This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2013 before the launch of this weblog.
A glimpse inside a time capsule
By Jared Olar
Each week this column delves into the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection to see what we can learn about various aspects, anecdotes and artifacts of Pekin and Tazewell County history. This week we’ll turn our attention toward the history the Pekin Public Library itself, by taking look at a few of the contents of the library’s Cornerstone Time Capsule collection.
As both longtime residents of Pekin and attentive visitors to the library know, the current library building is not the first one to be erected on it site. Prior to the construction of the current library in 1972, Pekin’s readers were served by a smaller structure that stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway, where the library’s sunken plaza is located today. [NB: Since the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library, the old sunken plaza is no more, replaced by a quiet reading room and a grove of trees with water drainage.]
That earlier structure – one of the nation’s many Carnegie libraries, built in 1902 under the patronage of famous American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the first building constructed in Pekin to serve specifically as a public library. To celebrate that milestone in Pekin’s history, a formal dedication ceremony took place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902.
On that occasion, the library’s cornerstone was laid – and within the cornerstone was placed a time capsule containing an assortment of documents and relics pertaining chiefly to the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library.
The time capsule remained sealed for 70 years. When the old library was replaced with a new, expanded facility in 1972, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to be in a very good state of preservation. For many years after that, the cornerstone materials were stored at Herget Bank, later being transferred to the Pekin Public Library’s own historical archives.
Placed in the cornerstone time capsule were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)
The reason for including the two newspapers from February 1896 is probably not obvious to anyone not well versed in the library’s history, however. Those newspapers – the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896 – were chosen because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.
The library’s history did not begin in 1902, but in fact reaches back to 1866, as we read in one of the documents placed in the 1902 cornerstone: a “History of the Pekin Public Library” written by Miss Mary Gaither. “On November 24th, 1866, a large number of the ladies of Pekin met to organize what was for many years known as the ‘Ladies Library Association,’” Gaither wrote. Also included in the cornerstone was one of the handwritten invitations to that meeting.
On March 5, 1883, the Pekin Library Association formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois – the original, sealed articles of incorporation from 1883 also were included in the cornerstone time capsule.
Ten years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, the Library Association petitioned the city to have the library and its collection handed over to the city’s ownership. The process of transferring the library from private to public control was completed three years later, in 1896.