Tell me about that house . . . Part Two

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

405 Willow Street, showing the western exposure.

As we continue this week with the history of 405 Willow St., let’s take a look at what the old Pekin city directories tell us about who has lived there over the years, and compare it with the sales history of the parcel of land where the house is situated.

First, here is a list derived from the city directories, showing those who have been heads of household or who have resided at this address.

1861: Eden John F., laborer, res. Willow, ns., 3d d. e. Fourth; Flanagan Christopher, laborer, res. Willow, ns., 2d d. e. Fourth; Regentz Julius, carpenter, res. ne. cor. Willow and Fourth

1870-71: Meints Runt., blacksmith, res ns Willow 2 d e Newhall (Fourth); 

1876: Smith Dietrich C. (T. & H. Smith & Co. and Teis Smith & Co. and Smith Plow Co.) res ne cor Willow and Newhall.

1887: Smith Dietrich C. (Teis, Smith & Co.) (T. & H. Smith & Co.) (Smith, Hippen & Co.) (Pekin Plow Co.) res. 501 Willow

1893: Smith D C (Teis Smith & Co), v pres and mngr P P C, h 405 Willow

1895: Smith D C ( Teis Smith & Co), v pres and gen mgr P P C, h 405 Willow

1898: Smith Dietrich C., pres. Teis Smith & Co., and v.-pres. and mngr. P. P. Co., r 405 Willow

1903-04: Smith Dietrich C., pres Teis Smith & Co., and v.-pres. and mgr. P. P. Co., r 405 Willow

1907-08: Smith, D. C., retired, r 339 Buena Vista; address of 405 Willow not listed and presumably vacant.

1908-09: Vacant

1912: Bleeker, Mrs. Anna, r 405 Willow; Bleeker, Miss Blanche, steno W. A. Potts, r 405 Willow

1913: Mrs. Anna Bleker, 405 Willow; Smith, D.C., retired, and Mrs. Caroline, r 339 Buena Vista. (Reardons live next door at 407 Willow)

1914, 1915, 1916: No listing, presumably vacant; William J. Reardon at 407 Willow

1921: WILLIAM J REARDON Attorney-at-Law. Practices in all Courts. Office in Kuhn Bldg. Res. 407 Willow. Cttz. phone, office 309, res. 924-Y; Bell 53-R; Reardon, Mrs. Marie, r 407 Willow

1922: REARDON WM J (Marie A) lawyer 355 Court tels 309 Bell 126 r 405 Willow

1941: REARDON WM J (Marie E; 1), Lawyer, Marshall Bldg 340 Elizabeth, Tel 99, h405 Willow, Tel 1255

1943: Reardon Marie Mrs, 405 Willow

1966: Reardon Marie E (wid W J) h405 Willow

1968: Vacant

1969: Marshall Eug V (Eliz O) Emp Central Ill Light (Peoria Ill) h405 Willow St (Byron J. Oesch, neighbor, 409 Willow)

1970: Marshall Eug V (Eliz O) constn supt Central Ill Light (Peoria) h405 Willow St (Byron Oesch, neighbor, 409 Willow)

1999: Marshall Eugene V, Marshall Richard J, 405 Willow

2000: Marshall Eugene V, Sisco Nancy B, 405 Willow

2001 and 2002 : Nancy B. Sisco, Tita D. Sisco, 405 Willow

2003 and 2004: No listing

2005 and 2006: Marshall Eugene V, 405 Willow

The current owner appears in city directories at this address from 2007 to the present.

As we can see, despite some gaps in the chronology, the city directories provide a fairly complete list of residents or heads of household for this location. And from this list we see that the sales history from the County Assessor’s website is gravely mistaken to place Eugene V. Marshall’s purchase of the house in 1900, which is when 405 Willow St. was owned by Dietrich C. Smith.

One thing the directories cannot tell us, however, is when the house was built. The directories also don’t tell us the owners of the house or its lots, how many times the house has been sold, nor all the names of those who have lived in the house. For that information we must consult other records.

The current home owner has provided a copy of an old title history for this property that was prepared in the 1980s by the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds office. The title history begins on 24 Feb. 1836 with David Bailey, who was one of the five co-founders of Pekin in 1830, and comes down to 7 May 1984 when Eugene V. Marshall and his wife owned the house at 405 Willow St.

This house is located on Lot 4, Block 18, in a part of Pekin known as Bailey’s Addition because it was originally owned by David Bailey. (As we noted last week, this is the same David Bailey who was a party in the landmark Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell in July 1841.)

Following is a table derived from the title history. It should be kept in mind that the owner of the land often did not live there, and in several instances this land was temporarily held by land agents, loan companies, or attorneys involved in deed transfers.

Grantor                                                Grantee                                           Date

David Bailey                                        John B. Newhall                               24 Feb. 1836

Thomas C. Wilson Sur.                   The Public                                        24 Feb. 1836 (Plat recorded)

David Bailey                                        Samuel G. Bailey                             16 Jan. 1837

Emily B. Bailey                                   B. S. Prettyman                                10 Sept. 1850

Emily B. Bailey                                   Gideon H. Rupert, et al.                 2 Jan. 1851

Rupert & Haines                               Peter Zeer                                        11 Jan. 1853

Peter Zeer, et al.                               Adam Moerlan                                10 Aug. 1853

Peter Zeer & wife                             Menne F. Aden                                 2 Jan. 1855

Abner Mitchell & wife                    B. S. Prettyman                                6 July 1857

William Mitchell                               B. S. Prettyman                                6 July 1857

Erastus W. Mitchell, et al.             B. S. Prettyman                               11 Aug. 1857

Menne Aden                                     Arend Behrens                                14 Nov. 1860

Stephen O. Paine                             George R. Laughton                        26 Dec. 1865

Sarah E. Barber & husband          William S. Kellogg                         30 Dec. 1870

William E. Hassan                             William S. Kellogg                         22 March 1871

Menne F. Aden & wife                   Dietrich C. Smith                          8 May 1871

D. C. Smith                                       Teis Smith                                        24 Dec. 1874

Edward Pratt Shf.                             The Public                                       8 Jan. 1878 (Levy)

D. C. Smith by Assignee                Smith & Luppen                              8 Jan. 1879

Frederick Smith, et al.                     Dietrich C. Smith                           15 Jan. 1879

E. F. Unland, et al.                            The Public                                       14 April 1901

Dietrich C. Smith & wife                A. L. Champion, Tr.                        10 April 1907

A. L. Champion, Tr.                          Jesse Cooper                                    4 Aug. 1908

Jesse B. Cooper & wife                   Edwin A. Forrest                              27 July 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              D. F. Lawley Tr.                               27 July 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              Pekin Loan & Home Ass’n              18 Sept. 1911

Edwin A. Forrest                              William A. Potts                               11 Nov. 1911

William A. Potts & wife                  Blanche Bleeker                             15 Nov. 1911

Blanche Bleeker                              Pekin Loan & Home Ass’n             17 Sept. 1914

Blanche Bleeker                              W. J. Reardon                                30 Jan. 1915

W. J. Reardon & wife                     Union Cent. Life Ins. Co.                1 Aug. 1929

W. J. Reardon & wife                     Viola Osterman                                1 Aug. 1932

Viola Osterman                                 Marie Reardon                              1 Aug. 1932

Marie Reardon & hus.                   Pekin Loan & Hom.                        15 April 1930

William J. Reardon, et al.             Eugene V. Marshall & wife           5 Sept. 1967

Eugene V. Marshall & wife           Peoria Sav. & Loan                         13 Sept. 1967

Peoria Sav. & Loan                           Eugene V. Marshall & wife           28 Jan. 1982

Eugene V. Marshall & wife           Eugene V. Marshall & wife           7 May 1984

A comparison of the title history with the record of the city directories shows that the owner of the property has been the head of household since at least 1876. The names found in the 1861 and 1870-71 directories only lived at this location but never owned the land or whatever house or houses then stood there.

Next week we’ll delve into records that tell us the approximate date when the house at 405 Willow St. was built and what the house looked like in the past.

This title history for Lot 4, Block 18 in Bailey’s Addition of Pekin traces the sales history of the lots on which the house at 405 Willow St. stands, from 24 Feb. 1836 to 7 May 1984.

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Tell me about that house . . . .

The Pekin Public Library’s program on Saturday, 11 March 2023, about tracing a house’s history in Pekin, has elicited a lot of interest. For those who were unable to attend the program, the fruit of our research on the history of the house that we featured in our program will be presented here in a series of articles, beginning today and continuing each week.

A video of the program is also available at the library’s YouTube channel.

Tell me about that house . . . .

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

In November 2022, the Pekin Public Library invited the public to submit nominations from those who were interested in learning about the history of a particular house in Pekin. One of the main purposes of this program was to demonstrate the steps in the process of researching of house history in Pekin, and to show what resources are available at the library to aid in such a project.

We received seven nominations. Using a very scientific process . . .

. . . one of was selected.

The winner was 405 Willow St. Sara Hutchison nominated this house: “I went inside once 20+ years ago and it was obviously a really impressive house in its day. Seems like it would have an interesting story.

In this case, appearances are not deceiving. She’s right about this house being impressive in appearance, and that it has an interesting story. In researching this address, we learned that it is one of Pekin’s more historic homes. In telling the story of that house, one will also tell some of Pekin’s own story.

405 Willow Street, showing the home grand front porch which faces south.
405 Willow Street, showing the western exposure.
405 Willow Street, showing the eastern exposure.

To find out about this house’s history, the first step is to find it on the map.

The next step is to visit the website of the Tazewell County Assessor:

The county assessor’s website provides several pieces of important information, including two important items that will be necessary to research the sales history of the house and the land on which it sits. One is the Parcel ID, which in this case is 04-04-35-150-001. The other is the parcel’s legal description:

SEC 35 T25N R5W BAILEYS ADDN LOTS 3 – 4 & 5 BLK 18 NW ¼

This information is necessary to do a title search at the Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Office, which will produce a complete record of the times that this parcel of land and any structures on it have changed hands. Title histories for property in Pekin begin as early as the establishment of Pekin as an unincorporated settlement in January of 1830 and come down to the most recent sale.

Now, the Tazewell County Assessor’s website will also provide a sales history for parcels of land in our county, but such histories only go back to 1900, and they are often list sales out of their proper chronological order. That is just what we see for the website’s sales history of 405 Willow St. Here is what the assessor’s website provides as a sales history – with a few parenthetical remarks to show dubious or confusing list entries (next week it will become evident why those entries are dubious):

1 Jan. 1900                         Eugene V. Marshall (!!!)

6 March 1957                     Marie Reardon (??)

23 July 1957                       George Bundy (??)

25 July 1957                       Lillie Bundy (??)

14 Sept. 1967                     Marie Reardon

7 Feb. 1977                         Lillie McCarrick

1 Oct. 1987                         M. Ellan Brooks

26 May 2006                       Kathleen Milkereit

According to the assessor’s website, Milkereit sold this house to the current owner for $150,000.

The current owner has supplied us with a sales history from the Recorder of Deeds Office. The history reaches much further back in time than the year when the house at 405 Willow St. was built. Since the parcel’s legal description says the house is in Bailey’s Addition, it is no surprise to find that the first legally recorded owner of this parcel was David Bailey, one of the five original plat-holders of Pekin and one of the principals in the landmark 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell which secured the freedom of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) and her three eldest children.

Next week we will consult our old Pekin city directories to see what we can learn of who lived in this house.

#405-willow-st, #bailey-v-cromwell, #baileys-addition, #david-bailey, #eugene-v-marshall, #george-bundy, #house-history, #kathleen-milkereit, #legal-description, #lillie-bundy, #lillie-mccarrick, #m-ellan-brooks, #marie-reardon, #nance-legins-costley, #parcel-id, #pekin-history, #recorder-of-deeds-office, #sara-hutchison, #tazewell-county-assessor

Lincoln in Pekin: What was ‘the Pekin Agreement’?

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

President Abraham Lincoln’s long road to the White House began in his days as a circuit-riding lawyer over the prairies of Illinois, leading him first to the Illinois General Assembly and then to the U.S. Congress. One of the stops on Lincoln’s road was Pekin, where Lincoln was involved in a political pact known as “the Pekin Agreement.”

Lincoln’s first political campaign was 28 years before he became president. In 1832, he was one of 13 men seeking a Sangamon County seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. Lincoln only garnered 657 votes, however, for his service in the Black Hawk War had limited his ability to campaign.

Two years later, Lincoln again sought the same seat in the Illinois House, coming in second and losing by only 14 votes. In that election, Lincoln ran as a member of the Whigs, a conservative party that was one of the predecessors of the Republican Party. Trying a third time for the same seat in 1836, Lincoln was victorious, defeating 16 other candidates (including four of his fellow Whigs). Lincoln was reelected to the Illinois House in 1838, but came in fifth in a very crowded field in 1840, losing to another member of the Whig Party.

Three years after that, Lincoln first began to set his sights on a national office, hoping to win his party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 7th Congressional District of Illinois (which then encompassed the counties of Sangamon, Morgan, Scott, Cass, Menard, Tazewell, Logan, Putnam, Woodford, Marshall, and Mason).

It was Lincoln’s political ambitions in 1843, and those of two other prominent Illinois Whigs, that led to “the Pekin Agreement.”

The agreement was a pact arranged at the convention of the Illinois Whig Party, which was held in Pekin on 1 May 1843. At the Pekin convention, the Illinois Whigs were divided among the supporters of Lincoln, Gen. John J. Hardin, and Edward Dickinson “E. D.” Baker, each of whom hoped to be the candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat. For the sake of party unity, it was apparently agreed that the three men would serve only one two-year term in Congress. Hardin got their party’s nomination coming out of this convention, while Lincoln’s resolution was approved that Baker should be the party’s nominee in the 1844 Congressional election.

In this detail from the front page of The Illinois Gazette of Lacon, 6 May 1843, are found the substance of ‘the Pekin Agreement’ that members of the Illinois Whig Party approved during their party convention in Pekin five days earlier.

After Baker’s term, however, the Pekin Agreement collapsed. This is how the “Papers of Abraham Lincoln” database describes the agreement, how it fell apart, and the affect it had on Lincoln’s career in politics:

“At a Whig convention in Pekin in May 1843, an agreement was made between Lincoln, Edward D. Baker, and John J. Hardin that seemed to establish a one-term limit on the prospective Whig congressmen. Hardin and Baker having each served one term, Lincoln believed that the 1846 nomination should have been his. While Lincoln set out to solidify his support in the district, Hardin proposed that the convention system for the nomination be thrown out in favor of a primary election. Lincoln rejected Hardin’s proposal on January 19, 1846, and Hardin subsequently declined the nomination entirely.”

That paved the way for Lincoln’s election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1846. He served a single term in Congress, from 1847 to 1849. Five years later, Lincoln was elected to the Illinois House in 1854, but chose not to take his seat because by then he had his eyes on a seat in the U.S. Senate. But neither in 1854 nor in 1858 (the year of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates) was Lincoln able to win a Senatorial seat.

In the end, Lincoln’s single terms in the Illinois House and U.S. House, his network of friends and supporters, and the chaotic, tumultuous political climate in a nation torn by the slavery question were enough for him to win the presidential election of 1860. Among other factors, the Pekin Agreement of 1843 played a role in helping him get to Congress in 1847.

The proceedings of the 1843 Illinois Whig Convention were published 6 May 1843 in The Illinois Gazette of Lacon. A transcription of the Gazette’s text is available at the “Papers of Abraham Lincoln” site and is reposted here for convenience:

Proceedings of Whig Convention at Pekin, Illinois regarding Candidates for Congress, 1 May 1843


At a meeting of the delegates, representing the counties composing the seventh Congressional District of Illinois, held in Pekin on the first Monday of May inst., the following persons appeared as delegates from their respective counties, to wit:
Sangamon—A. Lincoln, N. W. Edwards, A. T. Bledsoe, S. T. Jones, Benj. A. Watson, Walker Davis, James H. Maxy, and James H. Matheny.
Morgan—Ranson Vanwinkle Jr., E. T. Miller, Francis Arnze, James Berdan, Cornelius Hook, William Brown, James Harkness and J. D. Rawlings.
Scott—William Gillham, Samuel R. Simms, James M. Ruggles, and E. B. Kirby.
Cass—Harvy O’Neil, and Edward R. Saunders.
Menard—Francis F. Reignier, and Geo. U. Miles.
Tazewell—Josiah L. James, Philo H. Thompson, Catsby Gill and John Durham.
Logan—Peter G. Cowardin.
Putnam—William Everett.
Woodford—William R. Bullock.
Marshall—Robert Boal.
Mason—Francis Low.
The convention was organized by the appointment of Josiah L. James Esq. President, and E. B. Kirby Secretary.
On motion of Mr. Edwards,
Resolved, That the convention now proceed to the choice of a candidate for Congress.
Mr. Lincoln stated that he was requested to withdraw the name of Mr. Baker from before the convention; after which the convention proceeded to ballot, when it was ascertained that there was a unanimous vote for GEN. JOHN J. HARDIN of Morgan county.
E. D. BAKER Esq. was unanimously appointed the Delegate from this District to the National Convention, and FRANCIS ARNZE his substitute. It was voted that in case neither of them were able to attend that they be empowered with authority to appoint a substitute.
On motion of Mr. Durham, it was unanimously
Resolved, That our Delegate to the National Convention be instructed to vote for HENRY CLAY for President.
The following preamble and resolutions were introduced by Dr. Robert Boal, and passed by ayes 18—nays 15, to wit:
The delegates now convened, anxious to avoid any possible mischief which may originate amongst Whig friends by adopting, as a precedent, the system of instructing the delegates to Congressional Conventions to vote for particular men—and believing, this practice, if permanently adopted, will induce aspirants for office to press their claims, (personally, or through their friends) at local meetings in such a manner as greatly to embarrass the action of such conventions, and to distract the Whig party, and believing further that a convention, instead of being an electoral college to count votes, and making proclamation of the name receiving the highest number, should be a deliberative assembly, which after full consultation amongst its members, should proceed to select that man (from all the men of the District) the most likely to harmonize the whole party, and render the most efficient service to the country.
Therefore, to avoid all collision betwixt political friends, and to secure harmony.
Resolved, That for the future, we advise our political friends to avoid efforts to procure public manifestations of local preference, as such manifestations will always embarrass the deliberations of a convention, before which every man should appear as his character and talents may entitle him.
Resolved, That for the future, we recommend to the Whigs of the 7th Congressional District, that primary assemblies, be held in the several precincts of each county to designate the individuals who shall compose the county convention to select delegates to the District convention; which delegates shall not be instructed to go for any particular man, but shall be left free to choose that man as the candidate, who shall upon full consultation, be esteemed the most likely to render useful service to the country and give satisfaction to the District.
Mr. Lincoln introduced the following resolution, which on motion of Mr. Ruggles was adopted, ayes, 18—nays, 14, to wit:
Resolved, That this convention, as individuals, recommend E. D. Baker as a suitable person to be voted for by the whigs of this district, for Representative to Congress, at the election in 1844, subject to the decision of a District Convention, should the whigs of the district think proper to hold one.
Mr. Brown introduced the following resolution, which was adopted, to wit:
Resolved, That the whigs of this district be requested to hold their next convention for the nomination of a candidate for Congress, at Tremont, in the county of Tazewell, on the first Monday of May next.
On motion of Mr. Durham it was
Resolved, That William H. Wilmot, B. F. James, John Durham, Alden Hull, and C. Gill, of Tazewell county, be appointed a district committee for the district, to call conventions when necessary, and to attend to such other matters as concern the whigs of the whole district.
On motion of Mr. Ruggles, the Chair appointed Messrs. A. Lincoln, E. D. Baker, J. J. Hardin, Wm. Brown and A. T. Bledsoe, a committee to prepare and publish an Address to the Whigs of the Seventh Congressional District.
It was Resolved, That the proceedings of the meeting be signed by the President and Secretary, and published in the several Whig papers of the district.
On motion, the convention adjourned.
J. L. JAMES, President. E. B. Kirby, Secretary.

[Note: The Gazette’s reference to “S. T. Jones” of Sangamon County is apparently a mistake either for Strother G. Jones or Stephen T. Logan. Likewise, “William Everett” of Putnam County is probably a mistake for “Wilson” Everett.]

#7th-congressional-district-of-illinois, #abraham-lincoln, #catesby-gill, #catsby-gill, #e-d-baker, #edward-d-baker, #edward-dickinson-baker, #gazette-of-lacon, #gen-john-j-hardin, #henry-clay, #illinois-gazette, #illinois-gazette-of-lacon, #john-durham, #john-j-hardin, #josiah-l-james, #lincoln-in-pekin, #papers-of-abraham-lincoln, #pekin-agreement, #pekin-history, #philo-h-thompson, #stephen-t-logan, #tazewell-county-history, #tremont, #whig-convention, #whig-party

Helen Hiett Waller of Pekin, intrepid war correspondent

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Among the women and men of Pekin who have risen to fortune or fame was Helen Hiett Waller (1931-1961), a talented journalist and war correspondent who is remembered as a cosmopolitan.

Helen Annette Hiett, daughter of Asa Burnett and Estella (Erb) Hiett, came to Pekin with her family about 1925. She excelled as a student and was the valedictorian of the Pekin Community High School Class of 1931. Shown here is her 1931 yearbook photo.

Starting out as a teenage reporter with the Pekin Daily Times, Helen was the valedictorian of Pekin Community High School’s Class of 1931. After graduation she went to Europe and reported on the Spanish Civil War. During World War II she was NBC’s war correspondent, remaining in Paris, France, during Adolf Hitler’s blitzkrieg and having to flee before the advancing Nazi tank columns. Later in the war, she sneaked into Nazi Germany and made it to Berlin.

Sadly, her fearlessness ultimately contributed to her untimely death at age 47, when she succumbed to injuries that she suffered while skiing in the French Alps in the summer of 1961. The Pekin Daily Times devoted a lengthy front-page obituary to her, paying tribute to her remarkable life. In his column, Daily Times publisher F. F. McNaughton observed, “Helen didn’t live out her years; but she lived a dozen lives.

In 1944, Helen wrote a book about her life and adventures entitled, “No Matter Where.” A copy of her book, which formerly belonged to one of Helen’s high school chums Roberta Lindstrom, recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection by Sue Price, in memory of her mother (who was a friend of Roberta). Interleaved with the book are old, browned clipping of her obituary and of the two columns that McNaughton wrote in her memory. The obituary, dated Wednesday, 23 Aug. 1961, reads as follows:

“Injured In Mountain-Climbing Mishap”

“Helen Hiett Waller, Ex-Pekin Newswoman, Succumbs In France”

“Life ended unexpectedly Tuesday morning in a hospital in the Chamonix Valley of eastern France for a former Pekin woman who had filled her comparatively short lifetime with adventure and achievement made possible only by a rare combination of brains, ability and ambition.

“Helen Hiett Waller, 47, who began her career as a reporter for the Pekin Daily Times while she was still a schoolgirl, and who spent exciting years reporting the Spanish civil war and World War II in Europe, died of a blood clot, following surgery to repair injuries incurred in a mountain-climbing mishap last month.

“Helen had spent the summer with her three children in Switzerland, and her husband, Theodore Waller, had joined them during this vacation. It was while the couple was climbing Mt. Perseverance that Helen was struck by a falling rock and suffering internal injuries.

“Her husband and the children remained with her until doctors assured them that she was recovering satisfactorily, and then returned to their home at Katonah, N.Y., to make preparations for the opening of school.

“Mr. Waller called the hospital Sunday and learned that a third operation had been necessary, but that his wife was getting along well. However, an embolism developed, and she died suddenly Tuesday morning.

“Born at Chenoa, Il., Sept. 23, 1913, she was the daughter of Asa B. and Estella Erb Hiett, who later moved to Pekin, where Helen attended school and was graduated from Pekin high school as valedictorian of the Class of 1931.

“She reported school news while still in the eighth grade, and after she entered high school worked part-time and during the summers for the TIMES.

“Her ‘nose for news’ led her all over town, as well as out into the Times area, and her ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ made her an extremely successful reporter, qualities which stood her in good stead throughout her years as a war correspondent.

“Upon completing high school, she entered the University of Chicago, receiving her degree there in three years instead of the usual four, and earning a grant to study at London University.

“A resident of many countries of Europe from 1934 to 1941, Helen made it a practice to live with families in Germany, Russia, France, Italy and Spain, learning their languages and their ways of life. She also spent some time working in youth camps in both Germany and Russia.

“During her years in Europe, she worked first for the League of Nations, editing a monthly review of international affairs. At the outbreak of World War II, she joined the staff of the National Broadcasting Company as a commentator and war correspondent, reporting from Paris until that city fell to the Germans and after that from Madrid, Spain.

“She spent most of the war years abroad, in the thick of things, where her experiences included flying to front-line trenches and reporting on-the-spot experiences during the air raids on Paris, Bordeaux and other European cities.

“Several times during the war years of the 1940’s, she returned to the United States and made personal speaking appearances in Pekin and Peoria.

“Following the war, she also spent some time in Mexico, where she wrote a book relating her experiences, which she entitled, ‘No Matter Where.’

“In 1945 she joined the New York Herald Tribune Forum as director, touring the world to arrange for hundreds of national leaders from foreign countries to visit the United States to participate in the Forum, which continued for a period of 10 years. Starting in 1946, Helen directed a Herald Tribune forum for high school youth, which brought students from 74 countries to the United States.

“Her marriage to Theodore Waller, who has been engaged in various federal government projects and the United Nations, occurred at Pekin Mar. 28, 1948.”

F. F. McNaughton devoted his “Editor’s Letter” that day to her death:

“So Helen Hiett is dead!

“If Dean, in his fone call, had asked us to guess, Helen is the LAST person we would have named.

“Helen ignored death.

“The last time we saw Helen was last summer when she and her wonderful children stopped at our cottage enroute to the Rocky Mountains where they were to risk their lives climbing; then, if they survived, they planned to shoot some rapids.

“This spring she wrote that they were going to Chamonix to climb this summer.

“It brought memories.

“In late winter of 1937 Ceil and I met Helen at Chamonix in the Alps. We climbed into a teleferique (basket on a cable) and were hauled over space (our first space flight) to the top of a famous mountain.

“Helen was not yet an expert skier. But she strapped on a pair of skis; then for several minutes she watched the experts of the world take off as they prepared for a big ski meet.

“Suddenly Helen took off.

“The last we saw of her, she went over the rim, head over heels. But when we, frightened for her and half frozen, rode the bucket back down, there was Helen.

“Today we think we worry over Berlin. There was a day when Berlin gave us terror. It was the day Hitler swept over France. We sat at our radios and with our own ears heard Hitler shout that history for a thousand years was being made as his panzer divisions swept toward Paris.

“Helen was NBC in Paris.

“She stayed so long that she finally had to flee across pastures. She slept in wheatfields.

“During the war she sneaked back into Germany – clear to Berlin.

“Helen started her newspapering as the Pekin Times high school reporter. Then thru Chicago University in 3 years; and off to Europe where she learned the language wherever she went.

“If I’m correct, she saw Mussolini and his mistress hanging by their heels.

“Helen always thought of herself as a girl; so it was fitting that her greatest work was with the youth of all the world. She ran the New York Herald-Tribune’s ‘Youth Forum’ and did an amazing job of presenting to the world the viewpoint of the youth of the world.

“Wherever she is – whatever height she is climbing – you can be sure Helen has Youth with her.

“Helen didn’t live out her years; but she lived a dozen lives.

“Pekin mourns her.

“And salutes her.”

A clipping from Helen Hiett Waller’s Pekin Daily Times obituary.

McNaughton devoted a second column to her in late November perhaps the following year, in which he featured a photograph of her grave near Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France.

The grave of Helen Hiett Waller near Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France, from a browned Pekin Daily Times clipping.

In that “Editor’s Letter” he wrote:

“You’ll recall we recently got a letter asking for a picture of the grave of Helen Hiett Waller at Chamonix, France. Helen’s sister, Margaret Whiteside, has sent this picture.

“Ceil and I once had ridden the teleferique with Helen to the top, and had watched her take off, dangerously, on skis.

“After she had wed and had 2 sons and a daughter, all under teen age, she still could not resist the urge to climb in the Alps.

“It cost her life, and on Aug. 24, 1961, 4 Alpine guides, as was the custom, carried her to this grave to be buried among others who rated danger above death.

“Helen had lived dangerously. For instance, while covering the war for NBC she fled thru wheat-fields ahead of Hitler’s blitzkrieg across France. (Later she slipped into Berlin during the war.)

“On Helen’s trips home, she never failed to have an SRO crowd when she reported to her home folk in Pekin’s biggest auditorium.

“On this Thanksgiving weekend we give thanks for wonderful memories. High among them are the memories of Helen Hiett Waller.”

#asa-burnett-heitt, #chamonix, #estella-erb-hiett, #f-f-mcnaughton, #french-alps, #helen-hiett, #helen-hiett-waller, #league-of-nations, #margaret-whiteside, #mont-blanc, #nbc, #new-york-herald-tribune-forum, #no-matter-where, #pekin-community-high-school, #pekin-community-high-school-class-of-1931, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-history, #roberta-lindstrom, #theodore-waller, #united-nations, #world-war-ii, #youth-forum

E. F. Unland, businessman, mayor and state legislator

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

One of Pekin’s community leaders in the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s was Ernest Fredrick Unland (1835-1920), a German-American who belonged to an immigrant family from Ostfriesland in Hannover, Germany (then a part of the Kingdom of Prussia, and today called Niedersachsen or Lower Saxony).

Unland was best known in the community as president and manager of the successful Smith-Hippen Co. of Pekin, which was a lucrative grain business in Tazewell and Mason counties. He also served in the Illinois General Assembly in the 1880s, representing Tazewell, Woodford, and Marshall counties, and in 1888 he was elected mayor of Pekin, serving a single term in 1889-1890.

This drawing of the Smith Hippen grain elevator in Pekin was printed on an 1864 plat map of Tazewell County.

He was born Ernst Friedrich Ulland on 14 Nov. 1835 in Wimmer, Hannover, one of the nine children of Caspar Heinrich and Maria Elsabein (Carls) Ulland. In America, however, the surname became Unland. His baptismal record says he was baptized in the Lutheran church of Lintorf in Wittlage, Hannover. Ernest’s father Casper came to America with his family in 1844, when Ernest was eight years old. It wasn’t until 1860 that Ernest arrived in Pekin, where was worked as a school teacher for a year.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army as a soldier in the Eighth Illinois Infantry, Co. F, but he only served for three months before he fell sick and was granted a medical discharge. He continued his job as a school teacher for most of the war, but in 1864 he took a job with the Smith-Hippen grain company, rising to become a partner in the business by 1866.

On 26. Sept. 1867 in Pekin, E. F. Unland married Mary C. Feltman (1849-1926), daughter of Henry and Catherine (Velde) Feltman. He and Mary had four sons and two daughters. The Unland surname is still known in Pekin today, most prominently for the Unland Companies on Broadway.

While he enjoyed great success in life, he also was one of the six partners in the Teis Smith Bank – and thus he and three other partners were caught up in scandal when the bank failed in 1906. Those four partners were prosecuted for alleged embezzlement because the bank had accepted bank deposits while the bank was insolvent. A jury found Unland and his fellow defendants guilty, but their ordeal ended when the verdict was overturned on appeal – because the law under which they had been prosecuted had been amended so that it did not apply to the circumstances of the Teis Smith Bank failure.

E. F. Unland died at age 84 on 17 May 1920 in Pekin, and was buried in Lakeside Cemetery. His widow Mary followed him six years later and was buried beside him.

Ernest F. Unland (1935-1920)

Following is a biographical sketch of E. F. Unland that was published in “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties” (1894), page 476. (The sketch says he was born in 1936, but that is a printer’s error — his baptismal record and his gravestone say 1935.)

“HON. E. F. UNLAND, President and Manager of the Smith-Hippin Company, Pekin, has been engaged in the grain business with the above company for a number of years. They do a large business, and have elevators in Hainesville, Manito, Forest City, Green Valley, Emden, Dalton City, Mt. Pulaski, Spring Lake, Tremont and Pekin.

“Our subject was born in Prussia, Germany, in 1836, and is the son of C. H. Unland, who also was born in the Fatherland. The latter came to America with his family in 1844, and locating near Beardstown, this state, engaged in farming, and there resided until his decease, in 1890. His wife prior to her marriage was Mary Carls; she was likewise born in Germany, and departed this life after coming to America, in 1891, at the age of eighty-seven years.

“The subject of this sketch was the third in order of birth of his parents’ family of nine children. He was a lad of eight years at the time of their emigration to America, and he very well remembers the voyage, which was a tedious one, consuming nine weeks. The family landed in New Orleans, and immediately came by the way of the Mississippi River to this state, where our subject has since made his home. He was reared to man’s estate on his father’s farm, and received his early education in the old log schoolhouse of that day. When reaching his twentieth year he taught school for a time, and later became a student in the college at Quincy.

“In 1860 Mr. Unland came to this city, it being his intention to follow the profession of a school teacher. He was thus occupied for one year, when the call resounded throughout the country for volunteers to enter the Union army. He was one of the first to enlist, and becoming a member of Company F, Eighth Illinois Infantry, was mustered into service at Springfield. After a service of three months, however, he was taken sick and was obliged to return home. The following year he taught school, and in 1864 came to Pekin and engaged with the Smith-Hippin Company in the grain business. Two years later he became a partner, and is at present President and Manager of the company, which is one of the oldest grain firms in Illinois.

“In the fall of 1884 Mr. Unland was elected to represent Tazewell, Marshall and Woodford Counties in the State Legislature, and four years later was called upon to fill the honorable position of Mayor of Pekin. He is a Republican in politics, and for many years was a member of the School Board. Socially he is a Grand Army man, being connected with Joe Hanna Post.  In religious affairs he holds membership with the German Methodist Church.

“Mr. Unland and Miss Mary Feltman were united in marriage in this city.  The lady was born in Kenosha, Wis., and by her union with our subject has become the mother of five children: Otto, who is engaged in business with his father; Clara, wife of Walter E.  Rosenthal, of Boston, Mass.; and Edgar, Mary and Ernest, who are at home.”

#bank-failure, #caspar-h-unland, #casper-heinrich-ulland, #e-f-unland, #eighth-illinois-infantry, #ernest-fredrick-unland, #ernst-friedrich-ulland, #hannover, #lintorf, #maria-elsabein-carls-ulland, #maria-elsabein-carls-unland, #mary-c-feltman, #ostfriesland, #pekin-history, #smith-hippen-grain-co, #teis-smith-bank, #unland-companies, #wimmer, #wittlage

James Herbert, Pekin railroad engineer

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

One of the notable residents of Pekin of times past was an immigrant from Wales named James H. Herbert (1843-1912), who worked as engineer for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad on the line between Pekin and Chicago.

Born in Pontypool in Monmouthshire (now Torfaen borough), in his youth in Wales he started out as a manufacturer of tin sheets, at age 15 getting a job in railroad repairing, and by age 20 began running train engines. Herbert came to America in April 1868, first working on Long Island before striking out west. He made it to Central Illinois in 1869, living with family near Peoria for several years. His work eventually brought him to Pekin in 1892, and he first appears in the 1895 Pekin City Directory: “Herbert James, engineer, h 1023 Broadway.

This drawing in the “Portrait & Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties” (1894) shows the home of Pekin train engineer James Herbert.
The former home of James Herbert as it appears today, from a Google Street View image. Structurally the house shows little if any exterior change from 1894.

Herbert and his family were enumerated in the 1900 U.S. Census at 1023 Broadway as:

James Herbert, 56, locomotive engineer, born in Wales in Feb. 1844, a naturalized citizen; his wife Mildred J. Herbert, 43, born in England in Jan. 1854; their son Gifford Herbert, 10, born in Illinois in April 1890; their daughter Bertha Herbert, 8, born in Illinois in Nov. 1891; and their son Iver Herbert, 6, born in Illinois in Aug. 1893.

His wife Mildred Julia (Bazzard) Herbert died in 1907, so in the 1910 U.S. Census, Herbert is listed as James Herbert, 67, widowed, a railroad engineer living at 1023 Broadway. Apart from his housekeeper Martha Oltman, 44, he is the only one in his household. This census record says he came to America in 1867.

For information about his life and his railroad engineering career, we are fortunate that during the early years of his residence in Pekin he or his family submitted his biographical sketch to be included in the “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties” (1894). His biography is published on page 381. A sketch of his house at 1023 Broadway (which still stands today and looks much as it did in the 1890s) is on page 379 of the same volume.

Herbert’s Peoria County death record says he suffered a cerebral embolism caused by arteriosclerosis on 22 Feb. 1912, dying at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. He is buried alongside his wife Julia in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. Following is the text of his 1894 biographical sketch:

“JAMES HERBERT, a well known citizen of Pekin, and locomotive engineer on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, formerly between Chicago and Ft. Madison, but now between Chicago and Pekin, is one of our foreign born citizens who have contributed so largely to the development of Tazewell County. The shire of which he is a native was at the time of his birth situated in Wales, but is now a part of England, and he inherits the excellent traits characteristic of the people living ‘near the line.’

“The parents of our subject, James and Sarah (Green) Herbert, were both natives of Wales, where the former was for many years an employee in the shops of the Great Western Railroad. He is deceased, but his widow still survives, making her home in the land of her birth. Eight children blessed their union, of whom six are now living. Of these the third in order of birth is James, who was born in the village of Pontypool, Monmouthshire, February 8, 1843. In early childhood he gained the rudiments of an education in the village schools, but at an early age was obliged to assist in the maintenance of the family.  Entering the tin works, he engaged in the manufacture of tin sheets, but as frequently as possible he prosecuted his studies in the neighboring schools, alternating work at the tin furnace with attendance in the schools. Through this employment he gained a practical knowledge of the manufacture of tin, which is a most interesting process, a single piece of tin passing through about sixty-five hands. At the age of fifteen Mr. Herbert left the tin works and engaged in railroad repairing in the shops of Pontypool, afterward securing a position as machinist, later promoted to be fireman, then to hostler, and finally becoming engineer. He was about twenty years old when he ran his first engine, which went from Pontypool to Newport, Swansea, Birkenhead and Birmingham.  Believing, however, that rapid as had been his promotion in the Old Country, the United States offered advantages still more desirable, he emigrated to America in April, 1868, landing at New York City. Obtaining a position as engineer on Long Island, he was for a time thus employed, after which he made his home with a sister in Pennsylvania.

“The year 1869 witnessed the arrival of Mr. Herbert in Illinois, and for a time he made his home on a farm near Peoria with an uncle and aunt. Later he ran an engine in a flouring-mill for a short time, after which he went to St. Louis, intending to return to New York. Instead of this, however, he secured a position as passenger engineer on the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. Three months later he obtained a position on a switch engine, before the Eads bridge was built, and afterward became passenger engineer on the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad between Vincennes, Ind., and St.  Louis, Mo., making his home in the former place. For sixteen years he was thus engaged, and at the expiration of that time resigned, intending to retire from the railroad. But sixteen months later, in May, 1888, he accepted a position on the local freight of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, running between Chicago and Ft.  Madison. In September, 1890, he was transferred to the branch road, and lived in Streator for two years, coming to Pekin in 1892.

“In Chicago, in 1889, Mr.  Herbert was united in marriage with Miss Julia Buzzard, who was born in England and is a lady of estimable character and amiable disposition.  Three children have blessed this union, Gifford J., Bertha M. and Ivar L. While Mr. Herbert has been obliged, by the nature of his occupation, to devote his energies almost exclusively toil, he has nevertheless found time to keep himself posted upon topics of general interest, and is a well-informed man. Socially, he is connected with the Masonic fraternity and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.”

James Herbert is listed toward the bottom of this cropped image of a page from the 1903 Bates City Directory of Pekin.

#1023-broadway, #atchison-topeka-and-santa-fe-railroad, #bertha-herbert, #gifford-herbert, #iver-herbert, #james-h-herbert, #james-herbert, #julia-herbert, #mildred-julia-bazzard-herbert, #pekin-history, #pekin-railroads, #pontypool, #portrait-biographical-record-of-tazewell-and-mason-counties, #torfaen

A Pekin Union Army soldier in a Confederate Army cemetery?

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

An undated article clipping from the Pekin Daily Times in the files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room tells of a Civil War soldier from Tazewell County who was buried in a Confederate Army cemetery.

The article, headlined “Confederate cemetery holds Tazewell County soldier,” was probably published about 20 years ago [NOTE: It was published 13 April 2001]. It tells of how the newspaper was contacted by a photographer from the Griffin Daily News in Griffin, Ga., seeking information on Corp. Nathan Kellogg, who was one of four Union soldiers to be buried in Griffin’s Stonewall Cemetery, a city cemetery with a large burial section for soldiers of the Confederate States of America. To find a gravestone for a Union soldier in a Confederate cemetery is highly unusual.

Corp. Kellogg’s headstone is shown in Stonewall Cemetery in this Find-A-Grave photo submitted by Michael Dover.
Corp. Nathan Kellogg’s headstone in Stonewall Cemetery is shown in this Find-A-Grave photo submitted by Michael Dover.

The Pekin Times article provides fascinating information, but is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate, for, as we shall see, it is incorrect about where Corp. Kellogg’s remains are now buried.

Kellogg belonged to a family of pioneers who lived on land that was then outside of Pekin but is now within Pekin’s city limits. Two brothers of this family are notable figures in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: Nathan Benjamin Kellogg Sr. (1793-1853) and Benjamin Kellogg Jr. (1806-1855).

They were among the 14 children of Benjamin Kellogg Sr. (1761-1821) and Luranah Spaulding (1766-1834), natives of Massachusetts who had settled in New York. Both Nathan and Benjamin Jr. were born in Kinderhook, New York, and came to Tazewell County in the early 1830s.

Nathan is listed on page 713 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” where it says he served as Tazewell County Coroner from 1842 to 1848. He married twice, first to Magdalen Esselstyne (1792-1826), with whom he had four sons and a daughter, and a second to Alzina (Pennoyer) Woodrow (1805-1884), with whom he had four daughters and three sons. His youngest son was Nathan Benjamin Kellogg Jr., the Civil War soldier who had been buried in Stonewall Cemetery.

The other prominent member of the Tazewell County Kelloggs, Benjamin Jr., was a successful merchant, land owner, and local political official who was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. The “Papers of Abraham Lincoln Digital Library” website provides this summary of Benjamin Kellogg Jr.’s life and career:

“Benjamin Kellogg, Jr. was a prominent merchant, landowner, and town and city official in Pekin, Illinois. In 1829, he and his partners established Crain, Kellogg, & Company, the first mercantile business in Pekin. Kellogg began purchasing public land in September 1832, when he bought 160 acres in Mason County, becoming the first person to purchase land in what would become Allen Grove. Between 1832 and 1855, he purchased thousands of acres of public land in Mason, Tazewell, McLean, and Logan counties. Kellogg was also active in Pekin’s civic affairs. At the first town elections held in July 1835, he won election as town clerk, and in August, he became treasurer of the Board of Trustees. He won a second term as town clerk in 1836. When Pekin received its charter as a city in 1849, Kellogg became the first city clerk, holding that job until October 1850. In 1850, he was working as a clerk and owned $20,000 worth of real estate. Eager to get a railroad through Pekin, in 1853, Kellogg and a partner personally subscribed $100,000 for the Mississippi and Wabash Railroad. Abraham Lincoln represented Kellogg in numerous cases in the Tazewell County Circuit Court.”

In addition to the cases in which Lincoln represented him, Benjamin Jr. was also a key witness in the 1839 Tazewell County Circuit Court case of Cromwell & McNaughton v. Bailey, in which the estate of Nathan Cromwell asked the court to require that David Bailey of Pekin pay off a promissory note for the purchase of the Cromwell’s indentured servant Nance. Bailey had declined to pay the note because Nance said she was a free person and had never consented to a contract of indentured servitude. In his testimony, Benjamin Jr. confirmed that Nance had always insisted on her freedom. The court ruled against Bailey, though, so Bailey retained Lincoln to appeal the verdict to the Illinois Supreme Court in the 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell & McNaughton. Agreeing with Lincoln’s arguments, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the Tazewell County court decision and declared that Nance and her three eldest children were free.

That case touched on the wider question of the morality of human slavery which later helped to spark the destructive fires of the Civil War. In that conflict, Nathan B. Kellogg Sr.’s youngest son Nathan B. Jr., who was born in Tazewell County on 11 Oct. 1846, stepped up to fight for the Union cause. His Union Army service records say he was a farmer living at Pekin, and give his physical description as 5 feet 8 inches in height, with a light complexion, gray eyes, and light-colored hair.

His service records show that he enlisted on 16 June 1862 and was mustered into the 85th Illinois Infantry, Co. F., at Peoria on 27 Aug. 1862. Though only in his teens, Nathan Jr. was consumed with patriotic zeal for his country. This is evident from his service records: although he was only 15 years old at the time, his records indicate that he lied about his age so he could enlist, claiming to be 17 at enlistment and 18 when he was mustered in.

Corp. Kellogg enlisted for three years of service, but he did not make it to the end of those three years. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Peach Tree Creek in Georgia on 19 July 1864. Taken captive by the Confederate Army, he was taken to a military hospital at Griffin, Georgia, where he succumbed to his wounds the next day. He was one of approximately 1,900 Union casualties and 2,500 Confederate casualties of that battle. Of this battle, Union Maj. Gen. J. D. Cox said, “Few battlefields of the war have been strewn so thickly with dead and wounded as they lay that evening around Collier’s Mill.

Kellogg’s service record notes his capture at the battle with the comment, “In Parole Camp Captured At Peach Tree Creek Ga.” Due to his death, he was not officially mustered out of service until 5 June 1865, almost a year after his death.

As this record shows, Corp. Nathan B. Kellogg Jr. of Pekin was one of four Union soldiers who were buried in Stonewall Cemetery, Griffin, Georgia, immediately after their deaths during the Civil War.

Corp. Kellogg was buried in nearby Stonewall Cemetery alongside many Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle. There, in a Confederate Army burying ground, his bones rested for the next three years, when his remains, along with those of three other Union soldiers that had been buried in Confederate cemeteries, were transferred to Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia.

The headstone of Corp. Kellogg of Pekin stands among the thousands of Civil War dead in Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia, in this photograph submitted to Find-A-Grave by Davis E. McCollum.
The headstone of Corp. Nathan B. Kellogg Jr. of Pekin on Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia, where Kellogg’s remains have been interred since 1867, is shown in this photograph submitted by Find-A-Grave user “Janet.”

Although his remains have been in Marietta since 1867, a local resident of Griffin, Ga., named Mrs. C. Robert Walker apparently came across a record of Kellogg’s burial in Stonewall Cemetery in 1960 and, not knowing of his removal to Marietta, ordered a Civil War soldier’s headstone for the plot where his remains once had lain.

And so, Corp. Nathan Benjamin Kellogg Jr. of Pekin is currently memorialized in two separate cemeteries in the South, with a headstone marking the empty grave where once he lay in Stonewell Cemetery, and another marking his actual grave in Marietta National Cemetery.

On 22 Sept. 1960, Mrs. C. Robert Walker of Griffin, Georgia, applied to have a Union soldier Civil War headstone placed on the plot where Corp. Nathan Kellogg of Pekin had been buried in 1864. She did not know, however, that Kellogg and three other Union soldiers buried in Stonewall Cemetery, Griffin, had been moved to Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia, in 1867.

#abraham-lincoln, #alzina-pennoyer-woodrow-kellogg, #bailey-v-cromwell, #bailey-vs-cromwell, #battle-of-peach-tree-creek, #benjamin-kellogg-jr, #benjamin-kellogg-sr, #corp-nathan-b-kellogg, #corp-nathan-b-kellogg-jr, #corp-nathan-kellogg, #cromwell-vs-bailey, #luranah-spaulding-kellogg, #magdalen-esselstyne-kellogg, #marietta-national-cemetery, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-benjamin-kellogg-jr, #nathan-benjamin-kellogg-sr, #pekin-history, #stonewall-cemetery

‘Ever since the boat blew up’ – a letter from a Pekin riverboat disaster survivor

‘Ever since the boat blew up’ – a letter from a Pekin riverboat disaster survivor

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The current issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly features a letter written 170 years ago by a Pekin woman who had survived a recent riverboat disaster.

The letter was provided to TCGHS by Dr. Bruce Ramsdall of Whitesburg, Georgia, whose great-great-grandmother Mary Amanda Nixon was the addressee of the letter, which was written 11 Jan. 1853 by Mary’s friend Fidelia L. Thompson.

In her letter, Fidelia tells Mary, “Ma has been sick almost ever since the boat blew up,” and also mentions, “Pa was scalded so bad we thought he would not live. I was taken out from the water for dead, but a lady saved Hellen by holding her out from the water.

This letter, reproduced in the Jan. 2023 TCGHS Monthly, was written 11 Jan. 1853 by Fidelia Thompson of Pekin to her friend Mary Nixon. Thompson, her parents, and her sister were survivors of the Prairie State riverboat disaster of 25 April 1852. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The date of the letter is in fact written as “1852,” but given the fact that Thompson and her family were from Pekin, it is thought that the riverboat explosion to which Thompson refers must be that of the Prairie State, which collapsed its flues at Pekin on 25 April 1852. The letter’s date “was likely an error for 1853 which is common when dating things right after the first of the year,” the TCGHS article says (page 511).

We told the story of the Prairie State disaster here at “From the History Room” a few years ago. Contemporary reports indicate that the explosion of the boat’s boilers killed no less than eight people and scalded at least 11, some of whom later recovered while others may have later died from their injuries. “Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters” (1856), page 293, says 20 people were killed or wounded.

The report on the disaster in the New York Times, dated 6 May 1852, includes an admittedly incomplete list of kn dead and scalded, but Fidelia Thompson and her family are not on that list.

As time went on, memories of the disaster grew less and less accurate, and the tally of the dead became greatly inflated, until at last in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002) it was erroneously claimed that 110 were killed, a figure that, if true, would make the explosion of the Prairie State one of the worse steamboat disasters in history. Even the date of the disaster was misremembered, with older published histories of Pekin mistakenly putting the tragedy on the nonexistent date of Sunday, 16 April 1852 — but that date was a Friday.

Pekin’s first riverboat disaster, and apparently Tazewell County’s first calamity resulting in sudden mass loss of life, was the 1852 explosion of the steamboat Prairie State, which killed or injured a total of about 20 people. This photograph was reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

#dr-bruce-ramsdall, #fidelia-l-thompson, #mary-amanda-nixon, #pekin-history, #prairie-state, #steamboat-disasters, #steamboats, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #wreck-of-the-prairie-state

Nance Legins-Costley and Pvt. William Costley to be honored by Pekin monument

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Plans are underway for a permanent stone monument in downtown Pekin to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William Henry Costley.

In the past few years, Nance and her son William have been the subjects of multiple articles posted here at “From the History Room.” Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) of Pekin and Peoria is known to history as the first African-American to secure her freedom with the help of Abraham Lincoln, through the landmark 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Her oldest son William H. Costley (1840-1888) of Pekin later went on to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in the 29th Illinois Colored Infantry, Co. B., and was present in Galveston, Texas, on the first Juneteenth in 1865.

The story of Nancy Legins-Costley is told by Carl Adams in his book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln.” IMAGE PROVIDED BY CARL ADAMS

Partners involved in this project include Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, the City of Pekin, Pekin Main Street, the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Dirksen Congressional Center, and Abel Monument. Ackerman also credits research on Nance Legins-Costley and her family that has been conducted or made possible by the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society and the Pekin Public Library’s Local History collection.

According to Ackerman, the memorial is being privately donated, and Abel Monument is now at work on it.

The monument will be four feet in length and three feet in height, and will bear a header inscription reading, “Tazewell County Remembers.” The names of Nance and her son William, and words of tribute to their lives, will be inscribed on the front and back of the monument.

Ackerman says the memorial is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St.

Coming this summer, a memorial to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William H. Costley is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St. GOOGLE STREET VIEW IMAGE

Placement and dedication of the monument is to be on or near Juneteenth this summer.

This will be the second Central Illinois memorial devoted to memorializing the life of Nance Legins-Costley.

As was reported here last week, the life of Nance Legins-Costley is also commemorated on an Illinois State Historical marker currently on display at the Peoria RiverPlex facility.

That marker and two others were created last year for the planned Freedom & Remembrance Memorial that will be placed and dedicated this spring at the corner of South Adams and Griswold streets in Peoria. The purpose of the memorial is to honor the lives of the more than 2,600 Peorians (Nance among them) buried at the defunct Moffatt Cemetery that was located a very short distance north of that intersection.

Nance Legins-Costley’s life and that of her family forms a part not only the history of Pekin, where she lived from 1829 to the late 1870s, but also of Peoria, where she lived for most of the rest of her life from the late 1870s until her death in 1892. She and her husband and one of her sons were interred in Moffatt Cemetery.

But I am of the opinion that Nance and her story really belong to all of Illinois, since she was born in Kaskaskia, the old territorial capital (and later the first state capital), and later was taken to Springfield before Nathan Cromwell brought her to Pekin. She even lived briefly with one of her sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after her husband Benjamin’s death.

However, the real reason it can be said that Nance belongs to all of Illinois is the indomitable courage and persistence she showed in fighting to secure the recognition of her freedom – for her fight and her strength resulted in an important Illinois Supreme Court ruling benefitting not only her and her family but every other African-American held in indentured servitude in Illinois.

In my opinion, that’s definitely worthy of a monument or two – or more.

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Moffatt Cemetery historical markers on display at RiverPlex

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The two Illinois State Historical Markers for the Freedom & Remembrance Memorial that were unveiled Nov. 15 at the Peoria Riverfront Museum have found a temporary home in the main atrium of the Peoria Park District’s RiverPlex facility.

Two of the three Illinois State Historical Markers that will form the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial, to be dedicated in Spring 2023 at the intersection of Griswold and South Adams in Peoria, are currently on display in the main atrium of the Peoria Park District’s RiverPlex. PHOTO COURTESY OF FRM PROJECT

FRM team members, with the assistance of RiverPlex supervisor Sue Wheeler and RiverPlex staff, put the historical markers on display at the RiverPlex on Monday, Dec. 12. Accompanying the markers are informational panels that provide more of the story of Peoria’s former Moffatt Cemetery and the more than 2,600 Peorians who had been interred in the long-defunct burying ground during the 19th century and the first few years of the 20th century.

Among those Peorians were 52 Union Civil War veterans, whose names and regiments are listed on a third historical marker that has been exhibited in a special display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum since July 28. One of those veterans was Pvt. Nathan Ashby of Pekin, who was present at the first Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas, 19 June 1865.

The two markers now displayed at the RiverPlex tell the story of Moffatt Cemetery and of one of the especially notable persons buried there, Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) of Pekin and Peoria, known to history as the first African-American slave to be freed with the help of Abraham Lincoln.

Nance and her son Leander Costley (c.1845-1886) are recorded in the Peoria County Undertakers’ Reports as having been interred at Moffatt. Nance’s husband Benjamin Costley (c.1814-1883) was also very probably buried at Moffatt – his death and burial record says he was to be interred at Springdale Cemetery, but Springdale has no record of him being buried there, and since his wife and son are at Moffatt, it is believed that he was the first of the Costley family to be interred there.

The two markers now at the RiverPlex and the one at the Riverfront Museum will remain on display at their interim locations until the Spring of 2023, when they will be permanently installed on land at the intersection of South Adams and Griswold streets, near the site of the defunct Moffatt Cemetery. The land is being deeded by the United Union of Roofers Local No. 69 to the City of Peoria. The markers, along with a lighted flag to honor the Civil War veterans and informational signs, will form the Freedom & Remembrance Memorial.

The creation and dedication of the memorial next year will be done in partnership with the City of Peoria, the Peoria Park District, and Roofers Local No. 69.


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