By Jared Olar
In recent weeks, we have looked back to the way the groundwork was laid for the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library. By early 1902, the library board’s building committee had selected Paul O. Moratz as the architect to design the new library building, and Moratz had submitted his plans to the board on March 13, 1902.
In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither told of the next steps in the process:
“In June, the reports of this Committee stated that the contracts had been let, as agreed upon, reserving certain details, and the bid of Mr. J. D. Handbury was, after due deliberation, accepted by said committee.”
In the bidding competition, J. D. Handbury had gone up against Conklin-Hippen-Reuling Co. and E. Zimmer & Co. All three construction firms were based in Pekin. Besides those three Pekin contractors, the building committee had also considered bids from a Peoria contractor and two or three Bloomington contractors.
After the selection of the contractor, the ground at 301 S. Fourth Street was prepared and staked off. Plans were then made for a grand public ceremony and parade in which the Carnegie library’s cornerstone would be dedicated and laid. Within the cornerstone a time capsule would be stored.
The date for the ceremony, which drew a large crowd of Pekin residents both great and small, was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902. The library board members at the time were Franklin L. Velde, William J. Conzelman, Carl G. Herget, Henry Birkenbusch, Ben P. Schenck, Mrs. W. E. Schenck, Mrs. J. L. Hinners, Miss Emily Weyrich, and (of course) Miss Gaither.
One of them items in the cornerstone time capsule was a telegram received at 9:04 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1902, from John Oglesby, private secretary of Illinois Lieut. Gov. William A. Northcott (1854-1917), expressing Northcott’s regrets that he could not attend the cornerstone laying ceremony.
It is likely that Pekin’s own historian William H. Bates (1840-1930) oversaw the selection and preparation of the contents of the time capsule, as he later did in the case of the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ obituary recalled that “He was at the fore in all public demonstrations” (i.e. celebrations or ceremonies), and it is telling that one of the items in the library’s 1902 cornerstone was the 1883-1884 library card of Bates’ own daughter Ida.
In any event, the contents of the cornerstone chiefly consisted of an assortment of documents and relics pertaining to the library’s early history, the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library, lists of the local governmental officials in office at the time of the laying of the cornerstone, and mementos of the 38 local service clubs that took part in the cornerstone ceremony.
Also placed in the cornerstone time capsule were a number of mementos and artifacts that are not directly related to the library, such as postages stamps, calling cards, an Oct. 1899 Pekin Street Fair brochure, and a Smith Wagon Co. catalog. Also included were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)
The two newspapers from February 1896 were the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896. They were chosen for the time capsule because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.
With the library cornerstone laid, construction proceeded apace and the new Pekin Public Library opened its doors to a proud and grateful community on Dec. 10, 1903, with a formal dedication ceremony on Dec. 14, 1903..
When we continue the story of Pekin’s library next week, we’ll turn our attention to some of the Carnegie’s library’s special furnishings – which included a pair of beautiful clocks.