Tazewell County’s ‘Historical Hall’

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The late Christal Dagit (1943-2019) was long-time president of the Tazewell County Historic Places Society, and also served as long-time director of the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center. In the four years since her passing, however, the museum to which she devoted so many years has had to close and its collection be placed in storage, with the Tazewell County Board now making plans to demolish the historic Arcade Building where the museum had been housed.

Many years before the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center was established, however, artifacts and mementos of the history and heritage of Pekin and Tazewell County were displayed in a “Historical Hall” within the Tazewell County Courthouse. A part of this old collection is displayed at the courthouse still today, even as monuments on the grounds outside the courthouse help to commemorate the county’s military veterans and the numerous visits that Abraham Lincoln to Pekin and Tremont.

In the years from 1914 to 1916, when plans were made for a larger and grander Neo-Classical edifice to replace the 1850 county courthouse, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors made provisions to establish and maintain what it said would be a permanent museum in a room of the new courthouse.

The Historical Hall’s collection was under the care of the long-defunct Tazewell County Historical Society, which was among other things a museum board appointed by the Tazewell County Board. In the 1950s, however, the collection was moved to rooms in the courthouse basement and the former Historical Hall room became the County Assessor’s Office.

In the latest issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society “Monthly” (March 2023), page 555-557, are presented the Tazewell County Board’s proceedings related to the courthouse Historical Hall, from 1914 to 1968. Since these proceedings are sure to be of interest to many in our area who wish to learn more of our local history, I will transcribe them here:

12 Sept. 1914 – The permanent building committee would recommend that the historical step formerly at the entrance of the Bemis House, but now at the north-west corner of the Court House block be placed in the historical room of the new Court House in a place to be selected by the Architects.

This early 20th century Pekin postcard shows the threshold of the former Tazewell House hotel displayed at the northwest corner of the Tazewell County Courthouse grounds. The threshold was moved inside the new courthouse during construction from 1914 to 1916. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIP SNYDER
Bemis House, at one time Pekin’s preeminent hotel, is shown in this early 20th-century photograph. Under its original name of Tazewell House, the hotel once hosted Abraham Lincoln and other notable local attorneys when they came to Pekin on legal business at the Tazewell County Courthouse. The site at the corner of Court and Front streets is now a part of Gene Miller Park, adjacent to Pekin’s Riverfront Park. PHOTO COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

14 March 1916 – On motion of Supervisor Strubhar the rules were suspended and . . .  Mr. Allensworth, Miss Gaither and Mr. Prettyman addressed the Board in reference to having an historical association in Tazewell County; and Mr. Cole in reference to preserving the photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County; and Mr. Bates in reference to issuing a souvenir containing historical facts of Tazewell County and distributing same when court house is dedicated and urged the appointment of a committee to confer with him in regard to the matter.

16 March 1916 – Supervisor Quigg suggested that the Board take up the matter of what the Historical room is to contain, Mr. H. H. Cole addressed the Board in reference to the matter. Resolution offered by Supervisor Birkenbusch was read. Supervisor Gulon moved as an amendment to the resolution that Mr. H. H. Cole be granted the privilege of using the North, East and part of the South wall of the historical room for placing photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County. The amendment was carried.

Resolved, That the Public Printing Committee be authorized to confer with W. H. Bates in reference to souvenir issue in connection with the dedication of the Tazewell County Court House, also to take up the matter with H. H. Cole of placing our Art Gallery in the Tazewell County Court House. Offered by Henry Birkenbusch, Supervisor Quigg moved that the first room, opening on the East and West Corridor and East of the South entrance be designated as the historical room; Supervisor Porter moved as an amendment that the room be designated as the Historical and Soldiers Rest Room of Tazewell County. Supervisor Quigg accepted the amendment, and the motion as amended was on vote declared carried. On motion of Supervisor Reardon each Member of the Board was urged to present the names of at least three persons residing in their township, who would interest themselves in reference to historical matters pertaining to Tazewell County not later than the next adjourned meeting.

Communication from Joe Hanna Post No. 1176 G.A.R. of Pekin, Illinois in reference to Historical Room was read.

Mr. H. H. Cole stated that he desired to have a group photograph of the Members of the Board, the same to be placed in the historical room.

29 March 1916 – Supervisor Gulon inquired whether or not the Spanish American War Veterans would be permitted to hold their meetings in the Historical Room. On motion of Supervisor Reardon, the Spanish American War Veterans were granted permission to use the Historical Room for their meetings.

26 April 1916 – Resolution offered by the Permanent Building Committee, in reference to the Historical and G.A.R. rooms was read. On motion of Supervisor Nixon the resolution was adopted. Be it resolved by the Building Committee of the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, that the two rooms situated in the southeast corner on the first floor of the court house shall be designated “Historical Hall” and that there shall be placed therein the photographic exhibits heretofore made and now being made by H. H. Cole and that the placing of said exhibits shall be under the personal supervision of H. H. Cole and the Public Building Committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Resolved, that the room on the first floor of the court house on the south side and immediately west of Historical Hall shall be designated Grand Army Hall; that it shall be used and occupied by the Grand Army of the Republic, The Sons of Veterans, The Spanish-American War Veterans and the Women’s Relief Corps, and all similar organizations of Tazewell County that may hereafter be organized. Resolved, that the three rooms designated in the preceding sections of this resolution as a whole shall be known as the Memorial Section of the court house in the County of Tazewell and State of Illinois. Peter Sweitzer, C. C. Reardon, B. F. Quigg, J. S. Nixon.

15 Sept. 1916 – Mr. W. H. Bates addressed the Board in reference to having cases made of the walnut benches which were in the Old Court House, for the G.A.R. and Historical room. On motion of Supervisor Porter the matter was referred to the Committee on Public Buildings.

13 June 1916 – Order #26338 to H. H. Cole for labor and materials furnished for Historical Photograph Room.

10 June 1918 – The report of the committee on the claim of H. H. Cole was read. Your committee to whom was referred the adjustment of the claim of H. H. Cole for portraits, cases etc. placed in Historical Room in Court House . . .  . we allow H. H. Cole the sum of $450 in full payment for same and it is further agreed that any more work done, for which he expects payments from the County, must be authorized by someone with authority before proceeding.

7 Dec. 1920Judge W. R. Curran was granted permission to address the Board in reference to the memorial services of the Tazewell County Historical Society, commemorating the organization of the Union League of America, to be held in the Circuit Court room at 2 P.M. December 7th, 1920.

13 June 1949 – Mr. Canaday, Representative from State Historical Society, Springfield, was introduced by Chairman McClarence, who stated that he had been sent to Pekin in regard to the matter of transferring original records signed by Abraham Lincoln, now in Tazewell County files to Springfield Library. Chairman McClarence appointed Supervisors J. A. Henderson of Little Mackinaw, D. H. Snell of Washington and Clark Barton of Tremont to serve on the Lincoln Records Special Committee.

8 March 1955 – It is recommended after a special meeting between the Building Committee and representative of the Women’s Relief Corps and the Grand Army of the Republic that the Building Committee be authorized to obtain the services of an architect and lay plans for the creation of a suitable room in the basement to be occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps, Grand Army of the Republic and Historical Society. The room on the main floor which presently is occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps and Grand Army of the Republic will be taken over by the Supervisor of Assessments after the establishment of the basement quarters.

25 April 1955 – Supervisor Condon of Pekin moved that the Chairman appoint a committee of six to confer with the Fair and Park Boards in regard to having Historical Rooms, Veteran Rooms and Museum in the Fair Buildings.

13 June 1955 – Chairman Mooberry stated there was a delegation present representing the Womens Relief Corps and the Spanish American War Veterans. Mrs. Minnie Stockert was their spokesman and addressed the Board in respect to the Historical or G.A.R. room, and brought up the question of what would become of the war relics as the law stated that, if they were moved from their present location, they would have to be returned to the State Museum.

Motion was made by Supervisor Lowry of Spring Lake, seconded by Supervisor McKenzie of Fondulac that letters received by the Board in regard to the G.A.R. and Historical Room be read. Motion carried.

Twelve letters from individuals and organizations of Tazewell and Peoria Counties were read by the Clerk. Motion was made by Supervisor Robins of Washington, seconded by Supervisor Schilling of Pekin that the letters be received and placed on file. Motion carried.

8 Sept. 1959 – A letter from George H. Iftner in regard to Items of Historical Value now in the Historical Room in the basement. Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint three to act as Trustees of the Historical Society . . . to take care of the items of Historical Value.

8 Dec. 1959 – Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint a nine member committee to act as Trustees for the Tazewell County Historical Society. Motion was seconded by Supervisor VanderHeyden of Pekin. Motion carried and Chairman Schilling of Pekin appointed the following Committee:


Vera Dille, Gary Planck, Dale Sarver, William Hoffman, Dr. R. K. Taubert and Gene Sangalli all of Pekin, Thomas Pinkham of East Peoria, Forrest Altine of Morton, and Howard Simpson of Mackinaw.

21 Feb. 1968 – Moved by Supervisor Urish of Malone, seconded by Supervisor Hoffman of Mackinaw, that the Building Committee investigate the Historical items in the basement of the Court House. The Committee is to make plans of what to do with said items.

15 Aug. 1968 – Be it resolved by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that, whereas, the Tazewell County Historical Society, the G.A.R.’s and D.A.R.’s have for past years held their meetings in rooms provided them in the Court House and, Whereas, a great collection of articles, antique furniture, relics, documents, pictures, etc. have been housed in these rooms, and Whereas, during the past few years these items have not had proper care and protection in the present basement room, with the end result that valuable pieces have been removed and other articles have been broken, damaged or defaced and Whereas, each item in this collection is of great value as such and can never be replaced, but should be preserved for the benefit of future generations, now therefore BE IT Resolved, by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that the Building Committee be authorized to have the contents of this room sorted, packed, and stored in a bonded warehouse, at County expense, until such time as arrangements can be made to have this collection placed where it can be properly displayed and protected.

#abraham-lincoln, #arcade-building, #b-f-quigg, #bemis-house, #ben-c-allensworth, #c-c-reardon, #christal-dagit, #clark-barton, #d-h-snell, #dale-sarver, #dr-r-k-taubert, #forrest-altine, #gary-planck, #gene-sangalli, #george-h-iftner, #grand-army-of-the-republic, #henry-birkenbusch, #henry-hobart-cole, #historical-hall, #historical-room, #howard-simpson, #j-a-henderson, #j-s-nixon, #judge-w-r-curran, #kip-snyder, #mary-gaither, #minnie-stockert, #peter-sweitzer, #sons-of-veterans, #spanish-american-war-veterans, #tazewell-county-board, #tazewell-county-board-of-supervisors, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-historical-society, #tazewell-county-museum, #tazewell-house-hotel, #thomas-pinkham, #union-league-of-america, #vera-dille, #william-henry-bates, #william-hoffman, #womens-relief-corps

Assorted scenes from Pekin’s past

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

Assorted scenes from Pekin’s past

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Among the items, articles and relics preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is a file containing an assortment of old photographs from Pekin’s past.

Many of the photos were clipped from old newspapers, while many others are old prints, postcards and portraits that over the years were donated to the library for preservation. Some of them evidently came from old scrapbooks.

Together these images almost form a photo album of miscellaneous pictures from the community’s history. Following is a sample of the photos from this file.

One photo, dated Aug. 7, 1927, shows two children sitting in a toy wagon – Ann Crumbaker of Abingdon and James Unland. The photo, which was clipped from an old newspaper, was taken at the Unland home at 807 Bacon Street. The caption says Ann Crumbaker was a granddaughter of the late Rev. M. V. Crumbaker, a former pastor in Pekin.

Turning that clipping over, one finds a group photo of “Pekin City Mail Carriers 26 Years Ago,” dated April 20, 1930. The caption identifies the men as Frank E. Hatcher, Peter Trimpi, W. Y. Franks, Charles Cohenour, C. F. Dittmer and Henry Mohr. Unfortunately part of the photo was cropped, so Franks and Mohr have been cut off. The caption says C. A. Kuhl was then the postmaster, and adds that the photo had been supplied by Mrs. Peter Trimpi of 709 S. Seventh St.

The file also contains two larger photos showing industrial plants, including an aerial view of the old Standard Brands plant which formerly employed many residents of Pekin.

Two other photos – one of a husband and wife, and the other of a baby girl – bear the official business logo of Coles Studies of Pekin and Delavan, the business of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925), who was responsible for creating many historical photographs of Pekin and other parts of Tazewell County. The writing on these two photos identifies the persons in the photos as “Mr & Mrs Green; Mrs Piles youngest sister” and “Ester Green, daughter of Mr. and Mrs Green.”

Another more recent photo is dated Feb. 1982 and was taken by Frank Mackaman. The black-and-white image shows an unidentified man driving a small single-rider snow plow and clearing a parking lot following a snow storm that winter.

For our final sample from the file, there are two photos from Aug. 7, 1927 of “Pekin’s Lady Lindbergh – Miss Anna Behrens, head bookkeeper of the American National bank, who leaves for Chicago soon to complete her flying course, started at Varney field. She had already had several flattering offers for demonstration work,” the caption says.

Anna M. Behrens (born 18 March 1898 in Pekin, died 29 May 1967 in Los Angeles County, Calif.) was the second daughter and fifth child of Henry D. and Catherine A. (Dircks) Behrens. Her father Henry (1863-1934), a son of German immigrants from Hesse-Darmstadt, was a painter at the Smith Wagon Co. in Pekin. Her mother Catherine was a descendant of Germans of Ostfriesland. Anna is buried in Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, Calif.

Anna M. Behrens’ day job was head bookkeeper at American National Bank in Pekin, but her interest in flying led her to be dubbed Pekin’s “Lady Lindbergh.”

Anna M. Behrens of Pekin learned to fly at Varney field in Idaho. She later moved to California,

#ann-crumbaker, #anna-m-behrens, #annie-behrens, #c-a-kuhl, #c-f-dittmer, #catherine-a-dircks, #charles-cohenour, #ester-green, #frank-e-hatcher, #frank-mackaman, #henry-d-behrens, #henry-hobart-cole, #henry-mohr, #james-unland, #peter-trimpi, #preblog-columns, #rev-m-v-crumbaker, #smith-wagon-company, #w-y-franks

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.

#albert-walter-lewis, #coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #commercial-club-of-pekin, #courthouses, #henry-hobart-cole, #konisek, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-a-pictorial-history, #pekin-centenary, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekin-history-then-and-now, #pekin-sesquicentennial, #preblog-columns, #rob-clifton, #st-pauls-german-evangelical-church, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #washington-intermediate-school, #william-blenkiron

The Central House of Nello and Isolina Rossi

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

The Central House of Nello and Isolina Rossi

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In March 2019, we took a closer look at one of the tribute advertisements in the 1949 Pekin Centenary volume, which featured the image of the Ehrlicher Brothers’ first pharmacy prescription from 1865. This week we’ll look at another of the tribute ads in the 1949 Centenary – the ad for Central House, one of Pekin’s former restaurants and hotels which was owned and operated in the 1930s and 1940s by the Italian immigrants Nello Rossi and his wife Isolina.

This detail from an old photograph reprinted in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” shows the Central House hotel in the background.

As mentioned before, often the Centenary’s ads not only trumpeted the qualities and virtues of the featured businesses, but also provided historical details of the businesses. That is especially true of the Central House ad, which takes up the whole of page 56 and provides a colorful glimpse at life and dining in Pekin during the early and mid-20th century.

The ad also includes a drawing of “The Original Central House,” which those who are familiar with the early published sources on Pekin history will immediately recognize as a reproduction of the Central House drawing from Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, a collection of miniature drawings or engravings of Pekin’s prominent buildings that was produced and sold by Henry Hobart Cole, Pekin’s pioneer photographer.

A drawing of the old Central House hotel from Henry Hobart Cole’s “Souvenir of Pekin.”

Here’s is the text of the Centenary’s ad for Central House, which was located at 333 Margaret St. in downtown Pekin:

“Established on the principle that the laboring class in Pekin should be served with the best in quality at the lowest prices, the Central House at Margaret and Capitol streets was purchased in 1932 by Nello Rossi.

“In a building 100 years old – as old as Pekin itself – the Central House soon established a reputation for excellent food, superior service and honest dealing.

“Since the Central House was established by Mr. Rossi as the finest Italian restaurant in the community, his family has maintained it in the traditions in which early business was transacted.

“Under the supervision of Nello Rossi, with Mrs. Rossi preparing the food, the Central House became the unofficial meeting place for the laboring men of Pekin as well as the farmers who had regarded the Central House as a gathering place even before it was taken over by the Rossis.

“After the death of Mr. Rossi in 1943 his wife and three sons, Lawrence, Al and Italo, continued operation of the Central House. Today, however, Italo and Al are engaged in the management of the hotel, having taken the reins upon their return from military service. Both of them were in the uniform of the United States navy.

“During recent years the Central House has grown in size as well as clientele. In 1940 a new dining room, The Blue Room, was added to the original structure and rapidly earned a reputation for its excellent Italian and American cuisine. Specialties, of course, are the Italian dishes – spaghetti, ravioli, salads and anti pastos. Also on the menu are fried milk-fed chicken, steaks and fish.

“Popularity of Rossi-prepared foods has resulted in the establishment of Rossi Food Products, Inc., which went into business on January 1, 1949. The new company has constructed a processing and canning plant adjacent to the Central House on N. Capitol street and the Rossi Food Products label is already visible in most of the grocery stores in Central Illinois.

“On the growing list of Rossi Food Products are canned chili, spaghetti sauce, beef barbecue, beef stew, and the only green salad dressing on the market today.

“Actual ownership of the Central House is still in the hands of Mrs. Rossi who actively supervises the preparation of its tasty dishes and, as has been her practice for many years, she examines each day’s menu for, ‘Quality, price and appearance.’

“Concerning the future, the Rossis are looking forward to continued expansion of their Central House services and their Rossi Food Products production. They plan to do so by maintaining, to the best of their ability, their present high standards of food production and dining room management.”

Central House last appears in the Pekin City Directories in 1958, so must have closed about then. By the 1970s, 333 Margaret Street was the site of Pekin Downtown Motel and Coffee Shop, owned and operated by the late Larry L. Noreuil.

#al-rossi, #central-house, #coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #henry-hobart-cole, #isolina-rossi, #italo-rossi, #lawrence-rossi, #nello-rossi, #pekin-centenary, #preblog-columns

A closer look at Mineral Springs Park’s first artesian well

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About a month ago we recalled the drilling of the artesian well in the early 1880s that gave Mineral Springs Park its name. This week we’ll take a closer look at the park’s first well and its location.

As we learned previously, following the drilling of the well in 1882, a bath house was built in 1883, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added. The bath house enabled people to bathe in the artesian well’s mineral waters, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (page 138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south (sic – north) of the Methodist Church.” This is precisely where the Miller Senior Center is today, to the west of the lagoon. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well was located near the old swimming pool, but does not locate it any more precisely than that.

A man collects water from the original artesian well and fountain of Mineral Springs Park in this old photograph that was reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

This 1890s photograph of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon shows the park pool and bath house on the west side of the lagoon. A tall pole next to the pool facility marks the site of the park’s original artesian well. In the distance on the right side of the picture is the factory of Cummings Harvester Works, formerly located at the corner of Christopher Street and Highland Avenue.

The original Mineral Springs Park pool and bath house are shown in this photograph taken by Henry Hobart Cole in the 1890s.

However, using reference materials such as old maps and photographs in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, it is possible to determine exactly where the original well, fountain, and bath house were.

In the library’s collection of old atlases and maps, Mineral Springs Park makes its first appearance on the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas’ map of Pekin. In those days the eastern border of the park was just past Coal Car Drive, and the park roads and paths (unpaved back then) formed loops around and to the east the lagoon.

On the west side of the lagoon, though, the map shows a prominent structure that, by a comparison with two photographs of the lagoon and the original park swimming pool from Henry Hobart Cole’s 1890s compilation of vintage photographs entitled “Pekin and Environs,” can confidently be identified as the park’s pool and bathhouse.

The map also shows a simple circle on the north side of the pool and bathhouse, and on the south side of the park’s western entrance off 14th Street, but does not identify what the circle represents. However, the maps of Pekin in the 1910 and 1929 Tazewell County atlases label that circle with the word “fountain.” It is also very significant that these early maps show Spring Street extending all the way east to an intersection with 14th Street. Although Spring Street now dead-ends at the Miller Center parking lot, its name is a clue to the location of the original well, because “Spring” Street got its name from the fact that it led up to Mineral Springs Park’s western entrance, which was adjacent to the park’s original mineral spring.

This map from the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows Mineral Springs Park, then only in existence for nine years. A simple circle to the west of the lagoon (“Artesian Lake”) and on the east side of 14th Street, marks the site of the park’s mineral spring and fountain.

Old streets and several other details from the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park have been added to this current Google Maps satellite image. The site of the original park pool and bath house are indicated in yellow and hatching. The site of the original artesian well and fountain is marked with a black circle near the center of the map.

What was shown as an unmarked circle on the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park is identified as the park fountain in this 1910 map of the park.

The boundaries of Mineral Springs Park are shown to have expanded significantly in this 1929 map of the park. But the old fountain, park pool, and bath house still remain on the west side of the park lagoon.

Old photographs of the spring and fountain in the Local History Room collection show what the well and fountain looked like – it was wide, encircled by a paved concrete walkway, with two drinking fountains at the north and south ends.

What became of the original well? On that point, all that the 1974 Sesquicentennial volume says is that the spring-fed fountain “has long since been removed,” and that, “The initial well for the park is long since inoperative.

The photograph, which was reproduced on a postcard from about 1916, shows the old spring-fed fountain that once existed on the west side of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon. The site is today marked by a sculpted metal planter in front of the Miller Senior Center.

Water sprays up in the old Mineral Springs Park fountain in this vintage photograph that was reproduced July 13, 2002, in the Pekin Daily Times’ special section on the Pekin Park District’s 100th anniversary.

By the 1930s the Pekin Park District saw the need to build a new swimming pool and bath house, so a new well was drilled off east of the lagoon in 1935, and a new pool was built in the vicinity of the new well. That pool remained in use, with occasional modifications and repairs, from 1937 to 1992, when it was replaced by the DragonLand water park.

When the new well was dug and the new pool built, the old well was no longer situated in a good location and was not adequate for the park’s needs, so it was sealed off and covered over. Today the former site of the old fountain and well in front of the Miller Center’s entrance is occupied by an old sculpted and decorative metal planter, and, probably not coincidentally, the planter looks more like a miniature fountain or fancy bird bath than a planter. Most Pekinites who drive by the lagoon on 14th Street every day probably pass the Miller Center without noticing the planter that marks the site of Mineral Springs Park’s original spring.

As for the 1935 bath house, on page 5 of the “Pekin Park District Centennial” special section that was published in the July 16, 2002 Pekin Daily Times, a photo caption says, “The Mineral Springs Bath House operated in 1935 for mineral tub baths, steam baths, massages and other health treatments. The bath house artesian well water was believed to contain minerals beneficial to health, but the bath’s popularity waned as the public changed its attitude about the curative powers of mineral water.

Out in front of the Miller Senior Center is this decorative metal fountain, used as a planter, marking the site of the former Mineral Springs Park fountain and artesian well.

#artesian-well, #cummings-harvester-works, #drilling-of-mineral-springs-park-spring, #henry-hobart-cole, #miller-senior-center, #mineral-springs-park, #mineral-springs-park-bath-house, #mineral-springs-park-fountain, #mineral-springs-park-pavilion, #pekin-pool

A brief history of Pekin’s street fairs

This is a revised and expanded version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2011 before the launch of this weblog.

A brief history of Pekin’s street fairs

By Linda Mace, Library assistant (retired),
and Jared Olar, Library assistant

This photograph from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows the booth of Central Book & Toy Store at the 1935 Pekin Street Fair.

Once upon a time, or beginning in 1898 and apparently ending in the mid-1930’s, Pekin would put on vibrant, very popular street fairs, hosted in the city’s downtown.

In 1902, on the day of the parade, 18,000 people attended this event. Two railroad companies from Peoria brought 2,800 people into our fair town. This was quite the event, with officers and committees and a whole list of rules and regulations.

This is from the official brochure and program for the 1902 fair:

“The many favorable comments upon the originality and beauty of the FREE STREET FAIRS given by Pekin during the years 1898 and 1899, and the clean and praiseworthy manner in which they were conducted, has resulted in a unanimous desire on the part of our wide-awake business men and citizens to out-do all previous Street Fairs, therefore the Association has selected October 15, 16, 17 & 18, 1902, as the dates on which Pekin will again offer free entertainment to the assemble multitudes. THE MOST FASTIDIOUS TASTES of the visitor and his family will find only pleasure and instruction in the beautiful array of VARIEGATED BOOTHS and MUSICAL and DESCRIPTIVE ENTERTAINMENTS WHICH WILL BE GIVEN DAY AND NIGHT! THE FACT THAT PEKIN, in her former exhibits, MORE THAN FILLED HER PROMISES to the public, should, and we believe will, be encouraged in giving her third street fair, by an almost universal visit from the citizens of Central Illinois.”

The brochure went on to describe the “great parade” and emphasized “new features every day.” The fair of 1898 had contained 80 booths, running down the middle of the street and on either side, corresponding to the front footage of the stores erecting them. Downtown Pekin was the place to be in those days!

Shown here is the front cover of the 1899 Pekin Street Fair official program and souvenir. The Pekin Public Library’s copy of the program was preserved in the 1902 library cornerstone time capsule.

This page from the 1899 Pekin Street Fair official program and souvenir features a photograph of the Cole’s Studio booth. Cole’s Studio was the photography business of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole.

The old tradition of Pekin’s street fairs continues in new forms even today, with the popular annual Marigold Festival and downtown events organized and promoted by Pekin Main Street. Pekin also put on an old-fashioned street fair on and near the premises of the Tazewell County Courthouse on Aug. 7, 1999, as part of the major celebrations of the 175th anniversary of Pekin’s settlement and the 150th anniversary of Pekin’s incorporation as a city.

Festivities at the 1999 street fair were literally dampened by a summer thunderstorm, but the celebrations went on as planned. “As black clouds poured rain and thunder bellowed, Mayor Dave Tebben and pioneering Tharp family descendant Norman Tharp led about 100 people as they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Pekin,” the Pekin Daily Times reported.

Shown are a commemorative plate and a special section of the Pekin Daily Times marking the celebration of Pekin’s 175th birthday. Both items are in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

Hopefully the city’s bicentennial celebrations five years from now also won’t be rained out, even if rained on.

Included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room archives are copies of the 1899 and 1902 Pekin Street Fair brochure and a 1999 Pekin Terquasquicentennial commemorative plat embossed with the official logo of the 1999 Pekin 175th Anniversary.

#1898-pekin-street-fair, #1899-pekin-street-fair, #1902-pekin-street-fair, #1935-pekin-street-fair, #central-book-toy-store, #coles-studio, #dave-tebben, #henry-hobart-cole, #norman-tharp, #pekin-175th-anniversary, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule, #pekin-street-fairs, #pekin-terquasquicentennial, #preblog-columns

Steamboat deck hands run riot in early Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Earlier this month, we reviewed “Early Times in Pekin and Tazewell County,” an essay written by Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates and published in Shade’s Monthly, May 1913 (reprinted in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, June 2017, page 1945).

We also recalled the Little Mine Riot of 1894, the most serious civil disturbance in Tazewell County history. That, of course, wasn’t the first time public safety and order were disrupted in our area. As it happens, Bates’ essay from May 1913 also tells of the first riot in Pekin’s history, which took place about a year after Pekin became established as a city under Illinois law:

“The first riot took place in Pekin, July 4th, 1851, when the deck hands of one of over one hundred steamboats plying the waters of the Illinois, under the influence of too much ‘fire water,’ nearly terrorized the inhabitants of the young city. The citizens rallied to the support of the marshal, and after a hard fight, the rioters were arrested and fined. The boat officials would not pay their fines, so with a ball and chain locked to a leg of each rioter, they had to work out their fines by repairing the steamboat levees.”

Pekin’s first riot in 1851 is said to have been the fault of about 30 or 40 drunken deckhands of a steamboat. Shown here at Pekin in this photograph that Henry H. Cole took circa 1890 is another later Illinois River steamboat, the Mazileon, whose deckhands were not, as far as we know, responsible for any riots.

Bates does not identify the city marshal who suppressed the riot. He refers to the same riot in the historical essay he wrote for the old Pekin City Directories, but neither does he name the city marshal in his city directories. That and one or two other details of that incident may be found in a 12-page history of the Pekin Police Department prepared in 1942 as part of an annual report for the city government. We reviewed that 12-page history in this column in March 2013, in which we told of the appointment of Pekin’s first city marshal, Thomas Cloudas, by Pekin’s first mayor, Bernard Bailey. The March 2013 column summarized the incident in these words:

“In those days, Pekin had very much the character of a rough frontier town, and the city marshall had much more to do besides rounding up stray hogs and cattle. Perhaps most of the criminal offenses in Pekin from the 1850s through the 1870s involved alcohol-fueled violence. One such incident was Pekin’s first riot on July 4, 1851, when a steamboat’s drunken deck hands ran wild throughout the city. Cloudas rapidly collected a force of Pekin citizens who engaged in a battle with the deck hands in the city streets and finally, after a hard fight, managed to subdue and arrest the offenders.”

It apparently was the same riot that Pekin old-timer Emil Schilling remembered in a newspaper article published in the July 24, 1933 Pekin Daily Times. In June 2013, this column discussed that article and Schilling’s 1933 recollections of the riot and the punishment that the court imposed on the rioters, whom Schilling said were black (a detail not mentioned by Bates). Schilling believed (whether rightly or not) helped to foster Pekin’s reputation as a place where blacks were unwelcome.

#henry-hobart-cole, #mazileon, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-riot, #thomas-cloudas, #william-h-bates

Teepees along the railroad tracks?

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in December 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

Teepees along the railroad tracks?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll revisit a few recent “From the Local History Room” columns as we see what we can learn from a copy of a vintage Pekin photograph on file in the library’s Local History Room. The photo is remarkable because it shows a long row of teepees or wigwams between some railroad tracks.

The copy of this photo, a halftone image, was clipped from a newspaper or magazine, and is accompanied by a caption that informs us that the photographer was none other than Pekin’s own Henry Hobart Cole, whose life we have reviewed in this column previously.

In this vintage photograph taken by Henry H. Cole (1833-1925), a row of wigwams stretches northward between the railroad tracks in an area of northwest Pekin just to the west of Second Street.

The caption does not say when Cole took the photograph, but several clues both in the photo and the caption help us to narrow down the period when it was taken. These clues also show where the photo was taken, and suggest who placed the wigwams in that unlikely location – or rather, who didn’t place them there.

The caption says, “The long row of wigwams, as you look northward along the tracks of the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway, east of Pekin Lake, represents the site of the largest village of Pottowattamie Indians in this region at the advent of the white settler . . .”

By consulting some of the library’s old maps of Pekin and tracing the rail lines, we can see that the foreground of the photo shows the area where Second Street and Market Street used to intersect – today that stretch of Market Street is a bicycle path. The row of wigwams appears to start around the area of Catherine and State streets.

Obviously the wigwams were not actual Native American dwellings — no one can live in the dangerous plot of ground between two lines of rail. Also, as mentioned in previous columns, Pekin’s Indian population was deported to Kansas in the mid- to late 1830s, while the railroad did not come to Pekin until 1859. These wigwams, rather, indicated the area of Pekin where an Indian village formerly was located. Perhaps they were a display for a community fair or celebration.

The caption provides two more clues as to when Cole took the photo. It says the village was “fully one-half mile in length” and “on the high ground leading along Main street from the present gas works southward.” Similarly, W.H. Bates’ 1902 essay, “Historic Pekin!,” says the village was “on the high ground just east of the Gas Company’s coal sheds, on what is today First Street.”

Gas lights were installed on Pekin’s streets in 1866, so the gas works were constructed by that year, which means the photo can be no older than 1866. Similarly, the caption’s reference to “the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway” suggests a date no earlier than 1880, the year that railroad company was incorporated.

An 1877 aerial “View of Pekin Ill.” in the Local History Room collection depicts the area shown in this photo, including the frame house on the right and the large brick structure on the left. Both the 1877 aerial view and the photo show an overall absence of houses and industrial or business structures in that part of Pekin. Cole went into semi-retirement in 1911, but we would expect to see more buildings in the photo if it was taken that late in his career.

From what we’ve seen, it seems most likely that Cole took the photo during the 1880s or perhaps the 1890s. Pekin’s first street fair opened on Oct. 12, 1898, and a second street fair ran from Oct. 11-14, 1899. Could these wigwams have been an attraction at one of those fairs?

#henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-history, #pekin-street-fairs, #peoria-pekin-union-railway, #pottawatomi-in-pekin, #preblog-columns, #teepees, #wigwams

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s ‘Souvenir’

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few months ago, we recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.”

“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.

“The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”

He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”

The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “bird’s eye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions. A few examples are presented here:

#coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-high-schools, #zerwekh-building

Cole put Pekin in pictures

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in November 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

Cole put Pekin in pictures

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The standard reference volumes on Pekin and Tazewell County history are illustrated with numerous vintage photographs – and if it’s a photo from the 1800s, odds are it was the work of Henry Hobart Cole, who is remembered in old biographical accounts as “Pekin’s pioneer photographer.”

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room files on H.H. Cole are augmented with materials shared the Peoria Public Library and the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society. From these documents, a fairly complete story of Cole’s life can be easily reconstructed.

Cole was a born July 24, 1833, in Gilbertsville, Otsego County, New York, on July 24, 1833, the youngest of 10 children of Richard and Emily Morgan Cole. In New York, he and his older brother Roderick learned the art of the Daguerrotype, the earliest successful photographic technology. They came to Illinois in 1850 when Henry was only 17, and Roderick opened a studio in Peoria. At first Henry worked for his brother, but in 1851 he opened “Cole’s Fine Art and Photographic Gallery” in competition with Roderick. After several years of rivalry, Cole bought out his brother in 1859, and Roderick gave up photography and became a dairy farmer.

For a time during those years, Cole was the roommate of the famous atheist writer Robert Ingersoll. A previously unknown 1876 photo of Ingersoll, taken by Cole, was discovered in 2007 among the effects of a deceased relative of Cathleen Robertson of Peoria. Even more notable is a historic photo of a beardless Abraham Lincoln taken in 1858, reportedly while Lincoln was traveling the state during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. H.H. and his brother Roderick both claimed credit for that photo, and they both may have been telling the truth, because in those days Roderick often worked out of H.H.’s studio as his younger brother’s cameraman. In any event, H.H. greatly admired Lincoln, and the 1949 Pekin Centenary relates that Cole attended the 1860 Republican Convention “in the ‘Wigwam’ at Chicago, and he, with hundreds of others, returned bare headed having lost his silk hat in the wild enthusiasm following Lincoln’s nomination.”

This ‘cut’ of Pekin pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole was printed on the back page of the 132 Feb. 1896 issues of the Pekin Daily Tribune.

H.H. Cole’s business at Main and Washington streets in Peoria was destroyed by fire in 1861, so Cole moved to Adams Street opposite the Peoria County Courthouse. In starting anew, Cole went to Chicago and paid $50 (then a considerable sum) to learn the new Ferrotype (or tin-type) paper photograph technology. He is said to have been the first man in Illinois outside of Chicago to take paper photos.

A second fire on Jan. 29, 1869, destroyed his studio and all his negatives, and he relocated to a building at Jefferson and Hamilton. Facing financial hardship in the 1870s, Cole closed his Peoria studio and moved to Tazewell County in the spring of 1879. He first settled in Mackinaw, but in November he moved to Pekin and opened a studio at 317 Court Street. Later he opened a second studio in Delavan.

Active in Pekin’s community life, Cole attended the Pekin Congregational Church and was elected an alderman on the Pekin City Council while William J. Conzelman was mayor. Our Local History Room files include a copy of Cole’s “Souvenir of Pekin,” a collection of his photos of prominent Pekin homes and buildings of the day. Cole also photographed about 2,000 of the notable men of Tazewell County, a collection that previously had been long displayed at the Tazewell County Courthouse. Copies of Cole’s notable men are available for purchase from the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society.

Henry H. Cole stands proudly in front of his new home, which he built in 1914 using stone from the old Tazewell County Courthouse that had been demolished that year to make away for the present courthouse. Cole dubbed his home "Tuscarora Lodge," or the Tazewell Lincoln-Douglas Lodge. This picture is a detail from a photograph that was among the mementos sealed within the new courthouse's 1914 cornerstone time capsule, and recovered when the time capsule was opened last month -- June 2016 -- during the courthouse's centennial re-dedication. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Henry H. Cole stands proudly in front of his new home, which he built in 1914 using stone from the old Tazewell County Courthouse that had been demolished that year to make away for the present courthouse. Cole dubbed his home “Tuscarora Lodge,” or the Tazewell Lincoln-Douglas Lodge. This picture is a detail from a photograph that was among the mementos sealed within the new courthouse’s 1914 cornerstone time capsule, and recovered when the time capsule was opened last month — June 2016 — during the courthouse’s centennial re-dedication. IMAGE COURTESY OF TAZEWELL COUNTY COURTS ADMINISTRATOR COURTNEY EETEN

Cole semi-retired in 1911, moving to Tuscarora in Hollis Township, Peoria County, between Pekin and Bartonville. There in 1914 he built “Tuscarora Lodge” using materials from the old Tazewell County Courthouse and from Rose Villa, the old Henry Westerman home in Pekin that had been demolished to make room for the Carl Herget Mansion at Buena Vista and Washington streets. The walkways around his home were built using stone and marble left over when the new courthouse was built. A photograph of Cole proudly standing in front of Tuscarora Lodge was included among the mementos preserved in the recently opened time capsule that was placed inside the cornerstone of the new Tazewell County Courthouse in 1914.

Attaining the age of 92, Cole died at Tuscarora Lodge the evening of Dec. 9, 1925. His pastor, Rev. Walter Heyl, officiated at his funeral at Noel Funeral Home in Pekin, and he was buried in Springdale Cemetery, Peoria.

#abraham-lincoln, #henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-courthouse-time-capsule, #tuscarora-lodge