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
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.”
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.”
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.