Over a century of Pekin Hospital history

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Over a century of Pekin Hospital history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The occasion of the Illinois Bicentennial is an ideal time to recall that Pekin’s hospital celebrated its own centennial just a little over five years ago. The history of this hospital – redubbed by its current corporate owners as “UnityPoint Health-Pekin” – began in 1913, when the community’s need for a public hospital led to the formation of a non-profit Pekin hospital corporation.

That is not the year Pekin Hospital opened its doors, however. Rather, that year the hospital’s board, headed by Presidents G. A. Kuhl and J. M. Rahn, commenced fundraising campaigns to raise money for the construction of a hospital. Those efforts enabled the construction of a hospital building in 1918, which therefore would be 100 years old if it still existed.

Shown is the original Pekin Hospital, built in 1918, photographed in 1928 from a path in the Sunken Gardens. Eventually this structure was torn down, but the main entrance was salvaged and is now attached to the north side of the 1931-2 addition, beneath a large clock.

The original hospital as seen from Park Avenue and 14th Street.

A closeup of the south end of the original Pekin Public Hospital building as seen from the area of 14th Street and Park Avenue about 1938.

Built by Ed F. Lampitt & Sons building contractors, the 1918 facility was erected on 14th Street between Court Street and Park Avenue on land donated by three Ehrlicher brothers and their wives, George Jr. and Mary, Henry and Amelia, and Otto D. and Minnie. (Henry and Otto were Pekin’s first pharmacists.) It should be noted that “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), p.142, mistakenly substitutes the surname of “Herget” for George Jr.’s real surname.

The new edifice was formally dedicated Sunday afternoon, June 2, 1918, in ceremonies that were attended by a crowd of about 5,000. In its front page story on June 3, 1918, the Pekin Daily Times estimated that about 10,000 people toured the newly opened hospital that day.

This detail from the front page of the 3 June 1918 Pekin Daily Times shows the first part of the story about the formal dedication of Pekin’s new hospital.

The standard historical publications on Pekin’s history offer differing figures on the first hospital’s capacity. The 1949 Pekin Centenary says in one place that the hospital had a capacity of 20 beds, but elsewhere in the same book it says the capacity was only 18 beds, while the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says the hospital had a capacity of 30 patients. The Pekin Daily Times story of the dedication ceremonies says the hospital had “18 patients’ rooms, fully equipped.”

Whatever the correct figure was, within a few years the need was evident for a larger hospital. “In 1931, a $150,000 fundraising drive (no small feat during a depression) resulted in additional construction and remodeling which boosted the capacity to 75 beds. This portion of the hospital is on Park Avenue, and for many years the main entrance was from that street,” says the 1974 Sesquicentennial.

Pekin Public Hospital in a view looking across Park Avenue, from the 1949 “Pekin Centenary” volume.

As Pekin continued to grow, Pekin Public Hospital again had to be expanded. In the early 1950s, $750,000 was raised locally and was matched by a federal grant, enabling the construction of a six-story $1.5 million addition on Park Avenue that increased the hospital’s capacity to 150 beds. The expansion was formally dedicated on June 19, 1955.

“But Pekin’s growth continued, and some of the older parts of the hospital became outmoded, so in the early 1960s another drive was undertaken,” says the Sesquicentennial. “This one succeeded in raising $1 million locally, and hospital officials borrowed another $1.5 million from a firm in Wisconsin, thus providing the necessary funding for the most recent expansion on Court Street. The main entrance once again was moved, and presently leads into this new six-story addition. Total capacity is now over 230, and plans call for the erection of a sixth and seventh floor on this newest addition which will house an intensive care unit and the obstetrics ward. As these floors are made ready, other areas of the older parts of the hospital will be closed (in fact, at least two floors are not in use now), and the total capacity will be around 250.”

Pekin Memorial Hospital as photographed in 1966 by Ralph James Goodwin. Note that the original hospital building is still there, though wood paneling covers the north wall indicating construction work under way. The old building was torn down subsequently, but its entrance was salvaged and later installed on the north wall of the Park Avenue addition.

It was in 1976 that those additional two stories were built, housing intensive and coronary care as well as obstetrics and pediatrics. Then, from 1979 to 1981, areas of the 1932 and 1954 additions were renovated to make room for pharmacy, medical records, a medical library, electrocardiography, respiratory therapy and radiology.

On June 23, 1985, ground was broken on a $10.1 million addition that would include surgery and radiology as well as a lobby, pharmacy, gift shop, restaurant and Park Court Medical Center. The building program moved the main entrance from Court Street to 13th Street, where it is today.

In Jan. 2018, Pekin Hospital completed the process of affiliation with Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health, joining a system that now includes Methodist Medical Center (“UnityPoint Health-Methodist”) and Proctor Hospital (“UnityPoint Health-Proctor”) in Peoria. A year later a state-of-the-art Pekin physicians center opened at Griffin and Veterans Drive on Pekin’s east end – a building project initiated by Pekin Hospital in 2015, before the hospital affiliated with UnityPoint Health.

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Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is a newspaper clipping from the Jan. 13, 1994 Peoria Journal Star – an article written by Valari Hyatt, entitled, “Old stores haunt memories of downtown Pekin.”

The subject of the article is the old Schipper and Block building, which stands at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. “Rich in history, the building’s legacy dates back before its birth,” Hyatt wrote.

Once the location of a popular and successful clothing store, the Schipper and Block building’s history and “prehistory” reaches back to the period of the Civil War.

The business began in 1863 or 1864 as C. Bonk and Co., which ran a dry goods store with John H. Schipper as Bonk’s partner. After Bonk’s death, Henry C. Block joined the company, which became the Schipper and Block Co., located at 304 Margaret St., a block north of the corner of Court and Capitol which later would become its location. The 300 block of Margaret Street was then known as Smith’s Row, because that is where Dietrich and Teis Smith had their business operations, including their well-known Wagon Works.

In 1874, Schipper and Block moved their store to the corner of Court and Third streets – at 302 Court St., next to the post office. As their business thrived, they opened a second shop at 332 Court St., the corner of Court and Capitol streets, on Oct. 12, 1879. Some years later they opened a store in Peoria which soon after became the largest dry goods operation in Illinois outside of Chicago. The Peoria store became a Carson Pirie Scott in 1961.

The original Schipper & Block building at the corner of Court and Capitol streets opened in 1879, but was destroyed by fire in 1898.

Schipper died Sept. 25, 1893, in Louisville, Ky., while on his way home from Block Island near Rhode Island, where he had gone for a rest due to his ill health. Block continued to operate the business until the turn of the century, when the Pekin store operations consolidated at the corner of Court and Capitol streets.

That came about as the result of a fire in 1898 that destroyed the Schipper and Block store at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. A new structure was erected in its place. Then around 1900, Block sold a considerable amount of his holdings in the Pekin operation to George Ehrlicher, who had been Block’s right-hand man for many years. It was about that time that the decision was made to close the store at 302 Court St. and consolidate in the newer building at 332 Court St.

The second Schipper & Block building was erected in 1898 to replace the 1879 store after a fire, but the new building itself succumbed to flames in 1922.

The company’s name was changed to Block and Kuhl Co. on Jan. 1, 1914, when Theodore Kuhl became president – but the “Schipper & Block Co.” sign remained, so everyone continued to call it the Schipper and Block building. Another fire in Feb. 1922 destroyed the “new” building, but by December of that year the company had rebuilt at the same location. That’s the structure one can see at that corner today.

George Ehrlicher’s sons George Jr. and Arthur took over the business after their father, and they kept the business going until May 1962, when business reverses made it necessary for them to sell the store. George Jr. died in Sept. 1962, just four months after the sale. The new owners, Harold Whaley of Ottawa and William T. Malloy of Peoria, were unable to return the business to profitability, however, and the store went bankrupt in 1964, when a receiver was appointed. The store limped along for another four years, finally going out of business in March 1968. The Schipper and Block building would then remain vacant for 26 years.

The Schipper & Block building that stands vacant today is shown in this photograph taken by Ralph James Goodwin in 1966, two years before the store went out of business.

Though much of the glamour has faded,” Hyatt wrote in 1994, “the old Schipper and Block building – as it has been called for over a hundred years, no matter who owned it – still stands on solid ground. In fact, the city recently sold the property at 332 Court St. to Tobin Brothers, with a developer’s agreement. According to Lee Williams, city marketing director, the transfer of ownership occurred Jan. 4.

‘The Schipper and Block building is dear to the hearts of the mayor and (all of those on) the City Council. They had decided that the Schipper and Block building was definitely not going to be torn down . . . because of the historic background,’ Williams said, noting that Tobin Brothers is remodeling the three-story brick building for about $350,000.

Their goal is to put the building back to its original state, then lease the building to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and several other businesses.

More recently, the State of Illinois’ budget crunch led to the closing of the Pekin DCFS office. The old building once again went vacant and is for sale.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12 of this year.

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