The meandering Mackinaw changes its course

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In this column we explore topics related to the history of Pekin and Tazewell County during the period of the past two centuries or so. This week, we’ll take a look at a remarkable matter of natural history having to do with one of our area’s natural, primeval features: the Mackinaw River, an important tributary of the Illinois River.

Water has probably flowed down the Mackinaw into the Illinois River far longer than anyone can imagine. The river’s source is far to the east, near the village of Sibley in Ford County, and it then meanders and wends its way for about 130 miles through McLean, Woodford and Tazewell counties.

However, a survey of old maps and atlases reveals that the Mackinaw River’s outlet was not always where it is today. The river formerly flowed through what it now Mason County, but, as David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society recently brought to my attention, at some point between the 1830s and 1860s, the Mackinaw shifted its course. No longer did the Mackinaw River continue a generally westward course until emptying into the Illinois in Mason County near the spot where Chautauqua Lake is located today. Instead, the Mackinaw took a northward turn and found a new outlet at a location on the Illinois just west of the modern-day Powerton Fish and Wildlife Area.

Early Illinois maps and sources document the old course of the Mackinaw River. An 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), for example, shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Macanac River 1815

This 1815 map by Rene Paul (Plate XL in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830) shows the “Macanac R.” flowing west-south-west into the Illinois River at a point nearly opposite the mouth of the “La Marche” river, a good ways south of Peoria Lake. No northward bend in the Mackinaw is shown.

Another early publication, Zadok Cramer’s 1808 “The Navigator,” reprinted in 1818 and excerpted in the July 2009 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, describes the “Sesemi-Quain” and “De la March” rivers, tributaries of the Illinois, before coming to:

“The river Michilimackinac, comes in on the south-eastern side, above the two just mentioned, and 195 miles from the Mississippi; it is navigable 90 miles, 50 yards wide, and has at its mouth 30 to 40 small islands, which at a distance look like a small village. Some distance up this river is a coal mine, on the banks are red and white cedar, pine, maple walnut, & c.”

“Michilimackinac” was the full, original name of the Mackinaw. But the distance of “195 miles from the Mississippi” does not accord with the course and length of the Illinois River today. A 1998 edition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “Illinois Waterway Navigation Charts” shows the present mouth of the Mackinaw at about 148 miles upriver from Grafton, Ill. (which is where the Illinois joins the Mississippi River today), while the former mouth of the Mackinaw River was at a spot approximately 124 miles upriver from Grafton.

An 1819 map of Illinois by John Melish (Plate XLVI in “Atlas: Indian Villages of the Illinois Country 1670-1830), presents the “Michilimackinac R.” flowing much as Rene Paul’s 1815 map shows the “Macanac R.” The same basic water course for the Mackinaw can be found on an old 1822 atlas map. Baldwin & Cradock’s 1833 atlas also shows the mouth of the Mackinaw far to the south of its present mouth – but significantly, this atlas map illustrates that before it found the Illinois, the Mackinaw flowed into an extensive swamp in what was then Tazewell County but is today Mason County. This old swamp bears on the changed course of the Mackinaw.

A map obtained by David Perkins, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map also shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, however, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

1835 Illinois map from 1879 book

This map, formerly a plate illustration in an 1879 book, shows northern and central Illinois in 1835. This map shows the old swamp, but traces the course of the Mackinaw along the southern boundary of the swamp. Notably, the map also shows a stream or rivulet along the swamp’s western boundary, running in a generally northerly direction up to the Illinois River at a spot near the present mouth of the Mackinaw.

It appears that around the mid-1800s some local event or events of a geologic nature – say, a flood, perhaps with agricultural activities in or near the swamp being a contributing cause – led to the Mackinaw River shifting its course. Abandoning its former course, the river was diverted, or diverted itself, into the channel of the northerly stream. Henceforth the Mackinaw no longer would flow through Mason County. Thus, an 1864 plat map of Tazewell County shows the Mackinaw following its present course, and all subsequent atlases and maps show the same river course.

1866 map of Illinois

This 1866 map of Illinois shows the present course of the Mackinaw River, as is typical for Illinois and Tazewell County maps from 1864 onward.

While such changes are remarkable, it’s well known that rivers can and do change their courses, whether in slight or major ways. The change in the Mackinaw River’s course no doubt was noticed and recorded by contemporaries, but as yet Perkins and I have found no historical notices of the change. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” makes no mention of it, nor do the historical essays in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” say anything about a change in the Mackinaw’s course. More recent reference works that we’ve consulted also are silent on this point.

The Mackinaw’s former course through Mason County still exists, and it even links up to the Mackinaw north of Townline Road in Tazewell County. At that point, one finds a drainage ditch that follows the line of Schuttler Road and then turns straight south along Dinky Ditch Road. Along the way south, it becomes Hickory Grove Ditch, flowing under Hickory Grove Road just east of Manito.

The ditch then makes an eastward curve before swinging diagonally southwest through Mason County – this stretch of the watercourse is known as North Quiver Ditch, but further on past Forest City, it’s the Mason Tazewell Ditch, until finally, past Topeka, it becomes Quiver Creek, which empties into the Illinois at Chautauqua Lake.

But once, way back when, it was the final western length of the Mackinaw River.

#mackinaw-river, #mackinaw-river-course, #michilmackinac, #old-maps, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-maps

Pekin expands northward

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Taking up again last month’s exploration of the story of Pekin’s expansion over time as shown in historical atlases and plat books of Tazewell County, in this week’s From the Local History Room column we’ll zoom in on the city’s northward expansion.

The earliest atlases and plat books indicate that development and expansion on the city’s north side was relatively slow during the 1800s. During that period, most of the land within or just outside the city’s northern borders was parceled out into a patchwork of a good number of private farms. The 1891 county atlas shows the following names of families owning and working land along the city’s north side but south of what is now Sheridan Road: Weise, Cummings, Moore, Cooper, Myer, Becker, Pfanz and Heisel. Between Sheridan and what is now Route 98, the 1891 atlas shows farms owned by the families of James Shanklin and A. Shanklin, Tucker, Heisel, A. Neirstheimer, Kratz, Wightman and Beinfohr.

The picture was little changed by 1910 – the atlas and plat book that year shows most of the same family farms in that area of the city and its northern border, and the developed city had moved only slightly further north at one or two spots. The southern part of the old Tucker place, however, had been acquired by the Worley family, for whom Worley Lake along the west side of Route 29 is named. The Velde family also appears as a land owner north of Lakeside and Sacred Heart cemeteries and south of Worley Lake on the west side of the future Route 29. The Velde name, of course, is still attached to property in that part of town – the noted car dealership on Pekin’s Auto Row, on the east side of Route 29.

Moving ahead to 1929, the plat map for Pekin Township shows that the city had acquired more land on the north side, with developed Pekin extending as far as a few blocks along the south side of Sheridan Road. Land owners and farmers in the area included the families of Pfanz, Heisel, Moore, Crager, Cunningham, Adolph Nierstheimer Jr., Soldwedel, Cummings, Urish, Jost, Clara and Emma Shanklin (operating Sunny Acres Farm), and  James Shanklin Sr. Also operating along Highway 24 (today Route 29) in 1929 was McGrath Sand & Gravel Co.

At this point of the story, we’ll jump ahead 38 years to consult the 1967 Tazewell County plat book. The Local History Room has several Pekin maps from the time between 1929 and 1967, but they’re not formal plats identifying land owners and businesses on Pekin’s north side. By 1967, Pekin had spread north of Sheridan Road, and old Highway 24 had become Illinois Route 29 while Route 98 had also received its designation. Most of the old farming families no longer appear on the map, however – only Crager, Heisel, and A.C. Nierstheimer still had farms in the area, but their acreage was greatly reduced. The old Shanklin farm had passed to Nelson Wright. Tim and David Soldwedel also had farms in the area – these were the days of the old Soldwedel Dairy.

Most of the land between Sheridan and Route 98 was held by the Pekin Park District (McNaughton Park and adjacent park lands) and McGrath Sand & Gravel Co. (or McGrath Investment Co.). Monge Homes also owned a block of land – the core of Monge’s planned subdivision of Holiday Hills which was just then beginning. Parkway Drive did not yet exist.

By 1975, the county plat book shows that the old McGrath Sand & Gravel property had been broken up among several land owners, the largest of whom was the Martin Marietta Corp. The Holiday Hills subdivision was well established. At this time, my own family lived in a house in Holiday Hills, and in the summer months my brothers and I and other neighborhood kids would sometimes play (i.e. trespass) for hours in the nearby fields north of Holiday Hills (now themselves residential subdivisions) or would tread even as far as the old McGrath gravel pit – quite an adventurous hike for young boys. The Soldwedel Dairy was gone, though the Soldwedels still had some land in the general area. Other stretches of land were held by the Park District, Herget Bank, Ray Yeakel, and CILCO. The Nelson Wright place was still in operation, but of the oldest farming families only the Nierstheimers remained. One of my brothers recalls seeing the horses on the Yeakel or Wright places off in the distance back in those days.

The area has seen a great many changes in the decades following. Consulting a few of the more recent plat books, we see that by 1982 the Marigold Estates subdivision had been established north of Holiday Hills. Martin Marietta still owned most of the former gravel pit, though McGrath Investments also held some of the land as well. The Yeakel and the Wright places were still there, and the Nierstheimer name can still be seen in the area. The city of Pekin by then owned land as far north as Route 98.

Not much had changed by 1990 in the way of land ownership, but Ray Yeakel had acquired a second plot of land. Leaping ahead another 25 years, the most recent plat book this year shows great changes with Pekin Township, with the city of Pekin embracing all the land up to Route 98. The old McGrath gravel pit has become Lake Whitehurst, surrounded by the Lake Whitehurst Cliffs subdivision. The names of Yeakel and Wright no longer appear on the map, replaced by the names of Yordy and Sites. But most remarkable is that the old Nierstheimer name, first seen on the maps at the start of our survey, still appears on property along Parkway Drive held in trust for Ken G. Nierstheimer.










#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county

Pekin’s growth traced through old maps

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room resources available for study are a series of old atlases featuring maps of the Townships, municipalities, and settlements of Tazewell County.

As we noted last week, apparently the earliest known wall map of Tazewell County was produced in 1857, just three decades after Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at a spot on a bluff above the Illinois River, the location that is today the foot of Broadway. That wall map may be examined at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, while editions of the later published maps and atlases are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

A few years later, in 1864, another large plat map of Tazewell County was produced. The 1864 plat map was the subject of a From the Local History Room column that appeared in the March 8, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. In 1979, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society prepared a copy of the 1864 map for publication in a single volume that also includes the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” and the 1891 “Plat Book of Tazewell County, Illinois.”

A third TCGHS-commissioned reprint of old county atlases includes the 1910 “Standard Atlas of Tazewell County, Illinois,” and also bring us down to 1929, with that year’s edition of the “Standard Atlas” and county plat book.

As a convenient example of the value of old maps and atlases, we may consider the growth of the city of Pekin from the time of the 1857 map down to 1929. In 1857, the streets of Pekin extended no further north than the area where North Second and Sommerset streets meet, no further south than Walnut Street, and no further east than 14th Street (then called East Street). Pekin’s streets in 1864, in the last full year of the Civil War, showed little if any change – but the city limits themselves extended to what is today Sheridan Road on the north, what is today 17th Street on the east, and what is today Koch Street on the south (those three streets did not then exist, however). Just beyond the city limits on the east was a large horse race track, something not shown on the 1857 map.

By 1873, however, Pekin’s street grid had stretched a bit further south – Derby Street was then the city’s southernmost street, while on the east the grid extended as far as Primm and Christopher streets – short north-south roadways that no longer exist, but which used to be in the general area where Coal Car Drive today cuts through Mineral Springs Park. The northernmost streets were Ruth Street (a little cul-de-sac that no longer exists, just north of the junction of Second and Sommerset) and Franklin Street (today called Amanda). That horse race track outside Pekin’s eastern city limits was then designated the “Fair Grounds of the Pekin Agricultural & Mechanical Association,” occupying 80 acres along the north side of Broadway near 18th Street (see From the Local History Room, Pekin Daily Times, Jan. 18, 2014).

The street layout of Pekin in 1891 had not expanded greatly beyond its 1873 extent, but on the east the gridwork shot out an arm or two as far as the border of Daniel Sapp’s “Pekin Driving Park,” then the name of the old horse race track. Less than two decades later, however, the atlas in 1910 shows a grid of streets in the southwestern corner of town reaching as far as Koch Street – the neighborhood of Cooper, Herget and Sapp streets. Nearby to the east, South Capitol, South Fourth, Bacon, and South Fifth streets extended as far as South Street. On the southeast of Pekin, a new subdivision south of Court Street appeared near the northwest shores of Bailey Lake (later called Lake Arlann, now called Meyers Lake). On the east, a full grid of streets reached as far as 17th Street and north to Willow Street. The race track was still there, but the “Pekin Driving Park” was then on land owned by H. G. Herget and was operated by the Pekin Trotting Association.

The 1929 atlas shows additional growth, with added subdivisions south of Court Street and east of Bailey Lake, an impressive, broad swath of new streets between Derby and Koch streets and east of South Fifth, and a new subdivision north of Willow Street and east of Eighth on part of the old Cummings estate. There still were no named or numbered streets beyond 17th on the east, however, but the race track was no more – adjacent to the former race track property was the entrance to the old Grant Coal Mine.

The photo gallery here features Pekin maps from the above mentioned maps, atlases, and plat books.

#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #tazewell-county