Pekin from the old water tower

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following up on our comparison last month of two old aerial views of Pekin from circa 1950 and 1988, this week let’s stretch our view even further back in time – all the way back to the last couple decades of the 1800s.

Around that time, Richard Acton of Chicago prepared and published a collection of photographs of Pekin buildings and vistas, in a book entitled, “Pekin and Environs.” As we noted about a month ago, recently the library received a donation of Benjamin S. Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs.”

Among the photos in this book are two aerial views of Pekin – or “semi-aerial,” because in those days it wasn’t that easy for photographers to get themselves airborne, so instead they would have to settle for perching atop tall buildings or towers or hills.

In this case, the photos – called “birdseye views” – were taken from the old water tower of the Pekin Water Works, which was located exactly where the “water works” of Illinois-American Water are still located today – at the southwest corner of Broadway and Capitol.

Whereas the 1950 and 1988 aerial views start at the Illinois River and look eastward over downtown Pekin and beyond, these two birdseye views look westward toward the river. One of them looks somewhat northwestward over downtown Pekin, while the other looks southwest toward the industrial district (still an industrial area today).

The downtown view encompasses an area from around Broadway out to Court St., and from the 300 block of Pekin’s downtown streets down to the river. Then as now, railroad tracks ran parallel with Third St., but there’s not much else that is the same or similar. You may notice that the streets were unpaved and much narrower than they are today. The tall white building in the middle of the photo is the old Illinois Hotel, which can be seen in the circa 1950 aerial view of Pekin, but was torn down in the 1960s. The block in the center of this photo, packed with homes that had sheds, pens and coops for livestock, is now occupied by the State of Illinois Driver’s Facility, while the block to the east of that is now occupied by Davison-Fulton-Woolsey Funeral Home.

The birdseye view to the southwest looks toward some of Pekin’s old alcohol distilleries, once the backbone of the city’s economy. As you can see, the way the factories belched out smoke and fumes over the city indicates that this was long before the Clean Air Act. Even in those days, prevailing winds carried the exhaust of factory smoke stacks out over the city – but placing the distilleries downstream at least meant Pekin’s residents wouldn’t have to drink the effluent which factories discharged into the river.

These two photographs above from the circa 1890 volume “Pekin and Environs” show two “birdseye” views of Pekin looking northwest and southwest from the old water tower that was located near the southwest corner of Capitol and Broadway.

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Pekin from the air

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When telling the story of Pekin’s growth and development, often the best way to explain the kinds of changes our city has seen is simply to show someone a picture.

The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a trove of photographs from Pekin’s past – some of them in file folders, some of them clipped from newspapers, and some of them published in books on Pekin’s history.

Two photos in particular show the great changes in Pekin over the course of approximately four decades, from about 1950 to 1988. These are panoramic aerial views of Pekin taken from airplanes flying over the Illinois River (shown in the foreground) and looking east.

The aerial view from circa 1950 shows downtown Pekin and was published on pages 192-193 of the 2004 revised edition of “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” The panorama encompasses an area extending from a few blocks north of the old Pekin lift bridge south to Elizabeth Street, with a vista that stretches out well past the old Pekin Country Club golf course where Pekin Community High School’s East Campus (now sole campus) was built in the early 1960s.

The second aerial view was a photograph taken on Sept. 20, 1988 (a drought year, as the color of the vegetation and ground indicates) for a wall calendar produced and distributed by Skyflick. Taken at a higher altitude, this panorama extends from the new John T. McNaughton Bridge south to Broadway, and stretches out to the cornfields behind the Kmart shopping center area.

Comparison of the photos will show numerous structures in 1950 were no longer there in 1988, while others in 1988 did not yet exist in 1950. For example, not only was the new PCHS campus not there in 1950, but neither was the English Building or “Red Building” at the old West Campus. The old Neo-Gothic St. Joseph Catholic Church of circa 1950 would also be replaced by a larger modernist edifice about 20 years later.

But instead of my explaining what is in the 1950 panorama that’s no longer there in 1988, and what is in the 1988 panorama that wasn’t there in 1950, and what was in both of these photos but is no longer there today, just take a look and see for yourself – and remember.

Pekin riverfront and downtown circa 1950

Pekin from the air on 20 Sept. 1988

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