Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Dillon

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we continue our series on Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, this week we go to Dillon Township for a visit to one of the county’s oldest communities: the village of Dillon.

The village and the township of Dillon bear the name of the Dillon family, who, as we have told before in this column space, were among the very first pioneers to arrive in the future Tazewell County during the years immediately after Illinois became a state in 1818. That year North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823 and putting down roots in Section 1 of what later became Dillon Township.

Nathan Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after William Blanchard (1797-1883) of Fondulac Township and long after the French fur traders of Opa Post in Creve Coeur. The confusion over who was the first settler arose from the haste with which Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error.

That error made it into John Drury’s 1954 “This is Tazewell County,” which includes this brief description of the village of Dillon on page 95:

“Another pioneer village of Tazewell County is Dillon, which today has a population of 60. It was platted in 1836 and at first was called Liberty. Dillon is the only community in Dillon Township, with a present population of 602. The first settler of the township, Nathan Dillon, was also the first settler of Tazewell County (sic). He arrived in 1821 (sic) and laid out a farm just north of the Mackinaw River.”

Situated on Springfield Road at the northern boundary of Dillon Township, the village of Dillon consists of about 30 homes in Section 3 of the township, a few miles to the west of where Nathan Dillon had built his homestead. According to late local historian Fred Soady, Dillon started out as a stage coach stop and a post office along Springfield Road, being known simply as Mackinaw Settlement from 1826 to 1828. Though formally platted as “Liberty” on June 18, 1836, people in the area preferred to call the village by the name of the Dillon family who were so numerous in the area, so Liberty was renamed and replatted as Dillon.

The unincorporated village of Dillon, seat of Dillon Township, was originally platted as “Liberty” in 1836. Shown here is a copy of the original plat of Liberty, recorded June 18, 1836. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Plat of Dillon from the 1871 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” Note that it is identical to the 1836 plat of Liberty.

The original plat of Liberty was a neat grid of north-south and east-west streets: Farm, Locust, and Cherry streets run east-west, while Walnut, Main, and Apple streets run north-south. The plat of Dillon that was published in the 1873 Tazewell County atlas has the same layout of lots and streets, but the 1873 plat only identifies the north-south streets (with the same names as the 1836 plat of Liberty) and leaves the east-west streets unnamed. Dillon today has three east-west streets (Townline Road, Peach Street, and Washington Street) and three north-south streets (Springfield Road, Apple Street, and Peach Street). Peach Street starts at Springfield Road as an east-west street but curves northward – on the west side of Springfield Road, Peach Street becomes Dillon Road.

Plat of Dillon from the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas.

Plat of Dillon from the 1910 Tazewell County Atlas.

Plat of Dillon from the 1929 Tazewell County Atlas.

The plat of Dillon in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows that the village then had a school, general store, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, and a Methodist Episcopal church. According to Soady, Dillon had a post office until 1901. By 1910 the village had added another blacksmith shop, lost its post office, but otherwise had not changed – but the 1929 plat of Dillon shows only the Methodist Episcopal church. The Methodist church isn’t there any longer, but today there is a congregation of the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) denomination called New Hope Fellowship at 20639 Peach St. in Dillon.

Dillon is also the seat of township government. The township hall, which serves as the only polling place for the township, is located at 10680 Peach St. in Dillon.

The villages of Dillon and Danforth (Tullamore) are shown in this detail of an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County.

Dillon is shown near the northern border of Dillon Township in this detail of a map from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas.

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1910 Tazewell County Atlas.

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1929 Tazewell County Atlas.

Advertisements

#dillon, #liberty, #mackinaw-settlement, #nathan-dillon, #new-hope-fellowship, #tazewell-county-unincorporated-communities, #william-blanchard

Caring for paupers in pioneer times

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

Caring for paupers in pioneer times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Modern society has numerous private charitable organizations and public social welfare programs that provide assistance to those who are poor or in need. However, in the early years of Tazewell County, the poor – usually called by the older term, “paupers” – had few options. Those who were unable to work, and whose relatives could not or would not help them, could have their living expenses defrayed at public expense.

Often this form of assistance involved the county reimbursing private individuals for their expenses in providing for a pauper. This is what was done in the case of an elderly pauper of Tazewell County named Nicholas Miller, as explained on pages 246 and 253-254 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Chapman writes, “In June, 1832, John Summers was allowed $78 for keeping old man Miller. In the June previous Summers came into Court and explained that a certain Nicholas Miller, a pauper, was living at county expense while he had a well-to-do son named Joseph, who should, both in equity of the law and from filial affection, support his father. Thereupon the Sheriff was posted after the undutiful Joseph. It appears, however, that Joseph was not found at the time, nor until 1834, if we rely upon the records for information, for no mention is made of him until that time. He then appears and gives as his reason for not supporting his parent, ‘inability to do so.’”

This episode illustrates the public welfare system then in use. The expectation was that a pauper’s family would provide for him. If they couldn’t do so, or refused to do so, then the county would provide money – but it would not be given directly to the poor person, but rather to whoever was “keeping” the pauper, and his keeper would have to petition the county court for the reimbursement.

Today, of course, $78 would not be much money, but the sum that Tazewell County paid to Summers for his year’s worth of expenses was not a small sum for the year 1832. To get a better idea of how much money that was, Tazewell County’s entire budget for 1832 consisted of only $689.50 in expenses and $729.24 in revenue.

In fact, money for paupers living at the county’s expense made up a not insignificant portion of Tazewell County’s expenditures in 1832. That is probably why the county court that year tried to rid the county of the expense of caring for its paupers Sarah Stout and Nicholas Miller – by attempting to sell them into servitude. According to Chapman, during the same court session when Miller’s son Joseph claimed an inability to provide for his father, Stout’s relatives Hosea Stout and Benjamin Jones also said they couldn’t provide for her.

“Thus,” Chapman writes, “the veteran and venerable paupers were thrown back upon the county, whereupon the Court ordered ‘Nathan Dillon and Wm. McClure to dispose of said paupers at public sale or private contract.’ It seems that they were not regarded as valuable paupers and not one bid was made for them. But all through the records for years are bills allowed for their maintenance. In 1835 the Court, being worried with the many claims for bills for supporting Miller, lifted up its voice and peremptorily commanded the Sheriff to sell him. The poor old man had outlived his years of usefulness and even became a burden to the indulgent county.”

Miller would remain on the county’s pauper rolls for the next decade. This is how Chapman tells the story of “The Last of Poor Old Nic. Miller”:

“During the years 1840 and ’41 we find a remarkable increase in the number and amount of bills allowed for keeping paupers. Throughout the record during these two years are bills upon bills of this nature. The increase seemed surprising to the Commissioners themselves, and they made particular inquiry into the status of affairs before granting the bills. It seems the county was imposed upon in several instances by the unnatural actions of those who preferred that their relations should be kept at the county’s expense rather than their own. One Jane Morrill it was found had a husband living able to provide for her.

“Poor old Nic. Miller, the ancient pauper, was still on hand, but his bill these years was curtailed to nearly one-half. Year after year the customary bill for his support was handed in, until through familiarity the name of ‘Nic. Miller’ became a by-word. We doubt not that when the old veteran died, and no more bills for his care were presented to the Court, the generous, kind-hearted Commissioners dropped a tear, felt a pang of sorrow steal through the tender cords of their heart, and softly muttered, ‘Poor old Nic. Miller is no more!’ Death, the poor man’s best friend, called the old gentleman away during the year 1845. The poor old man who had been refused bread by his own son, and who had been buffeted about by many adverse winds, now returned to trouble them no more.”

#nathan-dillon, #nicholas-miller, #paupers, #tazewell-county-history

Sober voters were rare in early elections

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in July 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Sober voters were rare in early elections

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

We have recently recalled the story of the beginnings of permanent white settlement in Tazewell County. With the establishment of new settlements came the rudiments of governmental structures and civic life – and that means politics and formal elections.

William H. Bates wrote the first published history of Pekin, which was included in the 1870 Pekin City Directory. One of the features of Bates’ history is his compilation of Tazewell County and Pekin “firsts,” and thus on pages 7-8 of the city directory we find the story of what Bates called Tazewell County’s first election. (It would be more accurate to say that it was the first election to be held in what would later become Tazewell County.)

Bates wrote, “The first election was held at the house of Isaac Dillon (sic) on the first Monday in August, 1826, this being, at that time, a part of Peoria county. The election was for Governor and other officers. We are not informed who received a majority of the votes nor the number polled, but the day was a gala one and of sufficient importance to be commemorated by a banquet. When the voting was concluded Jesse Dillon went to a neighboring cornfield and procuring an arm-full of roasting-ears, they were boiled, together with a ham, in a fifteen gallon iron kettle, and then served to the assembled crowd of election officers and yeomanry, constituting an out-door feast worthy of the occasion and heartily and thankfully partaken of by the people.”

The 1887 Pekin City Directory, pp.11-12, repeats that account word-for-word, but adds at the end, “Nathan Dillon was elected Commissioner on this occasion.

The story of Nathan Dillon, traditionally known as the first white settler in Tazewell County, was told in a recent Local History Room column, including extensive excerpts from Dillon’s own account of his arrival that had been quoted in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

In addition to the story of his pioneer adventures, Dillon also wrote an account of the beginnings of civic institutions and elections in Tazewell County, and Chapman also incorporated that into his county history, on pages 711-712.

Dillon’s recollections begin with his tale of the election at Springfield in August 1822. According to Dillon, whiskey (that is, the excessive consumption of whiskey) was the fuel that powered the engine of state and local elections in those days, as politicians tried to win elections by getting the voters drunk out of their minds. (Perhaps not too different than elections today?)

Dillon said that the candidates, Kinney, Parkinson and Edwards “had a long bench ranged along side of the court-hose, on which they set their liquors. The polls were held in the interior. We all got plenty to drink . . . and a general frolic occurred; but what has surprised me as I have reflected upon these early days, we had no fighting. The great evil was, that every candidate had to fill his portmanteau with whisky, and go around and see and treat every voter and his wife and family with the poisonous stuff, or stand a chance of being defeated. . . .

In the winter of 1823, I emigrated to what is now called Dillon Settlement, in this county, 10 miles from Pekin, and 17 miles from Peoria, where I spent the season in quietude; my nearest neighbor living in Peoria, except one by the name of Avery, who had raised his cabin at Funk’s Fill. But things did not remain in this condition long; for during the same winter the Legislature made a new county, with Peoria for the county-seat, embracing all the country north of Sangamon county. Phelps, Stephen French and myself were appointed Justices of the Pace, for the new county, which extended east as far as Bloomington and north and west to the State line. We sent our summonses to Chicago and Galena, and they were promptly returned by our constables.

March, 1824, we held an election at Avery’s, Wm. Holland, Joseph Smith and myself were elected County Commissioners. The whole county was embraced in one election district. The number of votes polled was 20; had some whisky on the occasion, but it was well tempered, having been imported a long way by water; and we did not succeed in getting on as great a spree as we did at Springfield.”

Dillon’s account ends at that point. Chapman then tells of the August 1826 election – but Chapman’s account is almost a verbatim transcription of Bates’ story from the 1870 Pekin City Directory, even though Chapman didn’t using quotation marks. The only real differences between Bates and Chapman are that Chapman corrects Bates’ mistaken reference to “Isaac” Dillon (which was an error for “Nathan” Dillon), and also adds to Bates’ statement about the feast “thankfully partaken of by the people.”

To that, Chapman added the tongue-in-cheek comment, “nor do we know that whisky was served, yet we cannot say it was not.”

#drunk-voting, #early-elections, #illinois-bicentennial, #jesse-dillon, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #stephen-french, #voting, #whiskey, #william-holland

William H. Bates’ list of Pekin’s ‘firsts’

This is a slightly revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in February 2015 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

William H. Bates’ list of Pekin’s ‘firsts’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, May 4, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the fifth video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. As people in the U.S. and Europe observe the 73rd anniversary of “V-E Day” (the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945), the video will be “We Were There: World War II.” The video is an Alliance Library System oral history that was filmed at the Pekin Public Library, Eureka Public Library, and Illinois State Library in 1992. Afterwards, the Pekin Public Library’s oral history production that recorded personal memories of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will be shown. Admission is free and the public is invited.

This subject of this week’s column deals with matters of peace rather than war. As this column has noted more than once, William H. Bates (1840-1930) was the first to publish a history of Pekin, which was included in several editions of the old Bates Pekin City Directories starting in 1870. Since Bates’ historical account was itself a landmark in Pekin’s history, it’s only fitting that one of the chief features of his account is that it highlights several of Pekin’s “firsts.” This week we’ll review Bates’ tally of Pekin’s firsts, which begins with:

The first election: According to Bates, the first local election took place in August 1826 at the Dillon home, where Nathan Dillon and his kin had settled. The area was then under the jurisdiction of Peoria County, for Tazewell County was not to be established by the Illinois General Assembly until the following year. “We are not informed who received a majority of the votes nor the number polled, but the day was a gala one and of sufficient importance to be commemorated by a banquet,” Bates writes.

The first death: After white Americans began to make permanent settlements in what would become Tazewell County, the first recorded death was that of Ezekiel Turner, who was struck by lightning in February 1825. To make a coffin, Turner’s companions felled a straight walnut tree, cut the trunk in half along its length, and then hollowed out the trunk.

The first settler: The first white settler in what would become Pekin was Jonathan Tharp of Ohio, who built a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that today is near the foot of Broadway, not far from where Pottawatomi Chief Shabbona and his family soon after set up their wigwams.

The first white child: On March 10, 1827, Joseph, son of Jonathan Tharp, was the first white child born in what would become Pekin.

The first steamboat: The first steamboat to visit Pekin chugged up the river early one morning in the late fall of 1828, the never-before-heard noises giving many of the sleepy settlers a real fright. Jonathan Tharp’s father Jacob thought the sounds signaled the end of the world, Bates says.

The first store: Pekin’s first store was opened in 1830 by Absalom Dillon, followed by David Bailey’s store later the same year. Also in 1830 was:

The first hotel or tavern, which was opened by Gideon H. Hawley, and:

The first church: Pekin’s first church building was erected by the Methodists on Elizabeth Street between Third and Capitol. The Rev. Joseph Mitchell was the congregation’s first regular pastor.

The first brick house: Pekin’s original homes were log cabins and wood frame houses, but by the 1830s some settlers began to build brick homes. The first one was the Mark residence at the corner of Court and Second streets. “We are not informed as to the time when it was built, but from the fact that it was raised to its present height in 1835, we presume it was erected as early as 1833,” Bates says.

Shown is the home of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp, who came here from Ohio in 1825. Tharp’s dwelling, located where the St. Joseph’s Parish Center is today, was one of the first two-storey brick houses in Pekin according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” According to W. H. Bates, the Mark residence was the first brick house.

The first town election: After the establishment of Pekin as a town, the first town election took place on July 9, 1835. Five men were elected as town trustees: D. Mark, D. Bailey, Samuel Wilson, J.C. Morgan and S. Pillsbury, with Morgan being elected as president of the town’s board of trustees.

The first bank: Bates writes, “The first Bank or Banking house in Pekin, was a branch of the Bank of Illinois, which was established in 1839 or 1840. John Marshall, of Shawneetown, President of the parent bank, was President; Charles Wilcox, Cashier; and William Docker, Clerk. It was located in the rear of Mark’s store, on Second street. About all that remains of the Bank to-day is the old safe, now used by P. A. Brower, in the office of the Illinois River Packet Company, on Front street.”

The first town seal: Pekin’s first seal was “an eagle of a quarter of a dollar of the new coinage,” formally adopted by the town board on Dec. 29, 1840.

The first distilleries: Formerly a major industry in Pekin, the first two alcohol distilleries in Pekin were located, Bates writes, “one immediately south of where the present alcohol works are situated; the other on the ground occupied by the Reisinger distillery of to-day. The latter outliving its usefulness as a distillery was converted into a slaughter-house, in which capacity it remained until the 9th of May, 1849, when, having become, in the opinion of the people, a nuisance, it was destroyed by a mob . . . .”

The first steam mill: Pekin’s first steam mill was built in April 1845 by Benjamin Kellogg near the river between Margaret and Ann Eliza streets. Kellogg’s business was destroyed by a fire in the fall of 1849.

The first jail: Pekin’s first jail — which Bates calls “the first calaboose” — was built in November 1849 for the cost of $48. The “calaboose” served the city until 1868, when it was destroyed by a fire started by some of its inmates.

The first mayor: After being incorporated as a city on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin elected its first mayor and aldermen on Sept. 24 that year. Pekin’s first mayor was Bernard Bailey, who was also the first mayor to resign, being pressured by the city council to leave in October 1850 “that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office.”

The first railroad: The last “first” that Bates included in his account was the beginning of Pekin’s first railroad. “On the 4th day of July, 1859, the first rail was laid and the first spike driven on the prospective Illinois River Railroad. . . . The leading citizens participated in celebrating the new enterprise on such an auspicious day as the Fourth of July. The road was never really completed until it passed into the hands of the present company, when the name was changed, and it is now the flourishing and well-managed Peoria, Pekin and Jacksonville Railroad.”

#benjamin-kellogg-jr, #bernard-bailey, #calaboose, #david-mark, #ezekiel-turner, #gideon-hawley, #illinois-bicentennial, #jacob-tharp, #jonathan-tharp, #nathan-dillon, #pekin-railroads, #pekins-first-town-seal, #preblog-columns, #rev-joseph-mitchell, #shabbona, #william-h-bates

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

Settlers pour into Peoria and Tazewell counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, March 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the third video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is 34 minutes in length and is entitled, “Farming in Tazewell County During the ’30s and ’40s,” presented by Tom Finson. Like last month’s Finson video, it includes vintage film footage from around the county. Admission is free and the public is invited.

For the pioneer settlers of central Illinois, farming wasn’t merely a business, but was crucial for a settler family’s survival. Our column this week recall the first of the post-War of 1812 settlers in our area.

The summer before Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union in 1818, a territorial census counted 40,258 souls living in the soon-to-be state – but the new state’s population rapidly increased over the next decade. Up to that time, American settlers in Illinois had come chiefly from southern states and had settled almost exclusively in southern Illinois.

But with the dawn of statehood a new wave of migration arrived, in which settlers from southern Illinois began to move north, joined by newcomers from states north of the Ohio River. These new arrivals to central Illinois came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs – and as we shall see, these newcomers included William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon, names prominent in early Tazewell County history.

As we saw previously, American soldiers built Fort Clark in 1813 on the ruins of the old French village of La Ville de Maillet, which Capt. Thomas Craig had burned the year before during an Illinois militia campaign meant to warn the Indians of Peoria Lake not to ally with Britain during the War of 1812 (but which likely had the opposite effect).

In relating the story of Craig’s burning of the French village, S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” says (italics as in original), “Capt. Craig excused himself for this act of devastation, by accusing the French of being in league with the Indians, with whom the United States were at war; but more especially, by alledging (sic) that his boats were fired upon from the town, while lying at anchor before it. All this the French have ever denied, and charge Capt. Craig with unprovoked, malignant cruelty.”

Craig’s accusation that the French Americans of Peoria Lake were in league with Indians hostile to the U.S. was based on the fact that the French not only lived peaceably with the tribes of the area, but even sometimes intermarried with them. But the tribes of Peoria Lake had declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy and were considered to be friendly until the unprovoked attacks of Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards and Capt. Craig.

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet essentially ended the French phase of the European settlement of central Illinois – afterwards only the French fur traders of Opa Post at the present site of Creve Coeur were left in the area. The early historians of Peoria and Tazewell counties tended to disparage the early French settlers of central Illinois, even to the point of claiming that they weren’t really settlers at all. For example, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” described the men and women of Opa Post in this way:

“These French traders cannot be classed as settlers, at least in the light we wish to view the meaning of that term. They made no improvements; they cultivated no land; they established none of those bulwarks of civilization brought hither a half century ago by the sturdy pioneer. On the other hand, however, they associated with the natives; they adopted their ways, habits and customs; they intermarried and in every way, almost, became as one of them.”

Chapman’s comments reveal that his disparaging appraisal of the French fur traders was due not only to disdain for the social class and lifestyle of a fur trader, but also the pervasive racist bias against Native Americans that spread westward with American expansion. Other influences included the age-old enmity between England and France that stemmed from the medieval Hundred Year’s War, with religious estrangement and animosity between Protestants and Catholics also thrown into the mix.

Those same attitudes toward the Indians and the French were also exhibited by Charles Ballance in his 1870 “History of Peoria.” In his history, Ballance argues at length that the French Americans of La Ville de Maillet were culturally and socially greatly inferior to the Americans of British origin who supplanted them, finding fault with the style of the homes they built and even denying the reports of the village’s former inhabitants that their settlement included a wine cellar and a Catholic church or chapel. Maybe behind Ballance’s common ethnic, racial, and social disdain for the Indians and French, there was an uneasy conscience over the fact that the city of Peoria of Ballance’s day only existed because the French settlement had been wiped out in 1812.

The construction of Fort Clark at the site of the French village in 1813 planted the seed of the present city of Peoria, for a new village quickly grew up around the fort (the site is today Liberty Park on the Peoria Riverfront, at Liberty and Water streets). According to Chapman, the fort itself burned down five years later. But in 1819, one year after Illinois statehood, the pioneer founders of Peoria arrived: Joseph Fulton, Abner Eads, William Blanchard (1797-1883), and four other men, who had traveled by keelboat and on horseback.

The next few years saw the arrivals of even more settlers. In 1825 the state legislature created Peoria County, which originally covered a large area of central and northern Illinois, including the future Cook County and the soon-to-be formed Tazewell County. Ten years later, Peoria was officially incorporated as a town, and by 1845 Peoria was large enough to incorporate as a city.

Three years after William Blanchard’s arrival at Fort Clark, he and a few companions crossed Peoria Lake to present-day Fon du Lac Township in Tazewell County, building a dwelling and growing crops south of the future Woodford County border. Here is how Chapman told the story of Blanchard’s earliest pioneer activities:

“Wm. Blanchard, Jr., is a native of Vermont, where he was born in 1797; left that State when seven years of age, and with his parents went to Washington Co., N. Y., where his father, William, died. When seventeen years of age he enlisted in the regular army, and took an active part in the war of 1812, serving five years, when he, with Charles Sargeant, Theodore Sargeant and David Barnes, veterans of the war, started West, coming to Detroit, Mich., thence to Ft. Wayne, whence they journeyed in a canoe to Vincennes, thence to St. Louis. From there they came up the Illinois in a keel boat manned by a fishing crew, and commanded by a man named Warner, and landed at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, in the spring of 1819.

“Crossing the river to what is known as the bottom lands they found a cleared spot, and with such tools as they could arrange from wood put in a patch of corn and potatoes. This land is now embodied in Fond du Lac township. Looking farther down the stream they found, in 1822, an old French field of about ten acres, on which they erected a rude habitation, and soon this soil was filled with a growth of blooming corn and potatoes. This was the first settlement between Ft. Clark and Chicago, and was the first dwelling erected. The site is now covered by the fine farm of Jacob Ames.”

In this map detail from an 1873 atlas of Tazewell County, the farm of Jacob Ames —
designated on the map as land owned by “Rachael Ames” — is shown in Sections 11 and 12 of Fondulac Township, around the area of Grosenbach Road. William Blanchard’s “rude habitation” is said to have been built in 1822 on land that later was included in the farm of Jacob Ames.

One year before Blanchard came to the future Tazewell County, North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823.

Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after Blanchard and long after the Frenchmen of Opa Post. The confusion arose from the haste with which Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error. The monument at Dillon’s grave erroneously pronouncing him the county’s first white settler stems from Chapman’s mistake.

But regardless who was first, Blanchard and Dillon both possessed pioneering courage and grit, paving the way for many others who were soon to follow.

Next week we’ll review the story of the creation of Tazewell County.

#capt-thomas-craig, #charles-ballance, #drowns-directory, #fort-clark, #french-trading-house, #illinois-bicentennial, #la-ville-de-maillet, #nathan-dillon, #ninian-edwards, #opa-post, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-settlers, #war-of-1812, #william-blanchard

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

The ‘prehistory’ of East Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On several occasions, this column has taken a look at the early history of white European settlement of the Illinois River Valley in our area, outlining the stories of the first French explorers and the interaction of white settlers with the native peoples of the region.

One of the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, entitled “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” edited by Daniel LaKemper and published in 1984, commences its story in the same way, telling of the explorers Marquette and Joliet, La Salle and Tonti, and the construction of the ephemeral Fort Crevecoeur early in 1680. That is the inevitable starting point for any history of a community in our area, but it’s especially fitting in the case of a history of East Peoria, since some investigators have made a compelling case that Fort Crevecoeur was probably located at a spot now within the city limits of East Peoria.

That era, however, is not specifically a period of East Peoria’s history, which strictly speaking did not begin until the 1880s. From the days of La Salle until then, the intervening two centuries saw the activities of French fur traders, the migrations and warfare of American Indian tribes, clashes between European colonial powers, the founding of the United States, and conflict between white Americans and the native peoples that ended with the wholesale clearance of all Indians from Illinois, opening the territory to unimpeded white settlement.

As this column has previously related, the first trickle of white American settlement in what was to become Tazewell County started with the arrival of William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon. Within a few years the trickle became a flood, and communities and farmsteads were planted throughout the county. Blanchard is a significant figure not only in the county’s history but in the history of East Peoria, since he was apparently the county’s first white settler and first made his residence in what would become Fondulac Township. Blanchard’s marriage to Elizabeth Donohue in 1825 was the first marriage in the township. A few years later, in 1831, the family of David Schertz arrived from Alsace-Lorraine and settled on a farmstead of 160 acres along Farm Creek. Schertz’s cabin was located around the spot where Central Junior High School was later built.

Fast forward another two decades or so, and we find a new town being platted in the area that had been settled by Blanchard – this was the town of “Fondulac” (named for Fondulac Township), platted on June 14, 1855. The plat of Fondulac “showed three streets – Mill Street, Main Street, and Depot Avenue – along with a saw mill, a cording mill, and part of the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad. It is assumed that this Main Street is the current Main Street – the area covered running from the four corners north to Farm Creek,” says “The Centennial History of East Peoria,” page 7.

About nine years after the platting of Fondulac, another town, called “Bluetown” was surveyed and platted during the winter and spring of 1864 in the area settled by the Schertz family, around East Washington Street. The Centennial History (page 7) says, “At least three explanations as to the origin of the name ‘Bluetown’ have been advanced. Following the custom in their homeland of Alsace, many of the early settlers wore blue smocks. Also, because the land was marshy and prone to floods many of the houses were built high, some on stilts, and supposedly painted blue to combat corrosion. The other suggestion was that many of the houses belonged to a mining company that bought a quantity of blue paid (sic) and painted the workers homes with that color. According to Irene (Schertz) Herbst, David Schertz’s great-granddaughter, ‘It was definitely not named for any buildings painted blue.’ It was named by Joseph Schertz and those early Alsatians, who ‘always wore blue smocks at their work.’”

In addition to Fondulac and Bluetown, another little community in the area briefly existed during this period – “Coleville,” a settlement located between Fondulac and Bluetown. It grew up around the mansion of the Riverboat Captain Almiron S. Cole, which formerly existed where First United Methodist Church was later built, at the corner of Washington and Almiron streets. Cole and his family had arrived in the future East Peoria in 1835.

The towns of Fondulac and Bluetown were the parents, so to speak, of East Peoria. As the Centennial History says on page 9, two decades after the platting of Bluetown, the citizens of Bluetown and Fondulac on July 1, 1884, decided to incorporate their towns as a single new community – the Village of Hilton. The proposition to incorporate passed by a vote of 30-12. The village’s name presumably was chosen due to the presence of the Hilton Coal & Iron Mining Co., which was located at the east end of town. The following month, on Aug. 4, the village elected its first board of trustees, which was headed by Nicholas as village board president.

Hilton was to exist for only five years, however, for in October of 1889, the village changed its name to East Peoria.

#almiron-cole, #blue-town, #bluetown, #coleville, #east-peoria, #fondulac, #hilton, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #wiliam-blanchard