A closer look at Mineral Springs Park’s first artesian well

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About a month ago we recalled the drilling of the artesian well in the early 1880s that gave Mineral Springs Park its name. This week we’ll take a closer look at the park’s first well and its location.

As we learned previously, following the drilling of the well in 1882, a bath house was built in 1883, and in succeeding years roads, a swimming pool, fountains and a large pagoda were added. The bath house enabled people to bathe in the artesian well’s mineral waters, which were believed to have medicinal properties.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (page 138) reveals that, “The old park swimming pool was located across from the 14th Street side of the park lagoon in the area now occupied by the horseshoe pits to the south (sic – north) of the Methodist Church.” This is precisely where the Miller Senior Center is today, to the west of the lagoon. The Sesquicentennial adds that the park’s original artesian well was located near the old swimming pool, but does not locate it any more precisely than that.

A man collects water from the original artesian well and fountain of Mineral Springs Park in this old photograph that was reproduced in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume.

This 1890s photograph of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon shows the park pool and bath house on the west side of the lagoon. A tall pole next to the pool facility marks the site of the park’s original artesian well. In the distance on the right side of the picture is the factory of Cummings Harvester Works, formerly located at the corner of Christopher Street and Highland Avenue.

The original Mineral Springs Park pool and bath house are shown in this photograph taken by Henry Hobart Cole in the 1890s.

However, using reference materials such as old maps and photographs in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, it is possible to determine exactly where the original well, fountain, and bath house were.

In the library’s collection of old atlases and maps, Mineral Springs Park makes its first appearance on the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas’ map of Pekin. In those days the eastern border of the park was just past Coal Car Drive, and the park roads and paths (unpaved back then) formed loops around and to the east the lagoon.

On the west side of the lagoon, though, the map shows a prominent structure that, by a comparison with two photographs of the lagoon and the original park swimming pool from Henry Hobart Cole’s 1890s compilation of vintage photographs entitled “Pekin and Environs,” can confidently be identified as the park’s pool and bathhouse.

The map also shows a simple circle on the north side of the pool and bathhouse, and on the south side of the park’s western entrance off 14th Street, but does not identify what the circle represents. However, the maps of Pekin in the 1910 and 1929 Tazewell County atlases label that circle with the word “fountain.” It is also very significant that these early maps show Spring Street extending all the way east to an intersection with 14th Street. Although Spring Street now dead-ends at the Miller Center parking lot, its name is a clue to the location of the original well, because “Spring” Street got its name from the fact that it led up to Mineral Springs Park’s western entrance, which was adjacent to the park’s original mineral spring.

This map from the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows Mineral Springs Park, then only in existence for nine years. A simple circle to the west of the lagoon (“Artesian Lake”) and on the east side of 14th Street, marks the site of the park’s mineral spring and fountain.

Old streets and several other details from the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park have been added to this current Google Maps satellite image. The site of the original park pool and bath house are indicated in yellow and hatching. The site of the original artesian well and fountain is marked with a black circle near the center of the map.

What was shown as an unmarked circle on the 1891 map of Mineral Springs Park is identified as the park fountain in this 1910 map of the park.

The boundaries of Mineral Springs Park are shown to have expanded significantly in this 1929 map of the park. But the old fountain, park pool, and bath house still remain on the west side of the park lagoon.

Old photographs of the spring and fountain in the Local History Room collection show what the well and fountain looked like – it was wide, encircled by a paved concrete walkway, with two drinking fountains at the north and south ends.

What became of the original well? On that point, all that the 1974 Sesquicentennial volume says is that the spring-fed fountain “has long since been removed,” and that, “The initial well for the park is long since inoperative.

The photograph, which was reproduced on a postcard from about 1916, shows the old spring-fed fountain that once existed on the west side of the Mineral Springs Park lagoon. The site is today marked by a sculpted metal planter in front of the Miller Senior Center.

Water sprays up in the old Mineral Springs Park fountain in this vintage photograph that was reproduced July 13, 2002, in the Pekin Daily Times’ special section on the Pekin Park District’s 100th anniversary.

By the 1930s the Pekin Park District saw the need to build a new swimming pool and bath house, so a new well was drilled off east of the lagoon in 1935, and a new pool was built in the vicinity of the new well. That pool remained in use, with occasional modifications and repairs, from 1937 to 1992, when it was replaced by the DragonLand water park.

When the new well was dug and the new pool built, the old well was no longer situated in a good location and was not adequate for the park’s needs, so it was sealed off and covered over. Today the former site of the old fountain and well in front of the Miller Center’s entrance is occupied by an old sculpted and decorative metal planter, and, probably not coincidentally, the planter looks more like a miniature fountain or fancy bird bath than a planter. Most Pekinites who drive by the lagoon on 14th Street every day probably pass the Miller Center without noticing the planter that marks the site of Mineral Springs Park’s original spring.

As for the 1935 bath house, on page 5 of the “Pekin Park District Centennial” special section that was published in the July 16, 2002 Pekin Daily Times, a photo caption says, “The Mineral Springs Bath House operated in 1935 for mineral tub baths, steam baths, massages and other health treatments. The bath house artesian well water was believed to contain minerals beneficial to health, but the bath’s popularity waned as the public changed its attitude about the curative powers of mineral water.

Out in front of the Miller Senior Center is this decorative metal fountain, used as a planter, marking the site of the former Mineral Springs Park fountain and artesian well.

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History of 126 Sabella St.

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

History of 126 Sabella St.

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About 15 years ago, the Historic Preservation Commission of Pekin turned its attention to the possibility of preserving an old building apparently built in or around 1879, formerly located at 126 Sabella St.

As they researched the history of the families and businesses that lived in or operated from that location, the commission members gathered a wide array of historical materials going back to some of the earliest owners of the property. Regrettably, after this research was conducted, the structure was later demolished and this old lot is empty today.

Above is shown the rear of the former Vogels grocery store that was located at the corner of Second and Sabella streets. The structure, demolished about a decade ago, was apparently built around 1880 by George W. Rankin, who operated a mill work business out of it.

Lot 11, Block 3, of the Original Town of Pekin, the southwest corner of Second and Sabella streets, was originally owned by the town founders, such as Nathan Cromwell and William Haines. The lot is only three blocks north of the site of Jonathan Tharp’s log cabin of 1824, the first structure built by a European-American settler in what would become Pekin. From 1831 to 1847, the property changed hands 15 times. One of those times was on April 24, 1843, when lots 1 through 12 of Block 3 were purchased by Charlotte Bacon for $1,200.

Four years later, John and Eliza Ayers purchased Lot 11 and another lot in a different block for a total price of $150. John, who was only 42 years old, died later that year on Nov. 26, 1847. In 1855, the John Ayers estate was involved in legal action in which Abraham Lincoln appeared as an attorney. This was the case of Ayers vs. Brown & Brown, in which Ayers’ estate, represented by Lincoln, sued John and Thomas Brown to recover a number of horses and cattle. In May 1855, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the Ayers estate got one horse and the Browns were allowed to keep the other animals.

John’s widow, Eliza Ayers, continued to live at 126 Sabella St., and the very first Pekin City Directory in 1861 shows her living there. Among her neighbors that year were lumber merchant Alex Bateson on the southeast corner of Second Street and Sabella, and Edwin Browne, who operated a dry goods store on the northeast corner of that intersection.

Eliza Ayers died on Sept. 21, 1877, and in her will directed that her house and Lot 11 be sold and the proceeds given to her brother William McDowell, who was then living in Missouri. Two years later, on Oct. 6, 1879, George W. Rankin purchased Lot 11, where he apparently built a brick building which he used to conduct a mill work business that, according to the 1887 Pekin City Directory, made sashes, doors, blinds and lumber.

Henry A. Reuling bought Rankin’s business and Lot 11 on Oct. 7, 1891. Reuling merged his business with K. S. Conklin’s lumber business and acted as the manager of the new firm, the Conklin-Hippen Reuling Co. They were the contractors who built the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion and Palm House, the old Tazewell Club building, and also did work on the old Pekin City Hall.

In 1902, Lot 11 was sold to the Pekin Gas & Heating Manufacturing Co., which operated a machine shop out of the first floor and used the second floor for storage. By 1901, the property had been sold to Henry Weber, who operated the Pekin Engine & Machine Co. on the first floor while he and his wife Emma lived on the second floor. The Weber estate sold Lot 11 to Roscoe Weaver in 1948, and Weaver also operated a machine shop out of the same building.

Then in 1963, Ruth Weaver sold Lot 11 to Vogels Inc., which ran a well-known grocery store for many years at that location. Today both Vogels and its old brick building that probably was built in 1879 by George W. Rankin are only a memory of Pekin’s past.

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