Public grade school education in Pekin through the years

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

Public grade school education in Pekin through the years

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

The founding pioneer settlers of Pekin believed it was very important to provide youth with a good education. So it was that in 1830, the year of Pekin’s founding, the town’s first school opened. A log cabin built by Thomas Snell, it was located on the west side of Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary streets, at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and Second. Snell’s son John was the teacher.

Pekin’s first school house also has the distinction of temporarily serving as a fort during the Black Hawk War of 1832. The town’s inhabitants quickly threw up a stockade around the building. Thankfully, Fort Doolittle, as it was called, never had to be used, which was an especially good thing since, as the publications on Pekin’s early history relate, the fort’s builders had forgotten to provide it with a water supply.

A few years later, Pekin’s second school, called the Cincinnati School, was built at the corner of Franklin and Third streets. A one-story frame house situated near the lower end of the long vanished Bitzel’s Lake (which later would be drained to make way for the railroad), Cincinnati School would get surrounded by water every spring, so temporary bridges would be placed to enable the students to get to the school, or else the shorter pupils would have to be carried by the taller ones.

Pekin’s first brick school was Pekin Academy, a two-story building on Tharp Place where a Baptist elder named Gilbert S. Bailey taught young men and women. The structure was erected in 1836, according to William H. Bates, and later historical works say the academy opened in 1852.

Bates also quotes from early town records from 1840 that refer to a school that operated out of the old Methodist Church. In addition, the St. Matthew’s School opened in the early 1850s, a private school that operated as a reformatory, known in town as the “bad boy’s school.”

These early schools were the predecessors of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District, which in turn was ancestral to the present District 108 and District 303. The 1860 U.S. Census says Pekin then had 12 school houses and 503 pupils – a tally that includes religious schools. The next year, the 1861 Root’s Pekin City Directory listed six “free schools” in Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District. Those schools were:

  • The Brick School House, built in 1849 on Ann Eliza Street between Third and Capitol, which would serve as Pekin’s first high school
  • The Cincinnati School, at Franklin and Pleasant streets
  • The Yellow School House, at the corner of Second and Susannah streets
  • The Second Street School, between Court and Elizabeth on Second Street
  • The Frame School House, at the corner of Capitol and Ann Eliza
  • The German and English School, on the east side of N. Fourth Street between Market and Caroline

While the city’s public schools were operated collectively as a school district, the formal organization of a state-recognized public school district did not come until the General Assembly passed the Pekin School Charter & Law in 1869. That law governed the operation of Pekin School District until the 1920s, when the city took steps to separate the administration of the high school from the elementary schools, creating District 108, legal successor of Pekin School District, and District 303, the high school district.

A year after the formation of Pekin School District, the 1870 Pekin City Directory lists the following public schools:

  • Second Ward School
  • Third Ward School
  • Fourth Ward School, built 1867-69 at the present site of Washington Intermediate, burned down Dec. 2, 1890. The old Washington School was then built, which served as the high school until West Campus was built in 1916, and then became a junior high.  It was replaced by the current Washington Intermediate building in 1930.
  • Bluff School, built in late 1869 (later called the Fairmount School and the Allen School), at the site of the later McKinley School

Subsequently, the school district would build a succession of elementary and junior high schools, many of which have since been demolished: Lincoln School (1876, extensively remodeled and expanded in 1913, later became Good Shepherd Lutheran School, demolished in 2010), East Side School or Douglas School (1881-2, replaced in 1924, demolished in 1988), Garfield School (1894, demolished in 1981), Franklin School (1923, replaced in 1936, now a private office building), Jefferson School (1906, replaced in 1976), McKinley School (1919, demolished), Roosevelt School (1923, demolished), Fearn Wilson School (1949), Edison Junior High School (1954), C.B. Smith School (1956), Sunset Hills School (1962, recently renamed Scott Altman School), Willow School (1962), L.E. Starke School (1966), Broadmoor Junior High School (1976), Dirksen School (1984, housed in Broadmoor), and most recently, Wilson Intermediate School (built adjacent to old Wilson).

Shown below are photographs and images of many of Pekin’s former schools which have been razed and/or replaced.

The brick structure, which was built in 1836, formerly stood at the northeast corner of Haines and Tharp (now St. Joseph’s Place), and was the home of Pekin Academy which opened in 1852.
Four of Pekin’s old schools — including two of Pekin’s old high schools — are shown on this page from Pekin photographer Henry Hobart Cole’s “Souvenir of Pekin.”
A vintage photo of the Fourth Ward School, which served as Pekin’s high school until in burned down in 1890. The school stood at the current site of Washington Intermediate School, 501 Washington St.
Another view of the Fourth Ward School, which served as Pekin’s high school from the latter 1860s until in burned down in 1890. The school stood at the current site of Washington Intermediate School, 501 Washington St.
Shown here is a photograph of Old Washington School, which served as Pekin’s high school from 1890 to 1916. This school stood at the present site of Washington Intermediate School.
Another view of Old Washington School, which served as Pekin’s high school from 1890 to 1916.
This early view of the 1916 Pekin Community High School on Broadway (later known as West Campus) shows the school as it looked before the addition of its west and east wings.
Pekin Community High School is shown with its west wing addition in this photograph from circa 1930.
Lincoln School, 333 State St., was first built in 1876 but was extensively remodeled and expanded in 1913. It later served as the home of Good Shepherd Lutheran School.
Shown here is Old Douglas School, originally called East Side School, which stood from 1881 to 1926, when it was razed to make way for a much larger Douglas School on the same site.
The second Douglas School, 200 S. 10th. St., stood from 1926 to 1988, when it was torn down and replaced by K’s Super Saver grocery store (now Schnucks).
Garfield School (1895-1983) formerly stood at 1115 State St.
A view of Old Jefferson School, 905 S. Capitol St. The school was built in 1906 and was replaced by the current Jefferson School in 1976.
A view of the rear of Old Jefferson School, 905 S. Capitol St. The school was built in 1906 and was replaced by the current Jefferson School in 1976.
McKinley School, 2115 Court St., was built in 1919 on the former site of Bluff School.
Roosevelt School (1923-1970s), 212 Sapp St., later demolished.

#allen-school, #bad-boys-school, #bluff-school, #brick-school-house, #broadmoor-junior-high-school, #c-b-smith-school, #cincinnati-school, #dirksen-school, #district-108, #district-303, #douglas-school, #east-side-school, #edison-junior-high-school, #fairmount-school, #fearn-wilson-school, #fort-doolittle, #fourth-ward-school, #frame-school-house, #franklin-school, #garfield-school, #german-and-english-school, #gilbert-s-bailey, #good-shepherd-lutheran-school, #jefferson-school, #john-snell, #l-e-starke-school, #lincoln-school, #mckinley-school, #old-brick, #old-douglas-school, #old-jefferson-school, #old-washington-school, #old-wilson-school, #pekin-academy, #pekin-and-cincinnati-union-school-district, #pekin-high-school, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekin-school-district, #preblog-columns, #roosevelt-school, #scott-altman-school, #second-street-school, #second-ward-school, #st-matthews-school, #sunset-hills-school, #third-ward-school, #thomas-snell, #thomas-snell-school, #washington-intermediate-school, #willow-school, #wilson-intermediate-school, #yellow-school-house

The changing face of Pekin

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Oct. 2013, before the launch of this weblog.

The changing face of Pekin

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Changes and developments come to a community day by day, week by week. New buildings and homes are erected, old ones are demolished, new businesses come to town while older ones expand or close their doors.

Sometimes changes can come rapidly and dramatically, but usually they are gradual and often not noticed at first – and before we know it, years have gone by and a city’s or town’s appearance bears little or no resemblance to the way it looked in the past.

To help Pekin residents remember or discover what their city used to look like, various publications compilations of photographs are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room for study, musing and reminiscing. One of them, often quoted in this column, is “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” first published in 1998 and updated in 2004. The 1949 “Pekin Centenary” and 1974 “Pekin Sesquicentennial” volumes are also filled with old photographs.

The compilation of old Pekin photos that perhaps is the most effective way of showing the ways Pekin has changed is Rob Clifton’s “Pekin History Then and Now,” which, as the title indicates, reprints a vintage photo of Pekin on one page and then displays a contemporary photo of the same location on the opposite page. Sometimes the same structures still exist in the contemporary photos, but usually something new has taken their place.

Among Clifton’s sources or guides for finding old photos is a publication that was prepared and issued in July 1912 by The Commercial Club of Pekin (ancestral to the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce), having the length title, “Pekin, Illinois – Interesting Views of Public Buildings, Churches, Schools, Clubs, Office Buildings, Residences, Parks, Street Scenes and the Industries of the City.”

The book was arranged and compiled by Albert Walter Lewis, and almost all of its photographs and images were the work of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole. As mentioned in previous Local History Room column, Cole also produced a small booklet of engravings and photographs, “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin,” as a way to advertise Pekin to businessmen and to give visitors and tourists a handy memento of their stay.

Lewis’s publication from July 1912 is something like Cole’s “Souvenir,” only on a larger scale. It is mostly a collection of photographs, with a few drawing or engravings, but it also has a few pages of text that describe and promote Pekin as an ideal place to live, work and worship.

Those pages include section headings such as: “Pekin’s Progressiveness,” “Reasons Why Manufacturers Seeking Locations Should Come to Pekin,” “Pekin’s Manufacturing Interests,” “The Near-By Coal Mines Mean Cheap Fuel for Industries,” “Excellent Railroad Advantages and Transportation,” and, “Pekin’s Beautiful Homes, Parks, Drives, etc.”

As a sample of these promotional essays, the latter section says:

“Few cities of our size present as attractive an appearance as is given Pekin by its many handsome residences, its neatly kept broad lawns, its magnificent shade tree, clean streets and drives. Every street and avenue in each direction is adorned with great shade trees, which throw out their massive branches until they meet in the center of the streets.

“There are five public parks, and it is the aim to make them as popular as possible, and that the public should be invited to them. The largest of the parks is Mineral Springs Park, which contains a large pavilion, children’s play grounds, base ball diamond, swimming pools and natural mineral springs, whose waters have a curative power of a high value. These parks mean a healthy city for any one to live in, and is the best evidence of a spirit of progress, and among the first things that a thoughtful manufacturer looks for today in seeking a factory location.

“There are many fine drives about the city, which give to the visitor many visions of the beauties of the city.”

This vintage photograph by Pekin photographer William Blenkiron shows the old Pekin plank bridge that spanned the Illinois River from 1885 to 1930, when it was replaced by a lift bridge.
Shown is the old Pekin High School that stood at the present site of Washington Intermediate School on Washington Street. Built in 1891, this school served as the high school until a new high school was built in 1916. The old high school remained in use as an intermediate or junior high school until 1930, when it was replaced by the current Washington Intermediate School.
This old postcard shows the old Tazewell County Courthouse that served the county from 1850 to 1914, when it was razed to make way for the current, larger county courthouse that opened in 1916. Note the front columns — the bottom half of the columns were painted black to hide the stains from the hands of people leaning on the columns.
In this William Blenkiron photograph we see the old St., Paul’s Evangelical Church on Seventh Street in Pekin.
This Konisek photograph shows the gymnasium and stage in the old parish house of St. Paul’s Evangelical Church in Pekin.

#albert-walter-lewis, #coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #commercial-club-of-pekin, #courthouses, #henry-hobart-cole, #konisek, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-a-pictorial-history, #pekin-centenary, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekin-history-then-and-now, #pekin-sesquicentennial, #preblog-columns, #rob-clifton, #st-pauls-german-evangelical-church, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #washington-intermediate-school, #william-blenkiron

The PCHS dragon through the decades

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It’s on the logo of the Pekin Police Department and it’s the school symbol and sports mascot of Pekin Community High School – a red dragon. How did the high school and the police department come to choose a dragon as logo and mascot?

The reason for the choice of a dragon is rooted in the city’s name, which, as we’ve discussed here before, is an older “Anglicized” form of Peking or Beijing, China’s ancient imperial city and modern capital. In origin our city’s dragon logo is the representation of a wingless Chinese dragon (or “lung”) – although the PCHS dragon’s form has varied greatly through the decades.

Pekin’s having been named in 1830 after China’s capital soon gave rise to a tradition of fanciful association with different aspects of Chinese culture. Thus, Pekin residents very early on took to calling their home “the Celestial City.” Later on Pekin’s professional minor league baseball team in the early 1900s was called the Celestials, and the old downtown Pekin Theater was decorated as a Chinese pagoda. Local businesses often used Chinese themes and written Chinese characters in their advertisements.

This tradition of fanciful association with China does not appear in Pekin high school’s earliest “Pekinian” yearbooks, but by the 1920s the occasional or rare drawing of someone or something Chinese begins to appear in the high school yearbook.

It wasn’t until 1937 that the classic PCHS logo of a Chinese wingless lung first appeared in the Pekinian. In that year and over the next few years the same logo was printed on the front cover of the yearbook. The same dragon logo also would be embossed on the high school gymnasium floor and painted on the side of PCHS buildings. This is the same period when the high school adopted “the Chinks” – an old colloquial and sometimes disparaging American slang term for Chinese persons – as the school symbol and team mascot.

Pekin Community High School’s official logo, featuring the school’s seal over a wingless Chinese “lung,” made its debut on the cover of the Class of 1937’s graduation yearbook.

For a few years in the 1940s, the PCHS dragon disappeared from the high school yearbook, but it reappeared on the cover and inside pages of the 1948 Pekinian. The 1948 Pekin yearbook depicted a traditional Chinese dragon, but one with small wings. The following year, a pencil sketch of a scene reminiscent of traditional Chinese art was printed in the yearbook – central to the scene was a large Chinese lung flying through the sky. Other Chinese-themed pencil sketches are found throughout the 1949 Pekinian.

The cover of the 1950 Pekinian, however, departed from the classical Chinese dragon tradition, instead featuring more of a cartoon-style European winged dragon. The class ring that year featured the same dragon representation as on the yearbook’s cover.

The PCHS dragon usually was not featured in or on the cover of yearbooks during the 1950s, but the dragon began to appear more frequently in the 1960s. It was in the 1965 Pekinian that Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. Not only did the yearbook feature the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo, but the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.

Four years later, the Pekin dragon reappeared on the 1969 yearbook cover as a classic Chinese lung within a gold-embossed medallion. The 1970 and 1972 yearbook covers had the same dragon in a gold medallion. Only once more in the 1970s – in 1975 – did the PCHS dragon appear on the yearbook cover. That year it was a photograph of the old school logo painted on the side of a high school building.

Chinese themes grew more and more rare in the Pekinian during that decade, and during that time Chinese Americans visited Pekin to express their great offense at the use of “Chinks” as a team name, asking the school to choose a different mascot. The great majority of high school students and alumni favored keeping the name, but in 1980 District 303 Superintendent Jim Elliott decided, despite opposition, to retire the “Chinks” mascot permanently. He retained the Pekin dragon, however, and the cover of the 1981 Pekinian sported a photograph of the new PCHS dragon mascot costume at a basketball game.

The 1981 Pekinian was the first PCHS yearbook after the school mascot was changed from “the Chink” to “the Dragon.” The yearbook cover sported a photograph of the new mascot.

In the 37 years since then, the PCHS dragon has frequently appeared in and on the cover of the yearbook – but as a rule he takes the form of a classic European fire-breathing winged dragon, not a Chinese lung. The old school logo of the Chinese lung – which debuted on the cover of the 1937 Pekinian – may still be seen at the school and the stadium, and even appeared on the one of the pages of the 2011 Pekinian. This year’s Pekinian cover shows a European dragon amidst flames.

The cover of the 2017 Pekinian features a fiery European-style dragon rather than a classic Chinese “lung.”

Below is an extensive gallery of images showing examples of the PCHS dragon through the decades:

Pekin Community High School’s official logo, featuring the school’s seal over a wingless Chinese “lung,” made its debut on the cover of the Class of 1937’s graduation yearbook.

After being absent from the yearbook for most of the 1940s, the Pekin dragon returned in 1948 — but that year the Pekin dragon, while still recognizably Chinese in style, grew a pair of small wings.

Shown is a detail from a large charcoal-sketched drawing from the 1949 Pekinian, presenting a landscape scene with a flying Chinese lung done in the style of traditional Chinese drawings. Smaller details cropped from the same drawing appeared throughout the 1949 Pekinian.

This page from the 1949 Pekinian shows the high school cheerleaders posing around the PCHS dragon logo on the floor of the old West Campus gymnasium. At the bottom left are the high school’s old racially insensitive “Chink” and “Chinklette” mascots.

The Pekin dragon on the cover of the 1950 Pekinian again sports wings and is drawn more in a cartoon style, resembling a European dragon more than a Chinese lung. The same image was used for the 1950 PCHS class ring.

This page from the 1950 Pekinian shows the old scoreboard at the Pekin high school stadium, featuring the wingless Chinese lung from the school’s official logo. The current scoreboard also features the school’s wingless Chinese dragon.

In the 1965 Pekinian, Pekin’s long established tradition of Chinese-themed fancy reached its apotheosis. On the cover, the high school’s traditional Chinese dragon logo reappeared after a long absence from the yearbook, but this time the cover drawing featured Chinese bamboo window blinds, and the sections of the yearbook were organized and titled according to traditional Confucian social classes. The yearbook staff perhaps had pulled out all stops that year to celebrate Pekin’s 1964 high school basketball state championship.

Shown is the cover of the 1969 Pekinian. Both that year and in 1970, and again in 1972, the yearbook cover sported a classic Chinese lung in a gold medallion.

In addition to the embossed golden Chinese dragon medallion on the cover of the 1970 Pekinian, the same image appears as a drawing on the title page.

The only time after 1972 that the Pekin dragon appeared on the yearbook cover during the 1970s was in 1975, when a photograph of the school’s logo painted on the side of one of the high school buildings was featured.

The 1981 Pekinian was the first PCHS yearbook after the school mascot was changed from “the Chink” to “the Dragon.” The yearbook cover sported a photograph of the new mascot.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Pekin dragon usually was drawn in a more cartoonish style, with no recognizable association with Chinese culture, as he is on the cover of the 1990 Pekinian.

Pekin’s dragon again appears in his old Chinese style on the cover of the 1995 Pekinian.

The 1998 Pekinian — the yearbook for the last year students attended West Campus — does not feature a dragon on the cover, but on the table of contents page a winged dragon silhouette leaves footprints and points ahead to the future as he “moves on” to the expanded East Campus facilities.

Naught but the Pekin dragon’s formidable claws appears on the cover of the 2000 Pekinian.

A fire-breathing red dragon appears on one of the pages of the 2010 Pekinian.

The Pekin dragon again shows signs of his Chinese-themed origin in the 2011 Pekinian.

The PCHS official dragon logo and old school motto appears on a page of the 2011 Pekinian.

On the cover of the 2012 Pekinian, the Pekin dragon appears as a European-style fire drake breathing multi-colored flames.

The cover of the 2017 Pekinian features a fiery European-style dragon rather than a classic Chinese “lung.”

#beijing, #pekin-chink-mascot, #pekin-dragon, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekins-racist-reputation, #pekinian-yearbooks, #racism

Library’s Pekinian yearbooks go digital

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Pekin Public Library’s Pekin Community High School yearbooks are among the areas of the library’s Local History Room collection that get the most use, whether it’s someone looking up old friends or researching family history, or simply reminiscing about old times. The Pekinians are invaluable sources of information about Pekin high school history.

For many years, the library’s “Pekinian” yearbook collection has been available for patrons to peruse or for photocopying yearbook pages or student pictures. With the passage of time, however, inevitably the older volumes suffer wear and tear.

With the goal of reducing wear to our yearbooks and protecting them from damage in order to preserve them for the future, the Pekin Public Library has had its Pekinians for the years from 1908 to 2014 scanned and digitized by OCI Records Conversion in Oklahoma.

Each yearbook from 1908 to 2014 has been scanned from cover to cover, and the scanned images have been burned to individual disks. These scanned images were then uploaded to a portable external hard drive that library patrons may use in Adult Services.

Those who would like to make copies of images from the digitized yearbooks can ask to borrow the external drive. Library staff can show patrons how to plug the external drive into one of the library’s public computers in the Adult Computer Lab, and then assist them if the patrons need help with printing off images or saving copies of pages to a personal flash drive.

The original Pekinians will remain in the locked Local History Room cabinet, and the more recent yearbooks that have not yet been digitized will still be available there. Just ask a librarian to get them out for you.

The growth of Pekin over the past century or so may be seen in this comparison of the senior class photographs from the very first Pekinian in 1908 with those of the 2014 Pekinian. In 1908, the entire senior class fit on a single page, but in 2014 the first page of senior photos only goes from Adams to Beasley.

#1908-pekinian, #2014-pekinian, #digitized-yearbooks, #pekin-community-high-school, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekinian-yearbooks

High school history and the “Old Brick”

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in July 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

High school history and the “Old Brick”

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Recently in this column, we reviewed the history of the buildings that were constructed for the purpose of high school education in Pekin. As we noted then, that history begins with the Fourth Ward School, which was built in 1867 at the site where Washington Junior High School exists today.

However, the history of high school education in Pekin starts several years earlier than that. Pekin’s first high school yearbook was prepared and published by the Class of 1908, and that yearbook commences with a “Brief History of Old ‘P. H. S.’” Here is the 1908 Pekinian’s account of Pekin’s early high school history leading up to the construction of the Fourth Ward School:

“The first building in Pekin in which high school studies were taught was on Ann Eliza Street. It was a tumble down brick building in 1859 when Mr. Blenkiron took charge of the work.

“The studies given were Algebra, Geometry, History – Ancient and Modern, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Etymology, and some Physics and Chemistry.

“Latin and German were not taught, for it seems the State Laws forbade the teaching of any foreign language in the public schools. The pupils who wanted languages were compelled to go to private schools, or, if the teacher was willing, he could teach such studies outside the school hours. (Mr. Blenkiron was one of the willing ones and so taught Latin after four o’clock.)

“If any experimental work was necessary the students and teacher were supposed to make their own apparatus, as none was furnished by the school.

“The pupils put up with all sorts of inconveniences, such as, a crowded and poorly heated room, and a nearly collapsable (sic) building. At last the ‘Old Brick’ became so dangerous that thoughts were directed to a new building.

“In 1865 the citizens were appealed to for support and enough money was collected to go ahead with a new structure. Some financial difficulty arose after the foundation was laid and further progress was stopped until 1867.

“Because of the long delay one of the teachers wrote a poem, two lines of which I will quote:

“‘The foundation stands in big bug town,

But the castle is in the air.

“This poem caused much merriment at the time and will long be used in jest by the old citizens.”

Additional information can be gleaned from other sources in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. For example, the 1949 Pekin Centenary has this to say about the “Old Brick”:

“Sometime, too, between 1840 and 1850, a two story brick building was erected on Margaret Street (sic), between Third and Capitol, by the ‘Sons of Temperance’, the upper floor being used for the lodge meetings and the lower occupied for many years as a ‘pay school’. After the adoption of the state free school system, the entire building was occupied by the free schools of Pekin. For many years older residents of the community referred affectionately to ‘the old Brick’.”

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial provides further details, correcting the Centenary’s error about the location of the “Old Brick”:

“Roots City Directory of 1861 listed six ‘free schools of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District.’ These included the ‘Brick School House,’ built in 1849 on Ann Eliza Street between Third and Capitol. The Superintendent of the district was W. Blenkiron, a noted Pekinite of the day, and the two-story structure was the first brick building erected for school purposes. The school occupied only the ground floor of the building, so the upper story was used for a time a meeting place for both the Masons and the Sons of Temperance. Eventually the property was sold to the T. & H. Smith Company.”

It’s unclear whether or not the “Old Brick” had been erected for school purposes, however.

William Blenkiron, who for many years served as Pekin’s superintendent of schools in the 1800s.

But who was Pekin’s first school superintendent, named simply “Mr. Blenkiron” in the 1908 Pekinian?

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) tell us that he was William Blenkiron, “a Pekin resident for 60 years. He taught at Old Jubilee College and served as superintendent of Pekin schools. A prominent amateur athlete in his younger days, he pitched for Pekin’s first baseball team. In the area of philanthropy, he, along with his daughter, Anna, donated the land on which the Blenkiron Park for children or Tot Lot is located on Park Avenue.”

#1908-pekinian, #blenkiron-park, #fourth-ward-school, #old-brick, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #tot-lot, #william-blenkiron

A succession of high schools in Pekin

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

A succession of high schools in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The demolition of the former Pekin Community High School West Campus has turned the thoughts of many Pekin residents to the history of Pekin’s high school buildings. In this column, let’s review what we can learn about Pekin’s succession of high schools from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

As mentioned recently in this column, Pekin’s first high school was the Fourth Ward School, located where Washington School exists today. A brick structure built in 1867 at a cost of $20,000, the building housed grades one through 12. It was completely destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890.

Pekin’s first high school building, known as the Fourth Ward School, stood on the site of present-day Washington Intermediate. The Fourth Ward School stood from 1867 until it was destroyed in a fire in 1890.

A new and larger brick school, dubbed Washington School, was quickly built in 1891 on the site of the Fourth Ward School, at a cost of $28,000. While it was under construction, “classes were held in nearly every church basement and vacant building in town,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial. It served as Pekin’s high school until 1916, after which it became the old Washington Junior High School. It was torn down and replaced by the current Washington School in 1930.

In 1916, Pekin built its third high school, the building that would become known as the “Old Building” of West Campus. Over the decades, the high school saw several expansions to accommodate the growing student population in Pekin. First came the “west wing” of the Old Main Building in 1926, followed by the “east wing” expansion in 1929 (including the theater). Next came the gymnasium, which was ready to use in 1936. The cafeteria and the shop building were added in 1949, and the English Building (or “Red Building”) and the Leeway were built in 1955.

High school football formerly was played on James Field, but that changed in 1948 with the construction of Memorial Stadium. As student population continued its steady rise, further needed expansion of the high school campus was proposed. However, in early 1959 the city announced it planned to widen Eighth Street, which made it impossible for District 303 to utilize the area needed for the expansion plans. Instead, the school district decided to build a second campus that could accommodate 2,000 students.

Construction on East Campus began in 1962, and classes began there in 1964. The new school was erected near Memorial Stadium, on the former grounds of the Pekin Country Club. “A humorous sidelight to this whole project is that from the time the purchase of the Country Club was made until the time the club house was razed, it could be stated that Pekin was the only high school district to own a bar,” says the Pekin Sesquicentennial. The total cost of the project was $4.6 million.

The next phase of expansion of Pekin high school was the construction of the vocational center. The high school had established a vocational center in 1968, but the vocational center building was not built until 1974, at a cost of $3.1 million.

In 1998, District 303 consolidated all high school operations at East Campus, which underwent a major expansion at that time. West Campus was auctioned off and was purchased for $60,000 by Merle Huff – and the sequel to that story is being written this year [2012].

This aerial view of West Campus from circa 1956, reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” shows the high school complex soon after the completion of its final expansion projects.

#aerial-views-of-pekin, #fourth-ward-school, #old-washington-school, #pekin-country-club, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #west-campus

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s ‘Souvenir’

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Glimpses of Pekin from Cole’s Souvenir

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A few months ago, we recalled the life of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole (1833-1925). During his long and productive career, Cole created a vast collection of images of Pekin and the surrounding area beginning soon after his arrival in Tazewell County in 1879. In 1899, Cole published a selection of his photographs in a small booklet called “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin, Ill.”

“Cole’s Souvenir” served as a memento for visitors to Pekin and a way to promote Pekin as a good place to live and do business – and, of course, also helped to promote Cole’s own photography business. But for us today, it is a memento of days long gone, granting glimpses of Pekin homes and businesses as they appeared in 1899. Many of them no longer exist, but others are still around, with new families or new businesses in them.

“The city of Pekin, county seat of Tazewell County, one of the wealthiest and most fertile in Illinois, has a population of about 10,000, is situated on the east bank of the Illinois River, a beautiful stream, navigable for the finest steamers,” Cole wrote in the introduction of his “Souvenir.”

He went on to praise and extol Pekin for its system of railroads, its shipping facilities – “second to no city in Central Illinois, and rates are correspondingly low” – its coal mines, its “low rents, cheap markets, low taxes,” its “mineral springs, the best water in the state,” and “last, though not least: a courteous and sociable people.”

The files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room contain a few copies of “Cole’s Souvenir.” Later editions of the “Souvenir” featured drawings or engravings – including a “bird’s eye” panoramic view of Pekin – rather than reproductions of Cole’s actual photographs, but the first edition is entirely photo reproductions. A few examples are presented here:

#coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-high-schools, #zerwekh-building

Pekin has its own ‘Liberty Bell’

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pekin has its own ‘Liberty Bell’

Probably every American schoolchild knows of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, an iconic symbol of the nation’s independence and ideals. But did you know that Pekin has its own replica of the Liberty Bell?

The original Liberty Bell last rang out on Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 1846. The ringing that day caused the bell’s famous crack to worsen, permanently silencing it. By that time, however, the Abolitionists had adopted the Liberty Bell as the symbol of their movement to outlaw slavery. As recently discussed in this column, many abolitionists lived in Pekin in those days, so it’s no surprise that the Celestial City eventually was one of many American communities to acquire a replica of the Liberty Bell.

The story of Pekin’s Liberty Bell begins as a chapter in the history of Pekin’s high school buildings, then becomes a part of the story of Pekin’s city halls.

Pekin’s original high school operated out of the “Fourth Ward” schoolhouse, which was located at the present site of Washington Junior High School. Opening in 1869, it was destroyed in a fire on Dec. 2, 1890. “The story goes that during the holocaust many spectators gathered bits of metal from the melting bell and wore these as watch fobs for years thereafter,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial.

The old high school “was replaced for $28,000 by a more imposing structure on the same site which became known as Washington School. High school classes were taught there until the new high school, what is now known as West Campus/Old Main, was first occupied in 1916,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004).

Since the Fourth Ward school’s bell was lost in the 1890 fire, a new bell for the new school was commissioned: Pekin’s replica of the Liberty Bell.

After the high school students moved to West Campus, grade school and junior high school students continued to attend Old Washington School until 1930, when Old Washington was demolished and replaced with the current Washington Intermediate School. At that time, “the Liberty Bell found a new home at Pekin City Hall,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

Located at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets, the old city hall had been built in 1884 at a cost of $6,500, and was replaced in 1952 with a new building at a cost of $330,000. The bell was then displayed in the plaza in front of city hall.

Finally, in 2002 the new Pekin Municipal Building was constructed at the corner of Capitol and Sabella streets. The bell now hangs atop a brick bell tower attached to the structure exterior, positioned right behind the mayor’s seat in council chambers.

Pictured below is an image of the bell in the plaza in front of the old city hall at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.

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#pekin-high-schools, #pekin-liberty-bell, #preblog-columns