The old Tharp burial ground

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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 detail from an old 1877 aerial view drawing of Pekin looking toward the south shows the former Tharp Burial Ground on the left edge of the map. The old Haines Harvester factory buildings are shown left of the center of this image. At the center is the plot of ground that is today known as James Field. The farmstead of the Tharp family (at a spot now occupied by the St. Joseph Parish Center) is shown at the right edge of the image.

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.

This detail from an 1872 plat map of Pekin shows the location of the old Tharp Burial Ground at the corner of Broadway and Pearl (now 11th Street). The area is now occupied by the Schnucks grocery store building.

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.

#alan-hern, #douglas-school, #haines-harvester, #jacob-tharp, #james-field, #jim-conover, #jonathan-haines, #jonathan-tharp, #ks-supersaver, #oak-grove-cemetery, #old-douglas-school, #pekin-history, #pekins-lost-cemeteries, #shabbona, #st-joseph-parish-center, #tazewell-county-coroner-robert-haller, #tharp-burial-ground

The Times visits the East Side School

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Long-time residents of Pekin will remember Douglas School, an elementary school that was located at the present site of the Schnucks grocery store, which was built in 1988 as K’s Supersaver. When the school was torn down in 1988, the school’s engraved stone lettering was salvaged and were embedded into the front wall of the grocery store.

The school building razed in 1988 was not, however, the first Douglas School. The original Douglas School was built on the same site in 1881-2, originally being known as “the East Side School” since Pekin in those days didn’t extend much further east than that area. In fact, in Pekin’s earliest days the remoteness of the site is why a lot adjacent to the school’s location was chosen for use as a pioneer graveyard, and victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 received a hasty burial there. Some of those burials were discovered during construction of K’s Supersaver.

Originally called "the East Side School," the old Douglas School building stood from 1882 to 1924.

Originally called “the East Side School,” the old Douglas School building stood from 1882 to 1924.

About four years after the East Side School was built, staff from the Pekin Daily Times paid a visit to the school and wrote a description of the building and its teachers and students. The rather glowing report, entitled simply “East Side School” and published in the Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1886 edition of the newspaper, was reprinted on page 1681 of the Aug. 2016 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, and here follows:

“A special reporter for the Times visited the east side school house last week, and was most cordially received and entertained by those in charge.

“Perhaps few appreciate the beautiful situation of the east school. No where in Pekin could there have been found a more suitable place for the erection of such a building. The building is not large, contains only four rooms, but it is neatly and handsomely constructed. Being built as it is upon a small rising of land it presents a good appearance, surrounded by its large grassy yard, dotted here and there with young, thrifty trees. Upon entering the building we find very pleasant rooms, all well lighted and every facility for good ventilation. We found presiding over the respective rooms, Mr. E. Alexander in the fourth, at the head, a young gentleman well known here. He has enrolled 44 pupils; 27 males and 17 females. In the third, Miss Ida Syfert, a most accomplished young lady. She has served the city as instructor in her present position for the past two years, and has given general satisfaction and proved herself to be progressive and industrious. She has 46 upon her register, of whom 27 are males and 19 are females. Our home teacher, Miss Ida Bates, holds forth in the second, having under her control 58 of our ‘young ideas.’ There are 33 boys and 25 girls. And last, but by no means least, we stepped in to see the primary teacher, Miss Burlinghame, of Delavan, and her 69 ‘little ones.’ Among that number are 33 males and 36 females. In this room we found everything moving quietly and pleasantly, the children yielding willingly to the kind wishes of their teacher. In the other rooms more firmness was required to keep ‘Johnnie at his arithmetic, and Susie’s attention to the recitations in language.’ Some of the boys, we learned, played truant quite often last year, but we are very much pleased to say that this evil is greatly lessened this term. On the whole, the school is in a better condition than last, and bids fair to prosper.”

Subsequently rededicated in honor of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the original school structure eventually had to be replaced with a much larger edifice. Old Douglas School was closed in 1924 and a new school, which was to serve Pekin’s families for another six decades, was built in 1926.

#douglas-school, #old-douglas-school, #pekin-history, #pekin-schools