany. In social affiliation Mr. Jansen is a member of the Tazewell Club, while politically he casts his vote with the Republican party. In November, 1900, he was united in marriage at Pekin to Miss Norma Roos, and they have one child, James Nathan, born February 9, 1902.”

Jansen and his wife Norma later had a second son named Norman Roos Jansen in 1907, when Norma died. Jansen passed away on Oct. 22, 1951, and he is buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin, where his sons, who both died in 1980, are also buried.

As for Jansen’s bridge, a 1987 historical calendar of Pekin published by Herget Bank says, “Built in 1899 to bring the Peoria & Pekin Traction Company tracks into Pekin, this steel swingspan structure became the ‘Terminal Bridge’ through the 1906 name change of that company. It later served the Peoria Terminal Company as part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific system.”

Over the decades, the Terminal Bridge was struck several times by barges. Among the final collisions was one in the early 1970s that left the swingspan drooping sadly into the river. No longer usable or needed, a few years later the bridge finally was spectacularly dynamited and its steel ruins hauled away as preparations began for the construction of the new Pekin bridge.

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This vintage photograph shows the old Terminal Bridge at Pekin, a swingspan railroad bridge built in 1899-1900 under the direction of Pekin City Engineer Dietrich H. Jansen (1872-1951).

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