Do you know the way to Bean Town?

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

Do you know the way to Bean Town?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The city of Pekin has seen vast changes since its birth as a pioneer town in 1830 and its incorporation as a city in 1849. Old maps and atlases show the city’s growth, as it spread out to the east, south and north from the original town (now the old downtown area of Pekin) and new sections and streets were laid out.

The maps give the names of the new subdivisions – Cincinnati Addition, Broadway Addition, Colts Addition, Leonard Addition, Edds Addition, Casey’s Addition, etc. However, there is one part of Pekin that had a unique name which does not appear on the old maps, because it wasn’t an “official” name.

That section was popularly known as “Bean Town.” It was the old northeast quarter of Pekin, bounded on the south by Broadway and on the north by Willow, with George Street (today called Eighth Street) as its western boundary. In the days when “Bean Town” got its name, the neighborhoods north of Willow and east of 14th Street did not yet exist.

Shown is a detail from the map of Pekin found in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” The northeast quarter of Pekin, indicated by the box, and areas adjacent to it were heavily settled by German immigrants beginning about the mid-1800s. Because the Germans living there usually maintained gardens in which they grew beans, the quarter came to be known as “Bean Town” (“Bohnen Fertel”).

Why was Pekin’s old northeast quarter called “Bean Town”? It got its name as a result of the very great numbers of German immigrants who arrived in Pekin during the middle and latter half of the 1800s. “Bean Town” was Pekin’s German quarter. It was in that quarter, at 1100 Hamilton St., where the parents of U.S Senator Everett M. Dirksen lived, and where Dirsken and his twin brother Thomas lived as children.

An indication of the heavy immigration could be seen when there was an ice jam in the river at Cairo in January of 1854. It held up 14 steam boats loaded with some 2,000 German immigrants,” says the 1949 Pekin Centenary on page 15.

Continuing, the Centenary says, “The Germans built neat homes, and were enthusiastic gardeners. They located in large numbers in the northeast part of Pekin. Their gardens gave that part of the city a character all its own, and it came to be called ‘Bohnen Fertel’ in German, later called ‘Bean Town’, for the same reason; and with the passage of years ‘Bohnen Fertel’ became corrupted into Bonshe-fiddle.

Though the gardens are long since gone, Pekinites still refer to ‘bonshe-fiddle’ and ‘bean town’ in speaking of that part of the city.”

As the Centenary says, “Bohnen” is the German word for “beans.” The word “Fertel” is an old variant form of the German word “viertel,” meaning a fourth or a quarter. (“Fertl” also means “quarter” in Yiddish.) Because the German immigrants liked to plant their gardens with beans, the neighborhood came to be called Bean Town.

For a while in the latter 1800s, the majority of Pekin residents were German, and the German language could be heard here almost as commonly as English. With World War I, however, came a reaction against all things German. As a result, the children of German immigrants hastened to assimilate into American culture, and Pekin businesses began to take down their “Wir sprechen hier Deutsch” signs.

The name “Bohnen Fertel” or “Bean Town” has long since fallen into disuse. The only visible trace of that place-name today is in the name of Bean Town Antiques, a former market at the corner of 14th and Catherine streets.

Bean Town Antiques, a structure that formerly was a market at the corner of 14th and Catherine streets, is shown in this Google Street View image from 2011.

#bean-town, #bean-town-antiques, #bohnen-fertel, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #germans-in-pekin, #preblog-columns, #thomas-dirksen

Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

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

Peter Weyhrich, Pekin’s pioneer German settler

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As mentioned before in this column, the first Pekin city directory was published in 1861. One of the Pekin Public Library’s copies of the 1861 directory is a precious and fragile edition that was formerly owned by none other than Pekin’s own pioneer historian William H. Bates, who prepared the first formal history of Pekin for inclusion in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory.

The pages of Bates’ copy of the 1861 directory are amply annotated in Bates’ own hand. These notes were probably added while Bates was working on later editions of the city directory. One of the notes, on page 70 of the 1861 directory, has to do with an early Pekin city official named Peter Weyhrich Sr.

On that page is a list of the directors of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union District Schools, who were elected to three-year terms. In 1861, the school directors were “Peter Weyhrich, sr.,” whose term of office was to expire in August 1861; William Stanbery, who term was to expire in August 1862; and John Haas, whose term was to expire in August 1863. A handwritten note in Bates’ copy of this directory at bottom of this page says, “Peter Weyhrich, sr., was the pioneer German settler of Pekin.”

Thus, we see that Weyhrich, who arrived in Pekin in 1831 or 1832, held the special place in Pekin’s history as the first of a great wave of German immigrants who would choose Pekin as their new home in America during the 1800s. To be sure, Weyhrich was not the only person of ethnic German descent to arrive during those earliest years of Pekin’s history, but he was the first of them who had been born in Germany. By the latter half of the 1800s, the number of German settlers in Pekin was so large that the city had more than one German-language newspaper and many businesses had signs in their windows telling people that German was spoken there.

Peter Weyhrich Sr. was born in 1806 in Hesse-Darmstadt. A biographical sketch of the life of Peter’s nephew Adam is included in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” on pages 565-566. The sketch says Adam’s grandfather (identified in Weyhrich family histories as Peter’s father) Jacob Weyhrich, a native of Hesse-Darmstadt, settled in Tazewell County in 1828 and was later followed by other members of his family. Peter had arrived in Pekin by 1832, but Adam didn’t emigrate until the 1850s, at or around the same time that his father Philip Weyhrich, Peter’s brother, decided to join Jacob and Peter in America.

Beginning his new life in America in Pekin, the early city directories indicate that Peter was active in the community’s life and commerce. He served as Pekin’s mayor in 1858 and 1859. Peter also took part in the formation of Pekin’s first railroad companies, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” Most of the Weyhrich family, however, acquired land in Sand Prairie Township to the south of Pekin. Peter died Jan. 2, 1879, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

This detail of the map of Sand Prairie Township south of Pekin from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell shows land owned by the Weyhrich family, a pioneer Pekin family that included Pekin’s first German-born settler, Peter Weyhrich.

Early Tazewell County history tells of another Peter Weyhrich, but that Peter – apparently another nephew of the elder Peter – is only mentioned due to the sensational circumstances surrounding and following his death. Chapman tells the story briefly in two paragraphs on pages 298-299 of his Tazewell County history:

“Peter Weyhrich, an old resident of Sand Prairie, died very suddenly Wednesday night, June 20, 1877. The sudden death and incidents attending it caused grave suspicion of foul play. A jury was impanelled and a post-mortem examination made of the deceased, and the stomach sent to Chicago for examination, where it was decided that he came to his death by poison. Mrs. [Anna E.] Weyhrich, wife of the deceased, was arrested and tried for the murder. The case was taken from this to Logan county and tried the last week in March, 1878. States Attorney [William L.] Prettyman and J. B. Cohrs prosecuted, and Messrs. Roberts & Green defended.

“The trial was a long and tedious one, and the prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years in the penitentiary. A motion for a new trial was made and denied, when an appeal to the Supreme Court was taken. This tribunal reversed the decision and remanded the case for a new trial, which took place in July, 1878, and resulted in her acquittal.”

As an aside, the prosecutor J. B. Cohrs is none of than Illinois State Sen. John B. Cohrs, a Pekin attorney whose life was previously treated in this space, and whose wife was active in the founding of the Ladies’ Library Assocation, predecessor of the Pekin Public Library.

#adam-weyhrich, #germans-in-pekin, #john-b-cohrs, #pekin-history, #peter-weyhrich, #preblog-columns, #william-h-bates