The Dirksen Center builds a new home

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

As we have proceeded through this series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we now move into the first years of the present century.

One of the most notable events in the library’s history during those years was the retirement of Pekin Public Library Director Paula Weiss on June 30, 2004. She had worked at the library for 33 years, beginning as the director of the children’s department, then being appointed the head of adult services, and finally serving as library director for 22 years. Weiss was succeeded by Jeff Brooks, the library’s head of technical services, who has been director ever since.

Another event of note took place within the first year or so after Brooks became director. That is when the old, obsolete card catalog, no longer updated since 1999 and rarely used, was removed from the library and discarded. A few years later, in the latter months of 2010, the library’s obituary card index — a genealogical reference resource that had not been updated for several years ever since an online digital obituary index had been created for the library — was also removed and discarded.

But, without a doubt, the most significant development in the library’s history during those years was the departure of the Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center in September of 2003.

As you will recall from an earlier installment in this series, it was the brainchild of Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade and other Pekin leaders in the 1960s to replace the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library with a larger facility that would house both the public library and a special research center housing the papers of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin.

The library and Dirksen Center had operated from the same facility since 1975. However, with the passage of years the Dirksen Center’s collection had grown, and in the late 1990s the Dirksen Center’s collection was greatly augmented by the addition of the papers and mementos of U.S. Congressman Bob Michel. The library was unable to give more space to the Dirksen Center, because by that time the library’s adult and children’s collections had exceeded the library’s designed capacity.

With only so much space available at the library facility, the Dirksen Center’s board began to consider a move to a new building of its own. In February of 2002, Dirksen Center board member Frank Mackaman officially announced that the Dirksen Center would leave the Pekin Public Library building and move to a new facility of its own, to be built on the east end of town at 2815 Broadway Road at an estimated cost of $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed new Dirksen Center that was built in 2002-2003 at 2815 Broadway Road on the east end of Pekin.

The prospect of the Dirksen Center’s departure meant the Dirksen Center’s space at the library would be vacant and available for use by the Pekin Public Library. That, however, would require the library to buy the space from the Dirksen Center.

After several months of wrangling, on Oct. 14, 2002, the Pekin City Council agreed to spend $310,000 to help the Pekin Public Library purchase the facility space being vacated by the Dirksen Congressional Center. The former Dirksen Center space was purchased for a total cost of $620,000, with half to be supplied by the city and the other half from the library’s funds.

This Pekin Daily Times file photo shows the upper level of the Dirksen Congressional Research Center’s facilities when the center was located in the Pekin Public Library building. The center vacated its space in 2003 after a new Dirksen Center building was constructed on the east end of Pekin.

Among the suggested uses for the space were additional space for collections or a community room. (The library opted for the community room.) Also, library technical services behind the circulation desk moved to the second floor.

Ground was broken for the new Dirksen Center facility on Oct. 24, 2002. And then, at last, on Sept. 4, 2003, the Dirksen Center vacated the Pekin Public Library facility and moves into its newly completed building. The large bust of Sen. Dirksen, designed by late sculptor Carl Tolpo, that had long stood in the library’s Marigold Plaza, was relocated to a spot outside the new Dirksen Center.

Workers hoist the large bust of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen onto a truck, moving the bust from the Pekin Public Library’s Marigold Plaza to a pedestal outside the new Dirksen Center.

With the completion of such a major realignment of the library facility’s usage of its space, and considering that the building was about three decades old, the library board began to consider what could be done to refresh and update the facility. (In fact, library officials had been considering an expansion and remodel since 1996.)

In June 2004, the library board released a long-range plan to remodel, expand, and update the 30-year-old library facility over the next 5 to 10 years. The plan included a new south entrance to replace the library’s two sunken entrances, a new south parking lot, and a brighter lobby and overall look.

Things advanced as far as the Pekin library board on Sept. 2, 2008, approving some preliminary expansion and renovation plans at a projected cost of $9.6 million.

All of those plans were upended, however, on Sept. 29, 2008, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 777.68 percent in a single day, ushering in an economic recession. Due to the collapse of the economy that fall, the Pekin City Council did not approve funding for the expansion and remodeling project. Any such plans had to shelved for a few years.

Next week we will recall the plans that were developed after the economy recovered.

#card-catalog, #carl-tolpo, #congressman-bob-michel, #dirksen-congressional-research-center, #everett-mckinley-dirksen-bust, #frank-mackaman, #jeff-brooks, #library-expansion-plans, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #paula-weiss, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #pekin-public-library-obituary-index

Landmarks on the way to the new Pekin Public Library

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In the previous installment of our ongoing series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we recalled how Pekin’s “Baby Boom” population increase and the steady growth of the library’s collection led to the decision in the late 1950s to begin planning on a new, larger library building.

It was the dream of Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade that the new building would house both the Pekin Public Library and a Dirksen Congressional Center that would serve as an archive for the papers of U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin and a research center for students of the history and workings of the U.S. Congress.

In January of 1964, incorporation papers for the Dirksen Center were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State by Mayor J. Norman Shade, Walter V. McAdoo, and Harold E. Rainville. From that point, preparations for a new library really began to ramp up. The next visible development in that planning process came in December of 1965, when the Pekin library board acquired two more residential properties behind the library.

Around that same period of time, there came another development that was very important to the Pekin Public Library and many other Central Illinois libraries. On Jan. 7, 1966, Pekin Library Board Chairman John E. Velde Jr. was elected first president of the new Illinois Valley Library System, which then included 17 public libraries in Tazewell, Peoria, and Woodford counties.

It was in Dec. 1965 that the Pekin Public Library joined the Illinois Valley Library System, which was a predecessor of the present Alliance Library System to which Pekin’s library now belongs. Somewhat later than his election as IVLS president, Velde would be named to President Richard Nixon’s new National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences.

The next major landmark in Pekin Public Library history occurred about a year later. On Dec. 31, 1966, it was announced that Pekin’s Carnegie library would be razed and replaced by a larger, modern structure. Charles M. Mohrhardt and Ralph A. Ulveling, head of the Detroit, Mich., library system, were invited by the library board to share their insight and expertise in helping to plan the new structure.

After about two years of the library board’s planning work, on Nov. 1, 1968, Pekin Public Library director John Wicks announced that the architectural firm of John B. Hackler and Co. of Peoria was awarded the contract to design for the new library and Dirksen Congressional Center, projected to cost $750,000.

In the midst of the preparations for a new library, in February of 1971 the library board appointed Mrs. Paula Weiss of Columbia, Mo., as head of Pekin Public Library’s Children’s Department and Cataloging Department. Weiss would eventually become the Pekin library director.

Nearly six years after the announcement that the Pekin Carnegie library would be replaced by a new and larger structure, the design concept of John B. Hackler and Co. was unveiled. On Oct. 15, 1971, Pekin Public Library director Richard N. Peck revealed the plans for the new library and Dirksen Center, a 37,000-square-foot facility (of which 15,500 square feet would be occupied by the Dirksen Center) to be built at a projected cost of $1,450,000. The facility would be a two-storey structure and would include a hall for public assemblies and events as well as an exhibition hall.

This 1971 architect’s drawing shows the layout of the main floor of the planned facility that would house the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center, as designed by Peoria architects John B. Hackler and Co. The facility was built and modeled according to this plan.

The structure’s planned dimensions would later be trimmed to 32,500 square feet, of which 11,000 square feet would belong to the Dirksen Center and 19,000 square feet would house the Pekin Public Library facilities.

The next stage of the planning process arrived on June 20, 1972, when the Pekin library board accepted the low bid of Del Construction Co. of Washington, Ill., to build the new library and Dirksen Center for $1,111,780. That cost later was adjusted in Jan. 1973 with the addition of $51,842 in needed sewer system, pumping, and sidewalk work, because the Hackler design called for a sunken structure.

And with that, construction of the new library and Dirksen Center got under way.

But that is a story we will tell next week.

#charles-m-mohrhardt, #del-construction-co, #dirksen-center, #dirksen-congressional-research-center, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #harold-e-rainville, #john-b-hackler-and-co, #john-e-velde-jr, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #paula-weiss, #ralph-a-ulveling, #richard-n-peck, #richard-nixon, #walter-v-mcadoo

Pekin’s library outgrows the Carnegie building

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Continuing our series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, this week we recall the challenges that the library faced by the mid-20th century due to the demographic “Baby Boom” during the years after World War II.

As related in previous installments of this series, Pekin built its first library in 1902-1903 with the help of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Pekin’s Carnegie library was more than adequate for the community’s needs for the first four or five decades of its existence.

During those decades, the public’s library use gradually and steadily increased, and the library saw growth in its circulation numbers and the size of its collection. During the 1940s and 1950s, however, the Pekin Public Library experienced a surge in circulation, due in large part to the great increase in numbers of births across in the nation in those years.

By the 1950s it was glaringly obvious that the Carnegie library was no longer large enough to serve the community well. That is not surprising, considering that the library was built to serve a city of only about 8,500 persons. U.S. Census figures show that in the period from 1900 to 1940, the population of Pekin had increased from 8,420 to 19,407. In the decade from 1940 to 1950, that number grew to 21,858 – an increase of 2,451. But from 1950 to 1960, Pekin’s population leaped to 28,146, an increase of 6,288, almost three times as much as the increase during the previous decade.

Meanwhile the library was still the same size as it was when Paul O. Moratz designed it in 1902 and J. D. Handbury built it in 1902-03: less than 5,000 square feet. By 1960, the library’s collection included nearly 40,000 books, whereas the library had been designed to house no more than 15,000 books. By the end of the Sixties, the library’s collection had soared to about 45,000 books, three times the size for which the library building had been designed. Crowding was especially bad in the Children’s Department in the library basement.

In light of the Carnegie library’s crowding and space limitation problems that were exacerbated by the Post-War Baby Boom, the library board began looking ahead to a possible expansion or construction of a new library. With that in mind, in August of 1959 the board purchased all of the land between the corner of S. Fourth St. and the corner of S. Capitol St. That same year, Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade proposed building a new library.

Then in Sept. 1962, Mayor Shade convened a special meeting of the library board at Pekin City Hall. During the meeting, Mayor Shade outlined his plan for a new library, which would also include a Dirksen Center to house the papers of Pekin’s beloved native son, U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.

Shade said the new library was expected to cost $450,000, and would be paid for out of the library’s budget and reserves rather than by issuing bonds or increasing property taxes. “The library can save enough from its current operating budget to build a library within a period of five to eight years,” Shade said at the meeting.

In this Pekin Daily Times photograph of Jan. 10, 1964, Pekin library board chairman John E. Velde Jr. shows Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade the cornerstone of the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library. By 1964 plans were taking shape to replace the Carnegie library with a larger edifice and a Congressional Research Center to house the papers of U.S Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin.

About two months later, in Nov. 1962, the library board purchased the 89-year-old First United Presbyterian Church and several adjacent properties and residences for $69,000. The church, which relocated to a new structure on Highwood Ave. on Pekin’s east side, had long been the library’s next-door neighbor on the west side of S. Fourth St. With these acquisitions, the library had about one additional acre on which it could expand or build a new library.

After remaining in a somewhat inchoate form for several years, planning for a new library and Dirksen Congressional Center began to assume a definite form in January of 1964, when incorporation papers for the Dirksen Center were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State by Mayor J. Norman Shade, Walter V. McAdoo, and Harold E. Rainville.

From that point on, preparations for a new library really began to ramp up over the next few years. We will tell that part of the story next week.

#baby-boom, #dirksen-center, #dirksen-congressional-center, #dirksen-congressional-research-center, #first-united-presbyterian-church-of-pekin, #harold-e-rainville, #j-d-handbury, #john-e-velde-jr, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #paul-o-moratz, #pekin-carnegie-library, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #walter-v-mcadoo

The life of Martin Lohmann, bridge builder

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

The life of Martin Lohmann, bridge builder

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In a May 2012 Local History Room column last year, we reviewed the history of the bridges that have been built over the Illinois River at Pekin. Among the prominent figures playing a role in that story was an elected official named Martin B. Lohmann of Pekin, who was revered as the father of the old Pekin bridge.

That was the old lift bridge that was dedicated in 1930 and spanned the river for the next five decades, being dismantled and demolished in the early 1980s. As an Illinois State Representative, Lohmann had secured the funding for the construction of the lift bridge, and he was given the honor of driving the first car across the bridge during the dedication ceremonies on June 2, 1930.

In this photograph from the May 6, 1980 Pekin Daily Times, a 98-year-old Martin Lohmann attends ceremonies celebrating the installation of the first steel span of the new John T. McNaughton Bridge. Lohmann died later the same month.

Prior to his election as a State Representative in 1922, Lohmann, who worked in insurance and real estate, had served four years as Pekin’s city clerk and another seven years as a member of the Pekin City Council. A Democrat, he served a total of five terms in the Illinois House of Representatives and then was elected to the Illinois Senate in Nov. 1932, being re-elected in 1936 and again 1940. He retired from the Senate in 1953.

That, of course, is only the barest summary of Lohmann’s life and career. Perhaps the chief resource for learning about him is his Memoir, which the Illinois General Assembly Oral History Program published in 1980 a week after his death. Although that is not a part of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, the Local History Room does have an extended biography and genealogical account of Lohmann which tells his life story up the early 1930s. The biography is found in John Leonard Conger’s 1932 “History of the Illinois River Valley,” vol. 2, pages 220-226.

Martin B. Lohmann, who has made a most commendable record as a member of the state legislature since first elected to that body in the fall of 1922, represents the district comprising Tazewell, Brown, Cass, Menard, Mason and Schuyler counties,” Conger says in introducing his subject. Conger’s biography of Lohmann was not, however, written by Conger himself, but was quoted from an unnamed “contemporary biographer.”

This is how the biography sums up Lohmann’s career up to that point:

“His record reveals the overcoming of the handicap of practically no education in his early life and a long steady pull at his ambitions until he has achieved independence and political success and is recognized by both the people of his county and the state of Illinois as a fighter for those things that will be of benefit to the masses of the people.”

A Tazewell County native, Lohmann was born Aug. 27, 1881, in Groveland Township, the son of John Baltazer and Catherine Kief Lohmann. Martin Lohmann’s father was the son of German immigrants from Hesse-Darmstadt named Johan Georg (John George) Lohmann and Ann Eliza Lannert. Johan Georg, son of Jakob Lohmann, was born in Oberstein, Hesse-Darmstadt, in 1826, and came to America in 1851. He settled at first at Sand Prairie near South Pekin, moving in 1868 to a farm at Brush Hill northeast of Pekin. Johan Georg’s eldest son, John Baltazer, was born in 1854, and married Catherine Kief in 1877. John Baltazer ran a farm and a farm implement business, and also served as tax collector for Tazewell County.

Turning to John Baltazer’s son Martin, the biography says:

“When Martin B. Lohmann was twelve years of age he left school to assist his father in making a living. His first employment was in a grocery store, where he served as delivery boy, as clerk and in other capacities for a period of nine years . . . Upon leaving the grocery business he was employed by Dr. G. Z. Barnes as the salesman for a magazine that was edited by him. This position lasted for only one year, when the publication became bankrupt. Our subject then entered the tailoring business. Next he conducted a butcher shop in Pekin for a number of years but eventually sold this to enter the insurance and real estate business, in which he still continues. He has always been politically active and has served his city as alderman, city clerk and commissioner. One of the outstanding accomplishments of his city political career was his success in getting the city to pay off railroad bonds totaling seventy-five thousand, five hundred dollars, which had been drawing interest for fifty-two years. This action was taken when Mr. Lohmann was alderman and he saw the final payment when he was serving as commissioner.”

In 1905, Lohmann married Viola Ruth Rueling of Pekin, daughter of John V. and Elizabeth Schaffnett Rueling. Like Lohmann’s grandparents, Viola’s father also was an immigrant from Hesse-Darmstadt. Martin and Viola’s only child, born in 1912, was Nadine Veta Lohmann, whom the biography says was an accomplished singer. “The entire Lohmann family are gifted musicians and nearly every one of them can play some musical instrument,” the biography says. Martin’s wife Viola died in 1952.

As a State Representative, the biography says:

“He was the father of the bill that gave Pekin the new bridge that spans the Illinois river and connects State Highway No. 9 and Federal Highways Nos. 6 and 24. His first effort on this strategic piece of legislation was begun in 1923. From that time until 1925 he worked tirelessly, interviewing every member of the upper and lower house of the assembly, explaining to them the advantage of a bridge across the river near the center of the state. In 1925 he introduced the bill asking the state for four hundred thousand dollars. The bill was passed without an opposing vote, and today Pekin boasts of one of the finest and most modern bridges in the entire state. The bill was known as the ‘Pivot Bridge Bill’ and its author is known as ‘Marty Lohmann, The Bridge Builder.’ . . . In the beginning the people of his district thought of the bridge project only as a dream with little hope that it would ever be realized, and had it not been for the confidence and effort of Mr. Lohmann the people of Pekin would still be using the condemned structure of a bridge that was built half a century ago.”

Fittingly, the Interstate 474 bridge over the Illinois River at Creve Coeur, dedicated in August 1978, was named the Shade-Lohmann Bridge, jointly in honor of Lohmann and J. Norman Shade, mayor of Pekin.

While the lift bridge served Pekin well for many years, already by the 1960s plans began to be made for a replacement bridge. Work began on the new John T. McNaughton Bridge on May 12, 1975, and the first steel span on the new bridge was lifted into place on May 6, 1980. Lohmann, then 98 years old, was among those especially invited to attend the ceremonies at the bridge that day. Just a few weeks later, on May 29, 1980, he passed away, and was buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin beside his wife Viola.

In this Oct. 15, 1982 Pekin Daily Times photo by John Baccheschi, the old Pekin Bridge is raised for the last time. Afterwards traffic used the new John T. McNaughton Bridge.

#catherine-kief-lohmann, #john-baltazer-lohmann, #john-t-mcnaughton-bridge, #martin-b-lohmann, #marty-lohmann-the-bridge-builder, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #nadine-veta-lohmann, #old-pekin-bridge, #pekin-bridges, #pekin-lift-bridge, #preblog-columns, #shade-lohmann-bridge, #viola-ruth-rueling

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

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

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column has spotlighted on various occasions the early city directories of Pekin and Peoria in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These volumes are often useful in researching local history and genealogy in the areas of Tazewell and Peoria counties.

The Local History Room collection also includes another set of directories that help to shed light upon the history in our area. These are eight volumes of White’s Tazewell County Directory. The library’s collection includes White’s directories for the years 1914, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1928 and 1930.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Company, 405 Court St., Pekin, appeared in the 1914 White’s Tazewell County Directory. The copy of the directory in which this advertisement appeared was once owned by John Fitzgerald, who was then Citizen Telephone’s secretary and treasurer.

White’s directories were prepared and published by J. A. White, a Peoria-based publisher who debuted the first of his Tazewell County directories in 1913. To provide some historical context, that was a year before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe and the start of construction on the current Tazewell County Courthouse (which would be completed and dedicated in the summer of 1916).

Assuming a somewhat apologetic tone, White explains his reasons for publishing his county directories in his “Introductory” comments toward the front of the 1914 volume.

“In presenting this, my Second Volume of White’s Tazewell County Directory,” White says, “I believe I will fill a long-felt want. I have exerted myself to make this as complete and comprehensive a work of the kind as possible, and while not always perfect, I trust the public will overlook any small errors which may have crept in.”

The “long-felt want” referred to the difficulty people back then had in finding families and businesses that were located outside of Pekin. The Bates’ and Polk’s Pekin annual city directories, which began to be published in 1870, were of great help if one were looking for a person or a business in Pekin – but what about the rest of the county?

To supply that need, White’s directories included a compilation of all Tazewell County individuals or heads of households age 16 and up who lived outside the Pekin city limits. In addition, his directories included a Business Directory for the city of Pekin, as well as a Directory of Miscellaneous Information on Tazewell County and its towns and villages, with the “Rural Free Delivery” (R.F.D.) list showing the route on which each farmer lived out in the rural unincorporated areas of the county. White also helpfully indicated with a cross which individuals were heads of household, and with a large dot indicated which individuals owned the land that they lived on and farmed.

In the 1914 directory, each subsection on one of the towns in the county begins with a brief description of the town. Most of them are short and simple, such as the description of Deer Creek – “A village in the N E part of the county on the Lake Erie and Western R R 18 miles east of Peoria.” The description of Delavan notes that the village “had water works and electric light plant.” As the county seat, Pekin’s description naturally is the longest (although curiously lacking in punctuation):

“A beautiful city located on the east side of the Illinois River Is the county seat of Tazewell County has many large manufacturing institutions and compares favorably with many cities of greater population Has six railroads The P & P T, Santa Fe Big Four I C C P & St L and P & P U and semi-weekly boats to St Louis”

In the same directory, the “Miscellaneous Information” begins on page 230 with a list of county officers, as follows (with punctuation style as shown in the directory):

Judge County Court – J M Rahn
Clerk County Court – Geo Behrens
Treasurer – Wm E Schureman
Sheriff – C A Fluegel
Superintendent of Schools – B L Smith
Circuit Clerk and Recorder – C O Myers
States Attorney – Wm J Reardon
Surveyor – Ben F Smith
Coroner – Ernest F Masen
Master-in-Chancery – H C Frings
Probation Officer – John H Shade

Of these names, we have previously seen the Schureman surname in the survey of the early history of Green Valley. State’s Attorney William J. Reardon later was on the team of attorneys who successfully defended the Tazewell County deputies charged with the 1932 torture-murder of Martin Virant. Finally, John H. Shade will be familiar to many Pekin residents as the father of the late Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#b-l-smith, #ben-f-smith, #c-a-fluegel, #c-o-myers, #citizens-telephone, #ernest-f-masen, #george-behrens, #h-c-frings, #j-a-white, #j-m-rahn, #john-h-shade, #martin-virant, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #preblog-columns, #r-f-d, #rural-free-delivery, #whites-tazewell-county-directories, #william-e-schureman, #william-reardon

Bernard Bailey (1812-1903), Pekin’s first mayor

This is a revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in March 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last time we reviewed the story of how Pekin became an incorporated city in 1849. When the residents of Pekin formally adopted a city charter on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin opted for a mayor/alderman form of government.

The earliest published history of Pekin is found in the Sellers & Bates 1870 Pekin City Directory. On page 28 of that volume, we read, “The election for city officers occurred on the 24th of September, 1849, and resulted in the election of the following named officers: Mayor – Bernard Bailey. First Ward – John Atkinson. Second Ward – David P. Kenyon. Third Ward – Wm. S. Maus. Fourth Ward – Jacob Riblet.”

The Bailey name is an old one in Pekin – part of Pekin is known as Bailey Addition, and Lake Arlann (Meyers Lake) formerly was called Bailey’s Lake. However, Bernard Bailey does not appear to have been a member of that Bailey family. The 1880 “History of Peoria County” says he was born in Maryland on March 26, 1812, the son of Vincent and Susanna (Bernard) Bailey. He first came to Tazewell County, Illinois, around 1830, where he worked as a school teacher and worked at his father’s ox mill. Settling in Pekin, he went into the grocery business and did some wagon making, saving enough money to become a lawyer.

Shown are the federal letters patent signed by President Andrew Jackson confirming the purchase of land in Tazewell County on April 15, 1833, by Bernard Bailey of Pekin, who later was elected Pekin’s first mayor on Sept. 24, 1849. IMAGE FROM U.S. GENERAL LAND OFFICE ARCHIVES VIA ANCESTRY.COM

Bailey then left Pekin, moving to Mercer County, Illinois, and then south to Louisiana, the native state of his wife Arabella Gilmore. In East Baton Rouge Parish, he tried his hand at sugar and cotton planting, until in 1848 he returned to Pekin, being elected mayor the following year.

Originally Pekin’s mayor and aldermen were elected to serve one-year terms, with elections taking place in the spring. Because the first mayor and city council were elected in the autumn, however, they could only serve about seven months before the next election. The 1870 City Directory says the second city election was on April 15, 1850, and Mayor Bailey and three of the four aldermen were reelected (Atkinson losing his reelection bid to Peter Weyhrich, who later would serve a term as Pekin’s mayor in 1858-1859).

Before Pekin could vote to incorporate as a city, a hasty enumeration of the town’s inhabitants had to be conducted to verify that Pekin had at least 1,500 residents. However, immigration and prosperity was fueling a population boom during Mayor Bailey’s two terms. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Only a year later, Pekin’s population had increased by more than 20% to 1,840, many of the new arrivals being German immigrants. Bailey was re-elected Mayor (the terms then being one year) and all seemed to be going well.”

“That did not last long, however,” the Sesquicentennial continues.

It was at this point that the fledgling city government experienced its first “hiccup.” The 1887 Pekin City Directory, page 30, briefly explains:

“On the 9th of October, 1850, it was resolved by the Council that the Mayor be requested to resign his office, that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office. On the 25th of October, Mayor Bailey sent in his written resignation which, on motion, was accepted.”

It should be noted that the 1870 City Directory mistakenly switched the calendar dates of the council resolution and Bailey’s resignation. That error was corrected in the 1887 edition, but the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial repeats the 1870 City Directory’s mistake.

The standard reference works on Pekin’s early history do not tell us why Mayor Bailey was not “attending to the duties of his office,” but Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 723, includes a brief reference to Bernard Bailey that may or may not shed some light on that question:

“In the month of October, 1848, the Tazewell Mirror was purchased from John S. Lawrence by John Smith, now of Princeton, Ill. In 1850 Smith sold to Bernard Bailey, but repurchased the Mirror in 1851 in company with Adam Henderson.”

Could Mayor Bailey have been distracted from his civic duties in 1850 by his struggle to operate a newspaper? Whatever the answer to that question, after Bailey’s resignation, a special election was held on Nov. 25, 1850, and Abram Woolston (mistakenly called Woolstein in the 1879 “History of Tazewell County”) was elected to serve the remainder of Bailey’s term. Since Mayor Bailey’s election in 1849, a total of 48 men and one woman (Laurie Barra, 2011-2015) have held the office of Mayor of Pekin. There have been three mayors in Pekin’s history who have served more than one term: Charles Diusdieker (1895-1996, 1911-1915), J. Norman Shade (1939-1954, 1959-1966), and David Tebben (1995-2003, 2007-2008).

After owning the Mirror for six months, Bailey sold out and moved to Peoria. There he bought an interest in the Peoria Republican newspaper, later going into the boot and shoe business. In 1856 he was elected Justice of the Peace. He and his wife had 11 children. Pekin’s first mayor lived to the age of 91, dying at Peoria Hospital on Aug. 22, 1903. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.

#abram-woolston, #bernard-bailey, #charles-duisdieker, #david-tebben, #dr-william-s-maus, #illinois-bicentennial, #laurie-barra, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-mayor, #peter-weyhrich

A prank on a plank bridge

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

A prank on a plank bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the past century and a half, several bridges have spanned the Illinois River at Pekin. Today’s “Pekin bridge,” the John T. McNaughton Bridge, was dedicated in 1982. Prior to that, Pekin’s bridge was a lift bridge that was built in the late 1920s and was dedicated on June 2, 1930.

Before that, however, Pekin not only had long had a railroad bridge, but non-rail traffic was able to cross the river over a plank bridge at the foot of Court Street .

This 1927 photograph shows the old plank bridge that used to span the Illinois River at Pekin. This photo, which was printed in the Pekin Daily Times in 1984, was the possession of Ernest Edwards of rural Pekin. His sister Irene is shown leaning on the bridge at the right.

That first “Pekin bridge” is probably not well remembered today, but in the lore of Pekin’s past a humorous anecdote about its construction and dedication has been handed down. The story is recorded in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, pp.39, 41, which tells of events during the time of Pekin Mayor John L. Smith (1885-1886). Before it had appeared in the Centenary, however, the story was told in the pages of the Pekin Daily Times on Jan. 16, 1930, and reprinted in the special bridge dedication edition of the Daily Times on June 2, 1930.

The Pekin Centenary says it was during Smith’s term that “the first plank bridge was built across the river here at a cost of $17,500,” the city council having taken a pass on a proposal to build a pontoon bridge for $14,500.

Around the same time, Pekin got its first electric street lights, contracting for a mere $5,000 a year to install and maintain them. The city decided to have a grand public celebration to inaugurate the new bridge and the new lights – but the bridge workers decided to celebrate in a way that wasn’t on the official program of events.

According to the 1930 Daily Times article, there had been some kind of falling out between the city’s bridge committee members and Earnest Kidd, the assistant foreman, and Kidd decided to get even by pulling a fast one on the city council with the help of the foreman, Jack Jennings.

As the Centenary relates, “Mayor Smith, himself, rode the first rig across the new bridge, in impressive ceremonies, but his triumphant opening was somewhat marred by the fact that much of the populace knew and the rest soon learned that Charles Holland had actually been first to cross the new bridge, thanks to a conspiracy with the workmen. The last of the planking was not to be completed until just before the mayor was to cross, but workmen labored through the night to lay the planking so that Holland could drive a carriage over the bridge at the crack of dawn, and then they hastily took up the planking again to be relaid for the mayor.”

The Centenary does not say what Mayor Smith thought about the prank, but the Daily Times story says that he and the aldermen were very upset and even sent Police Chief Tim Sheehan to have Holland arrested. Jennings and Kidd, however, were tall and imposing men, and Jennings told Sheehan that if he arrested Holland he would have to arrest him too, so Holland was left unmolested.

The story, of course, does not end there. On pages 67 and 69, the Centenary tells of the construction and dedication of Pekin’s new lift bridge 45 years later, and mentions that Holland, by then a well known and respected insurance man, was there too:

“The stock market had fallen apart in 1929, and the Great Depression was underway in 1930, and yet the record shows that in this year the new half-million dollar Pekin bridge was completed . . . Completion of that bridge marked one of the biggest celebrations in Pekin history. Rep. Martin B. Lohmann (now Senator) who led the fight for state funds, drove the first car across. It was Fred Moenkemoeller’s car, and this time they forestalled any double-shuffle such as had taken place at the opening of the old bridge by having Charles Holland, now getting along in years, ride across with the others in the first car. It was Holland, the reader will remember, who had driven over Pekin’s old bridge ahead of the mayor to be the first to cross, and make a joke of the opening ceremony.”

Jump ahead another 50 years or so, and Pekin celebrated the opening of the new John T. McNaughton Bridge. Holland had died long before, of course, but one of the leader dignitaries at the 1930 festivities, Martin Lohmann, was there for the bridge dedication in 1982.

Lohmann’s name is attached to another bridge across the Illinois River: the Shade-Lohmann Bridge at Creve Coeur, named in joint honor of Lohmann and former Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#charles-holland, #earnest-kidd, #fred-moenkemoeller, #jack-jennings, #john-t-mcnaughton-bridge, #martin-b-lohmann, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #mayor-john-j-smith, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-bridges, #pekin-police-chief-tim-sheehan, #plank-bridge-prank, #shade-lohmann-bridge