This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in November 2013, before the launch of this weblog.
Finding Tazewell County’s historic buildings
By Jared Olar
Tazewell County has existed for 195 years, and in that time the county’s residents have built hundreds of thousands of structures as places to live, work, learn and worship. Naturally, it’s impossible that all or even most of those structures could endure for that entire length of time. Probably most have been torn down and replaced by newer buildings, but some are still around – with changes.
Sometimes older landmarks have a date inscribed somewhere that tells just when it was erected. Usually, however, unless we have personal knowledge of a building’s history, or consult with local historians or pore through pages of books on local history, we couldn’t easily tell which of Tazewell’s current buildings and landmarks are the older, historic structures.
That’s where two publications of the Illinois Historic Structures Survey are especially handy. The first one, published in Oct. 1973, is the “Inventory of Architecture before W.W. II in Tazewell County,” prepared by the Illinois Historic Structures Survey under the direction of Paul Sprague of the University of Chicago. The second, published in Feb. 1975, is the “Inventory of Historic Landmarks in Tazewell County,” prepared by field surveyor Keith Sculle. Both of these publications may be consulted in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.
Their titles say exactly what they are: inventories or lists of buildings and landmarks of Tazewell County that had been constructed prior to Dec. 1941 and which were still extant in the early 1970s. These were, however, interim or preliminary reports, so they are not exhaustive lists. The “Inventory of Architecture,” for example, omits Marquette Heights and East Peoria. They are nevertheless fairly comprehensive, and can be a great help in locating historic structures and landmarks in the county.
The inventories identify each structure or landmark and provide the address or location, the date of construction (if known), and map coordinates (which refer to maps included with the inventories).
The “Inventory of Architecture,” which highlights structures noted for their architectural or artistic merit, includes the following tally of structures per community (including the community’s vicinity):
Deer Creek, 2; Delavan, 17; Green Valley, 1; Hopedale, 3; Minier, 2; Pekin, 47; Tremont, 3; and Washington, 10.
The “Inventory of Historic Landmarks” includes the following tally:
Armington, 2; Deer Creek, 2; Delavan, 3; Hopedale, 1; Lilly, 1; Mackinaw, 1; Minier, 4; Pekin, 3; Tremont, 2; Washington, 8. In addition, the inventory has the following tally of “miscellaneous landmarks: Armington, 4; Deer Creek, 3; Delavan, 3; East Peoria, 2; Green Valley, 9; Hopedale, 6; Lilly, 1; Mackinaw, 1; Minier, 3; Morton, 1; Pekin, 5; Tremont, 1; Washington, 8.
The inventory also lists two state historical markers; 13 historical markers, memorials or military hardware; and three recreation areas.
Unfortunately, in the ensuing five decades some of these buildings and landmarks have fallen to the wrecking ball. Ironically, Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, built in 1902, made it into the “Inventory of Architecture” even though by the time the inventory was published the old library was already slated to be demolished in less than a year. Similarly, Pekin’s old Jefferson School was included in the 1975 “Inventory of Historic Landmarks,” but was demolished not long after to make way for a new Jefferson School.
However, the other two Pekin landmarks in the inventory, the county courthouse and the home of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, are still here. It also appears that most of the Pekin structures in the architectural inventory are still around, with the noted exceptions of the old library, the Pekin Theater, and the building on Court Street where the Union League was founded during the Civil War.