The story of Pekin’s post offices

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

The story of Pekin’s post offices

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll take a look at Pekin’s post offices. Perhaps most Pekin residents know that before the current post office on Broadway near downtown Pekin, there was an “Old Post Office” in a stately old building near the Tazewell County Courthouse. But by no means are those the only post offices Pekin has seen.

Pekin’s first post office opened on Feb. 20, 1832, and Robert Alexander was Pekin’s first postmaster, according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” page 90. It is not stated where that post office was located, but “Pekin: A Pictorial History” goes on to say that prior to 1850 the post office “operated from various and sundry sites including the general store, a tavern, a hotel and several rented quarters.

The 1949 Pekin Centenary elaborates on that point on page 121: “The location of the Pekin post office during the early years seems to have had nothing on the proverbial rolling stone, for one early chronicle tells that ‘it is impossible to name all the locations.’ We do know that about 1866, it was located on the south side of the 300 block on Court Street about three doors from the railroad.

This drawing from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County shows Pekin’s post office and adjacent buildings on the south side of the 300 block of Court Street. The site is now occupied by the former Pekin Daily Times offices, which originally was the Ricks TV building.

That was approximately where the former offices of the Pekin Daily Times were located until recently, in the former Rick’s TV building. We also find recorded that the first free delivery of city mail took place in 1886.

The Centenary continues its account of Pekin’s post offices: “Then after being moved to the middle of the Mark’s block west of the railroad, it remained there until 1897; when it was again moved to the Flynn Building – in the new Boston block.” The old 1891 atlas map of Pekin shows the post office in the 200 block of Court Street (i.e. Mark’s block) on the south side. The Flynn Building, however, was in the 400 block of Court: The 1898 Pekin City Directory shows the post office’s address as 431 Court St., whereas Patrick Flynn operated a saloon nearby at 401 Court St.

By the time the post office had moved to the Flynn Building, plans had already begun on a new structure to house the post office and other federal agencies. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial tells the story at length on page 117:

“In 1892 an appropriation of $70,000 was made ‘with an additional appropriation up to $80,000,’ for a Federal Building for Pekin . . . . After much heated controversy concerning the location of the new Federal Building, the site of the former Prettyman Homestead at Elizabeth and South Capitol was chosen and purchased for $15,000. But when local bids, based on plans and specifications submitted to the supervising architect of the Treasury Department in 1904, were forwarded to Washington, they were all rejected because they were not within the limits of the contract price; and so new bids had to be submitted. Consequently, it was not until 1905 that the structure was finally completed at a cost of approximately $100,000.”

That is the building known as the Old Post Office, although it houses other federal government agencies besides the U.S. Postal Service. As the Sesquicentennial states, “Besides the post office, the building housed, on the second floor, Pekin’s Home Bureau, the Army Recruiting Office, and the Treasury Department’s offices.

Built in 1905, the structure popularly known in Pekin as “the Old Post Office” was originally more than a post office, but was a federal building also housing Pekin’s Home Bureau, the Army Recruiting Office and the Treasury Department’s local offices.

The post office operated from that structure until 1966, when the current post office building was completed. The following year, the Old Post Office was purchased by Lee Tosi, who in turn sold it to Monge Realty in June 1972. The Pekin Area Vocational Center operated out of the Old Post Office around that time, but the PAVC moved to its own building near East Campus in 1975. Later, there was an attempt to turn the building in a fine restaurant, but at last the county bought the building and still uses it today – county board meetings formerly took place there, and the 109-year-old structure continues to house county probation services.

The 1974 Sesquicentennial volume has this to say about the construction of the current postal facility:

“On November 12, 1964, Postmaster General John A. Gronouski announced that a contract had been awarded to Eckstein and Siemann of Cassville, Wisconsin, to build a new post office here, with an initial investment by the bidder of $376,750. The contract called for the building to be leased to the postal service for 20 years, with renewal options running through 30 years at an annual rental of $31,680 for the basic term. The building, now owned by Raymond Eckstein, an attorney in Wisconsin, has an interior space of 16,524 square feet. The area for parking and movement of postal vehicles totals 21,908 square feet.”

The Sesquicentennial account concludes with a brief look at the surge in business that Pekin’s post office saw in the middle and latter parts of the 20th century, when receipts increased from $139.908.24 in 1948, when Pekin’s postmaster was Roy S. “Peach” Preston, to $832,277.33 in 1973, when the postmaster was Francis J. McLinden. Bringing the story of Pekin’s post office up to date would, of course, require us to tell of the massive cultural changes brought about by the invention of the Internet, email, texting and other social media.

#flynn-building, #francis-j-mclinden, #john-a-gronouski, #lee-tosi, #marks-block, #monge-realty, #old-post-office-restaurant, #patrick-flynn, #pekin-area-vocational-center, #pekin-post-offices, #post-office-block-1864, #preblog-columns, #prettyman-homestead, #raymond-eckstein, #roy-preston

William Gaither, Tazewell County treasurer

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

William Gaither, Tazewell County treasurer

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Gaither surname occupies a special place in the history of Pekin and Tazewell County, chiefly due to the central role played by Mary Elizabeth Gaither (1852-1945) in the planning and construction of the Pekin Carnegie Library in 1902. She also compiled and wrote the early history of the library up to 1902.

Having devoted much of her years to the public library, Miss Gaither, as she was usually known (never having married), later moved to California, where she lived her remaining years in the home of her older brother Otho, outliving him by a few months and dying in Lindsay, Calif., on Jan. 11, 1945. Her obituary, published on the front page of the Jan. 13, 1945 Pekin Daily Times, surprisingly is silent about her involvement in the library, but offers these remarks on the decades-old ties of Miss Gaither and her family to Pekin:

“The news carries oldtimers down a long memory lane to Civil War days in Pekin. At the turn of the year, word came of the death of Mrs. Margaretha Neef, whose memory also included Civil War and Abraham Lincoln days in Pekin. Still living of that day and almost the same age is Mrs. Anna Schipper, now in Florida for the winter.

“The old Gaither home in Pekin was the house that now is the Congressman Dirksen home. Many remember old Mr. Gaither because of the shawl he wore. Miss Gaither is best remembered here as a music teacher – but that was long, long ago.”

Shown is a drawing of William Gaither’s home on Buena Vista Avenue in Pekin that was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” The house is more usually remembered today as the home of U.S. Senator Everett M. Dirksen and his wife Louella, but formerly was the residence of Mary E. Gaither who played a chief role in the plans to build the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library. The house still stands today and is located at 335 Buena Vista Ave.

“Mr. Gaither” was William Gaither, Esq., who held a number of public offices in Tazewell County, including that of county treasurer. His social prominence and political activities earned him a place in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County, which also includes numerous biographies of the “Old Settlers of Tazewell County.” Gaither’s biography is on page 42 of the atlas, and an engraving of his residence on Buena Vista Street is found on page 124.

William Gaither was born April 8, 1813, in Hagerstown, Maryland, the son of Zachariah Gaither (1782-1834) and Elizabeth Garver (1786-1827). The biography says William became a cabinet-maker’s apprentice at the age of 17. “After completing his apprenticeship, and business not being very brisk in his native state, he was desirous of trying his fortunes in a new country, and with that intention he started westward, and traveled overland to the Ohio river, then by steamer, landing in Pekin, Illinois, in October, 1836. He remained here but a short time, then went to Tremont, which was then the county seat of Tazewell county. He there resumed his trade, which he carried on for a number of years,” the biography says.

In 1844, he married Ann Eliza Coleman Garrett, and together they had seven children, three of whom died in childhood – William, Otho, Martha, Mary, Charles, Samuel and Lincoln. He and his family moved back to Pekin in 1863.

The biography continues, “In the year 1850 he was lured from the quiet walks of life, and was in the fall of that year elected sheriff of Tazewell county, as the candidate of the Whig party. Under the then existing constitution of the state, a sheriff was not eligible for reelection for the succeeding term. After the expiration of his term of office, Mr. Gaither turned his attention to agricultural pursuits, and to his trade, which claimed his attention for several years. In 1862 he was appointed by Sheriff Williamson, his deputy. During that year he did most of the business of the office. In the fall of 1862, Mr. Gaither was nominated by the Republican party, for sheriff, but of course was defeated, as the Democrats at that time were largely in the ascendancy in Tazewell county.

The biography goes on to tell of Gaither’s subsequent involvement in public affairs: appointed by President Lincoln a federal inspector of revenue for the Eighth District (encompassing Tazewell County), removed from that office by President Johnson over policy differences, appointed assistant county treasurer and collector in the fall of 1867, appointed county treasurer in September 1869 to fill the vacancy created by the death of County Treasurer Barber, then elected county treasurer in November 1869.

At the time of the publication of the 1873 Atlas Map, Gaither was serving a second elected term as treasurer. He died in Pekin on Jan. 11, 1892 – coincidentally the same day and month that his daughter Mary died in 1945. His widow Ann Eliza died in 1912.

Among the records and mementos preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room archives is a collection of papers and letters of William Gaither, many of them associated with his activities as treasurer and collector for the county. The collection, formerly in the possession of Miss Gaither, was donated to the library in 1970 by Miss Gaither’s niece (Otho’s daughter), Nellie Gaither Urling-Smith.

#anna-eliza-coleman-garrett, #anna-eliza-gaither, #anna-schipper, #carnegie-library, #dirksen-home, #everett-mckinley-dirksen, #louella-dirksen, #margaretha-neef, #mary-elizabeth-gaither, #miss-gaither, #nellie-gaither-urling-smith, #otho-gaither, #pekin-public-library, #preblog-columns, #william-gaither

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

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

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This column has previously taken a brief look at the history of Creve Coeur, one of Pekin’s neighbors to the north, with the help of a published village history in the Local History Room collection of the Pekin Public Library.

This week we’ll turn our attention to one of Pekin’s neighbors to the south, Green Valley, with the help of another published history in the Local History Room collection – the Green Valley quasquicentennial volume, “Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years, 1872-1997,” also titled, “Quasquicentennial: Green Valley, Illinois, 1872-1997.”

Green Valley is a small rural community in the south of Sand Prairie Township, not too far north of Malone Township. As a small rural community, its history naturally would not be limited to the families and events of the village, but would include the landowners and farmers in the surrounding area. Consequently, the quasquicentennial volume puts a spotlight not only on Green Valley, but also on Sand Prairie and Malone townships.

This map, from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County, show Sand Prairie Township. The lost village of Circleville, then the largest settlement in the township, is shown in the northeast corner. Green Valley did not yet exist, but would be established on land owned by the Schureman and Dickson families in Sections 26 and 35.

Small though it is, Green Valley is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. Prior to the beginning of Green Valley’s history, however, the title of largest community in the township was held by the vanished village of Circleville. Sand Prairie Township originally was called Jefferson Township, and it used to be larger than it is today, encompassing parts of what is now Malone Township. Around 1824 – the year Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at the future site of Pekin – white settlers first came to the future site of Circleville, in Section 1 of the former Jefferson Township.

“This was the first town in the township,” the Green Valley history says. “It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Circleville later became notorious as the favored hangout of the Berry Gang, a group of outlaws led by four brothers, William, Isaac, Emanuel and Simeon Berry, who had a homestead just outside of Circleville. The criminal career and ultimate doom of the Berry Gang is told in “Lynch Law,” a book authored by local historians and retired law enforcement officers Jim Conover and James Brecher.

An 1864 atlas map of Tazewell County shows Circleville in the northeast corner of Sand Prairie Township, but one will search in vain for Green Valley on that map. In 1864, the land that would become Green Valley was then the Dickson and Schureman farmsteads. (Other long-established family names of Sand Prairie Township include Woodrow, Deppert and Talbott. The wealthy Cummings family of Pekin also used to own land in the township.)

Nine years later, the 1873 atlas map of Sand Prairie shows both Circleville and Green Valley. But visitors to Sand Prairie Township today will find no trace of Circleville, which slowly dwindled away after the heyday of the Berry Gang.

Green Valley made its debut on the map of Sand Prairie Township in this plat from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This copy of the original plat of Green Valley was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” North is down, South is up.

“The land where Green Valley now stands was purchased from the government in 1852 by Samuel Schureman for $3 an acre,” the Greek Valley history says. “He built a one-room house on the side of the present Schureman homestead. Another house was where the 1912 grade school was later built. A Schureman tale is told of the days when wild game ran through the prairie grass and prairie chickens were so thick that when they flew to roost in the evenings on the rail fences, the rail could not be seen for the number of chickens covering it.”

On Oct. 19, 1872, the unincorporated village of Green Valley was platted out by Samuel Schureman. The little settlement’s development was anchored by the Illinois Central Railroad, which was built in 1870, and the Smith-Hippen grain elevator, which was built in 1872. The village celebrated its centennial in 1972, commemorating the original platting by Samuel Schureman, but another centennial milestone came on March 11, 2016, which was exactly 100 years from the date Green Valley was incorporated as a village.

Shown are Sarah, Thomas (“Tommy”), and Stella Schureman in front of the home of Thomas Schureman at what is now 108 N. Church St. in Green Valley. Tommy Schureman’s house was also Green Valley’s first post office in the 1860s.

The community formerly boasted its own newspaper, the Green Valley Banner, which was founded by Clark Nieukirk in the late 1890s and which continued to be printed until it fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Microfilms of selected issues of the Green Valley Banner from July 15, 1897, to Dec. 28, 1922, are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #clark-nieukirk, #columbus-r-cummings, #green-valley, #green-valley-banner, #jefferson-township, #jim-brecher, #jim-conover, #malone-township, #preblog-columns, #quasquicentennial-green-valley-illinois-1872-1997, #samuel-schureman, #sand-prairie-township, #thomas-schureman, #tommy-schureman, #william-berry

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

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

The Tazewell County directories of J. A. White

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column has spotlighted on various occasions the early city directories of Pekin and Peoria in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These volumes are often useful in researching local history and genealogy in the areas of Tazewell and Peoria counties.

The Local History Room collection also includes another set of directories that help to shed light upon the history in our area. These are eight volumes of White’s Tazewell County Directory. The library’s collection includes White’s directories for the years 1914, 1916, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1928 and 1930.

This advertisement for Citizens Telephone Company, 405 Court St., Pekin, appeared in the 1914 White’s Tazewell County Directory. The copy of the directory in which this advertisement appeared was once owned by John Fitzgerald, who was then Citizen Telephone’s secretary and treasurer.

White’s directories were prepared and published by J. A. White, a Peoria-based publisher who debuted the first of his Tazewell County directories in 1913. To provide some historical context, that was a year before the outbreak of the First World War in Europe and the start of construction on the current Tazewell County Courthouse (which would be completed and dedicated in the summer of 1916).

Assuming a somewhat apologetic tone, White explains his reasons for publishing his county directories in his “Introductory” comments toward the front of the 1914 volume.

“In presenting this, my Second Volume of White’s Tazewell County Directory,” White says, “I believe I will fill a long-felt want. I have exerted myself to make this as complete and comprehensive a work of the kind as possible, and while not always perfect, I trust the public will overlook any small errors which may have crept in.”

The “long-felt want” referred to the difficulty people back then had in finding families and businesses that were located outside of Pekin. The Bates’ and Polk’s Pekin annual city directories, which began to be published in 1870, were of great help if one were looking for a person or a business in Pekin – but what about the rest of the county?

To supply that need, White’s directories included a compilation of all Tazewell County individuals or heads of households age 16 and up who lived outside the Pekin city limits. In addition, his directories included a Business Directory for the city of Pekin, as well as a Directory of Miscellaneous Information on Tazewell County and its towns and villages, with the “Rural Free Delivery” (R.F.D.) list showing the route on which each farmer lived out in the rural unincorporated areas of the county. White also helpfully indicated with a cross which individuals were heads of household, and with a large dot indicated which individuals owned the land that they lived on and farmed.

In the 1914 directory, each subsection on one of the towns in the county begins with a brief description of the town. Most of them are short and simple, such as the description of Deer Creek – “A village in the N E part of the county on the Lake Erie and Western R R 18 miles east of Peoria.” The description of Delavan notes that the village “had water works and electric light plant.” As the county seat, Pekin’s description naturally is the longest (although curiously lacking in punctuation):

“A beautiful city located on the east side of the Illinois River Is the county seat of Tazewell County has many large manufacturing institutions and compares favorably with many cities of greater population Has six railroads The P & P T, Santa Fe Big Four I C C P & St L and P & P U and semi-weekly boats to St Louis”

In the same directory, the “Miscellaneous Information” begins on page 230 with a list of county officers, as follows (with punctuation style as shown in the directory):

Judge County Court – J M Rahn
Clerk County Court – Geo Behrens
Treasurer – Wm E Schureman
Sheriff – C A Fluegel
Superintendent of Schools – B L Smith
Circuit Clerk and Recorder – C O Myers
States Attorney – Wm J Reardon
Surveyor – Ben F Smith
Coroner – Ernest F Masen
Master-in-Chancery – H C Frings
Probation Officer – John H Shade

Of these names, we have previously seen the Schureman surname in the survey of the early history of Green Valley. State’s Attorney William J. Reardon later was on the team of attorneys who successfully defended the Tazewell County deputies charged with the 1932 torture-murder of Martin Virant. Finally, John H. Shade will be familiar to many Pekin residents as the father of the late Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#b-l-smith, #ben-f-smith, #c-a-fluegel, #c-o-myers, #citizens-telephone, #ernest-f-masen, #george-behrens, #h-c-frings, #j-a-white, #j-m-rahn, #john-h-shade, #martin-virant, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #preblog-columns, #r-f-d, #rural-free-delivery, #whites-tazewell-county-directories, #william-e-schureman, #william-reardon

The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

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

The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In March 2013, this column concluded a 25-part series that had begun in Sept. 2012 on a pair of sensational murders that occurred in East Peoria and Pekin in the early 1930s. The series put a magnifying glass on different aspects of life, law and crime in Tazewell County toward the end of the Prohibition Era.

The era of Prohibition, of course, is commonly known as the Roaring ’20s, a colorful description of a generally high-spirited time of material prosperity and swift social change. It’s now been a century since the start of that decade. A book about that time is included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection: “Roaring in the ’20’s in Tazewell County,” produced in 2002 by the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society and compiled by Vivian Higdon.

The book is only 46 pages, yet “Roaring in the ’20’s” has individual chapters on all of the things for which that era is known: not only gangsters and organized crime, or Prohibition and speakeasies, but also the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, fashions, automobiles and roads, new inventions, sport and entertainment, and heroes and daredevils.

The Roaring Twenties weren’t all gangsters, speakeasies, and flappers. Sometimes it was a group of neighborhood boys in Pekin shooting a game of marbles, as in this undated 1920s photo from the Peoria Journal-Transcript. Shown left to right are Urban Albertsen (1917-1999), Edwin Hamilton, Dan Reardon, Howard Riopel (on bicycle), Chester Marshall, Harvey Bennett, Paul Herren (1917-1986), Joe McNaughton (1919-2002), Murray Revoid, and Robert Hamilton. The photographer was Brooks Watson.

Among the social changes of that decade were changes in the language, so it makes sense that “Roaring in the ‘20’s” also has a handy one-page glossary of 1920s-era slang, from “applesauce” to “whoopee.”

Here are some selections from the glossary:

Applesauce: Horsefeathers!
Bee’s knees: An excellent idea, person, thing
Berries: Similar to bee’s knees
Big cheese: Big shot
Bluenose: Prude
Bump off: Murder or kill
Bunk: Nonsense
Cake-eater: A ladies’ man
Cat’s meow: See “Bee’s knees”
Cat’s pajamas: See “Cat’s meow”
Cheaters: Eyeglasses
Crush: Infatuation
Darb: Reliable to pay a check
Drugstore cowboy: A man who tries to pick up girls on the corner
Dumb Dora: A stupid woman
Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman wearing short skirts and shorter hair
Giggle water: Alcoholic beverage
Heebie-jeebies: The jitters
Hoofer: Dancer
Hotsy-totsy: Pleasing
Jake: It’s OK
Joint: A club, usually serving alcohols
Keen: Attractive, appealing
Nerts: To show disgust (“Nuts!”)
Scram: Leaving quickly after being told to
Sheba: Woman with sex appeal
Sheik: Man with sex appeal
Spifflicated: Drunk
Struggle buggy: Backseat of a car (a parent’s worst nightmare)
Swell: Wonderful; or a rich man
Take for a ride: Drive off with someone to bump him off
Torpedo: A hired gun
Upchuck: To vomit as a result of drinking too much
Whoopee: To have a good time

#brooks-watson, #chester-marshall, #dan-reardon, #edwin-hamilton, #harvey-bennett, #howard-riopel, #joe-mcnaughton, #murray-revoid, #paul-herren, #preblog-columns, #roaring-20s, #roaring-in-the-20s-in-tazewell-county, #robert-hamilton, #the-third-degree, #urban-albertsen, #vivian-higdon

Electric lights and a village disaster

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

Electric lights and a village disaster

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Electric street lights have been a part of our lives for so long that most of us take them for granted. Nevertheless, the introduction of street lights in the latter half of the 1800s was a revolution in the way we live – and not uncommonly in a revolution, people can get hurt, as well shall learn in this week’s exploration of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

It was during the 1860s that street lights were installed in Pekin – but they were gas lights, not electric. Here is how the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial tells the story:

“It was February 18, 1861, when an Act to Incorporate the Pekin Gas Light Company was approved by the Illinois General Assembly. It was four years later, however, before said company was organized, with William Stansbury as president. . . It was under Stansbury, though, that the first gas street lights were put in operation, and the old lamp-lighter was a familiar figure in the city from February 5, 1866, until 1888, when electric street lights replaced the old gas type.”

William H. Bates in the 1887 Pekin City Directory also notes that, “On the 5th of February, 1866, the City Council ‘deemed it expedient and proper to light the streets, lanes, avenues and alleys of the city with gas.’

The Sesquicentennial also tells of the founding of Pekin’s first electric utility companies in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The switch from gas to electric lights also meant a change in power sources. With gas lights, it was simply a matter of burning natural gas to give off light, but with electric lights the electricity must be generated.

In those early days, steam power was one of the means of power generation for electric street lights. Usually everything worked as it was supposed to, but one September day in Morton it resulted in tragedy.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” includes accounts of various “Calamitous Events” that befell the residents of Tazewell County. One of them, related on page 82, is entitled, “Fatal Explosion at Morton.” Here is Allensworth’s account:

“A 5 o’clock, p.m., September 5, 1897, the steam-boiler of the electric light plant at Morton, blew up from some cause never ascertained. The building was a one and a half story brick, and was used as a feed-mill, pumping station for the water supply, and as a saw-mill. It was owned by Barr Bros. & Co. George Grimm, foreman, had just gone to his supper leaving a pressure of 25 pounds on the boiler, when the explosion took place. The boiler was blown through the roof, and brick, iron and debris were scattered for blocks around.

“Those killed were: Tillie Buyer, aged 5 years; Emma Buyer, aged 12 years; Albert Buyer, aged 4 years, who died next day.

“The injured were: Frank Buyer, aged 14 years, and Miss Cassie White, who was visiting friends in Morton at the time the explosion occurred. The children injured and killed belonged to the family of Moses Buyer. At the time of the explosion they were playing in the back yard, and at the first intimation of danger started for the house nearby, but were caught by the falling missiles and two of them were instantly killed.

“This was the most serious calamity that has ever befallen the village of Morton.”

Shown is what was left of the Morton electric power plant after the explosion of Sept. 5, 1897, that killed three children and injured two others who were playing in the neighborhood. The photograph is from the “GHPERK/Perkins Family Tree” at, which shows the genealogy of Moses S. Beyer, who lost three of his children and had a fourth injured in the disaster.

In his account of this tragedy, Allensworth misspells the family name of the children who died or were injured. They were the children of Moses S. Beyer (1861-1933) and Susan (Zobrist) Beyer (1868-1922). Moses, an electrician, worked at the very plant that took the lives of three of his children when it exploded (and in fact, Allensworth’s “Barr Bros. & Co.” may be an error for “Beyer Bros. & Co.”). Emma, Tillie, and Albert Beyer are buried in the old Apostolic Christian Cemetery of Morton. Also buried with them is an unnamed infant of Moses and Susan who also died in 1897.

Besides their son Frank, U.S. Census records show that Moses and Susan had three other children, daughters named Mary, Lena, and Anna, who survived to mourn the loss of their siblings. Their mother Susan, severely traumatized by the loss of four of her children the same year, can also be counted as a victim of the disaster: census records show that by 1900 she was a patient living at the Peoria State Hospital near Bartonville, and remained there until her death on Oct. 16, 1922. She and Moses are buried together in Morton’s Apostolic Christian Cemetery.

#albert-beyer, #anna-beyer, #beyer-bros-and-co, #cassie-white, #electric-street-lights, #emma-beyer, #frank-beyer, #gas-street-lights, #george-grimm, #lena-beyer, #mary-beyer, #morton-power-plant-disaster, #moses-s-beyer, #pekin-gas-light-company, #peoria-state-hospital, #preblog-columns, #susan-zobrist-beyer, #tillie-beyer, #william-stansbury

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

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

Hinners’ Organ Company’s privileged place

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It’s not at all uncommon that the Pekin Public Library receives a research question on one subject that might lead to delving into other, related areas of local history.

For example, a few years ago a patron expressed interest in locating a photograph of a former Pekin resident named Gene Stein, who died in Peoria on Feb. 1, 1922, and was buried in Springdale Cemetery. His full name was Eugene Albert Stein, and he was born in Pekin on May 26, 1864, son of German immigrants named Herman and Emma (Hinckle) Stein. His wife was Eleanor “Lallie” Erler (1879-1946), daughter of Franklin and Elizabeth (Howells) Erler. As a first step in the search, Stein’s obituary was found in the Pekin Daily Times. Though by no means an extended account of his life, his obituary is quite informative. It turns out that Stein was well-known in Pekin.

His obituary says he was “one of the best known musicians, composers and orchestra directors of this vicinity. . . . ‘Gene,’ as he was familiarly known to nearly everyone in Pekin, grew to manhood here and always was identified with this community. . . . Known far and wide as one of the best musicians of this section, ‘Gene’ was for years identified with the Hinners Organ company here and with the Capitol theatre, where he was orchestra director. Just previous to his last illness, he gave up his orchestral work to become manager of the Pekin Music company.

This drawing of the Hinners Organ factory in Pekin is cropped from an image of the back cover of an old copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ.

The name of Hinners is prominent in Pekin’s history, and references to the Hinners’ Organ Company – that is, Hinners & Albertsen – appear several times in the standard works on the history of Pekin. For example, the 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 147, says, “For years, too, the Hinners Organ Company, founded in 1879, was one of Pekin’s leading factories, producing thousands of Hinners reed and pipe organs, sold to all parts of the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world.”

The Hinners organ factory was located at 125-131 Court Street, at the corner of Court and Second streets. Another old publication, the Industrial & Commercial edition of one of Pekin’s former newspapers, the Pekin Post-Tribune, includes the following two paragraphs about Hinners on page 21:

“In 1879 the manufacture of organs was inaugurated in Pekin by John L. Hinners. The first organs were made by him and one assistant. Small and insignificant as was the enterprise in the beginning, it has steadily developed in a natural and healthy manner and today it is one of the principal and most successful manufactories of the city. The establishment at the outset began the system of selling without agents, direct from the factory at factory prices, to private purchases.

“Messrs. Hinners & Albertsen enjoy a growing business. Only first-class lumber is used in organs. The firm procures the very best, direct from persons whose specialty is the preparing of lumber for organs and pianos. The aim of the company is not to create an opportunity for any one to gain by influencing sales of organs, but to offer to actual purchasers and users of organs the best possible organs at the lowest possible price. Reed and pipe organs are manufactured.”

Despite the well-earned reputation for quality, Hinners’ went out of business just prior to World War II, the victim of advancing technology – Hinners’ rivals had faster, more efficient, automated factories that enabled them to sell organs at much lower prices.

Because the Hinners’ company once occupied a privileged place in Pekin’s economy, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room keeps a “Hinners” file that includes newspaper clippings, essays, papers, and booklets related to the history of Hinners’. One of the books in the library’s Hinners collection is a copy of “Hinners’ Organ Method,” an instruction book for learning how to play the organ. No doubt as a musician and employee of Hinners’, Gene Stein taught organ lessons in Pekin.

One thing that is not in the history room’s collection, however, is a photograph of Gene Stein. Anyone who knows of such a photo may call the library at 347-7111, ext. 2, or the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society at 477-3044.

Front cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

Back cover of the Pekin Public Library’s archival copy of Hinners’ Organ Method.

#eleanor-lallie-erler, #eugene-albert-stein, #gene-stein, #h-j-rust, #hinners-and-albertsen, #hinners-organ-company, #hinners-organ-method, #john-l-hinners, #preblog-columns