Green Valley’s long and fertile history

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This column has previously taken a brief look at the history of Creve Coeur, one of Pekin’s neighbors to the north, with the help of a published village history in the Local History Room collection of the Pekin Public Library.

This week we’ll turn our attention to one of Pekin’s neighbors to the south, Green Valley, with the help of another published history in the Local History Room collection – the Green Valley quasquicentennial volume, “Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years, 1872-1997,” also titled, “Quasquicentennial: Green Valley, Illinois, 1872-1997.”

Green Valley is a small rural community in the south of Sand Prairie Township, not too far north of Malone Township. As a small rural community, its history naturally would not be limited to the families and events of the village, but would include the landowners and farmers in the surrounding area. Consequently, the quasquicentennial volume puts a spotlight not only on Green Valley, but also on Sand Prairie and Malone townships.

This map, from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County, show Sand Prairie Township. The lost village of Circleville, then the largest settlement in the township, is shown in the northeast corner. Green Valley did not yet exist, but would be established on land owned by the Schureman and Dickson families in Sections 26 and 35.

Small though it is, Green Valley is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. Prior to the beginning of Green Valley’s history, however, the title of largest community in the township was held by the vanished village of Circleville. Sand Prairie Township originally was called Jefferson Township, and it used to be larger than it is today, encompassing parts of what is now Malone Township. Around 1824 – the year Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at the future site of Pekin – white settlers first came to the future site of Circleville, in Section 1 of the former Jefferson Township.

“This was the first town in the township,” the Green Valley history says. “It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Circleville later became notorious as the favored hangout of the Berry Gang, a group of outlaws led by four brothers, William, Isaac, Emanuel and Simeon Berry, who had a homestead just outside of Circleville. The criminal career and ultimate doom of the Berry Gang is told in “Lynch Law,” a book authored by local historians and retired law enforcement officers Jim Conover and James Brecher.

An 1864 atlas map of Tazewell County shows Circleville in the northeast corner of Sand Prairie Township, but one will search in vain for Green Valley on that map. In 1864, the land that would become Green Valley was then the Dickson and Schureman farmsteads. (Other long-established family names of Sand Prairie Township include Woodrow, Deppert and Talbott. The wealthy Cummings family of Pekin also used to own land in the township.)

Nine years later, the 1873 atlas map of Sand Prairie shows both Circleville and Green Valley. But visitors to Sand Prairie Township today will find no trace of Circleville, which slowly dwindled away after the heyday of the Berry Gang.

Green Valley made its debut on the map of Sand Prairie Township in this plat from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This copy of the original plat of Green Valley was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” North is down, South is up.

“The land where Green Valley now stands was purchased from the government in 1852 by Samuel Schureman for $3 an acre,” the Greek Valley history says. “He built a one-room house on the side of the present Schureman homestead. Another house was where the 1912 grade school was later built. A Schureman tale is told of the days when wild game ran through the prairie grass and prairie chickens were so thick that when they flew to roost in the evenings on the rail fences, the rail could not be seen for the number of chickens covering it.”

On Oct. 19, 1872, the unincorporated village of Green Valley was platted out by Samuel Schureman. The little settlement’s development was anchored by the Illinois Central Railroad, which was built in 1870, and the Smith-Hippen grain elevator, which was built in 1872. The village celebrated its centennial in 1972, commemorating the original platting by Samuel Schureman, but another centennial milestone came on March 11, 2016, which was exactly 100 years from the date Green Valley was incorporated as a village.

Shown are Sarah, Thomas (“Tommy”), and Stella Schureman in front of the home of Thomas Schureman at what is now 108 N. Church St. in Green Valley. Tommy Schureman’s house was also Green Valley’s first post office in the 1860s.

The community formerly boasted its own newspaper, the Green Valley Banner, which was founded by Clark Nieukirk in the late 1890s and which continued to be printed until it fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Microfilms of selected issues of the Green Valley Banner from July 15, 1897, to Dec. 28, 1922, are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #clark-nieukirk, #columbus-r-cummings, #green-valley, #green-valley-banner, #jefferson-township, #jim-brecher, #jim-conover, #malone-township, #preblog-columns, #quasquicentennial-green-valley-illinois-1872-1997, #samuel-schureman, #sand-prairie-township, #thomas-schureman, #tommy-schureman, #william-berry

The old Tharp burial ground

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Two months ago we recalled the history of one of Pekin’s early industrial businesses, the A. & J. Haines Harvester Factory that operated at the corner of Broadway and Ninth from 1849 to 1890. As a busy and noisy mid-19th century factory, the Haines manufacturing outfit was located in the midst of the sparsely populated fields and meadows of what was then Pekin’s outskirts so as not to disturb the city’s residents.

But this week we’ll turn our attention to the Haines factory’s much quieter next-door neighbors, who slept so soundly that no industrial cacophony could rouse them. These were the “residents” of the old Tharp Burial Ground, which was located at the corner of Broadway and 11th from the 1830s until the 1880s. The Tharp Burial Ground was one of the early cemeteries from Pekin’s pioneer days that is no more, the burials having been later moved to make way for the expansion and development of the city.

The Tharp Burial Ground is named for the Tharp family, who were among the earliest pioneers to settle in what was soon to become the “Town Site” that was formally named Pekin in Jan. 1830. In fact, Jonathan Tharp was the very first white settler here, erecting a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that is today at the foot of Broadway. Tharp’s cabin was not far from the wigwams of Shabbona, leader of the Pottawatomi who lived in a large village here. The following year, Jonathan’s father Jacob and other family members followed him from Ohio and built their own homesteads near his.

Later, the Tharps operated a farm in the area now occupied by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and School, and a historical marker at the St. Joseph’s Parish Center tells visitors that the Tharp farm was once located there, on the street once called Tharp Place (now St. Joseph Place). If one were to extend the line of Tharp/St. Joseph Place straight eastward out to 11th Street, one would reach the southeast corner of the Tharp Burial Ground, which began as a family burying ground for the Tharps.

The detail from an old 1877 aerial view drawing of Pekin looking toward the south shows the former Tharp Burial Ground on the left edge of the map. The old Haines Harvester factory buildings are shown left of the center of this image. At the center is the plot of ground that is today known as James Field. The farmstead of the Tharp family (at a spot now occupied by the St. Joseph Parish Center) is shown at the right edge of the image.

The Tharp pioneer cemetery is marked with a Christian cross and the word “cemetery” on the 1864 M. H. Thompson wall plat map of Tazewell County. An 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” also identifies the cemetery as “Tharps Burial Ground.” However, by 1891 the Tazewell County atlas plat shows only the outline of where the cemetery had been.

This detail from an 1872 plat map of Pekin shows the location of the old Tharp Burial Ground at the corner of Broadway and Pearl (now 11th Street). The area is now occupied by the Schnucks grocery store building.

What became of the Tharp Burial Ground? The answer is found in the Local History Room’s index for Oak Grove Cemetery, which the index describes as follows (emphasis added):

“Oak Grove consists of six acres originally under the supervision of Sons of Temperance, instituted April 10, 1848, known as Temperance Cemetery. Warranted by William and Jerusha Stansberry for the sum of $150.00. It is now a part of Lakeside Cemetery Association, located on North side of Pekin, West side of Route 29. Some burials were on the East bluff at the Old Sons of Temperance Burial Ground. They were moved to Oak Grove to make way for the building of McKinley School. Also moved here was the Tharpe (sic) Burial Ground which was at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh Streets, to make way for the building of the Old Douglas School.

The Old Douglas School was built in 1881-2 and was originally called “the East Side School,” and thus on the 1891 plat map of Pekin we find the Tharp Burial Ground replaced by “the East Side School House.” That school building stood until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a larger Douglas School. That school in turn stood until 1988, when it was demolished to make way for a new shopping center, originally K’s Supersaver (now Schnucks).

Construction work at that site in 1988 led to the somewhat unsettling discovery that when the Tharp Burial Ground was closed down and the pioneer remains interred there were moved to Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery), a number of burials had been overlooked. In June 1988, anthropologist Alan Hern of Dixon Mounds Museum was called in to assist Tazewell County Coroner Bob Haller with the investigation and removal of the burials. Hern and Haller determined that the burials were probably victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 who had been buried in haste.

A video of Hern’s work at the site of the former Tharp Burial Ground was made by retired Pekin police officer and local historian Jim Conover. A DVD copy of Conover’s video is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection and is available for viewing at the library.

#alan-hern, #douglas-school, #haines-harvester, #jacob-tharp, #james-field, #jim-conover, #jonathan-haines, #jonathan-tharp, #ks-supersaver, #oak-grove-cemetery, #old-douglas-school, #pekin-history, #pekins-lost-cemeteries, #shabbona, #st-joseph-parish-center, #tazewell-county-coroner-robert-haller, #tharp-burial-ground

Lost town of Circleville featured in WEEK-TV segment

The lost Tazewell County town of Circleville, and the town’s most (in)famous residents, the Berry Gang, are the subject of a special segment by WEEK-TV weeknight anchor Caitlin Knute which aired during the 10 p.m. news on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016:

SPECIAL REPORT – Circleville: A Lost Town and its Most Infamous Residents

Circleville was previously the subject of a weblog post here:

The lost town of Circleville

Click on the “Circleville” tag below for other mentions of this town at “From the History Room.”

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an "Aerial View of Pekin," a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings -- at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc.  Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff's Residence (which was replaced in 1891 -- today it's the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s).  Since this map was drawn in 1877, it's only eight years after Bill Berry's lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth.  Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail -- there's no telling which of them was Berry's gallows tree.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an “Aerial View of Pekin,” a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings — at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc. Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence (which was replaced in 1891 — today it’s the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s). Since this map was drawn in 1877, it’s only eight years after Bill Berry’s lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth. Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail — there’s no telling which of them was Berry’s gallows tree.

#berry-gang, #caitlin-knute, #circleville, #jim-conover, #lynch-law, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county-history, #week-tv, #william-berry