The Dirksen Center builds a new home

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

As we have proceeded through this series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we now move into the first years of the present century.

One of the most notable events in the library’s history during those years was the retirement of Pekin Public Library Director Paula Weiss on June 30, 2004. She had worked at the library for 33 years, beginning as the director of the children’s department, then being appointed the head of adult services, and finally serving as library director for 22 years. Weiss was succeeded by Jeff Brooks, the library’s head of technical services, who has been director ever since.

Another event of note took place within the first year or so after Brooks became director. That is when the old, obsolete card catalog, no longer updated since 1999 and rarely used, was removed from the library and discarded. A few years later, in the latter months of 2010, the library’s obituary card index — a genealogical reference resource that had not been updated for several years ever since an online digital obituary index had been created for the library — was also removed and discarded.

But, without a doubt, the most significant development in the library’s history during those years was the departure of the Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center in September of 2003.

As you will recall from an earlier installment in this series, it was the brainchild of Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade and other Pekin leaders in the 1960s to replace the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library with a larger facility that would house both the public library and a special research center housing the papers of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin.

The library and Dirksen Center had operated from the same facility since 1975. However, with the passage of years the Dirksen Center’s collection had grown, and in the late 1990s the Dirksen Center’s collection was greatly augmented by the addition of the papers and mementos of U.S. Congressman Bob Michel. The library was unable to give more space to the Dirksen Center, because by that time the library’s adult and children’s collections had exceeded the library’s designed capacity.

With only so much space available at the library facility, the Dirksen Center’s board began to consider a move to a new building of its own. In February of 2002, Dirksen Center board member Frank Mackaman officially announced that the Dirksen Center would leave the Pekin Public Library building and move to a new facility of its own, to be built on the east end of town at 2815 Broadway Road at an estimated cost of $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed new Dirksen Center that was built in 2002-2003 at 2815 Broadway Road on the east end of Pekin.

The prospect of the Dirksen Center’s departure meant the Dirksen Center’s space at the library would be vacant and available for use by the Pekin Public Library. That, however, would require the library to buy the space from the Dirksen Center.

After several months of wrangling, on Oct. 14, 2002, the Pekin City Council agreed to spend $310,000 to help the Pekin Public Library purchase the facility space being vacated by the Dirksen Congressional Center. The former Dirksen Center space was purchased for a total cost of $620,000, with half to be supplied by the city and the other half from the library’s funds.

This Pekin Daily Times file photo shows the upper level of the Dirksen Congressional Research Center’s facilities when the center was located in the Pekin Public Library building. The center vacated its space in 2003 after a new Dirksen Center building was constructed on the east end of Pekin.

Among the suggested uses for the space were additional space for collections or a community room. (The library opted for the community room.) Also, library technical services behind the circulation desk moved to the second floor.

Ground was broken for the new Dirksen Center facility on Oct. 24, 2002. And then, at last, on Sept. 4, 2003, the Dirksen Center vacated the Pekin Public Library facility and moves into its newly completed building. The large bust of Sen. Dirksen, designed by late sculptor Carl Tolpo, that had long stood in the library’s Marigold Plaza, was relocated to a spot outside the new Dirksen Center.

Workers hoist the large bust of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen onto a truck, moving the bust from the Pekin Public Library’s Marigold Plaza to a pedestal outside the new Dirksen Center.

With the completion of such a major realignment of the library facility’s usage of its space, and considering that the building was about three decades old, the library board began to consider what could be done to refresh and update the facility. (In fact, library officials had been considering an expansion and remodel since 1996.)

In June 2004, the library board released a long-range plan to remodel, expand, and update the 30-year-old library facility over the next 5 to 10 years. The plan included a new south entrance to replace the library’s two sunken entrances, a new south parking lot, and a brighter lobby and overall look.

Things advanced as far as the Pekin library board on Sept. 2, 2008, approving some preliminary expansion and renovation plans at a projected cost of $9.6 million.

All of those plans were upended, however, on Sept. 29, 2008, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 777.68 percent in a single day, ushering in an economic recession. Due to the collapse of the economy that fall, the Pekin City Council did not approve funding for the expansion and remodeling project. Any such plans had to shelved for a few years.

Next week we will recall the plans that were developed after the economy recovered.

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Some pre-1914 obituaries from Tazewell County

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

Some pre-1914 obituaries from Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Of the resources available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, perhaps it is the online obituary index that gets the most use, since obituaries are excellent sources of information for genealogists. The library’s index covers obituaries published in the Pekin Daily Times from Oct. 3, 1914 to the present year – but also includes a handful of obituaries from the Daily Times and other Tazewell County newspapers from prior to 1914.

Until a few years ago, the library’s obituary index was a large file of typed index cards, but the index has been completely digitized and is accessible on the internet through the library’s homepage, at, under the “Research” tab, on “Local History Room” page.

The obituary index entries provide the date that each obituary was published in the Pekin Daily Times, along with the page and column numbers. Using that information, an obituary can then be retrieved from the library’s microfilm reels of the Pekin Daily Times.

As said above, the Daily Times microfilm collection begins with the issue published on Oct. 3, 1914, and continues to the present year. The index, however, is even more current, as the library updates it almost daily, whereas the microfilms are current up to the end of 2018 (when all microfilming ceased worldwide). Print editions of the Pekin Daily Times may be consulted for obituaries published since the end of February.

Sadly, there is little recourse for those looking for obituaries that were published in the Pekin Daily Times prior to Oct. 3, 1914. Most copies of Pekin Daily Times issues prior to that date have perished, many having been destroyed in a fire at the newspaper building about a century ago, while other bound volumes of the paper reportedly “disappeared” during and soon after the years in the early 1920s when the newspaper was owned by three members of the Ku Klux Klan.

However, a number of stray issues of the Daily Times from prior to Oct. 3, 1914, have survived, and in fact the library has one of them – the Aug. 16, 1902, edition of the Pekin Daily Times that was preserved in the cornerstone time capsule of the former Pekin Carnegie Library that was built in 1902. Also included in the time capsule were copies of an 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post, an 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune, and a 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune.

Besides those pre-1914 newspapers, the library archives also include a single issue of the April 13, 1860 edition of the Tazewell Republican, which was donated to the library a few years ago by Timothy Williams of Pekin. There are no formal obituaries in that newspaper, because the custom of publishing biographical tributes of “ordinary” community members who had died was only then starting to catch on. The only thing even remotely like an obituary or death notice in the April 13, 1860 Tazewell Republican was the following short paragraph on page 2:

“The body of the man drowned off the steamer Gaty, something like a month ago, was found on the banks of Spring Lake yesterday or the day previous. The body was identified by the hands, the forefinger of one having been cut off. – Peoria Union.”

The April 13, 1860 edition of the Tazewell Republican newspaper ran this advertisement for the steamboat Sam Gaty on page 3. On the facing page of the same edition was a news brief on the recovery of the body of a Sam Gaty passenger who had fallen overboard and drowned.

On page 3 of the same newspaper is an advertisement that lists the schedule of the trips that the steamboat “Sam Gaty” made between Pekin and Peoria – but while we know the steamer’s full name, the newspaper doesn’t breathe of word of the name of the drowned man. His name probably had appeared in previous issues of the paper, and so the editor, seeking to economize on space on the page, must have decided it wasn’t necessary to repeat the victim’s name.

Unlike the 1860 copy of the Tazewell Republican, the time capsule’s 1896 and 1902 newspapers do include a few obituaries and death or funeral notices, which were added to the library’s online obituary index for the benefit of genealogical researchers in 2014. To each of these index entries have been added research notes indicating that they were printed in newspapers from the Library Cornerstone.

The library’s reference staff will assist genealogists who would like to obtain copies of these pre-1914 obituaries and death and funeral notices, which are listed below. (Note that three individuals had their obituaries published in more than one newspaper.)

Franklin E. Myers, 28, of rural Green Valley, died Feb. 12, 1896 in Pekin, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post
Frank Myers, 28, of rural Green Valley, died Feb. 12, 1896 in Pekin, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune
William Schaumleffel of Pekin, died Feb. 1896, burial Feb. 13, 1896, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Evening Post
William Schaumleffle of Pekin, died Feb. 1896, burial Feb. 13, 1896, in the Feb. 13, 1896 Pekin Daily Tribune
Samuel Russell, 74, of Pekin, died Aug. 17, 1902, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
Bryan George, 6, of Pekin, died Aug. 18, 1902 in Pekin, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
George J. Breaden, died Aug. 1902, in the Aug. 18, 1902 Pekin Daily Post-Tribune
George Joseph Breaden, died Aug. 16, 1902 in Pekin, in the Aug. 16, 1902 Pekin Daily Times
Mrs. George H. Youngman, 26, died Aug. 13, 1902, in the Aug. 16, 1902 Pekin Daily Times

A brief genealogical note about this last death notice – according to the Find-A-Grave website, “Mrs. George H. Youngman” was Cora A. (Buck) Youngman, born July 18, 1876, daughter of Oliver and Hannah (Hammitt) Buck, married George H. Youngman on June 7, 1899, and buried in McLean Cemetery, McLean, Ill.

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