Bricks, paved roads, and coal mines

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in October 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

Bricks, paved roads, and coal mines

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the most prominent industries in Pekin’s past were coal mining and brick manufacturing, and one company had a hand in both: the Jansen & Company.

Jansen & Zoeller was located on Pekin’s East Bluff by Reservoir Road, the area where Sunset Hills is located today. “Millions of bricks used for building many of Pekin’s early businesses and residences were supplied from that location, which was chosen because of the type of clay found in the area,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” pp. 96-97.

The senior partner in the company was John D. Jansen, who emigrated from Germany to Peoria when he was only 22. It was in Peoria where Jansen learned brick masonry. After a time, he moved to Pekin, where he partnered in a brick-making company with Thomas Snyder. Soon after that, in 1894, he joined with Henry Jost and Charles Zoeller to form the Jansen, Jost & Zoeller Company. Jost later left the partnership, but Jansen and Zoeller continued the business, which incorporated in 1899 and was located at 212 N. Capitol St.

“Zoeller had left Germany, at age 16, arriving in Philadelphia, in 1868, with his brother where he learned the trade of a brick mason,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History. “Seeking greater opportunity, Zoeller set out for Pekin where he enjoyed a 21-year prosperous career with fellow bricklayer, John Jansen. Zoeller left the firm in 1915 and died in 1935.”

In addition to brick-making, the firm’s owners also were involved in brick paving of streets. They also were building contractors, and among their projects were Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, St. John’s Lutheran Church and the old Peoria & Pekin Terminal railroad bridge that crossed the Illinois River.

According to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” “In 1891 Jansen’s son, Dietrich, the Pekin City engineer, was admitted as a partner. Dietrich Jansen later partnered with Fred Schaefer to organize one of the most prominent road-paving companies in the state” ¬— the business known as the Jansen & Zoeller Brick Company.

Shown is some Jansen & Schaefer road paving equipment from about 1920.

Dietrich Jansen and Fred Schaefer took the reins of the company in 1915, with Schaefer serving as “outdoor supervisor” and Jansen taking care of inside equipment. They “built their first state highway in 1919 as well as many similar projects in every part of Illinois,” says “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” which goes on to say, “Beside building the roads in the north end of Pekin, Jansen and Schaefer also constructed the Pekin Park Swimming Pool in 1937 (which was razed in 1998); Pekin High School Memorial Stadium and the Kriegsman Transfer Co. Warehouse.”

In 1946 Jansen & Schaefer built a ready-mix concrete plant on Broadway at 15th Street, which is today the location of Kroger and a strip mall.

Jansen & Schaefer also built the very first paved load road — a work path that stretched from the Ubben Coal Mine on the East Bluff to what is today Court Street. Horse-drawn wagons would carry coal from the mine to the Big Four sidetrack, where a crew would shovel the coal into the waiting train cars.

Schaefer shifted to coal mining in May 1939, when he bought one of the old Grant coal mines. It was one year after the dismantling of the Ubben Mine’s tipple structure. The Ubben Mine formerly had been one of the largest businesses in the area, generating more than a million tons of coal from the time it was first opened in 1880 until it closed in 1930. Schaefer’s coal company was known as the Schaefer’s Mining Company or the Pekin Mining Company, and the mine’s entrance was located just off Broadway Road, where the Herget Bank Parkway-Broadway branch was located for many years.

Schaefer’s was the last mine in Pekin, closing around 1951. After the death of Fred Schaefer, his daughter Anna and son-in-law Harold McNally, with Jansen’s sons Norman and James, inherited the business. Soon after, an inspection of the mine determined it to be unsafe. So ended the days of coal mining in Pekin.

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History of 126 Sabella St.

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in April 2013 before the launch of this weblog.

History of 126 Sabella St.

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About 15 years ago, the Historic Preservation Commission of Pekin turned its attention to the possibility of preserving an old building apparently built in or around 1879, formerly located at 126 Sabella St.

As they researched the history of the families and businesses that lived in or operated from that location, the commission members gathered a wide array of historical materials going back to some of the earliest owners of the property. Regrettably, after this research was conducted, the structure was later demolished and this old lot is empty today.

Above is shown the rear of the former Vogels grocery store that was located at the corner of Second and Sabella streets. The structure, demolished about a decade ago, was apparently built around 1880 by George W. Rankin, who operated a mill work business out of it.

Lot 11, Block 3, of the Original Town of Pekin, the southwest corner of Second and Sabella streets, was originally owned by the town founders, such as Nathan Cromwell and William Haines. The lot is only three blocks north of the site of Jonathan Tharp’s log cabin of 1824, the first structure built by a European-American settler in what would become Pekin. From 1831 to 1847, the property changed hands 15 times. One of those times was on April 24, 1843, when lots 1 through 12 of Block 3 were purchased by Charlotte Bacon for $1,200.

Four years later, John and Eliza Ayers purchased Lot 11 and another lot in a different block for a total price of $150. John, who was only 42 years old, died later that year on Nov. 26, 1847. In 1855, the John Ayers estate was involved in legal action in which Abraham Lincoln appeared as an attorney. This was the case of Ayers vs. Brown & Brown, in which Ayers’ estate, represented by Lincoln, sued John and Thomas Brown to recover a number of horses and cattle. In May 1855, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the Ayers estate got one horse and the Browns were allowed to keep the other animals.

John’s widow, Eliza Ayers, continued to live at 126 Sabella St., and the very first Pekin City Directory in 1861 shows her living there. Among her neighbors that year were lumber merchant Alex Bateson on the southeast corner of Second Street and Sabella, and Edwin Browne, who operated a dry goods store on the northeast corner of that intersection.

Eliza Ayers died on Sept. 21, 1877, and in her will directed that her house and Lot 11 be sold and the proceeds given to her brother William McDowell, who was then living in Missouri. Two years later, on Oct. 6, 1879, George W. Rankin purchased Lot 11, where he apparently built a brick building which he used to conduct a mill work business that, according to the 1887 Pekin City Directory, made sashes, doors, blinds and lumber.

Henry A. Reuling bought Rankin’s business and Lot 11 on Oct. 7, 1891. Reuling merged his business with K. S. Conklin’s lumber business and acted as the manager of the new firm, the Conklin-Hippen Reuling Co. They were the contractors who built the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion and Palm House, the old Tazewell Club building, and also did work on the old Pekin City Hall.

In 1902, Lot 11 was sold to the Pekin Gas & Heating Manufacturing Co., which operated a machine shop out of the first floor and used the second floor for storage. By 1901, the property had been sold to Henry Weber, who operated the Pekin Engine & Machine Co. on the first floor while he and his wife Emma lived on the second floor. The Weber estate sold Lot 11 to Roscoe Weaver in 1948, and Weaver also operated a machine shop out of the same building.

Then in 1963, Ruth Weaver sold Lot 11 to Vogels Inc., which ran a well-known grocery store for many years at that location. Today both Vogels and its old brick building that probably was built in 1879 by George W. Rankin are only a memory of Pekin’s past.

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The old Citizens Telephone Company

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

The old Citizens Telephone Company

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Just over the past few decades, the telecommunications industry has seen great changes both in technology and in options available to consumers — and over the past century or so, those changes have been vast.

Soon after the turn of the last century, consumer options in Pekin were limited to just two telephone companies: the Central Union Telephone Company, and the Citizens Telephone Company. A four-paragraph account of Citizens Telephone was included in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on page 80. The first two paragraphs of that account are as follows:

“The year 1901 found Pekin with two competing telephone companies: Central Union Telephone Company, first on the scene, and the newly organized Citizens Telephone Company, headed by James W. Barrett. The Citizens Company also established an exchange at East Peoria, adding to their already existing stations at Havana, Manito, Green Valley, Delavan, and Lacon, connected by a system of company-owned toll lines.

“The continuous growth of the community necessitated expansion of service, which meant much additional capital. Following the first World War, the telephone situation was discouraging for the citizens of Pekin, as there were two sets of telephone lines in town, yet many people seeking service could not get it until much of the outmoded equipment was replaced and the necessary expansion completed.”

During those years, Citizens Telephone operated out of a building at 405 Court St. in downtown Pekin -— the same building where the Pekin Daily Times offices were then located, and which suffered a wall collapse over four years ago. The 1887 Pekin City Directory lists the Times Publishing Co., “publishers of the Daily and Weekly Times,” at 507 Court St., but the 1893 directory shows that the Times had moved to 405 Court St. by that year.

However, the 1903-1904 Pekin City Directory, page 183, shows the following occupants of 405 Court St.: Times Publishing Co.; Citizens Telephone Co., 2nd floor; and J. K. Hawkins. The Times moved out of the building around 1905, and the former Times offices became the offices of the Tribune Printing Co., a Pekin newspaper that was also owned by the Times Publishing Co.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Co., encouraging the technological innovation of the residential telephone, was published 104 years ago, in the 1914 Pekin City Directory.

Citizens Telephone continued to occupy the second floor of 405 Court St., though, and the city directories around that time usually listed “405½ Court St.” as the phone company’s address. For a while, as shown in the 1913 and 1914 directories, Citizens Telephone shared the building with Idylhour Theatre, located on the ground floor, but eventually the phone company became the lone occupant of the building.

The Sesquicentennial’s account of Citizens Telephone goes on to say that, “The Citizens Company was sold to W.S. Green and associates, who had formed a new company (still called Citizens Company). They promptly traded East Peoria and Delavan service rights to Central Union (later absorbed by the Bell System) for the ‘long distance phone system’ in Pekin and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new capital to replace the mass of bare wires in town with one of the most extensive underground cable systems to be found in a similar-sized community anywhere.

“The depression years of the early thirties proved a serious blow to the company, however, and so in January of 1938 the Citizens Company was taken over by the Middle States Telephone Company of Illinois, which was a division of the Central Telephone Company (no kin to Central Union) headquartered in Des Plaines, Illinois. The firm retained the name of Middle States, however, for nearly 30 years, officially changing to Central Telephone in 1967.”

Thanks to the old Pekin city directories, we are able to correct one important detail of this account. It was not in 1938 that Citizens Telephone was taken over by Middle States. Rather, the takeover must have happened about 10 years earlier, because the city directories list Citizens Telephone at 405 Court St. up until 1928 — the city directory of that year for the first time shows “Middle States Telephone” at that address, and so it would continue for the next 39 years.

#405-court-st, #centel, #central-telephone-company, #citizens-telephone, #idylhour-theatre, #middle-states-telephone-company-of-illinois, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #times-publishing-co, #tribune-printing-co

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the years this columns has from time to time spotlighted a few of the scribes who played important roles in recording the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: writers and researchers such as William H. Bates, Charles C. Chapman, and Fred Soady, or Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry H. Cole. This week we’ll take a closer look at the life of another important Tazewell County historian, Ben Campbell Allensworth of Pekin.

Allensworth’s chief contribution to local history was as the editor of the 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” which updated Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history. Allensworth’s history was published in the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County.” The first volume and part of the second volume, the encyclopedia, were edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, while Allensworth was in charge of the Tazewell County history in volume two.

Allensworth was well suited to his task, because he was a school teacher and superintendent as well as an experienced and accomplished journalist. As the old saying goes, journalism gives us the first draft of history — but Allensworth had a hand in both a first and second draft of Tazewell County’s history.

This portrait and signature of Ben C. Allensworth was included in the 1905 “History of Tazewell County” of which Allensworth was the editor.

Included in Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, on pages 968-970, is his own biography, written by his friend, Judge A. W. Rodecker. “Ben C. Allensworth, the editor of the History of Tazewell County, having, from some cause, failed to furnish his own biography to the publishers of this work, they asked me to write it,” Rodecker apologetically explains. Allensworth’s portrait also is interleaved between pages 682 and 683.

Rodecker’s biography of Allensworth says, “Ben C. Allensworth was born in Little Mackinaw Township, one-half mile southeast of Tazewell, in Tazewell County, Ill., October 27, 1845. His parents were William P. and Arabel Waggener Allensworth. William P. Allensworth was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., September 25, 1820, and died in Minier, Ill., May 8, 1874. He was a kind hearted and courtly gentleman, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. He held the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court for four years, and was an efficient and popular officer. The mother of B. C. Allensworth was born in Christian County, Ky., July 9, 1827, and died in Galesburg. Ill., March 25, 1902. She was a woman of culture and refinement, anxious for the success of her children, and labored with her husband in his every endeavor to educate and make them good and useful citizens.

“The subject of this sketch was the eldest of nine children, all of whom, with the exception of two, are living. He was reared on a farm, but, when he could be spared, attended the country schools and was a diligent pupil. It was easy for him to master the studies taught, and he early evinced a purpose to be more than a common school scholar. At the age of twenty he entered the State University at Normal. He ranked high in his studies, and when he graduated in 1869, left a record in the school which gave him a high standing with the school men of the State. Soon after his graduation, he was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Elmwood, Peoria County, which place he held until the spring of 1872. . . .

“In April, 1872, Mr. Allensworth bought of W. T. Meades a half-interest in ‘The Tazewell Register,’ and connected therewith John F. Mounts, a printer and writer of some considerable reputation. In September of that year, Meades purchased Mounts’ interest in the paper. The partnership of Meades and Allensworth, in the publication of the Register, continued until January 1873, when, on account of failing health, Mr. Allensworth sold out to Meades. Then retiring from the newspaper business, he went to farming in Little Mackinaw Township. He taught school in the winter time until 1877, when he was nominated by the Democratic party for Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools, being twice elected to this position. . . .

“For a portion of the time during which he was Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Allensworth carried on farming, and was just farmer enough to be compelled to use all the salary he made out of his office to keep up the farm — or rather make an attempt at it. . . . He dropped his farming venture in 1884 and moved to Pekin, where he has since resided. In May, 1885, he took editorial charge of ‘The Pekin Times,’ but owing to a disagreement with its proprietor, J. B. Irwin, as to the policy to be pursued by the paper, he gave up this position in the following September. In 1886, Irwin having sold the paper, Mr. Allensworth accepted the position of editor and business manager for the Times Publishing Company, which position he relinquished January 14, 1894, to take charge of the Pekin Postoffice (sic), to which place he had been appointed December 21, 1893, by Grover Cleveland. After the expiration of the four-year term in the postoffice, he went into the insurance business, in which he is now engaged. For a number of years he has been a member of the Pekin Board of School Inspectors, and has served one term as President of the Board.”

Rodecker also states that Allensworth married Charity A. Tanner in Minier on Oct. 7, 1875. He and Charity had three daughters and two sons. Charity died in 1912, and Allensworth died at Pekin Hospital on the morning of Sept. 3, 1929, being survived by three of his children and four grandchildren. His lengthy obituary — which is mostly a somewhat abridged version of Rodecker’s biography — was published at the top of the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Little Mackinaw Township.

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A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Dec. 2011 before the launch of this weblog.

A visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past . . .

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

If you’ve ever wondered what Christmas celebrations were like in Pekin way back when, an old handbill from 1879 in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection can be a way to summon a visit from Pekin’s Ghost of Christmas Past.

In large, bold letters, the handbill announces a “holiday concert” to be presented Friday evening, Dec. 26, 1879, at Empire Hall, one of Pekin’s earliest theaters or concert halls. Empire Hall was on the second floor of a building in the 200 block of Court Street – so that should give you an idea of just how long Pekin has been celebrating Christmas downtown.

This 1879 handbill, donated to the Pekin Public Library by late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. and now displayed in the library’s Local History Room, opens a window on Pekin’s Christmas traditions of long ago.

The holiday concert was a three-scene Christmas cantata entitled, “Santa Claus!” which was performed “by the members of the Baptist Sunday School, assisted by LEADING SINGERS OF THE CITY,” as the handbill states. Directing the cantata were Mrs. and Mrs. W. F. Henry, while Miss Josie Goodheart directed two silent tableaux vivants that were presented at the end of the first scene and at the conclusion of the cantata. The price of admission was 25 cents for adults and teens, and 10 cents for children under 12.

Lining both sides of the handbill are advertisements by the local merchants who sponsored the cantata, offering “the greatest bargains in holiday goods in the city,” “Christmas candies, nuts and fruits,” “holiday goods, toys, notions, etc.” In that respect, Christmas in 1879 wasn’t any different from Christmas today.

Also advertised are “1000 cans of oysters for Christmas!” and “oysters in every style.” Though they a part of a traditional Christmas dinner – for Christians used to abstain from meat during the penitential season of Advent, and so Christmas Eve dinners would feature seafood – oysters are probably not as popular these days as ham or turkey.

Much about the cantata also would be familiar to us today, but other things would be a little strange. The cantata tells the story of six children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but the handbill says nothing of Santa’s reindeer, who made their first appearance in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Also absent from the cantata were Santa’s elves and the toy workshop at the North Pole, which are later developments of the Santa Claus story.

Instead, the audience was treated to a character called the Frost King, as well as three Christmas fairies and Santa’s two attendants, dwarfs named Drako and Krako. Also prominent in the cantata were six goddesses, representing Dreams, Mirth, Joy, Peace, Love and Hope. It was the task of the Goddess of Dreams, played by Mrs. James Sholl, to sing a lullaby, “Now the tiny lids must close,” to ensure the six children were fast asleep before Santa’s arrival.

It wasn’t long before the 19th century’s reimagining of the Catholic St. Nicholas as the “jolly old elf” Santa Claus would take on a life of its own, more secular than religious, all but divorced from its Christian origins. This 1879 cantata, however, bears an unmistakably Christian stamp: the very first solo, sung by Miss Fannie Miller, is, “Where the Shepherds Watched by Night,” and the cantata concludes with the chorus, “Our kind and loving Father, / A glad and joyful throng / We lift our hearts and voices / To Thee in grateful song.”

A final bit of local history trivia: playing one of the children in the cantata was Fred W. Soady Sr., born Sept. 5, 1867, whose biography appears in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” page 696. Some past “From the Local History Room” columns have featured quotes from a 1960 paper of Pekin’s early history written by Fred W. Soady Jr., grandson of the child actor of 1879.

#a-visit-from-st-nicholas, #clement-clark-moore, #drako-and-krako, #empire-hall, #fannie-miller, #fred-soady, #fred-w-soady-sr, #josie-goodheart, #mr-and-mrs-w-f-henry, #mrs-james-sholl, #pekin-christmas-of-times-past, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #santa-claus, #st-nicholas-of-myra, #tableaux-vivants, #twas-the-night-before-christmas, #where-the-shepherds-watched-by-night

Early Tazewell County’s first banks

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

Early Tazewell County’s first banks

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

When much of Illinois was still a wilderness, what did Tazewell County’s pioneers do for money?

In their first years after arrival, the pioneer settlers didn’t use money, but instead relied on barter. Before long, however, they were able to make use of the rudimentary makings of a monetary and banking system. In his 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 870-872, Ben C. Allensworth provides an account of the development of the county’s financial system (which tracked closely with the development of the state’s and the nation’s financial system).

“In the early days of the settlement of Tazewell County,” Allensworth writes, “its merchants exercised the functions of banks by safe-keeping the money of the people and selling them bills of exchange . . . The old safes of those days, with their impressive size, showing great round rivet heads indicating immense strength, called ‘Salamanders,’ remain only a memory of the older citizens of today.”

Allensworth then cites Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” for his information on the county’s first bank, the Shawneetown Bank, founded in Pekin in 1839 as a branch of the Bank of Illinois. Col. C. Oakley was the bank president, Charles A. Wilcox was the cashier and William C. Docker was the clerk. The Shawneetown Bank “had but a short run and closed its doors in 1842, because of the collapse of the great improvement system, inaugurated about this time by the State of Illinois,” Allensworth says.

Shown is an example of an early bank note circulated as currency in Pekin about the middle of the 1800s. According to Ben C. Allensworth’s Tazewell county history, the bank note was of dubious value, so it was sent “into the West for circulation, as far away from home as possible, that it might not be returned for redemption so easily . . . We are told that it utterly failed of credit and was soon withdrawn.”

Allensworth’s account continues, “The first firm to do a regular banking business in Pekin, which has been handed down from one organization to another to this day, was that of G. H. Rupert & Co., established in 1852, although Mr. James Haines, a member of this firm, had opened an office for banking the year before as a branch of a Peoria bank.”

As we have noted previously in this column, the mansion of Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), which he built in 1862, was for a long time the location of Henderson Funeral Home, while James Haines (1822-1909) was a younger brother of William Haines, one of the co-founders and original plat-holders of Pekin. “It is from Mr. Haines we get the most information as to the methods and practices of the first bankers of Tazewell County,” Allensworth says.

The remainder of Allensworth’s account of the circumstances that led to the establishment of the banking firm of G. H. Rupert & Co. is here excerpted:

“We had no regular banks of issue in Tazewell County until the National banks were organized. Some of our older citizens remember that there was current money issued by a bank called the ‘Prairie State Bank of Washington,’ some time before the War, but the writer has been unable to get reliable information as to this.

“There was reported an incident as occurred at the counter of this bank at this time, which was characteristic of those days. A certain Doctor came to the bank and is said to have deposited $200 in gold. A short time after he wished to withdraw his money, when he was offered the paper issue of the bank for his demand, which he refused to take, demanding gold instead.

“It is said, the doctor, to end the altercation, drew his pistol and compelled the payment of gold . . . .

“Banks of issue of other States, and of cities of our own State, flooded the country with currency of doubtful value. This currency was mostly based on State bonds, and the less valuable these securities were the more profitable it was to circulate the currency based on them.

“Southern and Eastern banking associations would send their currency into the West for circulation, as far away from home as possible, that it might not be returned for redemption so easily. . . .

“This currency of ante-bellum days, based on securities of fluctuating value, was more or less discredited in different parts of the country, often depending on the distance it was from its place of redemption, but more frequently because of the changes of the market value of the State bonds on which these issues were based. . . .

“But the people grew tired of these constant changes in the value of their money and refused to use it longer. The currency became so obnoxious to the people that they came to designate it by such names as Wild Cat, Red Dog and still more opprobrious titles.

“It was at this time that the banking firm of G. H. Rupert & Co. did the people of Pekin and vicinity a great service. All our currency had become more or less discredited, and yet the people must have money to facilitate their transactions in business. G. H. Rupert & Co. adopted as their own issue the currency of the Platte Valley Bank of Nebraska, guaranteed on each bill put out by them, and thus relieved the stress for a good currency in Tazewell and surrounding counties.

“This was a very courageous act, and the approach of the Civil War, with its resultant crashes in all business enterprises, tested to the breaking point the credit of this banking firm.

“But, notwithstanding the terribly adverse conditions, they made good their guarantee to the people, redeeming in gold, dollar for dollar, this Platte Valley currency, thereby establishing a precedent of good faith which, up to this time, has been faithfully followed by all the banks of Tazewell County.”

#banks, #charles-a-wilcox, #col-c-oakley, #g-h-rupert-and-co, #gideon-rupert, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-haines, #preblog-columns, #shawneetown-bank, #william-c-docker, #william-haines

Sober voters were rare in early elections

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in July 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Sober voters were rare in early elections

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

We have recently recalled the story of the beginnings of permanent white settlement in Tazewell County. With the establishment of new settlements came the rudiments of governmental structures and civic life – and that means politics and formal elections.

William H. Bates wrote the first published history of Pekin, which was included in the 1870 Pekin City Directory. One of the features of Bates’ history is his compilation of Tazewell County and Pekin “firsts,” and thus on pages 7-8 of the city directory we find the story of what Bates called Tazewell County’s first election. (It would be more accurate to say that it was the first election to be held in what would later become Tazewell County.)

Bates wrote, “The first election was held at the house of Isaac Dillon (sic) on the first Monday in August, 1826, this being, at that time, a part of Peoria county. The election was for Governor and other officers. We are not informed who received a majority of the votes nor the number polled, but the day was a gala one and of sufficient importance to be commemorated by a banquet. When the voting was concluded Jesse Dillon went to a neighboring cornfield and procuring an arm-full of roasting-ears, they were boiled, together with a ham, in a fifteen gallon iron kettle, and then served to the assembled crowd of election officers and yeomanry, constituting an out-door feast worthy of the occasion and heartily and thankfully partaken of by the people.”

The 1887 Pekin City Directory, pp.11-12, repeats that account word-for-word, but adds at the end, “Nathan Dillon was elected Commissioner on this occasion.

The story of Nathan Dillon, traditionally known as the first white settler in Tazewell County, was told in a recent Local History Room column, including extensive excerpts from Dillon’s own account of his arrival that had been quoted in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

In addition to the story of his pioneer adventures, Dillon also wrote an account of the beginnings of civic institutions and elections in Tazewell County, and Chapman also incorporated that into his county history, on pages 711-712.

Dillon’s recollections begin with his tale of the election at Springfield in August 1822. According to Dillon, whiskey (that is, the excessive consumption of whiskey) was the fuel that powered the engine of state and local elections in those days, as politicians tried to win elections by getting the voters drunk out of their minds. (Perhaps not too different than elections today?)

Dillon said that the candidates, Kinney, Parkinson and Edwards “had a long bench ranged along side of the court-hose, on which they set their liquors. The polls were held in the interior. We all got plenty to drink . . . and a general frolic occurred; but what has surprised me as I have reflected upon these early days, we had no fighting. The great evil was, that every candidate had to fill his portmanteau with whisky, and go around and see and treat every voter and his wife and family with the poisonous stuff, or stand a chance of being defeated. . . .

In the winter of 1823, I emigrated to what is now called Dillon Settlement, in this county, 10 miles from Pekin, and 17 miles from Peoria, where I spent the season in quietude; my nearest neighbor living in Peoria, except one by the name of Avery, who had raised his cabin at Funk’s Fill. But things did not remain in this condition long; for during the same winter the Legislature made a new county, with Peoria for the county-seat, embracing all the country north of Sangamon county. Phelps, Stephen French and myself were appointed Justices of the Pace, for the new county, which extended east as far as Bloomington and north and west to the State line. We sent our summonses to Chicago and Galena, and they were promptly returned by our constables.

March, 1824, we held an election at Avery’s, Wm. Holland, Joseph Smith and myself were elected County Commissioners. The whole county was embraced in one election district. The number of votes polled was 20; had some whisky on the occasion, but it was well tempered, having been imported a long way by water; and we did not succeed in getting on as great a spree as we did at Springfield.”

Dillon’s account ends at that point. Chapman then tells of the August 1826 election – but Chapman’s account is almost a verbatim transcription of Bates’ story from the 1870 Pekin City Directory, even though Chapman didn’t using quotation marks. The only real differences between Bates and Chapman are that Chapman corrects Bates’ mistaken reference to “Isaac” Dillon (which was an error for “Nathan” Dillon), and also adds to Bates’ statement about the feast “thankfully partaken of by the people.”

To that, Chapman added the tongue-in-cheek comment, “nor do we know that whisky was served, yet we cannot say it was not.”

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