Finding Tazewell County’s historic buildings

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

Library Assistant

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.

Shown is a drawing of William Gaither’s home on Buena Vista Avenue in Pekin that was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” The house is more usually remembered today as the home of U.S. Senator Everett M. Dirksen and his wife Louella, but formerly was the residence of Mary E. Gaither who played a chief role in the plans to build the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library. The house still stands today and is located at 335 Buena Vista Ave.

#illinois-historic-structures-survey, #inventory-of-architecture-before-w-w-ii-in-tazewell-county, #inventory-of-historic-landmarks-in-tazewell-county, #jefferson-school, #keith-sculle, #mary-gaither, #paul-sprague, #pekin-carnegie-library, #pekin-theater, #preblog-columns, #union-league, #william-gaither

Pekin’s Carnegie library comes down, new library opens

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Last week we told of the founding of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library in 1973 and how the Friends rescued the library’s “Grandfather” and “Grandmother” clocks when the furnishings of the Carnegie library were auctioned off 31 Aug. 1974.

Before that auction could be held, however, the library’s collection of 45,000 books and other materials had to be moved from the Carnegie library to the shelves of the new facility.

To accomplish that task, the library received the help of 270 Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, and Girl Scouts in around the area. The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts belonged to the Tomahawk District, while the Brownies and Girl Scouts were from the Kickapoo Council.

The Scouts arrived on Friday morning, Aug. 23, 1974, and, supervised by their adult members and the older Scouts, lined up to form a “bucket brigade” to transfer the books out the windows of the Carnegie library and into the adjacent new library. The new library had been built so that the western and southern walls of the Carnegie library were just a few feet from the walls and northeast entrance of the new building.

Boy and Girl Scouts form a “bucket brigade” on Aug. 23, 1974, to transfer books from Pekin’s Carnegie library to the new Pekin Public Library facility.
Pekin library staff supervise as Boy Scouts bring books into the new Pekin Public Library facility on Aug. 23, 1974.

Before long it was determined that the bucket brigade method was too slow and was inefficient, so the Scouts switched to walking the books out of the old library and into the new one, carrying as many at a time as they could. Library staff members would remove the books from the old shelves and stack them for the Scouts to pick up, and other staff members would place them on the new shelves as the Scouts brought them in.

A Pekin Times report at the time said, “Workers were organized in shifts, alternately working and resting. Energy and enthusiasm of the young people didn’t flag thruout the long day, and one librarian commented, ‘It’s the greatest feeling in the world to look out that office window and see all those kids and all that enthusiasm.’”

The Carnegie library was emptied of books in a matter of days, in time for the auction which was held in the rooms of the old library. Shelving of the last of the 45,000 materials in the new library, which was accomplished with the volunteer help of U.S. Army Reservists, was completed by Sept. 5, 1974.

The next step after the auction was to complete preparations for the demolition of the Carnegie library. The task of demolition was assigned to Helmig Excavation of Pekin, and Helmig’s wrecking ball and bulldozers began their work on Sept. 19, 1974. The razing of the 1902 structure was completed over the next few days.

The wrecking ball of Helmig Excavation of Pekin begins tearing down the Pekin’s 1902 Carnegie library on Sept. 19, 1974, in this Pekin Daily Times photograph.
This Pekin Daily Times photograph shows the demolition of the old Pekin Carnegie library well under way in Sept. 1974. Note the arches that supported the library building’s dome.

Per the Hackler designs, the former site of the Carnegie library at the corner of Broadway and S. Fourth became a brick-paved sunken plaza. As were the bricks of the exterior and interior of the new library, the plaza bricks were a dark brown.

In the plaza was installed one of the two ornate lamps from the Carnegie library entrance. The other entrance lamp had been auctioned off and now adorns the property of a Pekin family. The plaza lamp was wired to illuminate the plaza in the evening.

While work was completed in transferring library operations to the new building, meanwhile the papers of Senator Dirksen also were organized with the help of the Library of Congress and were moved into the Dirksen Congressional Research Center located in the northwest area of the new facility.

A large bust of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen was commissioned for the Dirksen Center, with money for the bust appropriated by the Illinois General Assembly. The $125,000 sculpture was the work of portrait sculptor Carl Tolpo (1901-1976). Work on the bust was delayed by the General Assembly’s failure to pay the sculptor for his work in a timely fashion. When finished, the bust was brought to Pekin in 1976 and installed in the sunken plaza in 1977.

With the old library gone and the new plaza finished, the library and Dirksen Center opened to the public in the fall of 1974.

Next week we will recall the visit of President Gerald R. Ford to Pekin to dedicate the new library and Dirksen Center.

#boy-scout-tomahawk-district, #boy-scouts, #brownies, #carl-tolpo, #everett-mckinley-dirksen-bust, #girl-scout-kickapoo-council, #helmig-excavation-of-pekin, #pekin-carnegie-library, #pekin-carnegie-library-demolition, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history

President Nixon dedicates cornerstone of new Pekin library and Dirksen Center

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

As construction proceeded in 1973 on the new Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center, library and city officials paused for a moment on May 31 of that year to look back at the library’s and city’s past by opening the Pekin Carnegie library’s 1902 time capsule, which had been secured in a hollowed-out niche in the library’s cornerstone.

The next step, naturally, was to have a formal ceremony dedicating the new facility’s cornerstone. Because the facility was to house a research center dedicated to the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, who was the leader of the U.S. Senate’s Republicans as Senate Minority Leader, Dirksen’s widow Louella extended an invitation to the Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon to come to Pekin and conduct the cornerstone unveiling and dedication that summer.

The president and first lady graciously accepted the invitation. Given their personal and political ties to the late Sen. Dirksen and his family – which included the Dirksens’ son-in-law, Republican Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee – the Nixons were pleased to honor the memory of their friend and ally in his hometown.

But this was also the time when the Watergate scandal had begun to heat up, with the hearings of the U.S. Senate’s Watergate investigation committee being televised from May 17 to Aug. 7. The Nixons must have welcomed the opportunity to leave Washington, D.C., for a few days during those months.

The community of Pekin, for its part, was generally very happy to welcome the president for the dedication ceremony, for it is not every day that a sitting U.S. president comes to visit a small city like Pekin. A very great deal of work had to be done in a relatively short period of time to prepare for the visit, including the construction of bleachers and a speaker’s platform along Broadway adjacent to the library, the placement of heavy metal barrels for security along the route that the president’s motorcade would travel, the coordination of security details and local law enforcement (which included the placing of armed guards atop nearby buildings, including the Carnegie library itself), and the printing and distribution of invitations and tickets to the event.

This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows U.S. President Richard Nixon and Mrs. Louella Dirksen, widow of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, unveiling of the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center facility on Friday, June 15, 1973.

The coming of Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to Pekin was not confirmed until June 11, 1973, as announced by a banner front page headline in the Pekin Daily Times that day – “It’s Official! Nixon Coming to Pekin!” Word had already begun to leak out of the possibility of the president’s visit in the week prior, when it was noticed that the Secret Service and White House officials were in town.

Just four days after the visit was confirmed, on Friday, June 15, 1973, the president and first lady flew into the Greater Peoria Airport near Bartonville, landing at about 11 a.m. and arriving in time for the ceremonies in Pekin at about 11:30. The event attracted a jubilant crowd of about 10,000 to the immediate area next to and near the library, while many other people lined streets and roads along the route of the presidential motorcade.

This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows U.S. President Richard Nixon addressing a vast crowd in Pekin during ceremonies dedicating the cornerstone of the new Pekin library and Dirksen Center on Friday, June 15, 1973.

Numerous national, state, and local public officials attended the event, including Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, a Democrat. Both the Republic president and the Democrat governor were to see their careers brought down by scandal – and both would later experience somewhat of a rehabilitation of their reputations in certain circles.

The event culminated in a speech by the president and the unveiling and dedication of the cornerstone by President Nixon and Mrs. Louella Dirksen.

Afterwards, the cornerstone was set aside in a safe place so it could be brought out again for a cornerstone-laying ceremony when the library and Dirksen Center was complete. Meanwhile the president and first lady returned to face the political repercussions of the Watergate coverup that were looming ever larger day by day.

Next time we will tell of the founding of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library, and recall the 1974 auction of the furnishings of the Pekin Carnegie library.

U.S. Army Sgt. Stan Newell, a former Vietnam War POW, leads the assembled crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance during the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon to Pekin on Friday, June 15, 1973. Nixon came to Pekin on the invitation of Mrs. Louella Dirksen, widow of U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, so he could unveil and dedicate the cornerstone of the new Pekin library and Dirksen Congressional Research Center.
A platform and bleachers were erected in the area of Broadway and Sabella streets adjacent to the Pekin Public Library in the days prior to the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon on Friday, June 15, 1973.
This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows a guard atop the Pekin Carnegie library during the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon to Pekin to dedicate the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center on Friday, June 15, 1973.
It’s not every day that a sitting U.S. president visits Pekin, and when he does it is bound to be front page news. As it was an afternoon paper for most of its history, the Pekin Daily Times was able to get its story on Nixon’s visit into print the same day, before any other area newspaper.

#dirksen-congressional-research-center, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #gov-dan-walker, #howard-baker, #library-cornerstone, #louella-dirksen, #pat-nixon, #pekin-carnegie-library, #presidents-in-pekin, #richard-nixon, #stan-newell

Pekin’s library outgrows the Carnegie building

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Continuing our series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, this week we recall the challenges that the library faced by the mid-20th century due to the demographic “Baby Boom” during the years after World War II.

As related in previous installments of this series, Pekin built its first library in 1902-1903 with the help of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Pekin’s Carnegie library was more than adequate for the community’s needs for the first four or five decades of its existence.

During those decades, the public’s library use gradually and steadily increased, and the library saw growth in its circulation numbers and the size of its collection. During the 1940s and 1950s, however, the Pekin Public Library experienced a surge in circulation, due in large part to the great increase in numbers of births across in the nation in those years.

By the 1950s it was glaringly obvious that the Carnegie library was no longer large enough to serve the community well. That is not surprising, considering that the library was built to serve a city of only about 8,500 persons. U.S. Census figures show that in the period from 1900 to 1940, the population of Pekin had increased from 8,420 to 19,407. In the decade from 1940 to 1950, that number grew to 21,858 – an increase of 2,451. But from 1950 to 1960, Pekin’s population leaped to 28,146, an increase of 6,288, almost three times as much as the increase during the previous decade.

Meanwhile the library was still the same size as it was when Paul O. Moratz designed it in 1902 and J. D. Handbury built it in 1902-03: less than 5,000 square feet. By 1960, the library’s collection included nearly 40,000 books, whereas the library had been designed to house no more than 15,000 books. By the end of the Sixties, the library’s collection had soared to about 45,000 books, three times the size for which the library building had been designed. Crowding was especially bad in the Children’s Department in the library basement.

In light of the Carnegie library’s crowding and space limitation problems that were exacerbated by the Post-War Baby Boom, the library board began looking ahead to a possible expansion or construction of a new library. With that in mind, in August of 1959 the board purchased all of the land between the corner of S. Fourth St. and the corner of S. Capitol St. That same year, Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade proposed building a new library.

Then in Sept. 1962, Mayor Shade convened a special meeting of the library board at Pekin City Hall. During the meeting, Mayor Shade outlined his plan for a new library, which would also include a Dirksen Center to house the papers of Pekin’s beloved native son, U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.

Shade said the new library was expected to cost $450,000, and would be paid for out of the library’s budget and reserves rather than by issuing bonds or increasing property taxes. “The library can save enough from its current operating budget to build a library within a period of five to eight years,” Shade said at the meeting.

In this Pekin Daily Times photograph of Jan. 10, 1964, Pekin library board chairman John E. Velde Jr. shows Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade the cornerstone of the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library. By 1964 plans were taking shape to replace the Carnegie library with a larger edifice and a Congressional Research Center to house the papers of U.S Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin.

About two months later, in Nov. 1962, the library board purchased the 89-year-old First United Presbyterian Church and several adjacent properties and residences for $69,000. The church, which relocated to a new structure on Highwood Ave. on Pekin’s east side, had long been the library’s next-door neighbor on the west side of S. Fourth St. With these acquisitions, the library had about one additional acre on which it could expand or build a new library.

After remaining in a somewhat inchoate form for several years, planning for a new library and Dirksen Congressional Center began to assume a definite form in January of 1964, when incorporation papers for the Dirksen Center were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State by Mayor J. Norman Shade, Walter V. McAdoo, and Harold E. Rainville.

From that point on, preparations for a new library really began to ramp up over the next few years. We will tell that part of the story next week.

#baby-boom, #dirksen-center, #dirksen-congressional-center, #dirksen-congressional-research-center, #first-united-presbyterian-church-of-pekin, #harold-e-rainville, #j-d-handbury, #john-e-velde-jr, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #paul-o-moratz, #pekin-carnegie-library, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #walter-v-mcadoo

Pekin’s library makes its mark on the early 20th century

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

As we have recalled the early history of the Pekin Public Library, we have told the story of how Pekin built its very first library building in 1902-1903 with the aid of a $15,000 donation from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

In addition, in preparation for the library’s move into its new building, the Pekin Public Library’s head librarian, Miss Anna M. Smith, who had been serving in that position since 1897, oversaw the reclassification of the library’s entire collection in accordance with the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

This week we will continue the story of the Pekin Public Library with an overview of the first four or five decades of the library’s history. During that time, Pekin’s Carnegie library became a fixture of Pekin’s community life.

Among the library’s records of this period is a notice from 1927 of the library board’s appointment of Miss Juanita Engstrand as librarian. Circulation for the following year was 47,961 books. Three years later, in 1931, Mrs. Helen Haase became librarian. By that year, the Pekin Public Library’s collection had increased to 22,662 books. Circulation during 1930-1931 averaged over 100,000 books and 5,000 magazines. These statistics testify to the community’s growing interest in the library and in reading.

One of the landmarks of the library’s history was the organization of “Library Story Hour” by Miss Josephine Goldsmith. She was first appointed to the library board in 1930, but prior to that she had been a library staff member, and in that capacity she commenced “Story Hour” for Pekin’s children in the early 1920s.

Children and volunteer readers gather on the front steps of the Pekin Carnegie library for Miss Josephine Goldsmith’s first Children’s Story Hour in the early 1920s.

By the 1930s it had become evident that Pekin’s library was in need of some remodeling. Originally both adult and children’s collections were housed on the main floor of the library, but as the library’s collection continued to increase, it was inevitable that the library would need some rearranging.

Consequently, around 1935 the decision was made to remodel the library’s basement so the library’s Children’s Department would have space of its own. The main floor could then accommodate the Adult Department’s collection and continue to afford quite space for patrons to read and for community activities to be held.

In the mid-1930s the Pekin library board voted to renovate the library and remodel the library’s basement, turning the basement into a new space for a new Children’s Department, shown here in this 1936 photograph by Konisek.
Shown in this vintage Konisek photograph from the 1930s is the southeast corner of the main floor of the Pekin Carnegie library. Most of the library’s chairs in this photo had green upholstery, but the fireside chair was red.

One of the newspaper clippings preserved in the Local History Room collection comes from the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 25, 1936, which briefly describes the renovation and remodeling project, and mentions that the four women then serving on the library board had proposed that the library should have reopening celebration on Sept. 25, 1936:

“The ‘wimmen folk’ on Pekin Public Library board – Mrs. J. M. Rahn, Mrs. Earl Sanborn, Miss Josephine Goldsmith and Miss Louise Emmerling – were said to be nagging board president Ralph Dempsey to put on his swallowtail coat and have a grand reopening of the re-built library on Friday night, Sept. 25. The lighting system on the first floor was brand new; a children’s department had been doubled and an arts and assembly room added.”

Library records show that in 1938 the library staff consisted of Mrs. Haase, librarian, Miss Helen Cook, first assistant, Miss Norma Zerwekh, children’s librarian, Miss Relda Rankin, assistant, and Miss Iva Mae Guthrie, substitute. The library board members then were Mr. Ralph Dempsey, president, Mrs. J. M. Rahn, Mr. R. V. Lindsey, Mr. O. D. Ehrlicher, Mrs. Earl Sanborn, Miss Josephine Goldsmith, Miss Louise Emmerling, Father F. S. Arvedson, and Mr. A. B. Hiett. At this time, the library’s Children’s Department hosted the weekly story hour led by high school student volunteers. The library also delivered books once a week to patients at the Pekin Public Hospital, and continued to host regular meetings of community organizations.

Pekin Community High School freshmen volunteer readers for Children’s Story Hour assemble at the original main entrance of the 1916 high school (West Campus).

The library’s annual report, dated April 30, 1940, says the library then had 9,529 card holders and 26,955 books in its collection, and had circulated 111,530 books since May 1, 1939. In 1939-1940, the library had $13,195.09 in total receipts and $9,858.45 in operating expenditures (including $5,111.92 for staff salaries).

Community interest in the library increase steadily throughout the first half of the 20th century – and as the community’s use of its library grew, so too did the size of the library’s collection. By the 1950s, however, the library faced a very serious challenge: the Post-War Baby Boom.

Next week we will find out what the library and the city decided to do about that challenge.

#a-b-hiett, #childrens-story-hour, #dewey-decimal-classification-system, #father-f-s-arvedson, #helen-haase, #miss-anna-m-smith, #miss-helen-cook, #miss-iva-mae-guthrie, #miss-josephine-goldsmith, #miss-juanita-engstrand, #miss-louise-emmerling, #miss-norma-zerwekh, #miss-relda-rankin, #mrs-earl-sanborn, #mrs-j-m-rahn, #o-d-ehrlicher, #pekin-carnegie-library, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #r-v-lindsey, #ralph-dempsey, #west-campus

Beautiful gifts that adorned Pekin’s Carnegie library

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In our series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we have told the story of the planning and construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library. The new library opened to the public on Dec. 10, 1903, and was formally dedicated four days after that.

Visitors to the library were able to admire three sculpted busts of William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These busts were given to the library in the summer of 1902 by local businessman Henry Block, of Schipper & Block and Block & Kuhl. In her 1902-1903 historical account of the library, Miss Mary Gaither describes Block’s donation in these words:

“This sketch is not complete without mention of the beautiful and appropriate gifts of Mr. Henry Block, who, in his travels abroad this summer, remembered our Library, in the selection of three portrait busts, of Shakespeare, Goethe and Longfellow, which will adorn our rooms, and remind us of the evolution of our literature, through Saxon, and Briton, and German and Celtic lines, – to our own cosmopolitan era, and our own American authors.”

These busts were displayed in the Browsing Room just behind the main book stacks on the main floor of the library. The purpose of the Browsing Room was to enable patrons to take books from the stacks and look through them at leisure, without going out to the main reading rooms.

In addition to the busts that Henry Block donated, a bronze bust of President William McKinley was donated by the downtown business Steinmetz and Kaylor, and a number of fine engravings were donated by Mrs. John Nolte, Mrs. Ella Barber, and The Hawthorne Club. Pekin’s Carnegie library also boasted a number of stained glass windows, including a set of five depicting landscapes and rustic scenes around the world.

This 1930s Konisek photograph shows the sculpted busts of William Shakespeare and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the Browsing Room of the Pekin Carnegie library. Those busts, along with the bust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, were given to the library in the summer of 1902 by local businessman Henry Block, of Schipper & Block and Block & Kuhl. They were auctioned when the Carnegie library was replaced by a new Pekin Public Library building.

A further adornment of the library was a tall, antique regulator clock that was purchased by the Pekin Woman’s Club and donated to the library on Feb. 22, 1904, about two months after the new library opened to the public. This clock at first stood in one of the library’s reading rooms.

Around 35 years after the Pekin Woman’s Club’s donation of a clock, the library received another beautiful antique clock, given in memory of the late Pekin Mayor Everett W. Wilson. The donation of this clock is reported in an undated clipping from the Pekin Daily Times that is preserved in the library archives, as follows:

“The Pekin public library has recently been given a very fine clock by Mrs. Everett W. Wilson and her sons. In making this very useful and beautiful gift to the library, as a memorial for the late Everett W. Wilson, Mrs. Wilson and her sons added much to the advantages and beauties of the library fittings.

“The clock is of solid walnut, elaborately hand-carved. The figures on the dial are hand-engraved and the phases of the moon are shown on the dial. It is equipped with tubular chimes, both Westminster and Whittington, which ring on the quarter hour, the half hour and the hour.

“Older citizens will recall that the library building was built during the period when the late Everett W. Wilson was mayor of Pekin. It was a matter of great pride to him that he had been helpful in securing for the citizens of Pekin the excellent building which has served the library patrons for almost 40 years.”

A methodical search of the library board minutes from that period has failed to determine the exact date of this donation. Mayor Wilson died in New York City on April 25, 1938. That date, along with the above reference to the Carnegie library being “almost 40 years” old, enables us to narrow down the date of this donation to the period from 1938 to 1943. The Wilsons left Pekin and moved to Peoria in 1902. Other news articles in our archives state that that their clock was crafted in Bavaria in the latter half of the 1800s, and stood in the Wilsons’ homes in Pekin and Peoria for many years. In Pekin, Mayor Wilson and his family had lived on S. Fifth St., and their home is now Abts Mortuary.

In time, the children of Pekin came to distinguish between the Pekin Woman’s Club’s regulator clock and the Wilsons’ Bavarian clock as “the Grandmother clock” and “the Grandfather clock,” as if the two clocks were an elderly married couple – but they went through a few years of separation when the Carnegie library was replaced by a new library in the 1970s.

Shown is the antique regulator “Grandmother” clock in Pekin Public Library Adult Services, which was originally donated to the library by the Pekin Woman’s Club in 1904.
Part-time Youth Services staff member and official library clock-winder Nona Buster stands next to the 19th-century Bavarian “Grandfather” clock in Pekin Public Library Youth Services. This clock originally belonged to former Pekin Mayor Everett W. Wilson and was donated to the library around 1940 by his widow and sons.

After adding beauty to the library for many decades, on Aug. 31, 1974, the clocks and most of the old library’s furnishings and fixtures were sold in an auction overseen by Mike Fahnders. However, before the auction, a “Save the Clocks” community group was formed. That group then became a committee of the Friends of the Library. So, by auction time the Friends and the Pekin Civic Chorus had worked out a plan to purchase the library’s historic Grandfather and Grandmother clocks. The Grandfather clock was purchased for $4,000 by George Udry on behalf of the Friends, and the 1904 Grandmother clock was purchased for $1,650 by Chic Renner on behalf of the Civic Chorus.

The Grandfather clock was then restored and placed in the Children’s Department of the new library, where it continues to chime to this day. The Grandmother clock, however, was stored for a few years in a number of Pekin homes, with the intention of placing it in a proposed Tazewell Historical Museum. When that plan foundered, the Pekin Civic Chorus and Pekin Woman’s Club donated the clock back to the library on Oct. 15, 1979, whereupon it was placed in the Adult Services Department, where it still tells the time.

During the 1974 library auction, the Friends of the Library also secured the five stained glass windows. The Friends donated them back to the library on Dec. 9, 1975, and they were installed in the library lobby, where they remained until the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library. Since then, the windows have been displayed in the library’s Local History Room.

However, the current whereabouts of the busts of Shakespeare, Goethe, Longfellow, and McKinley, which were purchased by private individuals, are unknown.

Later, when this series reached the point of the replacement of the Carnegie library with the present library structure, we will return to the story of the “Save the Clocks” committee and tell its story at greater length.

Next week we’ll revisit the moment when the Pekin Public Library adopted the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

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Carnegie library architect Paul O. Moratz

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither tells of how the library board planned the construction of Pekin’s new $15,000 Carnegie library. In Miss Gaither’s words:

“In January, 1902, a building committee, consisting of four members of the Board, namely, Mr. C. G. Herget, Mrs. Emily P. Schenck, Mr. W. J. Conzelman, and Mr. F. L. Velde, were duly authorized to proceed to the selection of a suitable plan, and the recommendation of an architect. Mr. Paul O. Moratz of Bloomington was chosen as the architect, at a subsequent meeting, and the plans were submitted to the Board on March 13th, 1902.”

Shown is one of the surviving original blueprints of Pekin’s Carnegie library, designed by accomplished Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz (1866-1939), who also designed many other Carnegie libraries across the Midwest, as well as numerous Bloomington homes and landmarks.
Shown here is another of the surviving original blueprints of Pekin’s Carnegie library, designed by accomplished Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz.
Shown in this clipping from a 1901 edition of the Pekin Daily Times is Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz’s sketch of his proposed design for the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library.

Even 119 years later, it is not difficult to find out who the building committee members were, for they all came from the old, prominent Pekin families, leaders of Pekin society and civic life. “Mr. C. G. Herget” is Carl Herget (1865-1946), nephew of George Herget who had donated the land where the new library was to be built. The Carl Herget mansion at 420 Washington St., which Carl Herget built in 1912, is a well-known Pekin historical landmark – and was (as we noted last week) built at the former site of the Thomas N. Gill residence, where the meeting took place in 1866 founding the Ladies Library Association. We also recalled last week that Carl Herget in early 1901 made a matching donation of $1,000 to supply books for the new library.

Mrs. Emily P. Schenck (1846-1904) was Emily A. (Prettyman) Schenck, daughter of prominent Pekin pioneer settler Benjamin S. Prettyman, a former mayor of Pekin. Her son Ben P. Schenck (1871-1930), that is, Benjamin Prettyman Schenck, was a cashier at the German-American National Bank of Pekin and a long-time library board member, serving in the past as board secretary.

Mr. W. J. Conzelman was William John Conzelman (1865-1916), who served two terms as mayor of Pekin, from 1901 to 1904 and again from 1909 to 1911. Conzelman purchased the grand brick mansion that had been built by John Herget, located at 800 Washington St. As for Mr. F. L. Velde, that was Franklin L. Velde (1866-1963), a partner with William J. Prettyman in the Pekin law firm of Prettyman & Velde. Velde was a long-time library board member who often served as the board president.

When considering an architect for Pekin’s Carnegie library, the building committee did not limit itself to the Pekin-Peoria area, but selected Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz (1866-1939), who had risen to prominence among central Illinois architects when he became one of three architects chosen to rebuild downtown Bloomington following a terrible fire there in 1900 that destroyed four and half city blocks (45 buildings).

Moratz was a German immigrant, born in Prussia’s Grand Duchy of Posen (today Poznan in Poland) on April 14, 1866, the son of Herman and Emelie (Eisner) Moratz. Paul’s father, a carpenter, came to America in the 1860s, finding work and a place to live in Bloomington, and then in 1868 he sent for Emelie and Paul, then age 2. The three of them are listed in the 1870 U.S. Census as the Bloomington residents “Harmon Moratz,” 29, “Amelia Moratz,” 26, and “Powel Moratz,” 4.

Paul grew up helping his father at carpentry, by which he learned building and construction skills, and conceived an interest in architecture. He studied architectural drawing at an industrial school in Illinois from 1888 to 1889, taking over his father’s business around that time. Moratz oversaw the constructing of planing mills and woodworking factories in Bloomington. In 1893, Paul married Emma Riebsame, a daughter of German immigrants. During their life together, they had two sons, Roland and Armin, and together they lived in homes that Paul built on Wood Street in Bloomington.

In 1897, he received his architect’s license from the State of Illinois, and the same year he built Bloomington’s original “Coliseum” convention center. During his career, Moratz built numerous homes in Bloomington, as well as several schools, libraries, and churches (including Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Locust Street in Bloomington).

The 1903 Carnegie library of Tuscola, Illinois, shown here, was designed by Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz, who also designed Pekin’s Carnegie library. The libraries of Pekin and Tuscola were built around the same time.

His work on the Coliseum came to the attention of the Lincoln, Neb., convention center building committee, which hired him in 1899 to design the old Lincoln Auditorium. Years later, in 1911 he was hired to design the Carnegie library in Neligh, Neb. Because of these projects, a biographical sketch of his life, on which this column in part relies, was included in “Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects.”

By the time the Pekin library board’s building committee named him as the architect for our Carnegie library, Moratz had designed or built eight homes, two churches, a convent, three schools, a park bridge, iron and rock gates for a subdivision, two auditoriums, a public library for Loda, Ill., and an addition to Withers Public Library in Bloomington.

The 1904 Carnegie library of Paxton, Illinois, shown here, was designed by Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz, who also designed Pekin’s Carnegie library, which was built in 1902-1903, a year before Paxton’s library.

After designing Pekin’s Carnegie library, Moratz went on to design or build 11 more Carnegie public libraries in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, and Nebraska. Moratz also operated his own planing mill in Bloomington, and he invented and patented his own ready-to-install hardwood flooring. Despite the setback of a couple fires in 1925 and 1931, he continued to operate his plant until his death in Bloomington on March 4, 1939. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, Bloomington, with his wife Emma, sons Roland and Armin, and granddaughter Betty (Moratz) Singh Purewal (1920-2007).

Next week we will continue the story of the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library and tell of the laying of the library’s cornerstone and sealing of its time capsule.

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Pekin Public Library exhibits mementos of its past

As a part of the ongoing celebration of is 125th anniversary, the Pekin Public Library this year is exhibiting a selection of mementos, artifacts, and papers from its early history. The exhibit is displayed in the library’s Local History Room, and will remain on display through the end of the year.

The exhibit includes artifacts and papers that reach back to November of 1866, when the Ladies Library Association of Pekin, predecessor of Pekin Public Library, was organized by the leading ladies of Pekin society. Other items in the display include original blueprints of Pekin’s 1902 Carnegie library, a copy of an old photo of one of the early pre-1902 buildings that housed the library during the 19th century, portrait photographs and copies of letters of the “parents” of Pekin’s Carnegie library (Miss Mary E. Gaither, Andrew Carnegie, and George Herget), and a large number of artifacts that were preserved in the Carnegie library’s cornerstone time capsule.

The public is invited to examine the exhibited materials during regular library hours. Photographs of the exhibit, by Emily Lambe, public information and programming manager for the Pekin Public Library, are shown below.

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Pekin Public Library spotlights 125+ years of history at ‘Business After Hours’

After a hiatus of about a year, the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce resumed its popular “Business After Hours” events on Thursday evening, April 8, 2021, when leaders of local business and community life attended a social gathering in the second-floor Community Room of the Pekin Public Library. Pekin Public Library Director Jeff Brooks took the occasion of its hosting “Business After Hours” to display a large number of its mementos and artifacts which illustrated the Pekin Public Library’s vital place in Pekin’s community life reaching back to 1866, when the prominent ladies of Pekin society organized the Ladies Library Association of Pekin, forerunner of the Pekin Public Library. The library’s local historian and researcher on staff, Jared Olar, also spoke for about 25 minutes, giving an overview of the library’s history from 1866 to the present. Throughout the event, a video highlighting the library’s history, prepared by Emily Lambe, public information and programming manager, was played.

“Business After Hours” at the Pekin Public Library is just one of the ways the library has been celebrating the 125th anniversary of the library’s existence (counting from February 1896, when the Pekin Library Association became a department of Pekin city government). Additional events will appear on the library’s program calendar throughout 2021.

Below are photographs from the April 8 “Business After Hours,” all taken by director Jeff Brooks.

Donna the Kangaroo, an orange plastic children’s rocking chair in the shape of a beloved character of an older generation of Australian children’s literature, is well-remembered by Pekinites for her many years in the Pekin Public Library’s Youth Services Department. Donna usually is kept safely in storage these days, but she came out the greet the attendees of the Pekin Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours on the library’s second floor Thursday evening, April 8, 2021. As part of the library’s 125th anniversary celebrations this year, the library will provide opportunities for photographs with Donna at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 22, and again at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 26.

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