The founding of Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

After Illinois achieved statehood, new settlers poured into central Illinois throughout the 1820s, making new homes for themselves in and around Fort Clark (Peoria) or clearing land for farms along the eastern shores and bluffs of Peoria Lake and the Mackinaw River basin. Those were the years that saw the arrival of Tazewell County pioneers William Blanchard, Nathan Dillon, and William Holland.

Another of those early settlers was an Ohio resident named Jonathan Tharp (1794-1844), who built a log cabin on a ridge above the Illinois River in 1824 at a spot that is today the foot of Broadway in Pekin. Tharp’s cabin was the seed that would sound sprout and grow into the city of Pekin.

The result of the wave of immigration of those years was that in 1825, a mere seven years after statehood, the State Legislature erected a new county, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek who had once dwelt in that place.

Tazewell County came along almost on the heels of Peoria County’s founding. As we have often recalled in this column, Tazewell County was established in 1827. It was Illinois’ 38th county – the 23rd county since statehood. At the time, Tazewell County was officially a part of Sangamon County, but was in fact under the governmental administration of Peoria County.

This detail from a map printed in the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the original boundaries of Tazewell County as established by the State Legislature in 1827 and 1829. The village of Mackinaw was chosen as the first county seat because it was then near the geographical center of the county.

The original plan was to name the new county “Mackinaw,” after the tributary of the Illinois River that flowed through it (a Kickapoo chief named Mackinaw or Machina also lived with his people in Tazewell County in those years). However, one of the county’s prominent pioneers, Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), a Virginia native, intervened to have the proposed bill to establish the county amended, so the new county would instead be named for U.S. Senator Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia. The first county seat was still named Mackinaw, though.

Following is the account of the founding of Tazewell County as found in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 207-209 (emphasis added):

“Tazewell county was organized by an act of the Legislature January 31st, 1827, with the following boundaries: Beginning at the northeast corner of township twenty, north of the base line, and range three east of the third principal meridian, thence north on said line to the north line of township twenty-eight north, thence west to the middle of the Illinois river, thence down said river to the north line of township twenty north, thence east to the place of beginning.

“In the act organizing the county January 31, 1827, an error occurred in describing the boundaries. This error was corrected by an act re-establishing the boundaries, passed January 22, 1829.

“The territory comprising the county of Tazewell formed part of the counties at the dates named in the several subdivisions of the State prior to the organization of the county, as follows:

“1809 — At this date Illinois Territory was organized, and was subdivided into the counties of Randolph and St. Clair. Tazewell was included in the county of St. Clair.

“1812 — Tazewell formed part of the county of Madison.

“1814 — Tazewell was included in the counties of Madison and Edwards: west of the third principal meridian in Madison, east of the meridian in Edwards.

“1816 — Tazewell was included within the boundaries of Madison and Crawford counties: east of the meridian in Crawford, west in Madison.

“1817 — Tazewell formed part of the counties of Bond and Crawford: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Crawford.

“1819 — Tazewell was included in Clark and Bond counties: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Clark.

“1821 — Tazewell formed part of Fayette and Sangamon counties: west of the meridian in Sangamon, east in Fayette.

“1827 — Tazewell organized January 31st: boundary defective.

“1829 — Tazewell boundaries defined, and error in law of 1827 corrected as above given. County originally created from territory then comprising part of the counties of Sangamon and Fayette:
west of the third principal meridian taken from Sangamon, east of the meridian, comprising 24 townships, taken from Fayette.

“1830 — McLean county was formed by taking off the three ranges east of the meridian and range one west of the meridian.

“1839 — Logan county was created, taking off three townships on the south.

“1841 — The counties of Mason and Woodford were organized, and Tazewell reduced to its present boundaries.

“The commissioners to locate the county seat were Thos. M. Neale, Wm. L. D. Ewing and Job Fletcher. They were by the act of organization required to meet on the third Monday of March, 1827, or within five days thereafter, at the house of Wm. Orendorff, for the purpose of locating the county seat, which, when located, was to be called ‘Mackinaw.’ Until county buildings were erected the courts were required to be held at the house of Wm. Orendorff. Election for county officers at the house of said Wm. Orendorff on the second Monday of April, 1827.

“All that part of Fayette lying east and north of Tazewell was attached to Tazewell for county purposes.

“In the year 1825 the Legislature created Peoria county, and attached to it for all county purposes all of the territory north of town 20 and west of the third principal meridian, thus including all the present county of Tazewell. Nathan Dillon, William Holland and Joseph Smith were chosen County Commissioners for the new county. The former two resided in this county. They held their first meeting at Peoria March 8, 1825.

“When the population of Tazewell was thought to be sufficiently large to regularly organize, an election was held in April, 1827, and Benjamin Briggs, George Hittle, and James Lotta were chosen County Commissioners. The Commissioners at once proceeded to hold a meeting and consummate the organization. This they did at the house of William Orendorff, April 10, 1827. . . .

“The county at this time was very large; even in 1829, when a new boundary was formed, it contained 79 townships. It has been divided for the formation of other counties so often that it has finally been reduced to 19 townships.

“The county was named in honor of Hon. John Tazewell (sic – Littleton), United States Senator from the State of Virginia. There is a county in that State which also bears the same name, these being the only two in the United States.”


#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #illinois-bicentennial, #jonathan-tharp, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-river, #nathan-dillon, #tazewell-county-history, #william-blanchard, #william-holland, #william-orendorff

‘Diminutive dynamo’ Erma Richards, Navy commander

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In Mackinaw Township Cemetery is a gravestone marked with the Christian cross, bearing the following inscription:

OCT 31 1896 JUL 17 1991

This simple memorial of a Navy veteran’s service to her country and her fellow man was brought to my attention by Mackinaw historian Kathy Friend, who has supplied the Pekin Public Library with a couple of biographical items concerning the remarkable life and career of Erma Richards.

Richards’ life and personality are encapsulated in the first paragraph of her published obituary, which dubs her “the diminutive dynamo who rose to the rank of commander in the Navy Nurse Corps” – “diminutive” because she stood only 5 feet in height. Friend sums up her life with the comment, “I think she was an amazing lady.”

Born Oct. 31, 1896, in Waynesville, Ill., the daughter of William Clark and Leona Pearl (Heiserman) Richards, she grew up in Mackinaw with a brother and two sisters. Richards entered nurses training at Brokaw Hospital School of Nursing in Normal in 1991, graduating in 1922. She spent the rest of her life doing what she loved – caring for the sick.

After graduation, she served as a private duty nurse for seven years, working with Drs. Edson B. Hart, Joseph K.P. Hawks, Lester B. Cavins, and Fred W. Brian. However, it was, in the words of her obituary, “the promise of adventure and a more secure future” that led her to enlist in the Navy Nurse Corps in 1931.

Joining the Navy Nurse Corps fulfilled its promise of adventure. Richards was first stationed in Chelsea, Mass., then Portsmouth, Va., and the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She was then assigned to the USS Relief, which was at the time the only hospital ship in the world. The Relief followed the U.S. fleet in the Caribbean Sea.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Richards was one of only 15 nurses chosen for assignment there in January 1942. After 15 months in Hawaii, she was assigned to a convalescent hospital in Asheville, N.C., as chief nurse.

As America’s war effort continued and casualties mounted, the need to provide care for the injured was met by the conversion of six tankers to hospital ships in the fall of 1944. Richards was assigned to one of them, the USS Benevolence, as chief nurse. Richards said that she loved being at sea.

In the summer of 1945, just before the war was ended with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Benevolence went to the Marshall Islands to join the Pacific fleet. The Benevolence steamed into Tokyo Bay on Aug. 25, 1945, and then received 1,500 American prisoners of war. Richards and her fellow nurses worked non-stop in caring for the liberated POWs.

With the war’s end, Richards spent eight years serving at Navy bases in San Diego, Calif., Corpus Christi, Texas, and then back to Chelsea, Mass. While stationed at Corpus Christi, Richards was rewarded for her years of service by promotion to the rank of commander. On Dec. 3, 1950, the Corpus Christi Caller newspaper reported her promotion in these words:

“Lt. Com. Erma Richards was selected for promotion to commander at Naval Hospital Chief of Nursing Service. To make commander rank, the chief of the nursing service at the U.S. Naval Hospital, here, Lt. Commdr. Erma Richards, Nurse Corps, USN, has been selected for promotion to the rank of commander. She is the 1st officer of the Nurse Corps to be serving in Texas at the time of selection for appointment to the rank of commander, and will be among the limited few in the service at this rank. Lt. Com. Richards came to the hospital from San Diego in June. She is a native of Mackinaw, Illinois, where her parents, Mr. & Mrs. Clark Richards, still reside. She is a graduate of Brokaw Hospital School of Nursing in Bloomington, Illinois. She has served in I.S. Naval Hospitals in Charleston, South Carolina, Pearl Harbor, St. Alk, New York, San Diego, Portsmouth, Virginia, and Chelsea, Massachusetts.”

Richards retired from the Navy in 1953 and returned to her hometown of Mackinaw, where she was an active member of Mackinaw Christian Church. She passed away in the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 17, 1991, at Martin Health Center in Bloomington.

#erma-richards, #mackinaw

Dead and aborted towns of Tazewell County

Judging from the number of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Twitter, a great deal of interest was generated by the column last month on Pekin’s mysterious and ephemeral suburb of “Hong Kong,” marked on an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County but appearing on no other map nor in any other known historical document.

Hong Kong, of course, is far from the only toponym that has vanished from the map. In April 1979, the late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. prepared a “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois” for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. Soady’s list includes many place names that have long since disappeared, some of the settlements existing for a short time before dying out, others flourishing for a good while before succumbing to trends and pressures of migration and economics. The town of Circleville south of Pekin is a better known example of a town that was founded early in Tazewell County, flourished for many years (being on an old stage coach route), but later faded and died.

In other cases, the places on Soady’s list are still inhabited today but were renamed at some point. As this column has discussed in the past, the old neighboring settlements of Fond du Lac (Fondulac) and Blue Town merged to become Hilton, which later was renamed East Peoria. Other nearby settlements we’ve discussed include Wesley City, which later adopted the name of Creve Coeur, while North Pekin formerly was called Radio City.

As for the village of Mackinaw, which was Tazewell County’s first county seat, its original name was “Mackinawtown.” Soady’s list includes an entry for “MACKINAW TOWN” (two words), with a note saying, “oldest name (1827-28) for MACKINAW.” However, an old copy of a plat in the TCGHS archives, probably drawn during the 1850s from an original plat legally filed and recorded in the 1830s, shows the name as “Mackinawtown” (one word).

The copy of the Mackinawtown plat, along with another copy of a plat for the “Town of Mackinaw” (made from an original plat filed May 26, 1830, with Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Isaac Perkins) are among the old land records and plats in the TCGHS archival collection. One set of historical hand-drawn copies of Tazewell plats in the TCGHS collection was preserved by being interleaved long ago among the map plates of an old 1855 “Mitchell Universal Atlas” (published by Charles DeSilver) that was donated to the TCGHS in 1990. These plats, most of them drawn in the 1850s, are of towns and settlements with familiar names – such as Tremont, Delavan, Dillon, Groveland, Armington, Morton, Spring Lake, Hopedale, Washington – or else show additions to area towns, such as the Colts, Haines, and Cincinnati Additions to Pekin, or the Semples and Dorseys Additions to Washington, or Bacons Addition to Groveland.

Several of these plats, however, are of settlements that no longer appear on our maps, or may never have appeared on any map or in any atlas or plat book. We have already mentioned Circleville, which no longer exists, and Wesley City, now called Creve Coeur. The Wesley City plat inserted in the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” is chiefly remarkable for showing a grid of streets and lots that is obviously and purely a fantasy of the plat owners, and is frankly impossible geographically, for the plat fails to account for Creve Coeur’s hills, gullies, and hollers.

A number of these plats are of settlements that probably never got off the ground – “aborted towns” that never made it past the planning stage of the land speculators – or perhaps only existed for a short time, or later were merged into neighboring settlements. Among these “dead” and “aborted” towns of Tazewell County shown in this collection of plats are Liberty (surveyed July 22, 1835, plat filed June 17, 1836), Spring Garden (plat recorded by its proprietor S. A. Bumstead), Hancock (surveyed October 1836), Madison, Hamilton (surveyed August-September 1836), Cleveland (plat filed Feb. 15, 1836), Montpelier (surveyed Sept. 8-9, 1836), and Danforth (located along the old T & P railroad, surveyed by William S. Morgan for proprietors E. W. Cantwell and W. F. Evans).

The town of Cleveland, on Peoria Lake, existed – or would have existed – about where East Peoria’s Walmart is located today. Soady’s preliminary list of Tazewell County toponyms suggests that Liberty may have been another name for Dillon, which, however, has its own plat in this collection separate from the Liberty plat. Soady’s list also suggests that Danforth may have been renamed Tullamore. But Spring Garden, Hancock, Madison, Cleveland, and Montpelier do not appear on Soady’s list.

One of the “aborted” towns in this collection of plats was to be named Cincinnati. Like the proposed town of Cleveland, it was to bear an Ohio place name – many pioneer settlers of Tazewell County in general and Pekin in particular came from Ohio. The plat owners of the prospective town of Cincinnati were Jonathan Tharp and Jesse Dillon. Tharp is famous locally for settling in 1824 at a spot that is now the foot of Broadway in Pekin, where the former Franklin School now stands. The published works on Pekin’s history mention that two rival groups of Pekin settlers wished to establish a town here along the Illinois River. While one group, including Nathan Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, and William Haines, proposed a town with streets running perpendicular to and parallel with the river, Tharp and Dillon proposed their town with streets running north-south and east-west.

Tharp and Dillon filed their plat for the town of Cincinnati on July 11, 1830 (Soady’s list says Tharp laid out the plat in 1827). Cromwell, Haines, and their associates drew up their own town plans in 1829 and also formalized a plat in 1830, apparently in such a hurry to file it that they didn’t have time to think of a name – they called their desired settlement simply “Town Site” and only came up with the name “Pekin” later in 1830. Meanwhile, the plans of Tharp and Dillon failed to bear fruit. Instead, their proposed town was recast as the Cincinnati Addition to Pekin, the northern border of which was Broadway, with Tharp’s home lot (No. 160) at the northwest corner of the Addition. The “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection includes a cartographer’s fragile template and accompanying legal description for a plat of “Cincinnati,” as well as a later plat copy of Cincinnati Addition which was drawn and recorded May 28, 1857 – tellingly, the plat copy of Cincinnati “Addition” is in fact still titled “Town of Cincinnati.”

Although the town of Cincinnati never came to fruition, “Cincinnati” is, of course, still an extant Tazewell County toponym – it’s the name of the township located to the south of Pekin Township.

The photo gallery below features selections from the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection of plats, all images courtesy of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.

#blue-town, #cincinnati-addition, #circleville, #creve-coeur, #fondulac, #hilton, #hong-kong, #jonathan-tharp, #mackinaw, #mackinawtown, #mitchell-universal-atlas, #nathan-cromwell, #plats, #tazewell-county-history, #wesley-city, #william-haines

The early days of Mackinaw

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in November 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

The early days of Mackinaw

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The village of Mackinaw in eastern Tazewell County occupies a special position in the county’s history. As this column has noted previously, Mackinaw was the first seat of government for Tazewell County, and the first county courthouse was erected in Mackinaw.

One of the most important sources for the history of those days is Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County.”  Also among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room sources that tell of Mackinaw’s history is “Mackinaw Remembers 1827-1977,” edited by Gladys Garst. The story of Mackinaw’s founding is told on the first two pages of that book, along with a glance back at the prehistory of the Mackinaw area.

“The proof and importance of marks in our Indian cultural heritage,” this volume says, “lies in the fact that Dr. W. H. Holmes, Curator, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, stated the following about the cache discovered in 1916 on the James Tyrrell farm northeast of Mackinaw: ‘Undoubtedly, they represent the most skillful work in stone flaking that has yet been found in this country.’ Thirty-five bifaces (a particular cut) from the Mackinaw cache are on exhibit at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. Three are in McLean County Historical Society Museum in Bloomington, and one is owned by Mr. Stuart Ruch of Champaign. These are thought to be from the Hopewell culture (100 BC to AD 300). Irvin Wyss and Ivan Lindsey are two local men who were digging when they found the cache. Many artifacts have been found by others. Ernest Fuehring has a display in the Mackinaw Federal Savings and Loan Building.”

The most obvious marks of Mackinaw’s Indian cultural heritage are the village’s name and the name of the Mackinaw River. As a rule, the names of rivers and notable natural geographical features tend to be older than the names of towns or cities.  Naturally that is the case with the village of Mackinaw. It may be a surprise to learn, however, that the village did not derive its name from the river.

According to “Mackinaw Remembers,” “It is an accepted fact [the village of Mackinaw] bears the name of Chief Mackinaw or Mackinac of the Kickapoo tribe . . . Some say Mackinaw means ‘little chief.’ It is listed in Illinois State History, No. 4, p. 57, 1963, by Virgil K. Vogel, pamphlet series of Illinois State Historical Society, as meaning turtle. It is taken from the language of the Ojibways.”

The river’s name, however, is an abbreviated form of “Michilimackinac,” a name which some people continued to use even as late as 1846. “In 1681 Father Marquette mentions the Michilimackinac River in his log. It is so-spelled on some maps published in 1822 in the Atlas of Indian Villages of Illinois, compiled by Tucker and Temple,” says “Mackinaw Remembers.”

“Mackinaw Remembers” also has this to say about the Native American peoples living in the area in the early 1800s: “The Indians left a definite mark in our area. War clouds just prior to the War of 1812 made feisty Kickapoos even more restless. They burned settlements on their move toward Lake Peoria. One band of them took up quarters with some Potawatomi, Chippewa, and Ottawa on the Mackinaw River. The peaceful Potawatomi far outnumbered the other tribes. Their chief was named Shimshack. Chief Mackina of the Kickapoos eventually became friendly; however, he and the tribes left with the mass evacuation of Indians in Illinois in 1832.”

Chapman’s Tazewell County history also includes some anecdotes of Chief Mackinaw, or “Old Machina” as Chapman calls him, and notes that his people, the Kickapoo, “dwell in the western and southwestern part of the county” (page 195).

“For some years after the first settlers came wigwams were scattered here and there over the county . . . Another extensive camping ground was on the Mackinaw river, near the present town of Mackinaw. Old Machina was the chief of this band. The Kickapoos had made a treaty shortly previous to the coming of the first settler, by which the whites acquired all their land. When the whites came, however, to settle and occupy the land the Kickapoos were angry, and some of them felt disposed to insult and annoy the settlers. When John Hendrix came to Blooming Grove the Indians ordered him to leave. Not long afterwards they frightened away a family which settled on the Mackinaw. Old Machina ordered one family away by throwing leaves in the air. This was to let the bootanas (white men) know that they must  not be found in the country when the leaves of autumn should fall. In 1823, when the Orendorffs came, Old Machina had learned to speak a little English. He came to Thomas Orendorff and with a majestic wave of his hand said: ‘Too much come back, white man: t’other side Sangamon’” (page 195-196).

Fanny Herndon, one of the “Snowbirds” (the survivors of “the Deep Snow” during the extremely harsh winter of 1830-31), “related stories of earlier settlers mentioning the many tepees here. She told of an Indian trail which came in the village [of Mackinaw] from the northeast, went past the west side of the Bryan Zehr place, and led to the present home of Clifford Rowell. It continued southwest along the bluffs.

The formal founding of the village of Mackinaw is almost coeval with the establishment of Tazewell County in 1827. Originally when Illinois legislators made plans to form a new county out of Peoria County, the proposed name was Mackinaw County, not Tazewell County. In fact, the bill that was approved by the Illinois House of Representative in January 1827 was named, “An Act Creating Mackinaw County.” The Illinois Senate, however, amended the title to read, “An Act Creating Tazewell County,” and it was in that form that the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 31, 1827. Gideon Rupert of Pekin is credited with the choice to name the county after Rupert’s fellow Virginian Littleton Waller Tazewell, U.S. Senator from Virginia.

The legislation erecting Tazewell County also fixed the county seat at Mackinaw, which then was near the center of the county. William H. Hodges, County Surveyor, was hired to lay off the town of Mackinaw, and the sale of town lots was then advertised for three weeks in the Sangamon Spectator. It was decided that the county court house – a relatively simply log structure –was to be built “at or near the spot where the commissioners drove down a stake, standing nine paces in a northeastern direction from a white oak blazed on the northeastern side.” That was Lot 1, Block 11, where the Eddy Smith family lived in 1977. The Mackinaw courthouse served the county for only three years, from 1828 to 1831. Then followed the rivalry between Pekin and Tremont for the honor of county seat which this column has previous described.


Shown is an artist’s rendering of the log house that served as Tazewell County’s courthouse when Mackinaw was the county seat from 1828 to 1831.

#chief-mackinaw, #gideon-rupert, #littleton-waller-tazewell, #mackinaw, #mackinaw-courthouse, #mackinaw-river, #michilmackinac, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-native-tribes