By Jared Olar
Two months ago we recalled the history of one of Pekin’s early industrial businesses, the A. & J. Haines Harvester Factory that operated at the corner of Broadway and Ninth from 1849 to 1890. As a busy and noisy mid-19th century factory, the Haines manufacturing outfit was located in the midst of the sparsely populated fields and meadows of what was then Pekin’s outskirts so as not to disturb the city’s residents.
But this week we’ll turn our attention to the Haines factory’s much quieter next-door neighbors, who slept so soundly that no industrial cacophony could rouse them. These were the “residents” of the old Tharp Burial Ground, which was located at the corner of Broadway and 11th from the 1830s until the 1880s. The Tharp Burial Ground was one of the early cemeteries from Pekin’s pioneer days that is no more, the burials having been later moved to make way for the expansion and development of the city.
The Tharp Burial Ground is named for the Tharp family, who were among the earliest pioneers to settle in what was soon to become the “Town Site” that was formally named Pekin in Jan. 1830. In fact, Jonathan Tharp was the very first white settler here, erecting a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that is today at the foot of Broadway. Tharp’s cabin was not far from the wigwams of Shabbona, leader of the Pottawatomi who lived in a large village here. The following year, Jonathan’s father Jacob and other family members followed him from Ohio and built their own homesteads near his.
Later, the Tharps operated a farm in the area now occupied by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and School, and a historical marker at the St. Joseph’s Parish Center tells visitors that the Tharp farm was once located there, on the street once called Tharp Place (now St. Joseph Place). If one were to extend the line of Tharp/St. Joseph Place straight eastward out to 11th Street, one would reach the southeast corner of the Tharp Burial Ground, which began as a family burying ground for the Tharps.
The Tharp pioneer cemetery is marked with a Christian cross and the word “cemetery” on the 1864 M. H. Thompson wall plat map of Tazewell County. An 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” also identifies the cemetery as “Tharps Burial Ground.” However, by 1891 the Tazewell County atlas plat shows only the outline of where the cemetery had been.
What became of the Tharp Burial Ground? The answer is found in the Local History Room’s index for Oak Grove Cemetery, which the index describes as follows (emphasis added):
“Oak Grove consists of six acres originally under the supervision of Sons of Temperance, instituted April 10, 1848, known as Temperance Cemetery. Warranted by William and Jerusha Stansberry for the sum of $150.00. It is now a part of Lakeside Cemetery Association, located on North side of Pekin, West side of Route 29. Some burials were on the East bluff at the Old Sons of Temperance Burial Ground. They were moved to Oak Grove to make way for the building of McKinley School. Also moved here was the Tharpe (sic) Burial Ground which was at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh Streets, to make way for the building of the Old Douglas School.”
The Old Douglas School was built in 1881-2 and was originally called “the East Side School,” and thus on the 1891 plat map of Pekin we find the Tharp Burial Ground replaced by “the East Side School House.” That school building stood until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a larger Douglas School. That school in turn stood until 1988, when it was demolished to make way for a new shopping center, originally K’s Supersaver (now Schnucks).
Construction work at that site in 1988 led to the somewhat unsettling discovery that when the Tharp Burial Ground was closed down and the pioneer remains interred there were moved to Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery), a number of burials had been overlooked. In June 1988, anthropologist Alan Hern of Dixon Mounds Museum was called in to assist Tazewell County Coroner Bob Haller with the investigation and removal of the burials. Hern and Haller determined that the burials were probably victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 who had been buried in haste.
A video of Hern’s work at the site of the former Tharp Burial Ground was made by retired Pekin police officer and local historian Jim Conover. A DVD copy of Conover’s video is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection and is available for viewing at the library.