By Jared L. Olar
Local History Specialist
For the next installment in our series on the downtown Pekin businesses included in the collection of 1870s business cards we’ve been featuring here at “From the History Room,” we turn to an old grocery store that once existed in the first 300 block of Court Street.
The business card says the grocery store was owned and operated by a certain T. C. Reeves. The card gives the store’s address simply as on Court Street, on the opposite side of the street from First National Bank. The 1870-71 Sellers & Bates City Directory of Pekin says that bank was on the south side of Court, between Third and Capitol. That would indicate Reeves’ grocery store was on the north side of Court.
That doesn’t agree with the information in the 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin, where we find the following entry:
“REEVES THOMAS C., wholesale and retail dealer in groceries, provisions, and liquors, Court, ss., 4th d. e. Third ; res. ne cor. of Capitol and St. Mary.”
That would mean the grocery store was on the same side of Court as the bank – or at least it was in 1861.
After 1861, Reeves appears in only two more Pekin city directories. In the 1870-71 directory, we find, “REEVES T. C., merchant and auctioneer ; res ne cor Capitol and Elizabeth,” and in the 1876 directory, we find, “Reeves Thomas, auctioneer, res nw cor St. Marys and Capitol.” Reeves is not in the 1887 directory nor in any subsequent directories.
Long-time readers of this weblog may recall that we have previously delved into the life of Thomas C. Reeves (1813-1896) here. It was only last summer that we recalled the historical records that tell of Reeves and his family. As we noted then, Reeves was one of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County, and he is chiefly known for his service as Pekin Mayor in 1864 and as the first man to serve four terms as Tazewell County Sheriff (1854-1856, 1858-1860, 1870-1872, 1872-1874).
But apart from his service in local public office, Reeves was also active as a Pekin businessman, as the business card for his grocery store shows. The 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” includes a biographical sketch of Reeves’ life, which describes his activities as a merchant and businessman as follows:
“In October, 1852, he commenced keeping hotel at the Tazewell House, and kept the same up to the time of being elected to the sheriff’s office in 1858. In the spring of 1860 he bought out a dry goods store in Pekin, and besides carrying on the store he turned his attention to grain buying, closing up that business after one year’s trial, and devoted his attention to the grocery business. Two years after he opened a boot and shoe store, and did considerable business in the way of manufacturing those articles. He subsequently devoted his attention to merchant tailoring and the drug business. It is said that he kept the two largest establishments of the latter class of business ever kept in Pekin.”
The dry goods store that he purchased in 1860 is the one shown in the 1861 city directory, and is apparently the same one shown on the 1870s business card.
Reeves’ disappearance from Pekin city directories after 1876 is due to the fact that he and his family left Illinois in the late 1870s. The 1880 U.S. Census shows him as a farmer in Fremont, Kansas, with his second wife Caroline, 33, and their son James T. Reeves, 13.
Reeves died in Kansas in 1896 at the age of 82. His son James died at the age of 44 on Jan. 22, 1911, and his widow, James’ mother, survived them both until 1922. All three are buried in Rosean Cemetery in Emporia, Kansas.