Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

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

Alfred W. Rodecker, judge and journalist

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In the first few years of the 20th century, Ben C. Allensworth, a past editor of the Pekin Daily Times, undertook to update Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history. Allensworth was assisted in that task by his friend and colleague Alfred Wilson Rodecker.

Rodecker, who generally was called Judge Rodecker, was owner and editor of the Pekin Daily Times. Relying on his own knowledge and experience, he wrote the historical account of the Tazewell County Bar for the 1905 “History of Tazewell County.” Rodecker also wrote Allensworth’s biography for the same volume, and as a newspaper owner and a former judge, naturally Rodecker’s own biography also was included in the updated county history.

Following are excerpts from that biography:

“Alfred W. Rodecker, Pekin, is the son of David Rodecker, who was born in Bellefontaine, Logan County, Ohio, in 1812, and of Jane (Wilson) Rodecker, born in Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, in 1817. The parents were married in 1835, and moved to Peoria, lll., in 1838. . . . Failing health compelled [David Rodecker] to sell his business in that city, and he afterward located in Dillon, Tazewell County, where he conducted a general store. His death occurred in 1859, five children surviving him, four of whom are still living.

“Our subject was born in Peoria, May 15, 1844. For six years he attended the Hinman School, in that place . . . and afterward the country school in Dillon. On the 2nd day of April, 1862, he located at Pekin, went to work in the old ‘Register’ newspaper office, and has resided in that city ever since. In 1865 he entered Eureka College and, after completing his course, passed a year in teaching school and reading law. He then entered the law office of A. B. Sawyer, formerly of Pekin, and now of Salt Lake City.

“Being admitted to the bar, in 1869, Judge Rodecker formed a copartnership with M. N. Bassett, now Probate Judge in Peoria. This copartnership was dissolved at the end of three years, and he continued to practice alone until 1877, when he was elected County Judge of Tazewell County. . . . and served as Judge until 1886. This is the only office which he has ever held, except that of School Inspector in the City of Pekin, to which position he was elected to fill a vacancy in 1871. He was twice re-elected, serving in that capacity for a period of seven years. During this official term as School Inspector, he delivered an address to the first graduating class of the Pekin High School.

“On June 22, 1871, Judge Rodecker was married to Ida F. Fenner, in Tremont, Ill. Their son Thaddeus, business manager for the Times Publishing Company, is their only child.

“In 1886, Judge Rodecker became one of the proprietors of the Times Publishing Company, that plant having been purchased from J. B. Irwin. Since January 1, 1894, he has been actively connected with the publication of the ‘Daily and Weekly Times,’ two-thirds of the ownership being vested in him, and the other one-third in Dr. F. Shurtleff. [Note: Shurtleff’s wife was Rodecker’s half-sister Mary Rodecker.] The editorial management of the paper is in Judge Rodecker’s charge. The Judge is a trenchant writer. He does not affect especially literary finish, but has a terse way of stating all the facts involved in the treatment of a given topic.

“Accompanied by his wife, our subject has traveled extensively throughout the Southern States, having for a number of years made an annual trip through that section during the winter season. His published letters descriptive of conditions there — social, commercial, political, and otherwise — are highly appreciated by all those admirers of graphic writing whose pleasure it has been to read them.”

This detail from the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Pekin shows several homes near the intersection of Washington and South Fourth streets. The home designated 345 S. Fourth St. was the residence of Judge A. W. Rodecker (though in his lifetime the house number was 343). The lot is now occupied by The Golden Arms apartment building.

Rodecker’s biographical sketch concludes with the following laudatory appraisal of his life and character:

“The career of A. W. Rodecker furnishes an illustration of the possibilities of American citizenship. His early manhood was one of unremittent toil in the face of obstacles which, for many men, would have lost the battle of life. The incentive of a laudable ambition to deserve an honorable place among his fellow men; untiring industry and persistence in every endeavor, and, above all, a worthy, upright purpose in every undertaking, have been the elements of character contributing to the success he has achieved in life. In his personal relations, his loyalty to his friends has never been questioned. While he forgives a wrong, it must not be said of him that he has as yet reached such sublime heights as to forget the wrongdoer. With all those manly characteristics which stand for individual worth he is richly endowed, and be well deserves the honored place he holds in the hearts of those who know him best.”

After the publication of the updated Tazewell County history, Rodecker survived for another five years, dying Oct. 4, 1910. His widow Ida lived for another four decades, dying in Pekin at the age of 89 on Jan. 23, 1941. Their only child Thaddeus (who himself named one of his sons Alfred Wilson Rodecker) died of a sudden heart attack on May 1, 1933, and his obituary, written by his co-workers at the Daily Times and expressing shock and grief, was printed on the front page of that day’s paper.

Thaddeus’ obituary described his parents as “builders of the Times building and highly respected citizens.” (That refers to the old Times building at 405 Court Street, before the newspaper moved to the Zerwekh building at 30 S. Fourth St.) Thaddeus and his parents are buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

The former location of Judge Rodecker’s home as it appears in a recent Google Maps satellite view.

#a-w-sawyer, #alfred-w-rodecker, #alfred-wilson-rodecker, #ben-c-allensworth, #david-rodecker, #dr-f-shurtleff, #golden-arms-apartments, #ida-f-fenner, #j-b-irwin, #jane-wilson-rodecker, #judge-rodecker, #mary-rodecker, #pekin-daily-times, #preblog-columns, #thaddeus-rodecker

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the years this columns has from time to time spotlighted a few of the scribes who played important roles in recording the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: writers and researchers such as William H. Bates, Charles C. Chapman, and Fred Soady, or Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry H. Cole. This week we’ll take a closer look at the life of another important Tazewell County historian, Ben Campbell Allensworth of Pekin.

Allensworth’s chief contribution to local history was as the editor of the 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” which updated Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history. Allensworth’s history was published in the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County.” The first volume and part of the second volume, the encyclopedia, were edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, while Allensworth was in charge of the Tazewell County history in volume two.

Allensworth was well suited to his task, because he was a school teacher and superintendent as well as an experienced and accomplished journalist. As the old saying goes, journalism gives us the first draft of history — but Allensworth had a hand in both a first and second draft of Tazewell County’s history.

This portrait and signature of Ben C. Allensworth was included in the 1905 “History of Tazewell County” of which Allensworth was the editor.

Included in Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, on pages 968-970, is his own biography, written by his friend, Judge A. W. Rodecker. “Ben C. Allensworth, the editor of the History of Tazewell County, having, from some cause, failed to furnish his own biography to the publishers of this work, they asked me to write it,” Rodecker apologetically explains. Allensworth’s portrait also is interleaved between pages 682 and 683.

Rodecker’s biography of Allensworth says, “Ben C. Allensworth was born in Little Mackinaw Township, one-half mile southeast of Tazewell, in Tazewell County, Ill., October 27, 1845. His parents were William P. and Arabel Waggener Allensworth. William P. Allensworth was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., September 25, 1820, and died in Minier, Ill., May 8, 1874. He was a kind hearted and courtly gentleman, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. He held the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court for four years, and was an efficient and popular officer. The mother of B. C. Allensworth was born in Christian County, Ky., July 9, 1827, and died in Galesburg. Ill., March 25, 1902. She was a woman of culture and refinement, anxious for the success of her children, and labored with her husband in his every endeavor to educate and make them good and useful citizens.

“The subject of this sketch was the eldest of nine children, all of whom, with the exception of two, are living. He was reared on a farm, but, when he could be spared, attended the country schools and was a diligent pupil. It was easy for him to master the studies taught, and he early evinced a purpose to be more than a common school scholar. At the age of twenty he entered the State University at Normal. He ranked high in his studies, and when he graduated in 1869, left a record in the school which gave him a high standing with the school men of the State. Soon after his graduation, he was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Elmwood, Peoria County, which place he held until the spring of 1872. . . .

“In April, 1872, Mr. Allensworth bought of W. T. Meades a half-interest in ‘The Tazewell Register,’ and connected therewith John F. Mounts, a printer and writer of some considerable reputation. In September of that year, Meades purchased Mounts’ interest in the paper. The partnership of Meades and Allensworth, in the publication of the Register, continued until January 1873, when, on account of failing health, Mr. Allensworth sold out to Meades. Then retiring from the newspaper business, he went to farming in Little Mackinaw Township. He taught school in the winter time until 1877, when he was nominated by the Democratic party for Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools, being twice elected to this position. . . .

“For a portion of the time during which he was Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Allensworth carried on farming, and was just farmer enough to be compelled to use all the salary he made out of his office to keep up the farm — or rather make an attempt at it. . . . He dropped his farming venture in 1884 and moved to Pekin, where he has since resided. In May, 1885, he took editorial charge of ‘The Pekin Times,’ but owing to a disagreement with its proprietor, J. B. Irwin, as to the policy to be pursued by the paper, he gave up this position in the following September. In 1886, Irwin having sold the paper, Mr. Allensworth accepted the position of editor and business manager for the Times Publishing Company, which position he relinquished January 14, 1894, to take charge of the Pekin Postoffice (sic), to which place he had been appointed December 21, 1893, by Grover Cleveland. After the expiration of the four-year term in the postoffice, he went into the insurance business, in which he is now engaged. For a number of years he has been a member of the Pekin Board of School Inspectors, and has served one term as President of the Board.”

Rodecker also states that Allensworth married Charity A. Tanner in Minier on Oct. 7, 1875. He and Charity had three daughters and two sons. Charity died in 1912, and Allensworth died at Pekin Hospital on the morning of Sept. 3, 1929, being survived by three of his children and four grandchildren. His lengthy obituary — which is mostly a somewhat abridged version of Rodecker’s biography — was published at the top of the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Little Mackinaw Township.

#ben-c-allensworth, #charity-a-tanner, #j-b-irwin, #john-f-mounts, #judge-a-w-rodecker, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-register, #w-t-meades

Joseph Irwin, founder of the Pekin Daily Times

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 . . .

Joseph Irwin, founder of the Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin’s hometown newspaper, the Pekin Daily Times, has a history that stretches back to Oct. 1873, when the Peorians Joseph B. Irwin and Col. W.T. Dowdall bought and renamed a failed weekly paper called the Pekin Register (1856-1873), the successor of the Pekin Weekly Plaindealer (1854-1856), which in turn was born of the merger of the Tazewell County Mirror (1836-1854) and the Pekin Weekly Reveille (1850-1854).

The Pekin Times remained a weekly until Jan. 3, 1881, when Irwin turned the paper into a five-column daily. Ever since, the Pekin Daily Times has been published Monday through Saturday. But rather than trace the newspaper’s history, let’s take a look at the life and career of the paper’s founder.

Irwin’s life story is told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pp. 720-722, as well as the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” 1894, p.254. Additional details are found in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County.”

This portrait of Pekin Daily Times founder Joseph B. Irwin (1849-1900) appeared in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Irwin was born Oct. 11, 1849, in Circleville, Ohio, the son of John E. and Catherine (Tobias) Irwin, who were natives of Pennsylvania. He passed his boyhood days in Circleville, receiving his schooling at Circleville Academy. His lifelong interest in local politics began in Ohio, where he served a term as city clerk of Portsmouth. In Jan. 1872, Irwin married Inez M. Fifer, a cousin of Illinois Gov. Joseph W. Fifer (1889-1893). They had two children, but both had died before 1879.

Irwin moved to Peoria, where he worked for the Peoria Democrat until 1873. After moving to Pekin and founding the Pekin Times in partnership with Dowdall, Irwin also served as school inspector for three years, and was elected Pekin’s city supervisor in the spring of 1894. In his day, the founder of the Pekin Daily Times was one of Tazewell County’s prominent newspapermen and politicians. Back then, usually journalists were openly partisan – politically independent newspapers were rare.

“When the first issue of the Times appeared [in 1873] there was no subscription list, as the paper had changed hands so often that its reputation was well nigh gone and the outlook was extremely discouraging. But by much hard work, natural ability and perseverance, our subject soon placed the paper on a solid basis, and as a newsy and literary production it ranked among the leading weeklies of the northwest,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record.

According to Chapman, “Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and by untiring energy and rare business tact, built up a larger circulation than it ever enjoyed before. In July, 1877, Geo. E. Schaumleffle purchased a third interest of the paper.” Schaumleffle, born in Pekin in 1854, often wrote the paper’s editorials.

B.C. Allensworth’s Tazewell County history supplies these additional details: ““Irwin soon bought Dowdall out, and the county having passed into the control of the Democratic party, the paper was recognized as the organ of that party and prospered from that time on, when in May, 1886, it was purchased from Irwin by A.W. Rodecker, F. Shurtleff, Thomas Cooper, and B.C. Allensworth.”

After leaving the Pekin Daily Times, Irwin joined the Post Publishing Company and was made editor and manager of the weekly Republican Post, formerly called the Tazewell County Republican. Irwin’s time at the Republican Post was financially successful, but politically it was controversial. Allensworth mentions that Irwin “antagonized republican interest to such an extent that Colonel Bates” – Pekin historian W.H. Bates, who had retired from the Tazewell County Republican – “came back into the paper business with the Tazewell County Tribune.” Also in 1886, says Allensworth, Irwin founded the Pekin Daily Post, and he continued the publication of the Republican Post and the Daily Post until his death in Pekin on Jan. 13, 1900.

“There is perhaps no better campaigner among the politicians of the county than Mr. Irwin,” says the Portrait and Biographical Record, “who is well known to every prominent citizen in both parties, and being acquainted with all the main roads and byways in this vicinity, can get over and around Tazewell County and in every township and political center quicker than any other man. He has met with several business reverses, but his fine financial standing, business ability and honesty have never been questioned. Among politicians and newspaper readers generally he is conceded to be one of the best editors in the county.”

#col-w-t-dowdall, #george-e-schaumleffle, #illinois-governor-joseph-w-fifer, #j-b-irwin, #joseph-b-irwin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-history, #pekin-newspaper-history, #w-h-bates

H. P. Westerman, whiskey and the Pekin press

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The November 2015 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, page 1466, includes an excerpt and a reprint from two vintage newspapers that tell of Pekin alcohol distillery owner Henry P. Westerman (1836-1922). It’s not really the kind of news about one’s self that one likes to see in the newspaper.

The excerpt, headlined “H. P. Westerman in the Toils,” comes from the Delavan Times of Dec. 11, 1875. It reads as follows:

“The Pantagraph is responsible for the statement that a warrant was issued out of the United States District Court Saturday for the arrest of Henry P. Westerman, of the Pekin Alcohol Company. It is charged that there were frauds perpetrated by the Pekin Alcohol Manufacturing Company up to last January, when the name of the company was changed to the Pekin Alcohol Company. It is for refusing to produce the books of the old company showing the transactions during the time of the crooked work, that he is to be arrested. The penalty is from $500 to $5,000, and six months to ten years imprisonment.”

The significance of that piece of news is explained by a previous From the Local History Room column, “Pekin was encircled by the Whiskey Ring,” published in the April 7, 2012 Pekin Daily Times. The federal warrant issued for Westerman’s arrest was a part of U.S. Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow’s efforts to put a stop to a widespread conspiracy to evade the federal whiskey tax. The 1949 Pekin Centenary describes the Whiskey Ring’s activities in Pekin, which included “emptying the vast city cisterns built for fire protection here in Pekin, and filling them with highly inflammable bootleg whiskey instead of water.”

The Pekin Centenary continues, “Liquor was also cached in corn shocks, and kegs were sealed and sunk in the Illinois river, here and at Peoria and other locations.”

The Centenary’s account of the Whiskey Ring does not name any of the Pekin conspirators, but we know Westerman was involved, because, as the TCGHS Monthly’s reprint of an editorial column from the Nov. 3, 1881 Washington Republican informs us, Westerman was “the old head of the Pekin whiskey ring.”

This engraving of Henry P. Westerman was published in the 1873 "Atlas Map of Tazewell County"

This engraving of Henry P. Westerman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County”

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County, Illinois,” page 1083, mentions that John L. Smith (who served as Pekin mayor in 1885 and 1886) sold his distillery to Westerman, which may be how Westerman first got into the distilling business. Westerman’s Pekin Daily Times obituary also mentions that he “was an early resident of this city and for many years was prominent in its affairs. He at one time conducted the old Crown distillery here and was actively engaged in business here for many years.”

Allensworth’s history, page 905, says Westerman was elected Fourth Ward alderman for Pekin in 1861, but he resigned the same year. He later moved to San Francisco, Calif., where he died, his body being brought back to Pekin and buried in Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery). As an aside, Oak Grove Cemetery began as Temperance Cemetery, founded by the Pekin Sons of Temperance, so the burial of an old Pekin distiller there makes for something of a humorous irony.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County, Illinois,” page 611, includes this short biographical notice of Westerman:

“H. P. Westerman was born, Aug. 25, 1836, in St. Louis, Mo., and is the son of Conrad and Margaretha (Lang) Westerman. His father and his family came to Pekin in 1846, and old Father Westerman died here in 1873. H. P. attended the common schools of Pekin, and then entered Bell’s Commercial College, from where he graduated. In 1848 he embarked in the dry goods business as clerk, and from that time his active business career began. He was united in marriage with Mary L. Gregg, Oct. 13, 1856. Three children were born to them, two of whom are living.”

In fact, Westerman is known to have had four children: a son, Don Heaton Westerman, who died when only 9 months old in August 1866, and three daughters, May Leslie Westerman, who died at age 9 also in August 1866, Alice Breimar Westerman Chain, and Susan Leslie Westerman Brown.

Though Chapman devoted only a single paragraph to Westerman himself, Chapman continued with two pages of a biography – more of a panegyric, perhaps – of Westerman’s wife Mary, who served locally in the Soldiers Aid Society during the Civil War for four years, two as president and two as secretary. Chapman tells of dissension in the Society over how best to spend their donations, which led some local newspapers to denounce Mary Westerman unjustly, accusing her of “striking hands with the Copperheads.” (She was a Democrat, and many Democrats in Pekin during the Civil War were Copperheads, that is, they had Confederate sympathies.)

Besides Chapman’s information, the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” page 38, features a lengthy biography of H. P. Westerman and his wife Mary, while engravings of their mansion and of Henry’s distillery are found on pages 8-9.  Mary Westerman is also important to the history of the Pekin Public Library due to her prominent role in the founding and promotion of the Ladies Library Association, forerunner to the public library.

This detail of an 1881 newspaper column in the Washington Republican tells of an altercation between a Pekin alcohol distiller and a prominent Pekin newspaper publisher and printer. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This detail of an 1881 newspaper column in the Washington Republican tells of an altercation between a Pekin alcohol distiller and a prominent Pekin newspaper publisher and printer. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Given the number of newspaper articles over the years that showed Henry Westerman in a negative light, it’s perhaps understandable that he wouldn’t be on the friendliest of terms with the local press. It’s in that context that the first paragraph of the Washington Republican’s above quoted editorial column of Nov. 3, 1881, may be understood. The Republican editor’s column reprinted a couple items from a recent issue of the Peoria Journal, in which the Journal (and the Washington Republican) enjoyed some jokes at the expense of their Pekin newspaper rivals:

“J. B. Bates, of the Republican, who was threatened at his very domicile by H. P. Westerman, the old head of the Pekin whiskey ring, evidently wished the people to know that he carried no concealed weapons, as he marched from and to his home with the immense Missouri bush-whacker’s rifle over his shoulder. Armed with such a murderous-looking weapon, we are rejoiced to know that he will hereafter walk in the paths of peace.”

The Journal mixed up the initials of the editor of the Tazewell Republican – he was W. H. Bates, while J. B. Irwin was then editor of the Pekin Daily Times. In any case, the Washington Republican’s editorial writer remarked, “Nor is Bates the only Pekin editor who is fearful of being blown into kingdom come. Hoffman, also, sees danger ahead and while he has no fears of the hereafter he don’t propose to take passage across the rolling Jordan until he gets a good ready, and woe be unto him who tackles the Dutchman. See what the same [Peoria Journal] writer says of Jack:

“Jack Hoffman of the Freie Presse, with blood in his eye, and his ears flopping, marched boldly down Court street with a shot gun over his shoulder a la Bates. All the editors here appear to be on the war path. Peace! peace, brethern (sic), let not your angry passions rise, for we think too much of you all, to have even one of you pass out of the world in a hurry, besides you would be missing heaps of fun up here on earth.”

The Washington Republican’s editorial writer then added, using colorful language that would likely result in a libel suit today, “Bates and Hoffman are not alone in this, for Irwin has been in hot water ever since he went to Pekin, and has had more trouble with his neighbors than all the others put together. He fears neither God, hell nor the devil, and, in fact, the nearer he gets to the latter the more he feels at home. The old man will reach for him though some of these days, and then heaven pity the unfortunate imps who must endure his company throughout eternity.

#copperheads, #h-p-westerman, #j-b-irwin, #pekin-history, #w-h-bates, #whiskey-ring, #william-h-bates