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.
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. 1920 – Judge 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:
TAZEWELL COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
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.