Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Harvard Hills

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we complete our survey of the unincorporated communities of Tazewell County, with our focus placed upon the Harvard Hills subdivision in the northwest corner of Washington Township. We’ll also take an overview of the township’s various subdivisions and unincorporated communities both past and present.

Washington Township, the second largest township in Tazewell County, has pioneer roots that reach back to the very beginnings of Tazewell County. One of the county’s first settlers of European origin was William Holland Sr., who arrived in Peoria in 1820 and then moved to the future Washington Township in the spring of 1825, when he built a log cabin on Section 23. That was the seed of the city of Washington, which Holland formally laid out and platted in 1834.

Since that time, Washington has always been not only the primary community in Washington Township, but, until East Peoria began to spread east, the township’s only incorporated community. In fact, for much of the township’s early history the city of Washington was the township’s only community. Early plat maps from 1864, 1873, and 1891 show the wide township with Washington in its center and the remainder of the township lightly peppered with schoolhouses and churches.

By 1891, the plat map shows Pekin Junction as a station a few miles somewhat northeast of Washington. The station was where the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, coming up from the south, joined up with the northeasterly-bound Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway. Pekin Junction, established in 1872 according to the late Fred Soady’s list of Tazewell County toponyms, was named because the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line (originally the Chicago & St. Louis) branched off at that point and headed toward Pekin. The old plat maps do not indicate that any community grew up around Pekin Junction, however.

While the 1891 plat map of Washington Township does not show any other place names besides Washington city and Pekin Junction, it does indicate that the city of Washington was then surrounded by numerous smaller lots that were essentially subdivisions even if not formally laid out as such. The same map also shows three other similar groupings of lots, in Sections 3, 22, and 28.

In 1929 most of western Washington Township was dedicated to farming, with only a few subdivisions or grouping of small tracts, as shown in this detail of a township plat map from that year.

By 1929, in addition to the lot groupings of Section 3 and Section 28, several named subdivisions and farms are scattered all over the plat map of Washington Township: Pleasant Heights, Pleasant Ridge, Forrest View, Grand View, Garden Lawn, Oak Ridge, etc. The lot grouping in Section 3, with north-south strips of land along Liberty Lane, is still there today.

More recent plat maps of the township show the creation of new subdivisions that circled the city of Washington or in the eastern and southern parts of the township. In time, however, most of those subdivisions would be formally annexed either by the city of Washington or the city of East Peoria. One of them, Sunnyland, is now more or less split between Washington and East Peoria. Similarly, the expansion of East Peoria led to the old communities of Gardena and Cloverdale in northeastern Groveland Township becoming a part of East Peoria.

The Harvard Hills subdivision did not yet exist at this time the 1945 Washington Township plat map was drawn.

The genesis of the Harvard Hills subdivision — an area in Sections 7 and 8 marked “subdivided” — is shown in this detail of a 1955 plat map of Washington Township.

Several unincorporated subdivisions remain in Washington Township, including the homes along Parkview, Camelot, Sunset, Golfview, Woodbine, and Durham that are completely surrounded by the city of Washington. But the largest and most prominent of the named subdivisions in the township in Harvard Hills in Sections 7 and 8, in the northwestern corner of Washington Township. The homes of Harvard Hills lay along Hillman Street, North and South Behrens Avenue, Green Avenue, and Spring Creek Road.

The 1864 and 1873 plat maps show that much of the land of Harvard Hills was then owned by members of the Ficht family. Another earlier landowner in the area, as shown on the 1891, 1910, and 1929 plat maps, was John Poehlman. A country school once existed on Ficht land in Section 8, adjacent to Poehlman’s farm. In more recent times, a prominent owner of the future land of Harvard Hills was Charles Rinkenberger, as shown on the 1945 plat map of Washington Township.

By 1955, however, Rinkenberger’s land (on which the old country school was still situated) is shown on the map as “subdivided” – the genesis of Harvard Hills.

By 1993 large tracts of western Washington Township had been annexed to Washington and East Peoria, and most of the area was a patchwork of subdivisions — including Harvard Hills — and several small tract groupings.

Harvard Hills is the only named unincorporated community in this detail of a 2017 plat map of western Washington Township. A comparison of this map with earlier ones shows the expansion of Washington and East Peoria in this township.

#charles-rinkenberger, #cloverdale, #east-peoria, #ficht-family, #forrest-view, #garden-lawn, #gardena, #grand-view, #harvard-hills, #john-poehlman, #oak-ridge, #pekin-junction, #pleasant-heights, #pleasant-ridge, #sunnyland, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities, #william-holland

Illinois makes it to 10: the state’s first incorporated cities

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following up on our recent accounts of how Pekin became an incorporated town in 1837 and an incorporated city in 1849, this week we’ll scan a wider vista as we study the incorporated municipalities of Illinois.

The city of Pekin is just one of 1,299 Illinois incorporated municipalities, of which there are three kinds: villages, towns, and cities. Given the usual definitions of those terms, one might assume that the kind of municipality depends on population and geographical size – villages being little, towns being mid-sized, cities being largest. But size has almost nothing to do with it.

For example, Melrose Park near Chicago is a village, but has a population of about 25,000, while the southern Illinois municipality of Nason in Jefferson County is a city, but has only 236 residents, making it the smallest city in Illinois. Meanwhile, both Topeka in Mason County, population 71, and Normal in McLean County, population 54,264, are towns. The largest town in Illinois is Cicero, population 82,992, and the smallest town is Bentley in Hancock County, population 34.

The kind of municipality isn’t a matter of size. Rather, they are three forms of municipal government. The main difference is that villages and towns are governed by boards of trustees, while cities are governed by mayors and city councils. The city form of government may be aldermanic, commission, or mayor/managerial.

Remarkably, there are only three counties in Illinois that have no cities: Calhoun County, which has only five villages, all incorporated in the 1880s and 1890s; Henderson County, which has only eight villages; and Putnam County, which has only six villages.

But Tazewell County has five cities: Pekin, incorporated Aug. 21, 1849; Washington, first incorporated Feb. 10, 1857; East Peoria (formerly called Hilton), first incorporated July 1, 1884; Delavan, first incorporated April 17, 1888, and the youngest of our county’s cities, Marquette Heights, incorporated June 27, 1956.

As noted previously, the 1870 Illinois constitution eliminated the option of “town” as a possible choice when a settlement opts for incorporation, so afterwards there could be no new towns. Many Illinois municipalities started out as villages or towns, later adopting a city form of government, but many have remained villages and a few – only 19 – have decided to stick with their original town charters. Most municipalities (including Pekin) re-incorporated under the 1872 general law of incorporation.

Under current incorporation law, a locale must have at least 200 people to incorporate as a village and at least 2,500 to incorporate as a city. Even if the population later shrinks, the municipality need not give up its form of government, but the choice to unincorporate is sometimes made when a municipality declines.

Most of our municipalities were established after Illinois became a state in 1818, but a few settlements were incorporated when Illinois was a territory – and Illinois’ earliest incorporated settlement was Kaskaskia, the former territorial capital and first state capital, which received its original town charter from King Louis XV of France in 1725 during the colonial period.

Almost a year before Illinois statehood, Kaskaskia was incorporated as a town on Jan. 6, 1818. The following year the state capital was moved to Vandalia, and poor abandoned Kaskaskia eventually was almost completely destroyed by a flood in April 1881, when the Mississippi River changed its course. The 2000 federal census showed only nine people left in the bayou that is all that remains of the first state capital.

Another Illinois city, Golconda in Pope County, was already around by 1816 when Pope County was established. Originally called Sarahsville, the residents opted for the name “Golconda” on Jan. 24, 1817, and they received a town charter on March 1, 1845, becoming a city some time later. Thus, one must not interpret the date of incorporation as the same as the date of founding, because usually a community or settlement existed for several years, even a long time, before finally incorporating.

Of those municipalities that later became cities, Pekin was the 17th municipality to be incorporated since Illinois became a territory — but the earliest one of them to become an incorporated municipality was Shawneetown in Gallatin County, which became a village on Dec. 8, 1814, a town on Feb. 27, 1847, and a city on Feb. 22, 1861.

Old Pekin historical publications say Pekin was the 10th incorporated city in Illinois, a claim that can be confirmed by consulting Illinois state records and old published county histories.

The very first incorporated city in Illinois was Cairo in Alexander County, which was granted a city charter on Jan. 9, 1818. In those days, however, Cairo was really only a city on paper. The site was chosen for a city because, as the charter states, the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was thought an economically auspicious location. In those days, there seemed little grounds to hope for prosperity in a city on the shores of Lake Michigan (the railroad was still a new invention, and the St. Lawrence Seaway was yet future), and Illinois depended on the Mississippi for the movement of people and goods. Nevertheless, no one would be interested in living in the planned and platted city of Cairo for many more years to come. A new settlement at the site was founded in the 1830s, and so Cairo was given a second city charter on March 4, 1837.

Shown is a detail from an 1819 Illinois state law that lists several pre-statehood laws that had been passed by the Illinois Territorial Legislature. One of them, approved Jan. 9, 1818, was “an act to incorporate the city and bank of Cairo” — thus making Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois, then only a proposed city, the first incorporated city in Illinois.

If not for Cairo’s 1818 charter, the honor of being Illinois’ first incorporated city would go to (where else?) Chicago, which became a city on March 4, 1837, the same date as Cairo’s second charter. Chicago was originally incorporated as a town on Aug. 12, 1833. Coming in close behind Chicago as Illinois’ third city is Alton in Madison County, which incorporated as a city on July 31, 1837 (but became a town before Chicago did, on Jan. 30, 1821).

The fourth and fifth cities of Illinois were Quincy and Springfield, but were incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly on the same day, Feb. 3, 1840. Springfield, which incorporated as a town on April 2, 1832, had recently been designated as Illinois’ third state capital. It officially received its city charter on April 6, 1840.

Illinois’ sixth incorporated city was Nauvoo in Hancock County, which served as the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) until the Mormon War. Nauvoo became a city on Feb. 1, 1841.

Next in order came Galena in Jo Daviess County, the home of President Ulysses S. Grant, which was incorporated as a town on Jan. 7, 1835. The path that Galena was forced to take to acquire its first city charter was marred by political tumult and controversy involving a runaway town board. The General Assembly approved a city charter for Galena on Feb. 15, 1839, stipulating that the Galena town board had to place the proposed charter before their residents for a vote. The board members, however, usurped the role of the State Supreme Court and claimed some of the charter’s provisions were unconstitutional. Flouting state law, the board passed a resolution declaring that they would never obey the law requiring them to hold a town referendum on the charter. Legal action immediately ensued, leading to the state’s high court issuing a writ of mandamus (Latin, “we command”) on Nov. 16, 1840, ordering the Galena board to let their constituents vote on the charter. The board again rebelled. The scandal finally was ended by the exasperated people of Galena themselves, who voted out the old board on April 5, 1841. The new board members immediately agreed to hold the vote on the charter, which was approved by a vote of 196-34 on April 26, 1841. So Galena finally became a city. (The full account of Galena’s tortuous path to cityhood may be read in H.F. Kett’s 1878 History of Jo Daviess County.)

After the fireworks of Galena’s city charter battle, Peoria much more quietly became the eighth incorporated city in Illinois on April 21, 1845. Almost four years elapsed until Illinois got its ninth city: Rock Island, incorporated on Feb. 12, 1849. Six months later, in August of 1849, Pekin voted to adopt a city charter, making Pekin the 10th incorporated city in Illinois.

#alton, #bentley, #cairo, #chicago, #cicero, #delavan, #east-peoria, #golconda, #hilton, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-municipalities, #illinois-first-10-incorporated-cities, #illinois-three-city-less-counties, #kaskaskia, #marquette-heights, #mormon-war, #nason, #nauvoo, #normal, #pekin-becomes-a-city, #peoria, #quincy, #rock-island, #shawneetown, #springfield, #topeka, #vandalia, #washington

Ninety years of CILCO history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Although it has been 13 years since CILCO – the Peoria-based Central Illinois Light Company – was acquired by Ameren, for many long-time Pekin residents it may still seem strange to speak of paying “the Ameren bill.”

For them, the monthly gas and electric utility bill will probably always be “the CILCO bill.” With a corporate history that began in 1913, the name of “CILCO” – and the old R.S. Wallace Station which for decades was a landmark on the Illinois River in East Peoria – will likely linger on in local memories for years to come.

One of the items recently donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection is a 1988 brochure published to mark the CILCO’s 75th anniversary.

Titled, “CILCO and Central Illinois: Growing Together for 75 Years,” the 15-page brochure reviews the company’s history using narrative and photographs. The story begins with the merger of seven area companies to create a larger company to provide Peoria and 26 area communities, including Pekin, with gas, electric and steam power.

The brochure also tells of the formation in 1923 of the Illinois Electric Power Company of East Peoria, of which CILCO was a part. The new company built the R.S. Wallace Station as a steam electric plant, located where East Peoria’s Super Walmart stands today. In January 1958 came the addition of the company’s familiar mascot, the lightning-bolt-bodied and light-bulb-nosed Reddy Kilowatt, who displayed the time and temperature for drivers over the Murray Baker Bridge.

Cilcogram March 1955

CILCO’s company mascot Reddy Kilowatt, “Your Electric Servant,” is featured in the pages from the March 1955 Cilcogram that was sent out to CILCO customers with their monthly electric bills.

Also recently donated to the Local History Room collection are several old “Cilcograms” from the early to mid-1950s. These small pamphlets, often featuring Reddy Kilowatt on the front cover, used to be sent out with the monthly CILCO bill. Cilcograms provided information on electricity and wiring for homes, along with promotions of local charitable activities and sponsored advertisements.

Those who would like to learn of, or refresh their memories about, CILCO’s history may stop by the Local History Room.

#cilco, #cilcograms, #east-peoria, #pekin-history, #r-s-wallace-station, #reddy-kilowatt, #tazewell-county-history

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On several occasions, this column has taken a look at the early history of white European settlement of the Illinois River Valley in our area, outlining the stories of the first French explorers and the interaction of white settlers with the native peoples of the region.

One of the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, entitled “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” edited by Daniel LaKemper and published in 1984, commences its story in the same way, telling of the explorers Marquette and Joliet, La Salle and Tonti, and the construction of the ephemeral Fort Crevecoeur early in 1680. That is the inevitable starting point for any history of a community in our area, but it’s especially fitting in the case of a history of East Peoria, since some investigators have made a compelling case that Fort Crevecoeur was probably located at a spot now within the city limits of East Peoria.

That era, however, is not specifically a period of East Peoria’s history, which strictly speaking did not begin until the 1880s. From the days of La Salle until then, the intervening two centuries saw the activities of French fur traders, the migrations and warfare of American Indian tribes, clashes between European colonial powers, the founding of the United States, and conflict between white Americans and the native peoples that ended with the wholesale clearance of all Indians from Illinois, opening the territory to unimpeded white settlement.

As this column has previously related, the first trickle of white American settlement in what was to become Tazewell County started with the arrival of William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon. Within a few years the trickle became a flood, and communities and farmsteads were planted throughout the county. Blanchard is a significant figure not only in the county’s history but in the history of East Peoria, since he was apparently the county’s first white settler and first made his residence in what would become Fondulac Township. Blanchard’s marriage to Elizabeth Donohue in 1825 was the first marriage in the township. A few years later, in 1831, the family of David Schertz arrived from Alsace-Lorraine and settled on a farmstead of 160 acres along Farm Creek. Schertz’s cabin was located around the spot where Central Junior High School was later built.

Fast forward another two decades or so, and we find a new town being platted in the area that had been settled by Blanchard – this was the town of “Fondulac” (named for Fondulac Township), platted on June 14, 1855. The plat of Fondulac “showed three streets – Mill Street, Main Street, and Depot Avenue – along with a saw mill, a cording mill, and part of the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad. It is assumed that this Main Street is the current Main Street – the area covered running from the four corners north to Farm Creek,” says “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” page 7.

About nine years after the platting of Fondulac, another town, called “Bluetown” was surveyed and platted during the winter and spring of 1864 in the area settled by the Schertz family, around East Washington Street. The Centennial History (page 7) says, “At least three explanations as to the origin of the name ‘Bluetown’ have been advanced. Following the custom in their homeland of Alsace, many of the early settlers wore blue smocks. Also, because the land was marshy and prone to floods many of the houses were built high, some on stilts, and supposedly painted blue to combat corrosion. The other suggestion was that many of the houses belonged to a mining company that bought a quantity of blue paid (sic) and painted the workers homes with that color. According to Irene (Schertz) Herbst, David Schertz’s great-granddaughter, ‘It was definitely not named for any buildings painted blue.’ It was named by Joseph Schertz and those early Alsatians, who ‘always wore blue smocks at their work.’”

In addition to Fondulac and Bluetown, another little community in the area briefly existed during this period – “Coleville,” a settlement located between Fondulac and Bluetown. It grew up around the mansion of the Riverboat Captain Almiron S. Cole, which formerly existed where First United Methodist Church was later built, at the corner of Washington and Almiron streets. Cole and his family had arrived in the future East Peoria in 1835.

The towns of Fondulac and Bluetown were the parents, so to speak, of East Peoria. As the Centennial History says on page 9, two decades after the platting of Bluetown, the citizens of Bluetown and Fondulac on July 1, 1884, decided to incorporate their towns as a single new community – the Village of Hilton. The proposition to incorporate passed by a vote of 30-12. The village’s name presumably was chosen due to the presence of the Hilton Coal & Iron Mining Co., which was located at the east end of town. The following month, on Aug. 4, the village elected its first board of trustees, which was headed by Nicholas as village board president.

Hilton was to exist for only five years, however, for in October of 1889, the village changed its name to East Peoria.

#almiron-cole, #blue-town, #bluetown, #coleville, #east-peoria, #fondulac, #hilton, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #wiliam-blanchard