Silver pitchers, railroads and John B. Cohrs

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

Silver pitchers, railroads and John B. Cohrs

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

In the early summer of 2014, the Pekin Daily Times featured an article by Springfield State-Journal Register writer Tobias Wall that told of the return to Illinois of a 150-year-old silver pitcher that has a connection to Pekin.

The pitcher had been presented by the city of Springfield to Illinois State Sen. John Benson Cohrs of Pekin in 1867 to thank him for leading the effort to ensure that Springfield would remain the state capital. (John B. Cohrs was born in 1838 in Charleston, S.C., and died June 5, 1898 in Los Angeles, California.)

Somewhere along the line, however, Cohrs’ silver trophy was lost and, as Wall’s article explains, it eventually was acquired in 1949 by the Bell family of Washington, D.C. A Bell descendant recently donated the pitcher to Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois so he could return it to Springfield, where it is now on display in a corridor outside the House chamber on the third floor of the Illinois Statehouse.

Wall’s article says that besides making sure Springfield remained Illinois’ capital, State Sen. Cohrs “did almost nothing else of note during his one term as state senator.” That term lasted from 1864 to 1868. The one other thing the article mentions was Cohrs’ public opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation, a stance he later renounced and apologized for. That stance is not surprising in light of the fact that Pekin and Peoria were hotbeds of pro-slavery and pro-Confederacy agitation during the Civil War, and that Cohrs himself was a native of Charleston, South Carolina.

John B. Cohrs, Williams College Class of 1854, is listed here on page 18 of the “Catalogue of the Chi Psi Society” (1852)

While those are the two main things for which Cohrs is remembered – when he is remembered at all, that is – he also made a mark in Pekin, and therefore his name appears a few times in old publications about our local history in Tazewell County.

For example, the 1902 “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Peoria County” refers to Cohrs in its biography of Pekin attorney and judge Sabin F. Puterbaugh. The biography says, “In January, 1857, [Puterbaugh] passed an examination before a committee of which Abraham Lincoln was a member, and was admitted to practice by the Supreme Court, at once becoming a partner of Hon. Samuel W. Fuller, then of Pekin, and State Senator from that District. Mr. Fuller having removed to Chicago in 1858, the firm of Fuller & Puterbaugh was dissolved, and, in 1860, Mr. Puterbaugh formed a partnership with John B. Cohrs, which lasted until the fall of 1861 . . . .

Cohrs ran for the Illinois Senate in the election of 1864, his opponent being none other than the Rev. George Minier, founder of Minier. In Lawrence B. Stringer’s “History of Logan County, Illinois,” vol. I, page 286, we read, “John B. Cohrs was elected State Senator over George W. Minier, both of Tazewell, by the following vote: Cohrs, 7,623; Minier, 7,465.

After his single term in the Illinois Senate, Cohrs appears prominently in efforts to develop railroads in and around Pekin. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 860, notes that during the 1870s, “J. B. Cohrs” was the secretary of the Pekin, Lincoln & Decatur Railway Company. Then on the following page, Allensworth says, “John B.  Cohrs, at that time one of Pekin’s most prominent attorneys, was the originator of the Peoria & Pekin Union [Company] and, owing to his legal skill and foresight, this road is one of the richest for its length in the United States.

Allensworth does not provide a full biography of Cohrs, but on page 879 he lists him among the “attorneys who have practiced law and lived in Tazewell County, and are now dead,” and also notes on page 902 that he served as Pekin’s city attorney from 1861 to 1862.

The Cohrs name appears in one other important event in Pekin’s history – the founding of the Pekin Public Library. In this case, however, it’s not Cohrs himself, but rather his wife, who took part in this aspect of our local history.

The Pekin Public Library began as the Ladies’ Library Association of Pekin, which was formally organized on Nov. 24, 1866. The minutes of the meeting of that day list the 23 women who gathered to start the library association, and the very first name on the list is “Mrs. John B. Cohrs,” as we find on page 939 of Allensworth’s Tazewell County history. On the next page, Allensworth mentions that “Mrs. Cohrs” served as president of the Ladies’ Library Association in 1868.

“Mrs. Cohrs” was Anna Elizabeth (Rider) Cohrs, John’s first wife. She was born circa 1837 in Chatham, N.Y., a daughter of David Wilson and Anne (Varney) Rider, who were Quakers. Anna had two sisters and a brother. She studied at Troy Female Seminary 1849-1851 (today it’s the elite prep boarding school for women called The Emma Willard School). She and John B. Cohrs married in 1853 in New York State. Their children were named Sara Frederica, Florence McKenzie, Anna R., and Charles H. Mrs. Anna Cohrs died March 19, 1887, in Chicago, and was buried in Charleston, S.C. John afterwards married again, to Ida Taylor.

#anna-elizabeth-rider-cohrs, #anna-r-cohrs, #charles-h-cohrs, #chi-psi-society, #florence-mckenzie-cohrs, #ida-taylor-cohrs, #john-b-cohrs, #john-benson-cohrs, #ladies-library-association, #pekin-history, #pekin-lincoln-decatur-railway, #peoria-pekin-union-railway, #rev-george-w-minier, #sabin-f-puterbaugh, #sara-frederica-cohrs, #the-emma-willard-school, #troy-female-seminary

Teepees along the railroad tracks?

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in December 2011 before the launch of this blog . . .

Teepees along the railroad tracks?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll revisit a few recent “From the Local History Room” columns as we see what we can learn from a copy of a vintage Pekin photograph on file in the library’s Local History Room. The photo is remarkable because it shows a long row of teepees or wigwams between some railroad tracks.

The copy of this photo, a halftone image, was clipped from a newspaper or magazine, and is accompanied by a caption that informs us that the photographer was none other than Pekin’s own Henry Hobart Cole, whose life we have reviewed in this column previously.

In this vintage photograph taken by Henry H. Cole (1833-1925), a row of wigwams stretches northward between the railroad tracks in an area of northwest Pekin just to the west of Second Street.

The caption does not say when Cole took the photograph, but several clues both in the photo and the caption help us to narrow down the period when it was taken. These clues also show where the photo was taken, and suggest who placed the wigwams in that unlikely location – or rather, who didn’t place them there.

The caption says, “The long row of wigwams, as you look northward along the tracks of the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway, east of Pekin Lake, represents the site of the largest village of Pottowattamie Indians in this region at the advent of the white settler . . .”

By consulting some of the library’s old maps of Pekin and tracing the rail lines, we can see that the foreground of the photo shows the area where Second Street and Market Street used to intersect – today that stretch of Market Street is a bicycle path. The row of wigwams appears to start around the area of Catherine and State streets.

Obviously the wigwams were not actual Native American dwellings — no one can live in the dangerous plot of ground between two lines of rail. Also, as mentioned in previous columns, Pekin’s Indian population was deported to Kansas in the mid- to late 1830s, while the railroad did not come to Pekin until 1859. These wigwams, rather, indicated the area of Pekin where an Indian village formerly was located. Perhaps they were a display for a community fair or celebration.

The caption provides two more clues as to when Cole took the photo. It says the village was “fully one-half mile in length” and “on the high ground leading along Main street from the present gas works southward.” Similarly, W.H. Bates’ 1902 essay, “Historic Pekin!,” says the village was “on the high ground just east of the Gas Company’s coal sheds, on what is today First Street.”

Gas lights were installed on Pekin’s streets in 1866, so the gas works were constructed by that year, which means the photo can be no older than 1866. Similarly, the caption’s reference to “the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway” suggests a date no earlier than 1880, the year that railroad company was incorporated.

An 1877 aerial “View of Pekin Ill.” in the Local History Room collection depicts the area shown in this photo, including the frame house on the right and the large brick structure on the left. Both the 1877 aerial view and the photo show an overall absence of houses and industrial or business structures in that part of Pekin. Cole went into semi-retirement in 1911, but we would expect to see more buildings in the photo if it was taken that late in his career.

From what we’ve seen, it seems most likely that Cole took the photo during the 1880s or perhaps the 1890s. Pekin’s first street fair opened on Oct. 12, 1898, and a second street fair ran from Oct. 11-14, 1899. Could these wigwams have been an attraction at one of those fairs?

#henry-hobart-cole, #pekin-history, #pekin-street-fairs, #peoria-pekin-union-railway, #pottawatomi-in-pekin, #preblog-columns, #teepees, #wigwams