The Tazewell Club was the gentleman’s club of 1893

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Sept. 2011 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The Tazewell Club was the gentleman’s club of 1893

By Linda Mace and Jared Olar
Library assistants

What comes to your mind when you think of a “gentlemen’s club”? Words acquire new meanings or different connotations as time goes on, and what “gentlemen’s club” might mean to some today isn’t what it meant over a hundred years ago.

Perhaps I’ve watched too many movies, but hearing the words “gentlemen’s club,” I think of New York City, of elegantly appointed, hushed rooms with men dressed in their finery, a cigar in one hand and a beverage of some type in the other hand.

Established in 1893, Pekin had the Tazewell Club, and while it may not have been touted as a gentlemen’s club, for all practical purposes that seems to be what it was.

The 2004 book “Pekin: A Pictorial History” tells us that it was once the hub of social life in Pekin.

“The club promoted local business interests and offered hours of wholesome recreation for the businessman, the professional and the clerk. The building had bowling alleys in the basement, meeting rooms, a card room and billiard room on the main floor, and a ballroom on the third.”

The Tazewell Club, established in 1893, met at this building that used to stand at the corner of Fourth and St. Mary streets.

Over 200 men were members of this club, with them “allowing” the Pekin Woman’s Club and the Litta Society the use of their facility for the ladies’ afternoon meetings.

But time marches on and membership eventually declined. In 1959 the club house was sold to the Herget National Bank and was demolished in 1960 for a parking lot.

Originally located on the corner of South 4th and St. Mary streets, the Tazewell Club was a grand building, worthy of the many social events that took place there.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 927-937, provides a detailed account of the founding and early history of the Tazewell Club, written by Fred H. Robbins. The account includes a quote from the club’s constitution and by-laws explaining its purpose: “The primary object of this Club shall be to promote the business interests of the City of Pekin, and the social enjoyments of the members of the corporation.

According to Robbins, the club was founded Sept. 14, 1893, at a meeting of local businessmen and leading men of the city in Holland’s Hall in Pekin, presided over by E. F. Unland, with O. F. Weber as secretary. The interim officers were Judge George C. Rider, president, and Weber again as secretary, with an organizing committee made of up Carl G. Herget (builder of the Herget Mansion), W. L. Prettyman, Fred W. Velde, W. A. Holt, and Dr. W. H. Allen.

Once the club was organized, the members elected Unland as president, Prettyman as vice-president, Weber as secretary, James M. James (in whose honor James Field is named) as treasurer, and Holt, Henry G. Herget, D. D. Velde, F. P. Maus, and Henry Birkenbusch as members of the club’s board of managers.

Though the club house is long gone and the Tazewell Club is a thing of the past, there is another community organization that was founded around the same time that is still very much living and active, and is soon to celebrate an important anniversary – the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Steamboat disaster on the Illinois River

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

Steamboat disaster on the Illinois River

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last month Pekin and nearby communities commemorated the 100th anniversary of one of the most tragic events seared into Pekin’s collective memory: the Columbia riverboat disaster. On July 5, 1918, the steamboat Columbia sank on the Illinois River four miles north of Pekin when it struck a submerged tree stump, ripping a gaping hole in the hull. Out of 496 passengers, 87 died, including 57 Pekin residents.

It was the last large scale river disaster in our area – but steamboats had been plying the waters of the Illinois River since about 1829, when the steamer Liberty visited Peoria, so it should be no surprise that the wreck of the Columbia wasn’t Pekin’s first steamboat disaster. On July 12, 1892, the excursion steamer Frankie Folsom capsized during a storm on Peoria Lake while bringing passengers back to Pekin from Peoria. Most passengers escaped, but 11 died.

Pekin’s first steamboat disaster was on April 25, 1852, when the boilers of the Prairie State exploded, reportedly killing more than 100 passengers.

Pekin’s first riverboat disaster, and apparently Tazewell County’s first major calamity resulting in massive loss of life, was the 1852 explosion of the steamboat Prairie State, which reportedly killed at least 110 people. This photograph was reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

The story of this tragedy is told and retold in several of the standard works on Pekin’s history, but, surprisingly, none of those works gives the correct date of the disaster. Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 History of Tazewell County, the 1949 Pekin Centenary, and the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial each claim that the Prairie State exploded on Sunday morning, April 16, 1852. The problem with that date is that April 16 was a Friday that year.

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (2004) gets closer to the truth, placing the tragedy on Sunday morning, April 24, 1852. However, that day was a Saturday. The correct date is found in “Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters” (1856), page 293, which says, “The steamer Prairie State collapsed her flues on the Illinois River, April 25th, 1852, killing and wounding twenty persons.” That date was, as Pekin’s history book states, a Sunday.

The number of dead reportedly was far more than 20. “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” page 176, tells the story in these words:

“. . . [T]the packet steamers, Prairie State and Avalanche, southward bound, landed almost simultaneously at the Pekin Wharf and collided. Both were carrying a high head of steam. As a result the boilers on the Prairie State exploded with terrific force. ‘It was the church going hour, but the worship of the Deity was changed to the duties of the Good Samaritan,’ according to Cole’s Guide. The 110 bodies that were recovered were placed side by side under the walnut and oak trees on the bank and every home in the vicinity became a temporary hospital. One rescued passenger, en route to Texas, reported that many of the victims he had seen on board were not recovered. A final count of those who drowned was never ascertained.”

That account repeats most of details and uses much of the same language of Allensworth’s 1905 recollection:

“The two steamers, the ‘Prairie State’ and the ‘Avalanche’ coming from the north, landed almost simultaneously at the Pekin wharf. They were evidently racing as both were carrying a high pressure of steam. The ‘Prairie State’ pulled out of the landing ahead of her competitor, and when nearly opposite our gas works, her boilers exploded with terrific force. This happened on Sunday about the time for the beginning of church services. The people went to the rescue of the injured, and the wreck of the ‘Prairie State’ was towed back to the wharf by the ‘Avalanche.’ Many bodies were recovered and laid side by side under the walnut and oak trees on the bank of the river. The citizens turned their houses into temporary hospitals in which the injured were cared for.

“Mr. James Sallee was a passenger going to Texas, and is authority for the statement that the boat was crowded with passengers, many of whose bodies were never recovered.”

The 1974 Sesquicentennial also more specifically locates the Prairie State’s explosion at “a point nearly opposite ‘gas house hill’ (in the area of 100 Fayette Street).”

The 1949 Centenary and the Sesquicentennial also repeat Allensworth’s account and recycle some of his words. The Centenary added the darkly humorous observation that, “Pekin’s population increased by a somewhat unusual method, when a large number of people literally ‘blew into town,’” explaining that many of the survivors decided to stay on in Pekin after their recovery.

One of the survivors, according to the Centenary, was “the grandfather of Paul Sallee, the present Pekin trouper,” who is called “a well-known area entertainer” in the Sesquicentennial. Paul Sallee’s grandfather, of course, was the James Sallee of Allensworth’s account.

#illinois-bicentennial, #james-sallee, #paul-sallee, #prairie-state, #preblog-columns, #steamboat-disasters, #steamboats, #wreck-of-the-columbia, #wreck-of-the-frankie-folsom, #wreck-of-the-prairie-state

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Union barely had time to celebrate Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, before the nation was horrified by the assassination of its Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14 – a mere five days later.

One of Pekin’s pioneers was in Washington, D.C., during those days of sorrow: Seth Kinman, who formerly operated a hotel in downtown Pekin, claimed to have been an eye-witness of the president’s assassination, and contemporary newspaper accounts say Kinman took part in Lincoln’s funeral cortege.

As a result of his assassination, Lincoln came to be revered as a martyr for the cause of preserving the Union and for the abolitionist cause. The people of Illinois in particular have held his memory in the highest esteem ever since. It is in the state capital, Springfield, where he is entombed, and in towns and cities throughout the state Illinoisans are still proud to point to buildings and locations where Lincoln once lived, worked, or stayed. This is especially true of communities in central Illinois.

One of our county’s Lincoln sites unfortunately was destroyed by fire in May 2014 – the approximately 180-year-old Lilly Inn in eastern Tazewell County, one of the county’s oldest buildings, was a local link to President Abraham Lincoln, who stayed at the inn while riding the circuit as an attorney in central Illinois from the 1830s to the 1850s.

The Lilly Inn was, of course, far from the only site in our area with ties to Lincoln. For example, his work as a lawyer sometimes brought to him Mason County, where he is known to have stayed in the home of his friend Samuel C. Conwell on Washington Street in Havana. Conwell’s home, which he built in the early 1850s, is still standing.

In Tazewell County, Washington also boasts of its connection with Lincoln. At the old Washington Hotel, which stood where a BP parking lot is today, Lincoln made a stump speech during a stop on the way to Galesburg to debate Stephen A. Douglas. Some years ago, Washington placed five Bronze footprints at locations in Washington where Lincoln is known to have stopped in his travels.

Lincoln’s work brought him to Tazewell County two or three times a year, and he represented clients at the county’s courthouses in Tremont and Pekin. Naturally this work produced numerous Tazewell County legal documents bearing Lincoln’s signature or handwriting or name, and most of these precious mementos of Lincoln’s life, while remaining the possession of Tazewell County, are now in the keeping of the state of Illinois in Springfield.

One of Lincoln’s more important cases was Bailey vs. Cromwell (1841), in which Lincoln appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield and won the freedom of Nance Legins-Costley (“Black Nance”) of Pekin, a slave of Pekin pioneer co-founder Nathan Cromwell. Lincoln successfully argued that Costley and her children had to be recognized as free under Illinois law since there was no legal documentation establishing that they had ever been the property of the principals involved in the case, or that Costley had ever agreed to a temporary contract of indentured servitude.

When he came to Pekin for court, Lincoln often stayed at the old Tazewell House hotel, which stood from 1849 to 1904 at the corner of Court and Front streets (Gene Miller Park today). After the Tazewell House hotel was demolished, its threshold was preserved at the Tazewell County Courthouse, and was inscribed with words commemorating the fact that “Hereon trod the great Abraham Lincoln – Stephen A. Douglas – John A. Logan – Robert G. Ingersoll – David Davis – Edward D. Baker and others.

Tazewell House presumably was the Pekin hotel in the lobby of which, according to Tom Wheeler’s article, “The First Wired President,” published on a New York Times blog in May 2012, Lincoln first saw a telegraph key in 1857.

Lincoln’s legal career created another tangible link between Lincoln and Tazewell County – Lincoln sometimes would purchase his clients’ land and hold it for them in his name, later returning it when cases were concluded. That’s how Lincoln came to own several parcels of land in Tazewell, including the land at the intersection of Allentown and Springfield roads (where Morton has held the annual Punkin Chuckin event).

This 2008 Pekin Daily Times informational graphic chart describes 22 sites in Pekin that have direct or indirect links to President Abraham Lincoln. The list was researched and compiled by Dale Kuntz.

In 2008, retired teacher Dale Kuntz of Pekin, who served on the Tazewell County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission preparing for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1809, proposed that the city of Pekin create a historical “Lincoln Walk” in downtown Pekin to help visitors and residents learn more about Lincoln’s ties to the city.

Kuntz’s historical research had identified 22 sites along the proposed route that can be shown to have direct and indirect Lincoln connections, starting at the bank of the Illinois River where Lincoln had landed in 1832 when his oar broke while he returned from the Black Hawk War, then heading along Front Street south to Cynthiana, then east to Broadway, out to Sixth Street, then back west along Court Street to end at Gene Miller Park, the former site of the Tazewell House hotel.

#abraham-lincoln, #black-hawk-war, #black-nance, #dale-kuntz, #illinois-bicentennial, #lilly-inn, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #preblog-columns, #robert-e-lee, #samuel-c-conwell, #seth-kinman, #tazewell-house-hotel, #washington-hotel

Tales of Tazewell’s Underground Railroad

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2015 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Tales of Tazewell’s Underground Railroad

Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last week we surveyed the history of the pre-Civil War slavery abolition movement in Pekin, spotlighting local abolitionists such as Dr. Daniel Cheever of Pekin and the Woodrow brothers, Samuel and Hugh.

As we saw previously, Cheever engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets, (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad, by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to freedom and safety in Canada. At the same time, the Woodrow brothers were early Pekin settlers (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s) who later lived in Circleville south of Pekin, where they aided runaway slaves at their homes.

In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” Charles C. Chapman devotes an entire chapter of his book – chapter IX – to the running of the Underground Railroad in Tazewell County, on which the “freight” were human beings. As Chapman explains, abolitionists in Illinois frequently encountered fierce and violent opposition from pro-slavery settlers.

Those whose moral convictions spurred them to assist runaway slaves also risked punishment, since both federal and state law prescribed stiff penalties not only for anyone who helped a runaway slave gain his freedom but also for anyone who refused to help recapture runaways.

Pro-slavery men complained bitterly of the violation of the law by their abolition neighbors, and persecuted them as much as they dared: and this was not a little. But the friends of the slaves were not to be deterred by persecution,” Chapman writes.

Here are some of Chapman’s stories of Tazewell County’s Underground Railroad, from pages 317-319 of his history:

“The main depot of the U. G. Road in Elm Grove township was at Josiah Matthews’, on section 24. Mr. Matthews was an earnest anti-slavery man, and helped to gain freedom for many slaves. He prepared himself with a covered wagon especially to carry black freight from his station on to the next. On one occasion there were three negroes to be conveyed from his station to the next, but they were so closely watched that some time elapsed before they could contrive to take them in safety. At last a happy plan was conceived, and one which proved successful. Their faces were well whitened with flour, and with a son of Mr. Matthews’ went into the timber coon-hunting. In this way they managed to throw their suspicious neighbors off their guard, and the black freight was safely conducted northward.

“One day there arrived a box of freight at Mr. Matthews’, and was hurriedly consigned to the cellar. On the freight contained in this box there was a reward of $1,500 offered, and the pursuers were but half an hour behind. The wagon in which the box containing the negro was brought was immediately taken apart and hid under the barn. The horses, which had been driven very hard, were rubbed off, and thus all indications of a late arrival were covered up. The pursuers came up in hot haste, and, suspecting that Mr. Matthews’ house contained the fugitive, gave the place a very thorough search, but failed to look into the innocent-looking box in the cellar. Thus, by such stratagem, the slave-hunters were foiled and the fugitive saved. The house was so closely watched, however, that Conductor Matthews had to keep the negro a week before he could carry him further. This station was watched so closely at times that Mr. Matthews came near being caught, in which case, in all probability, his life would have been very short.

The homestead of Josiah Matthews, southwest of Tremont in Elm Grove Township, is shown in thise detail from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” Matthews was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at his home he secretly helped fleeing African-American slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

“Mr. Uriah H. Crosby, of Morton township, was an agent and conductor of the U.G.R.R., and had a station at his house. On one occasion there was landed at his station by the conductor just south of him, a very weighty couple, — a Methodist minister and wife. They had a Bible and hymn book that they might conduct religious exercises where they found an opportunity along the way. On conducting them northward Mr. Crosby was obliged to furnish each of them an entire seat, as either of them were of such size as to well fill a seat in his wagon. The next station beyond was at Mr. Kern’s, nine miles. He arrived there in safety, and his heavy cargo was transported on to free soil — Canada.

“The next passenger along the route that stopped at Crosby station arrived on election day. A company had passed on northward when a young man hastily came up. He had invented a cotton gin, and was in haste to overtake the others of the party as they had the model of his invention. He was separated from them by fright. J. M. Roberts found this young man in the morning hid away in his hay-stack, fed him, and sent his son, Junius, with him in haste to Mr. Crosby’s. On his arrival Conductor Crosby put him in his wagon, covered him with a buffalo robe, and drove through Washington and delivered him to Mr. Kern, who took him in an open buggy to the Quaker settlement. He overtook his companions.

The homestead of Uriah Crosby, northwest of Morton in Morton Township, is shown in this detail from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” Crosby was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and at his home he secretly helped fleeing African-American slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

“One of the saddest accidents that ever occurred on the U.G. Road in Tazewell county was the capture of a train by slave hunters. Two men, a woman and three children, were traveling together. The woman and children could journey together only from Tremont toward Crosby station, as they had only one buggy. The negro men concluded to walk, but stopped on the way to rest. Waiting as long as they dared for the men to come up, Messrs. Roberts started on with the women and children, but had not gone far before they were stopped by some slave hunters and their load taken from them. The mother and her three children, who were seeking their liberty, were taken to St. Louis and sold, as the slave hunters could realize more by selling them than by returning them to the owner and receiving the reward.

“When the two men came up it was thought best to take them on by a different route, the people determining they should not be captured. J. M. Roberts arranged to take them on horseback to Peoria lake. Several men accompanied them, riding out as far into the water as they could, and by a preconcerted signal parties brought a skiff to them, into which the men were taken and conveyed across the river and sent on the Farmington route in safety. All other routes were too closely watched.”

#dr-daniel-a-cheever, #hugh-woodrow, #illinois-bicentennial, #j-m-roberts, #josiah-matthews, #junius-roberts, #mr-kern, #preblog-columns, #samuel-woodrow, #underground-railroad, #uriah-h-crosby

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

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

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of two videos about Pekin’s first astronaut Lt. Commander (ret.) Scott Altman. The videos are a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

First will be a 35-minute video of Altman’s keynote address at an April 1996 meeting of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards will be a showing of the footage of Altman’s recent induction into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, a video 20 minutes in length.

While the Bicentennial Series videos next week exemplify the astounding technological progress of the modern age, this week’s “From the Local History Room” column looks back to an important aspect of the push for moral and cultural progress in Illinois. This will we will take a trip back to the days of the slavery abolition movement, which made its mark in Pekin and Tazewell County, as it did in many other communities in the Northern States. The “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” volume presents an enlightening narrative of that important time in our local history.

As we have seen from earlier columns in our Illinois Bicentennial Series, although Illinois was a “free” state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois. In our area, according to the Centenary (p.15), “Pekin was a pro-slave city for years. Some of the original settlers had been slave-owners themselves, and the overwhelming sentiment in Pekin was Democratic. Stephen A. Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln, was the local hero, although Lincoln was well-liked, and had some German following.

Lincoln, of course, was one of Illinois’ leading abolitionist attorneys and politicians, and in 1841 he argued and won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that secured the freedom of “Black Nance,” a Pekin resident who was the former slave of Nathan Cromwell, whose wife Ann Eliza had chosen Pekin’s name. On Oct. 6, 1858, Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin and addressed a large crowd in the court house square. (Trumbull would later co-author the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery.)

It was largely due to the influx of German immigrants into Pekin, many of whom had fled religious persecution in their home countries, that abolitionist sentiment began to flourish in our city. Many Baptists were abolitionists, and in 1853 a German congregation of Baptists organized in Pekin – the origin of Pekin’s Calvary Baptist Church.

Among Pekin’s abolitionist leaders, according to the Pekin Centenary, was Dr. Daniel Cheever, who engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad), by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada. Other early Pekin settlers active in the abolitionist movement were the brothers Samuel and Hugh Woodrow (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife, and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s). The Woodrows aided runaway slaves at their homes in the vanished village of Circleville south of Pekin.

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Illinois cities such as Pekin and Peoria were divided between the pro-slavery element, who favored the Confederacy, and the abolitionist and pro-Union element. In the early days of the war, a secessionist organization calling itself the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (which was something of a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan) boldly worked in support of secession and slavery. The Centenary says the Knights were “aggressive and unprincipled,” and “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid.”

This detail from an 1877 “aerial view” map of Pekin shows the building, marked by the number 55, where the Union League was organized on June 25, 1862.

To counter the dominance of the Knights and promote the cause of the Union, a secret meeting was held on June 25, 1862, above Dr. Cheever’s office at 331 Court St., where 11 of Pekin’s early settlers formed the Union League to promote the cause of Union and abolition. The anti-slavery Germans of Pekin quickly became active in the League. Soon a chapter of the Union League was organized in Bloomington, and then an important chapter in Chicago, where John Medill, founding publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a leading member.

Very soon the Union League had “swept the entire North and became a great and powerful instrument for propaganda and finance in support of the War” (Pekin Centenary, p.21). After the war, the League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

The 11 founding members of the Union League were the Rev. James W. N. Vernon, Methodist minister at Pekin; Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

The building where these 11 men gathered in June 1862 was later the location of the Smith Bank and Perlman Furniture in downtown Pekin. Perlman Furniture burned down in 1968 and a few years later Pekin National Bank was built on the site. Plaques commemorating the Union League’s founding are displayed inside and on the outside of the bank building.

A historical plaque on the outside wall of Pekin National Bank at the corner of Court and Capitol streets in downtown Pekin marks the site where the Union League of America was founded. IMAGE COURTESY OF ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #alexander-small, #ann-eliza-cromwell, #black-nance, #charles-turner, #dr-daniel-cheever, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #hugh-woodrow, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-w-n-vernon, #john-medill, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #knights-of-the-golden-circle, #levi-f-garrett, #lyman-trumbull, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-national-bank, #perlman-furniture-co, #preblog-columns, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #samuel-woodrow, #stephen-a-douglas, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

The religious faith of Pekin’s pioneers

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2015 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The religious faith of Pekin’s pioneers

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a closer look at the form and expression of religious faith during Pekin’s earliest times, spotlighting the origin of Pekin’s first Methodist Christians.

While the first European settlers to come to Tazewell County were Catholic Christians, following the establishment in 1824 of the settlement that would become Pekin, Methodism was the first religion to formally establish its presence among Pekin’s pioneer settlers. Pekin’s “first family,” the Tharps, had become Methodists before leaving Ohio for Illinois. As we have noted before, Pekin’s first preaching service took place in 1826, when Jacob Tharp invited Rev. Jesse Walker, a Methodist circuit-rider, to preach in Tharp’s log cabin.

In his 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 580-594, Charles C. Chapman provides an account of the history and progress of religion in Pekin, beginning with Rev. Walker’s preaching service. After Walker, a certain Rev. Lord ministered to Pekin’s first settlers. It was in 1827 that the first Methodist society, consisting of about eight or 10 members, was formed in Pekin by Smith L. Robinson. After Lord, Rev. John Sinclair arrived in 1831. Sinclair and Rev. Zadock Hall formally organized a Methodist Episcopal Church in Pekin, and Hall in turn was succeeded in 1834 by the church’s first regular installed minister, Rev. John Thomas Mitchell (1810-1863), a 24-year-old deacon who was active throughout northern and central Illinois.

In this detail from a page of 1831 Methodist Church records chronicles that year’s ministerial activities of Rev. John T. Mitchell in Illinois. In 1834, Mitchell became the first regular installed minister of the Methodist church in Pekin.

The following excerpts from Chapman’s account provide some colorful anecdotes from Mitchell’s time as Pekin’s Methodist minister.

“The Rev. John T. Mitchell followed Rev. Hall. He was a man of great power and eloquence, and eccentric to a great degree. His flights of oratory at times were truly sublime. He began his labors as the first regular installed minister, in 1834, in a little room, about twenty feet square, in the old barracks or stockades, which stood on the ground now occupied by the old frame residence of Joshua Wagenseller. . . .

“We will give one or two illustrations which, in themselves, will speak for the plain-tongued man of God, John T. Mitchell. One of his congregation, and a widow, who had but recently laid off her weeds, sold a cow and purchased what in those days was termed an elegant cloak, and she disposed of a brass preserving kettle and bought a bonnet (we presume a love of a one). This piece of wholesale extravagance had gone the rounds of the village, and loud were the censures for this wanton outlay, when to wear a bow or an artificial flower was equivilent (sic) to receiving sentence with the damned.

“Well, one Sunday morning when Father Mitchell was coming down on the pomps and vanities of the world, and earnestly hoping that none of his congregation would be guilty of putting on the flippery and flummery as worn by the worldings, just as his eloquence waxed warm on the subject of dress, in walked the widow with her new clothes, whereupon the sight of her was too much for him, and he said (pointing his finger directly at her,) ‘Yes, and there comes a woman with her cow upon her back and her brass kettle on her head.’ . . .

“In those days all the excitement the populace had, by way of breaking the monotony, was the landing of the steam-boats, and we are told that more always came on Sunday than any other day. Father Mitchell was exceedingly annoyed, from time to time, by many of his congregation jumping up and running to the river every time a boat whistled. Once, when the stampede began, Father Mitchell, with voice raised in tones of thunder, cried after them, ‘The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth.’ Whereupon a waggish fellow turned in the doorway, hat in hand, and, looking calmly at the divine, answered back, ‘and the righteous are as bold as a lion.’ . . .

“We think Father Mitchell must have been a firm believer in total depravity. There was a Universalist minister by the name of Carey, from Cincinnati (who was afterwards sent to Congress), came to Pekin and held a series of meetings in the two-story frame house directly opposite the old Foundry Church. This preacher, Carey, was brilliant and fluent of tongue, gathering about him, apparently, the whole village, to the disgust of Father Mitchell and his members. This was something new to them, it being the first time the broad-gauge religious track had struck Pekin, and many there were who were charmed with the doctrine. Still, some of the young men felt an innate sense of delicacy in openly and glaringly cutting old faithful Father Mitchell’s teachings, and they would walk about and reconnoitre until they would get to the corner of the building, and then stand and look around them for a few minutes, to see who was looking at them, and then like lightning dodge in. Father Mitchell, across the way, was of course taking in the full import of the scene, and feeling just a little bit of human chagrin at the boys leaving him for that glittering faith, he would walk up and down his church aisles, with his arms crossed behind his back, and as another and another would dodge in to hear Carey, he would say, very audibly, ‘there’s another one gone to hell.’”

Regarding Chapman’s comment on “total depravity,” it is unlikely that Rev. Mitchell, a Methodist, held to that doctrine. “Total depravity” is a Calvinist Protestant doctrine, whereas Methodism rejects Calvinism’s distinctive teachings on human salvation. Historically, however, Methodism has held to the orthodox Christian belief on the possibility of damnation, in opposition to the Universalist belief that all will be saved and no one will be finally damned – hence Mitchell’s displeasure with Carey’s preaching. (A biographical sketch of Rev. Mitchell was published in “Minutes of the Cincinnati Annual Conference of the Methodist Epicopal Church for the Year 1863,” pages 47-51.)

Chapman also provides an account of a memorable religious development in Pekin during the 1840s that the early settlers came to call the Sore-Throat Revival, when a frightening, deadly epidemic motivated many people to try to prepare their souls for Judgment Day, as these excerpts explain:

“The following persons composed the first choir: Samuel Rhoads, John W. Howard, James White, Daniel Creed, John M. Tinney, John Rhoads, and Henry Sweet, who acted as leader. This band of ‘ye singers’ met in Creed’s room for practice, and sometimes ‘took a hand,’ to pass the time until service. . . . This choir did valiant service in waiting on the sick during the fearful scourge and epidemic, called putrid sore throat, or black tongue, which swept over this part of the country during the winter of 1843 and 44. They paired off, night about, in watching the sick. But one evening Creed did not put in his appearance, and some of the boys suggested that he might be sick, and went to his room where they were wont to sing, but poor Daniel Creed had sung his last song on earth, and passed to the anthem choirs in the courts of Heaven, for they found him dead in his bed. The poor fellow had passed away in the loneliness of his own chamber, all alone, ‘to that bourne from whence no traveler returns.’ This fearful disease swept off, seemingly, half the village. The dead and the dying were in almost every house; men and women were aroused to a sudden sense of their obligations to their God, and with death apparently staring them in the face, they were crying out, ‘What shall we do to be saved?’ During this panic was started what was always afterwards termed the ‘sore-throat revival.’ Shops were shut, stores were closed, and all vocations for the time suspended, while the sick were nursed, the dead laid away, and the souls of the living presented to God for mercy. A pall hung over the infant town. A doom, at once dark, and deep, and solemn, seemed to settle over the citizens. Everybody joined the Church. Lucus Vanzant, the editor of the Pekin Gazette, . . . took sick early one night, and during the progress of the meeting, that same evening he sent his name down to the minister to be enrolled on the Church books. Vanzant got well.”

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Pekin’s seeds of faith

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

Pekin’s seeds of faith

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Having taken an overview last week of the early development of the exercise of religious faith in Illinois, this week we’ll take a closer look at seeds of faith in Pekin’s early history.

The first white settlers in Pekin, the Tharps, arrived in 1824 and 1825. “The Tharps had become Methodists before they left Ohio, and so Jacob Tharp welcomed a circuit-riding Methodist minister, Reverend Jesse Walker, into his log cabin in 1826 to conduct Town Site’s first preaching service,” says the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial.

In his 1879 History of Tazewell County, page 580, Charles C. Chapman quotes from the diary of Jacob Tharp: “However, in the same season [1826], but I cannot now remember whether before or after Dillon and Hinkle’s goods arrived, the Methodists had established a mission or circuit for this part and range of the country. Religious services by that persuasion were first held at my friend’s, Gideon Hawley, on Sand Prairie, when I first met our preacher, Jesse Walker, and invited him to give us a discourse at the ‘Town Site.’ He thought it unnecessary, as no body but myself and family, and my son Jonathan and family, resided there, but I insisted and he complied. We had quite an audience. Pekin then giving promise of being something in the future. Some came to examine the site, some to do some trading, and some to look at the river and to fish, etc. The meeting was held in my house.”

From that seed grew Pekin’s first Methodist church, which met informally in members’ homes until the 1830s, following the 1829 arrival of “fiery, plainspoken Joseph Mitchel,” who was installed as the church’s first minister.

“. . . it was under Reverend Mitchel’s guidance,” explains the 1974 Sesquicentennial, “that Pekin’s first church building was erected in the 1830’s on the north side of Elizabeth between Capitol and Third Streets. In an attempt to raise funds for the proposed two-story building, Jacob Tharp returned to Ohio, where he managed to raise $100. Unfortunately, he spent $200 on the trip, so only the lower half of the building could be completed. The congregation fondly called the building the ‘little brick church,’ but in later years it became known as the ‘foundry church,’ apparently because of its proximity to such an establishment.”

The old First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pekin, shown here, was built in 1867 at the corner of Broadway Road and South Fourth Street. At that time the previous Methodist church’s bell, which had been looted from a Catholic monastery by Pekin soldiers during the Mexican War, was sold to St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish and installed in that church’s bell tower.

Several other Christian and non-Christian faiths also established a visible presence around this general period of time, including Catholicism, which had retained a presence in central Illinois since the days of the French missionary explorers.

“Early records indicate that Pekin residents sought a Catholic Church as early as 1839; and it is reported, but not authenticated, that a St. Stephen’s Chapel was built shortly thereafter,” says the Sesquicentennial. In fact, the structure (apparently made of logs) was dedicated to St. Lawrence, not St. Stephen. “Pekin: A Pictorial History” says that around 1850 the Catholics of Pekin moved to Flint’s Hall on lower Court Street, where the first regular Masses began to be offered by Father John C. Brady.

In 1863, Father Jerome A. Ryan of Peoria presided at the laying of the cornerstone of St. Stephen’s Chapel at the corner of Second and Susannah. That served as the original church for St. Joseph’s Parish, which served the English-speaking Catholics in town. (German-speaking Catholics would build their own Sacred Heart Church in 1872.) The original St. Joseph’s Church was replaced in 1904, and that church in turn was succeeded by the present structure in 1969.

Pekin’s old Methodist Church and the first St. Joseph Church were linked by a stolen Mexican convent church bell, as related in Chapman’s 1879 history, page 585:

“The bell, which for years was mounted in the tower of the old frame church, and which rung and toled (sic) alike in joy or sadness, for marriage or funeral, was presented to the Trustees of the Church by the following gentlemen: Samuel Rhoads, Colonel Frank L. Rhoads, William Tinney, and John M. Gill, and was captured by them when in Mexico, in the Mexican War. They took it from the tower of a Roman Catholic Monastery, at Vera Cruz, packed it in a flour barrel with straw, and brought it home with them to Pekin, and presented it the Methodist Church of this city, where it, with its old cracked chimes, made singular music for the masses in its ringing for service or fire. But the old bell wearied of Protestantism, and in the year 1867 was sold, with its full consent, to the English Roman Catholic Church of Pekin, where its peculiar tones may be heard at five in the morning, calling its devotees to the early mass. And thus the old bell has returned to its early faith and original creed.”

The late Lanson Pratt of Pekin collected this old photograph of the Mexican “Convent Bell” that was stolen by Pekin soldiers from a Mexican Catholic convent church during the Mexican War and brought sent by them to Pekin in 1847. The soldiers gave the bell to Pekin’s Methodist church, but when the Methodists built a new church in 1867, they sold the bell to the Catholic Church. The bell rang from the steeple of the St. Joseph Parish church until 1904,

The Mexican convent bell remained in use at St. Joseph’s Church until the construction of a new church in 1904. What became of it after 1904 is unclear. Local historian William H. Bates said in his 1916 “Souvenir of Early and Notable Events” that, “The bell is still in possession of St. Joseph’s Society,” and the 1949 Pekin Centenary said only that it is “now no longer in use.” A May 16, 1978 Pekin Daily Times article says it was stored for a while in the church attic at St. Joseph’s Parish, and Lanson Pratt’s nephew Edward Neumann of Delavan says the parish had talked of donating it to the State of Illinois. The 1978 Pekin Times article only says that “its current location could not be determined.”

Next week we’ll recall some of the stories of Pekin’s pioneer Methodist pastor, “fiery, plainspoken Joseph Mitchel.”

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