History of 126 Sabella St.

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

History of 126 Sabella St.

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About 15 years ago, the Historic Preservation Commission of Pekin turned its attention to the possibility of preserving an old building apparently built in or around 1879, formerly located at 126 Sabella St.

As they researched the history of the families and businesses that lived in or operated from that location, the commission members gathered a wide array of historical materials going back to some of the earliest owners of the property. Regrettably, after this research was conducted, the structure was later demolished and this old lot is empty today.

Above is shown the rear of the former Vogels grocery store that was located at the corner of Second and Sabella streets. The structure, demolished about a decade ago, was apparently built around 1880 by George W. Rankin, who operated a mill work business out of it.

Lot 11, Block 3, of the Original Town of Pekin, the southwest corner of Second and Sabella streets, was originally owned by the town founders, such as Nathan Cromwell and William Haines. The lot is only three blocks north of the site of Jonathan Tharp’s log cabin of 1824, the first structure built by a European-American settler in what would become Pekin. From 1831 to 1847, the property changed hands 15 times. One of those times was on April 24, 1843, when lots 1 through 12 of Block 3 were purchased by Charlotte Bacon for $1,200.

Four years later, John and Eliza Ayers purchased Lot 11 and another lot in a different block for a total price of $150. John, who was only 42 years old, died later that year on Nov. 26, 1847. In 1855, the John Ayers estate was involved in legal action in which Abraham Lincoln appeared as an attorney. This was the case of Ayers vs. Brown & Brown, in which Ayers’ estate, represented by Lincoln, sued John and Thomas Brown to recover a number of horses and cattle. In May 1855, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the Ayers estate got one horse and the Browns were allowed to keep the other animals.

John’s widow, Eliza Ayers, continued to live at 126 Sabella St., and the very first Pekin City Directory in 1861 shows her living there. Among her neighbors that year were lumber merchant Alex Bateson on the southeast corner of Second Street and Sabella, and Edwin Browne, who operated a dry goods store on the northeast corner of that intersection.

Eliza Ayers died on Sept. 21, 1877, and in her will directed that her house and Lot 11 be sold and the proceeds given to her brother William McDowell, who was then living in Missouri. Two years later, on Oct. 6, 1879, George W. Rankin purchased Lot 11, where he apparently built a brick building which he used to conduct a mill work business that, according to the 1887 Pekin City Directory, made sashes, doors, blinds and lumber.

Henry A. Reuling bought Rankin’s business and Lot 11 on Oct. 7, 1891. Reuling merged his business with K. S. Conklin’s lumber business and acted as the manager of the new firm, the Conklin-Hippen Reuling Co. They were the contractors who built the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion and Palm House, the old Tazewell Club building, and also did work on the old Pekin City Hall.

In 1902, Lot 11 was sold to the Pekin Gas & Heating Manufacturing Co., which operated a machine shop out of the first floor and used the second floor for storage. By 1901, the property had been sold to Henry Weber, who operated the Pekin Engine & Machine Co. on the first floor while he and his wife Emma lived on the second floor. The Weber estate sold Lot 11 to Roscoe Weaver in 1948, and Weaver also operated a machine shop out of the same building.

Then in 1963, Ruth Weaver sold Lot 11 to Vogels Inc., which ran a well-known grocery store for many years at that location. Today both Vogels and its old brick building that probably was built in 1879 by George W. Rankin are only a memory of Pekin’s past.

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The old Citizens Telephone Company

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

The old Citizens Telephone Company

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Just over the past few decades, the telecommunications industry has seen great changes both in technology and in options available to consumers — and over the past century or so, those changes have been vast.

Soon after the turn of the last century, consumer options in Pekin were limited to just two telephone companies: the Central Union Telephone Company, and the Citizens Telephone Company. A four-paragraph account of Citizens Telephone was included in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on page 80. The first two paragraphs of that account are as follows:

“The year 1901 found Pekin with two competing telephone companies: Central Union Telephone Company, first on the scene, and the newly organized Citizens Telephone Company, headed by James W. Barrett. The Citizens Company also established an exchange at East Peoria, adding to their already existing stations at Havana, Manito, Green Valley, Delavan, and Lacon, connected by a system of company-owned toll lines.

“The continuous growth of the community necessitated expansion of service, which meant much additional capital. Following the first World War, the telephone situation was discouraging for the citizens of Pekin, as there were two sets of telephone lines in town, yet many people seeking service could not get it until much of the outmoded equipment was replaced and the necessary expansion completed.”

During those years, Citizens Telephone operated out of a building at 405 Court St. in downtown Pekin -— the same building where the Pekin Daily Times offices were then located, and which suffered a wall collapse over four years ago. The 1887 Pekin City Directory lists the Times Publishing Co., “publishers of the Daily and Weekly Times,” at 507 Court St., but the 1893 directory shows that the Times had moved to 405 Court St. by that year.

However, the 1903-1904 Pekin City Directory, page 183, shows the following occupants of 405 Court St.: Times Publishing Co.; Citizens Telephone Co., 2nd floor; and J. K. Hawkins. The Times moved out of the building around 1905, and the former Times offices became the offices of the Tribune Printing Co., a Pekin newspaper that was also owned by the Times Publishing Co.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Co., encouraging the technological innovation of the residential telephone, was published 104 years ago, in the 1914 Pekin City Directory.

Citizens Telephone continued to occupy the second floor of 405 Court St., though, and the city directories around that time usually listed “405½ Court St.” as the phone company’s address. For a while, as shown in the 1913 and 1914 directories, Citizens Telephone shared the building with Idylhour Theatre, located on the ground floor, but eventually the phone company became the lone occupant of the building.

The Sesquicentennial’s account of Citizens Telephone goes on to say that, “The Citizens Company was sold to W.S. Green and associates, who had formed a new company (still called Citizens Company). They promptly traded East Peoria and Delavan service rights to Central Union (later absorbed by the Bell System) for the ‘long distance phone system’ in Pekin and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new capital to replace the mass of bare wires in town with one of the most extensive underground cable systems to be found in a similar-sized community anywhere.

“The depression years of the early thirties proved a serious blow to the company, however, and so in January of 1938 the Citizens Company was taken over by the Middle States Telephone Company of Illinois, which was a division of the Central Telephone Company (no kin to Central Union) headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois. The firm retained the name of Middle States, however, for nearly 30 years, officially changing to Central Telephone in 1967.”

Thanks to the old Pekin city directories, we are able to correct one important detail of this account. It was not in 1938 that Citizens Telephone was taken over by Middle States. Rather, the takeover must have happened about 10 years earlier, because the city directories list Citizens Telephone at 405 Court St. up until 1928 — the city directory of that year for the first time shows “Middle States Telephone” at that address, and so it would continue for the next 39 years.

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A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Dec. 2011 before the launch of this weblog.

A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

If you’ve ever wondered what Christmas celebrations were like in Pekin way back when, an old handbill from 1879 in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection can be a way to summon a visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past.

In large, bold letters, the handbill announces a “holiday concert” to be presented Friday evening, Dec. 26, 1879, at Empire Hall, one of Pekin’s earliest theaters or concert halls. Empire Hall was on the second floor of a building in the 200 block of Court Street – so that should give you an idea of just how long Pekin has been celebrating Christmas downtown.

This 1879 handbill, donated to the Pekin Public Library by late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. and now displayed in the library’s Local History Room, opens a window on Pekin’s Christmas traditions of long ago.

The holiday concert was a three-scene Christmas cantata entitled, “Santa Claus!” which was performed “by the members of the Baptist Sunday School, assisted by LEADING SINGERS OF THE CITY,” as the handbill states. Directing the cantata were Mrs. and Mrs. W. F. Henry, while Miss Josie Goodheart directed two silent tableaux vivants that were presented at the end of the first scene and at the conclusion of the cantata. The price of admission was 25 cents for adults and teens, and 10 cents for children under 12.

Lining both sides of the handbill are advertisements by the local merchants who sponsored the cantata, offering “the greatest bargains in holiday goods in the city,” “Christmas candies, nuts and fruits,” “holiday goods, toys, notions, etc.” In that respect, Christmas in 1879 wasn’t any different from Christmas today.

Also advertised are “1000 cans of oysters for Christmas!” and “oysters in every style.” Though they a part of a traditional Christmas dinner – for Christians used to abstain from meat during the penitential season of Advent, and so Christmas Eve dinners would feature seafood – oysters are probably not as popular these days as ham or turkey.

Much about the cantata also would be familiar to us today, but other things would be a little strange. The cantata tells the story of six children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but the handbill says nothing of Santa’s reindeer, who made their first appearance in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Also absent from the cantata were Santa’s elves and the toy workshop at the North Pole, which are later developments of the Santa Claus story.

Instead, the audience was treated to a character called the Frost King, as well as three Christmas fairies and Santa’s two attendants, dwarfs named Drako and Krako. Also prominent in the cantata were six goddesses, representing Dreams, Mirth, Joy, Peace, Love and Hope. It was the task of the Goddess of Dreams, played by Mrs. James Sholl, to sing a lullaby, “Now the tiny lids must close,” to ensure the six children were fast asleep before Santa’s arrival.

It wasn’t long before the 19th century’s reimagining of the Catholic St. Nicholas as the “jolly old elf” Santa Claus would take on a life of its own, more secular than religious, all but divorced from its Christian origins. This 1879 cantata, however, bears an unmistakably Christian stamp: the very first solo, sung by Miss Fannie Miller, is, “Where the Shepherds Watched by Night,” and the cantata concludes with the chorus, “Our kind and loving Father, / A glad and joyful throng / We lift our hearts and voices / To Thee in grateful song.”

A final bit of local history trivia: playing one of the children in the cantata was Fred W. Soady Sr., born Sept. 5, 1867, whose biography appears in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” page 696. Some past “From the Local History Room” columns have featured quotes from a 1960 paper of Pekin’s early history written by Fred W. Soady Jr., grandson of the child actor of 1879.

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William W. Sellers, publisher and politician

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in July 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

William W. Sellers, publisher and politician

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

The foundation of Pekin’s historical record was laid in 1870, with the publication of the Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory. As noted more than once in this column, included in that directory was a “History of Pekin, from its earliest settlement to the present time.”

The 1870 directory billed itself as “the first history and directory of the city.” The conjunction “and” is important – it was not the first city directory (that was the 1861 Roots directory), but it does contain the first published history of Pekin. If not for the Sellers & Bates directory, our knowledge of Pekin’s early history would be greatly impoverished.

But just who were “Sellers & Bates, Printers,” to whom researchers into our local history owe such a great debt? We first answered the “Bates” part of that question in the March 17, 2012 Pekin Daily Times, in the column, “William H. Bates of Pekin, ‘the historian of the city.’

Bates was the younger half of the printing and publishing partnership of Sellers & Bates. Sellers was William W. Sellers of Pekin, a newspaper publisher and Republican politician (there was no clear line separating the two roles in those days, even as the line between journalism and politics is obscured in our day) who enjoyed a fair degree of local prominence.

The entries for William Sellers and his printing firm, Sellers & Bates, in the 1870 Pekin City Directory which his business produced and published.

Sellers briefly appears in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” p.723, in Chapman’s account of Tazewell County’s early newspapers. One of them was the Tazewell County Republican, of which Chapman writes, “. . . Wm. W. Sellers got a hold of it, in 1863 or ’64. He made it a red-hot Republican organ and one of the best papers published in the Northwest. He was a shrewd able writer and could turn the English language into a two-edge sword when in a wordy conflict with an opponent. He conducted it until his death, which occurred Dec. 15, 1872. It was then conducted by his administrators for a short time, when Jacob R. Riblett and Wm. H. Bates purchased it.

Shown is an advertisement for the Tazewell County Republican newspaper from the 1870 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory. The Tazewell County Republican was owned and published by William W. Sellers.

The reference to Sellers’ death in 1872 explains why Sellers’ name dropped from the title of subsequent editions of the Pekin City Directory. The business partnership of Sellers & Bates was ended by Sellers’ untimely death, after which Bates continued to publish the directories alone.

The “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” was published about 1873. The atlas includes several lengthy biographies of the “Old Settlers of Tazewell County,” all of them laden with fulsome praise of their subjects. On page 43 is a biography of Sellers that reads more like a funeral eulogy than a proper biography, but which nevertheless records all of the highlights of his life.

Sellers, the biography says, “was born May 19, 1833, in Mercersburg, Franklin county, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of a family of six children of Michael and Phoebe (Walker) Sellers. He is descended from one of the old and prominent families of eastern Pennsylvania. His early culture was received in the schools of his native town. His rare and eminent natural qualities, coupled with his active and studious mind, led him on to that success which, as a public man and journalist, he acquired in his after career.

Sellers went into journalism in the early 1850s as assistant editor of the Chambersburg Repository, but at age 22 he moved to McConnellsville, Pa., and became the owner and publisher of the Fulton Republican. “He was married July 8, 1856, in Indianola, Iowa, to Miss Lide Smith, with whom he first became acquainted in his native town.” They had five children. After their marriage, they returned to McConnellsville, where Sellers continued to publish the Fulton Republican. He also was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature.

Sellers settled in Pekin in November 1863 and soon after purchased the Tazewell County Republican. “The county was largely democratic at this time, but owing to the herculean labors of this gifted journalist, we may largely account for the political revolution of 1872, when we find, for the first time in its political record, that the county was republican,” his biography says.

Sellers was elected mayor of Pekin in 1865, but he resigned in the fall of 1866 after winning election as a representative in the Illinois General Assembly. Besides the elective offices he held, the biography states that Sellers also “was appointed, by President Grant, postmaster of the city of Pekin, which position he held until his death, which occurred at his residence on the 15th of December, 1872. His amiable and accomplished wife is still continuing the paper which was so ably conducted by her husband.

Somewhat remarkably for that era, after Sellers’ death, President Grant appointed Sellers’ widow as “postmistress of Pekin.” “The appointment meets the approbation of the citizens of Pekin, and it is well conducted through her management,” the biography says.

In tribute to Sellers’ journalism, his biography comments, “It is a well-established fact in the minds of our intelligent citizens, that the press is the most potent agency for good or evil in Christendom. The same is true in state or municipal affairs. Every city owes its progress, in a great measure, to its press. Newspapers are now becoming the vehicle of thought, as well as the means of heralding the virtues of every people and the beauties of every locality to the world. In respect to these facts, Pekin was indeed benefited by the short but incessant labors of William W. Sellers.

This color advertisement for Sellers & Bates Printers, a Pekin business located in an upstairs office on the south side of Court Street four doors east of Third Street, features the business trademark. Sellers & Bates produced the 1870 Pekin City Directory, in which this ad was run.

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Tazewell County’s ‘Greatest Generation’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Our nation this week marked the 77th anniversary of the Empire of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II on the side of the Allies. From that point until the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945, the entirety of America’s military, industrial, and spiritual might was committed to the war effort.

By the war’s end, the U.S. had lost over 400,000 soldiers in a global shedding of human blood that included anywhere from 21 million to 25.5 million military deaths, 29 million to 30.5 million civilian deaths due to war or to crimes against humanity, and another 19 million to 28 million civilian deaths due to war-related famine and disease. The horrific human cost of the genocidal aims and expansionist ambitions of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.S.R. was an estimated 75 million to 85 million souls.

Most fittingly, the generation in America who bore that terrible burden of suffering, and who afterwards exerted themselves to rebuild and repair their broken world, has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation” (a title bestowed on them by retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw). With the blessed conclusion of that conflict receding further and further into the past – it’s now been more than 73 years since the end of World War II – each day that passes there are fewer and fewer men and women left to tell us of their experiences.

These were the fathers and mothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers of the current generation. My own father, Joseph, is one of them – but he wasn’t old enough to be drafted until December of 1945, so he avoided all the fighting, instead spending what he says was the most boring year of his life in the U.S. Army’s peacekeeping forces near Manila in the Philippines. How stark is the contrast between his experience and that of those who had liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation a year before – not to mention the experience of his older brothers who fought in Europe and the Pacific.

On Dec. 31, 1945, the Pekin Daily Times published a special “Victory Edition” that presented extensive lists of the men and women of Tazewell County who had served their country during World War II.

It is to help us to remember those times that the Pekin Public Library has provided opportunities this year to view oral histories such as “We Were There: World War II” (shown earlier this year on May 4) and “World War II POW Stories’ (originally scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m., but instead to be rescheduled to a time following the completion of the library’s repairs).

The library has a wide area of books and videos on World War II in its circulating collection. The above mentioned videos, however, are just two items among the resources related to the history of World War II that may be found in the library’s Local History Room Collection.

The three most notable World War II-related items in the Local History Room are three books that compile the stories of Tazewell County’s “Greatest Generation.”

Two of those volumes were the work of the late Robert B. Monge of Pekin, who in 1994 authored and edited “WW2 – Memories of Love & War: June 1937-June 1946,” a hefty 991-page book that collects personal stories, newspaper reports, and obituaries of Tazewell County World War II veterans and fallen heroes.

Three years later, in 1997, Monge collaborated with Jack Shepler and the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial Committee to produce the 261-page “Book Eternal: Tazewell County Veterans Memorial,” which tells of the planning and construction of the county’s Veterans Memorial located at the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn in downtown Pekin. “Book Eternal” also lists those whose names are inscribed on the memorial’s stones, which display the names of every Tazewell County soldier who died in the service of his country.

This photograph from the front page of the Pekin Daily Times’ “Victory Edition” on Dec. 31, 1945, reminded readers of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who had been killed in World War II.

A decade later, in 2007 the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society compiled its own book on the experiences of our local World War II veterans: “Tazewell County Veterans of World War II: Remembrances – Pearl Harbor to V-J Day,” which extends to 488 pages.

About 11 years ago, former Pekin Public Library Reference Librarian Laurie Hartshorn collected and compiled the wartime stories and recollections of 16 local women. Their personal memories are collected in “Women of the Greatest Generation Tell Their Stories.”

The Local History Room Collection also has archival boxes and files of newspaper clippings and World War II-era magazines, and even several donated complete issues of the Pekin Daily Times from those years.

One of those newspapers is the “Victory Edition” of the Pekin Daily Times, published Dec. 31, 1945. The Daily Times that year devoted its traditional “Year In Review” issue to a look back over the nation’s and Pekin’s experiences of the previous four years, preparing and publishing a list of 143 young men from Tazewell County who had been killed in the war, along with extensive Draft Board lists of names of men from Pekin and Morton who been called up to serve their country, including the county’s women who had volunteered as Army and Navy nurses.

Section Two of this special edition is headlined, “6102 Tazewell Men On World War II Honor Roll,” with other headlines including, “Nearly Half of Morton’s 3116 Out of Uniform” and “2986 Are On Pekin List; Estimate 1400 Discharged.” A separate story, “62 Tazewell County Women Serve Country,” is devoted to the honored group of women who had volunteered as WACs (Women’s Air Corps), WAVES (women in the Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard auxiliary), and the Marines women’s auxiliary force.

The special edition also struck a somber tone, however, reminding its readers of “Nine Tazewell Boys, Missing In Action, Still Unfound; Families Hold Hope.”

But the mood throughout those yellowed pages was chiefly one of gratitude and joy – gratitude for those who had fought for freedom, and joy that the war was over and peace had returned. Looking back to celebrations and the utter relief at Japan’s surrender that ended the war – “V-J Day,” “Victory-over-Japan Day” – the special edition recalled that “V-J Day Was 1945’s Gayest Day In Pekin.”

In keeping with what Bob Monge wrote, may we never forget the men and women of that generation whose names are, or soon will be, written in God’s Book Eternal.

#jack-shepler, #laurie-hartshorn, #pearl-harbor-day, #pekin-daily-times-victory-edition, #pekin-history, #robert-monge, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-veterans, #women-of-the-greatest-generation, #world-war-ii

Revisiting ‘Pekin, Incorporated’ — Pekin’s first incorporation needed a ‘do-over’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In recent installments of our ongoing Illinois Bicentennial series, we have recalled the first 19 years of Pekin’s history, when Pekin passed from a pioneer settlement to a formally incorporated town, finally being incorporated as a city in 1849 and electing its first mayor.

This week we’ll take a closer look at Pekin’s “incorporation” as a town and a city.

During Illinois’ times as a territory and then a newly-minted state, towns and villages would be founded by settlers or land agents working individually or in a company who would hire a surveyor to make a plat of the proposed town that would be legally recorded. If the settlement proved successful and enduring, before long the inhabitants would seek to organize their town as a corporation, a legal status that confers the right to elect a local government with collective rights.

We have previously told of how Pekin’s first settlers surveyed the lots of their proposed “Town Site” and then voted on Jan. 19, 1830, to name their town “Pekin.” The certified plat of the original town of Pekin is dated April 2, 1830. From 1831 to 1836, Pekin served as the interim county seat of Tazewell County while a state commission deliberated on the location of Tazewell’s permanent county seat. During the five years following Pekin’s founding, Pekin did not elect its own governmental officials, because the town was unincorporated – local government for Pekin existed at the county and township levels, but not at the municipal level.

As we’ve recalled, Pekin pioneer historian William H. Bates tells of the incorporation of Pekin as a legally constituted “town” in his 1870 narrative of Pekin’s early history that he included in the 1870-71 Pekin City Directory. On page 13, Bates quotes from the original record of Pekin’s first town election “of which we can glean any authentic account.” Here is the wording of the election record:

July 9th, 1835, agreeable to notice given according to law, in the Court House, in the Town of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois, for the purpose of electing Five Resident Freeholders of the Town of Pekin, as Trustees of the same, who shall hold their office for one year and until others are chosen and qualified.”

The language of this record indicates that Pekin was by then an incorporated town, for only an incorporated town or village could lawfully elect a board of trustees under Illinois law.

But as a matter of fact, contrary to what the people of Pekin then believed, their town was not legally incorporated at the time of their first election. Technically the election of July 9, 1835, and its results were invalid – as were all the governmental acts of Pekin from then until Jan. 19, 1837. On that date, the Illinois General Assembly passed and approved, “An act to legalize the incorporation of Pekin” (See “Incorporation Laws of the State of Illinois 1836-37,” pages 3-4).

The wording of the act explains that “the citizens of the town of Pekin, in the county of Tazewell, did, on the second day of July, A. D. 1835, meet and determine, by vote, that they would become incorporated, according to the provisions of an act entitled ‘An act to incorporate such towns as may wish to be incorporated,’ approved March 1st, 1831.” Nevertheless, “by accident or mistake, the certified statement of the polls of said meeting was lost and have (sic – has) not been filed and recorded in the clerk’s office of the county commissioners’ court in said county as the said act directs.

The act then goes on to declare that the town of Pekin shall not be considered to be an illegally incorporated town – i.e., no one would be prosecuted or sued over what had happened, nor would the town board be disbanded. The act retroactively “declared legal and valid” all of the official acts of Pekin’s board of trustees since July 2, 1835. Finally, the town of Pekin was “hereby declared an incorporated town under the above recited act, any omission or mistake in the incorporation of said town to the contrary notwithstanding.

This detail from an 1837 book of Illinois incorporation laws shows part of an act approved by the Illinois General Assembly on Jan. 19, 1837, legalizing the incorporation of Pekin as a town. Pekin had voted to incorporate on July 2, 1835, but the vote results were never legally recorded, so the Legislature had to unsnarl Pekin from a legal predicament.

Consequently, although the people of Pekin intended to incorporate on July 2, 1835, in point of law Pekin did not really become an incorporated town until Jan. 19, 1837 (the seventh anniversary, as it happened, of the date that the original settlers of the town voted for the name “Pekin” for their town). If it weren’t for that mistake, Pekin would have become an incorporated town 16 days before Peoria did.

Incidentally, the law of March 1, 1831, under which Peoria and Pekin were incorporated stipulated that settlements having populations of at least 150 persons could incorporate as either a village or a town. The option of incorporating as a “town” was removed by the new 1870 Illinois constitution – ever since then, municipalities may only incorporate as villages or cities. According to Illinois Secretary of State records, there are only 19 incorporated towns remaining in Illinois (including Topeka in Mason County, Normal in McLean County, and Astoria in Fulton County).

Pekin’s failed attempt at incorporation in 1835 is entirely unmentioned in the old standard works on Pekin’s history, perhaps because by the time Bates compiled his first Pekin history no one was around anymore who could have remembered what had happened – or perhaps Bates and his fellow Pekinites were too embarrassed to tell the story for posterity. We can only wonder how this serious omission came to light, who first brought it to the town board’s attention, and how they reacted to the news that all the board’s votes and deliberations since July 1835 were only so much wind.

In any case, because of the snafu in July 1835, Pekin, although now officially incorporated, did not officially receive its town charter (that is, its constitution) from the state until Feb. 23, 1839, when the Illinois General Assembly approved “An act to extend the corporate powers of the town of Pekin” that spelled out the legal powers, rights, obligations, and electoral procedures of the Pekin town board of trustees.

As of early May of this year, the Illinois Secretary of State’s online index of local governments mistakenly gave Feb. 23, 1839 as the date of Pekin’s original incorporation – but that is the date of Pekin’s first charter, not the actual date of incorporation, which took place Jan. 19, 1837 (and should have happened on July 2, 1835).

From the date of Pekin’s original town charter, about 10½ years elapsed until Pekin re-incorporated as a city, legally complying with the terms of a state law passed by the General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1849, which gave towns or villages with a population of at least 1,500 persons the option of incorporating as cities under the charters of Springfield or Quincy.

That time Pekin’s officials took care not to repeat the goof-up of July 2, 1835, and so Pekin was lawfully incorporated as a city on Aug. 21, 1849, electing its first mayor and city council the following month, on Sept. 24.

Pekin functioned under its first city charter until March 4, 1869, when the General Assembly passed an act that granted Pekin a new charter of incorporation. Under the original city charter, the mayor and aldermen served one-year terms, and the city was divided into four wards, with one alderman per ward. The 1869 charter added two more wards and stipulated that each of the six wards would be represented by two aldermen each.

The 1869 charter lasted only five years, because Pekin re-incorporated under yet another city charter following the new 1870 state constitution. Under the new charter, adopted on April 20, 1874, and certified by the state on Aug. 10 of that year, the mayor and aldermen served two-year terms. The 1874 charter would serve Pekin until 1910, when the city abolished the aldermanic form of city government and reorganized under a city commission form of government.

The commission form lasted until 1995, when Pekin’s residents voted in favor of the current city manager form of government.

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Bernard Bailey (1812-1903), Pekin’s first mayor

This is a revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in March 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last time we reviewed the story of how Pekin became an incorporated city in 1849. When the residents of Pekin formally adopted a city charter on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin opted for a mayor/alderman form of government.

The earliest published history of Pekin is found in the Sellers & Bates 1870 Pekin City Directory. On page 28 of that volume, we read, “The election for city officers occurred on the 24th of September, 1849, and resulted in the election of the following named officers: Mayor – Bernard Bailey. First Ward – John Atkinson. Second Ward – David P. Kenyon. Third Ward – Wm. S. Maus. Fourth Ward – Jacob Riblet.”

The Bailey name is an old one in Pekin – part of Pekin is known as Bailey Addition, and Lake Arlann (Meyers Lake) formerly was called Bailey’s Lake. However, Bernard Bailey does not appear to have been a member of that Bailey family. The 1880 “History of Peoria County” says he was born in Maryland on March 26, 1812, the son of Vincent and Susanna (Bernard) Bailey. He first came to Tazewell County, Illinois, around 1830, where he worked as a school teacher and worked at his father’s ox mill. Settling in Pekin, he went into the grocery business and did some wagon making, saving enough money to become a lawyer.

Shown are the federal letters patent signed by President Andrew Jackson confirming the purchase of land in Tazewell County on April 15, 1833, by Bernard Bailey of Pekin, who later was elected Pekin’s first mayor on Sept. 24, 1849. IMAGE FROM U.S. GENERAL LAND OFFICE ARCHIVES VIA ANCESTRY.COM

Bailey then left Pekin, moving to Mercer County, Illinois, and then south to Louisiana, the native state of his wife Arabella Gilmore. In East Baton Rouge Parish, he tried his hand at sugar and cotton planting, until in 1848 he returned to Pekin, being elected mayor the following year.

Originally Pekin’s mayor and aldermen were elected to serve one-year terms, with elections taking place in the spring. Because the first mayor and city council were elected in the autumn, however, they could only serve about seven months before the next election. The 1870 City Directory says the second city election was on April 15, 1850, and Mayor Bailey and three of the four aldermen were reelected (Atkinson losing his reelection bid to Peter Weyhrich, who later would serve a term as Pekin’s mayor in 1858-1859).

Before Pekin could vote to incorporate as a city, a hasty enumeration of the town’s inhabitants had to be conducted to verify that Pekin had at least 1,500 residents. However, immigration and prosperity was fueling a population boom during Mayor Bailey’s two terms. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Only a year later, Pekin’s population had increased by more than 20% to 1,840, many of the new arrivals being German immigrants. Bailey was re-elected Mayor (the terms then being one year) and all seemed to be going well.”

“That did not last long, however,” the Sesquicentennial continues.

It was at this point that the fledgling city government experienced its first “hiccup.” The 1887 Pekin City Directory, page 30, briefly explains:

“On the 9th of October, 1850, it was resolved by the Council that the Mayor be requested to resign his office, that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office. On the 25th of October, Mayor Bailey sent in his written resignation which, on motion, was accepted.”

It should be noted that the 1870 City Directory mistakenly switched the calendar dates of the council resolution and Bailey’s resignation. That error was corrected in the 1887 edition, but the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial repeats the 1870 City Directory’s mistake.

The standard reference works on Pekin’s early history do not tell us why Mayor Bailey was not “attending to the duties of his office,” but Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 723, includes a brief reference to Bernard Bailey that may or may not shed some light on that question:

“In the month of October, 1848, the Tazewell Mirror was purchased from John S. Lawrence by John Smith, now of Princeton, Ill. In 1850 Smith sold to Bernard Bailey, but repurchased the Mirror in 1851 in company with Adam Henderson.”

Could Mayor Bailey have been distracted from his civic duties in 1850 by his struggle to operate a newspaper? Whatever the answer to that question, after Bailey’s resignation, a special election was held on Nov. 25, 1850, and Abram Woolston (mistakenly called Woolstein in the 1879 “History of Tazewell County”) was elected to serve the remainder of Bailey’s term. Since Mayor Bailey’s election in 1849, a total of 48 men and one woman (Laurie Barra, 2011-2015) have held the office of Mayor of Pekin. There have been three mayors in Pekin’s history who have served more than one term: Charles Diusdieker (1895-1996, 1911-1915), J. Norman Shade (1939-1954, 1959-1966), and David Tebben (1995-2003, 2007-2008).

After owning the Mirror for six months, Bailey sold out and moved to Peoria. There he bought an interest in the Peoria Republican newspaper, later going into the boot and shoe business. In 1856 he was elected Justice of the Peace. He and his wife had 11 children. Pekin’s first mayor lived to the age of 91, dying at Peoria Hospital on Aug. 22, 1903. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.

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