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.

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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.”

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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.”

#drunk-voting, #early-elections, #illinois-bicentennial, #jesse-dillon, #nathan-dillon, #preblog-columns, #stephen-french, #voting, #whiskey, #william-holland

The Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887

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

The Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of the worst railroad disasters in Illinois history was the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887.

The disaster happened in Livingston County, not Tazewell County, so at first glance one might not think it was relevant to Tazewell County history. Nevertheless, the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room has a file specifically on the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck.

A look into that file will quickly reveal the local connection. The main item in the file is a photograph of the disaster that had been reprinted in 1927. The photo caption says, “Although it happened in 1887, all of 40 years ago, one need only say ‘Chatsworth wreck’ in this part of the country and everyone knows what is meant. This picture of the famous wreck belongs to Chris Ziebold, Sr., 1213 Henrietta street, Pekin.

Notably, this photo was the basis for one of the engravings that illustrated the Harper’s Weekly account of the wreck in the issue dated Aug. 20, 1887.

This photograph of the Great Chatsworth Train Wreck of 1887 was owned by the late Chris Ziebold of Pekin, and was used as the basis for an engraving that illustrated the Harper’s Weekly report on the wreck.

This Harper’s Weekly drawing illustrating its report of the Chatsworth train crash is clearly based on the above photograph.

However, besides the local connection of the photograph, the disaster itself, in which at least 80 people died and probably hundreds were injured, touched the lives of many people throughout central Illinois. The train’s passengers no doubt included residents of Tazewell County.

The wreck, which happened shortly before midnight on Aug. 10, 1887, has been ranked as either the second or third deadliest train disaster of the 19th century. The number of dead has been placed at between 81 and 85 (reports at the time estimated more than 100 dead) and the number of injured anywhere from 169 to 372.

On the evening of Aug. 10, a Toledo, Peoria & Western train pulled out of Peoria, heading east through Eureka and Chenoa on the way to Niagara Falls. The train included two steam engines, six fully loaded passenger cars, six sleeper cars and three cars for luggage (and perhaps more cars). Aboard the train were as many as 700 people who had been attracted by a special offer to visit the famous falls on the New York/Canadian border.

At a point about three miles east of Chatsworth, the train began to accelerate down a slope and reached a speed of about 40 mph. At this point the train began to cross a wooden trestle bridge over a creek. The first engine made it over the bridge, which then collapsed behind it, causing the second engine to slam into a hill side. Most of the cars behind the engine telescoped into the second engine and each other.

One of the survivors, J. M. Tennery, was on the first sleeper, whose passengers escaped with only a fright or minor bruises. He said, “I got out in safety, and the scene presented to the eye and ear was one I wish I could forever efface from my memory.”

Instantly the air was filled with the cries of the wounded and the shrieks of those about to die,” said a report in the Chicago Times. “The groans of men and the screams of women united to make an appalling sound, and above all could be heard the agonizing cries of little children as in some instances they lay pinned alongside their dead parents.

Rescuers and searchers comb the Chatsworth train wreckage in this Harper’s Weekly drawing.

News of the wreck quickly spread by telegraph. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of onlookers descended on the scene, and many of them claimed “souvenirs” or even robbed the dead. That led to erroneous speculation that the bridge had been sabotaged for the purpose of robbing the train. In fact, however, it was a tragedy caused indirectly by the weather.

The summer of 1887 was a drought year in central Illinois. Worried that sparks from their steam engines could start an uncontrollable brush fire, on the day of the wreck the TP&W Railroad conducted a controlled burn near the bridge. Apparently the fire was not completely extinguished, and the flames severely charred the wooden trestle under the bridge, leaving it unable to support the train’s weight.

Four days later, the TP&W gathered the debris into a massive heap and set it on fire, even though it is very likely that not all the dead had been recovered from the wreckage. The burning of the wreck is the reason for the uncertain tallies of the dead and injured or even the exact number of cars in some reports.

Survivors attend their dead loved ones at the scene of the Chatsworth train wreck in this Harper’s Weekly drawing.

In the aftermath of the wreck, railroads shifted away from wooden passenger cars in favor of safer and sturdier steel. Also, not long after, musician Thomas P. Westendorf penned the folk ballad, “The Bridge Was Burned at Chatsworth” (also known as “The Chatsworth Wreck”), which was sung at a 1937 memorial service. A state historical marker was placed near the wreck site in 1954.

A state historical marker was placed near the site of the train wreck in 1954. PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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A further look at Pekin’s old fire companies

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, under the title “Pekin Fire Department has a blazing history,” republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

A further look at Pekin’s old fire companies

By Linda Mace and Jared Olar
Library assistants

The Pekin Public Library’s Illinois Bicentennial video series continues next Friday, Nov. 2, with the showing of a video with a topic perhaps fitting for the season of Hallowe’en and All Souls Day: on-the-scene footage of the archaeological excavation of the former Tharp Pioneer Cemetery that used to be located at the site of the Pekin Schnucks grocery store.

In the 1980s the old Douglas School building was torn down and replaced by K’s Super Saver (now Schnucks), and during construction human remains were discovered that had been overlooked when the former cemetery was closed and its burials transferred to Lakeside Cemetery. The video is about 70 minutes in length, and will be shown at 11 a.m. in the library’s Community Room.

Earlier this month we recalled the Great Fire of 1860 which sparked the formation of Pekin’s original volunteer fire companies. This week we will take a further look at the early days of Pekin’s fire companies and municipal fire department.

This photograph from the May 15, 1921 Peoria Journal-Transcript shows Pekin’s municipal fire house and trucks. In those days the Pekin Fire Department was based in the old City Hall building at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.

Another vintage photograph from the latter 1800s shows Pekin’s old City Hall building and fire house at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets, with firemen posing with their horse-drawn equipment.

As we saw previously, in the aftermath of the Great Fire, three independent fire companies were formed: the Independent Hood and Ladder Company No. 1, Rescue Company No. 1, and Defiance Hose Company.

In 1880 two more volunteer companies were organized: the “Wide Awake” and “Protection.” By 1894 the “Wide Awakes” had a partially paid department. Fire stations were built and torn down as they became obsolete. Equipment was purchased and modernized.

Pekin fire company volunteers show off their 1884 Ahrends “Eagle” steam pumper, a horse-drawn fire-fighting machine.

In those days fire-fighting machinery was brought to the fires on horse-drawn wagons. But with the advent of the automobile toward the end of the 19th century, before long the days of horse-drawn fire wagons were at an end. By the early 1920s Pekin’s fire department had converted to automotive ladder trucks and pumper trucks.

But how did the public get word to Pekin’s early fire companies that they were needed to put out a fire?

The answer is found in “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” which says that by 1884 “the city had installed a Gamewell Street Box Fire Alarm system. This system allowed the public to communicate alarms directly to the fire department from pull boxes located throughout the community.”

And just how would one operate these? The 1903-1904 City Directory listed the instructions, as follows:

FIRE ALARM STATIONS, PEKIN, ILLINOIS. TO KEY HOLDERS: RULE ONE. Upon positive information of a FIRE near your signal station. BREAK THE GLASS, UNLOCK THE DOOR AND PULL THE HOOK DOWN, THEN LET GO. RULE TWO. Should you hear the small bell ringing inside (which is an indication that an alarm is being sent over the lines), wait until small bell stops ringing: then close outer door, which puts box in circuit. Now open door and pull hook down once and alarm will be sent in. * THIS RULE IS IMPORTANT AND SHOULD BE OBSERVED. * RULE THREE. DO NOT PULL THE HOOK DOWN MORE THAN ONCE. RULE FOUR. Never leave the Station from which you give the alarm until the Fire Department arrives, and then tell them where the fire may be, unless the fire will show itself. RULE FIVE. In using a TELEPHONE FIRE ALARM STATION CALL up the TELEPHONE OFFICE. When they answer, you repeat slowly and distinctly: “FIRE! FIRE! Station No.–, giving the number of the station you are at.”

Our modern “9-1-1” emergency system is obviously much faster and more efficient.

Pekin firemen test the hoses on the fire departments new $13,000 fire truck in this Jan. 29, 1928 Peoria Journal-Transcript photograph.

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Over a century of Pekin Hospital history

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

Over a century of Pekin Hospital history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The occasion of the Illinois Bicentennial is an ideal time to recall that Pekin’s hospital celebrated its own centennial just a little over five years ago. The history of this hospital – redubbed by its current corporate owners as “UnityPoint Health-Pekin” – began in 1913, when the community’s need for a public hospital led to the formation of a non-profit Pekin hospital corporation.

That is not the year Pekin Hospital opened its doors, however. Rather, that year the hospital’s board, headed by Presidents G. A. Kuhl and J. M. Rahn, commenced fundraising campaigns to raise money for the construction of a hospital. Those efforts enabled the construction of a hospital building in 1918, which therefore would be 100 years old if it still existed.

Shown is the original Pekin Hospital, built in 1918, photographed in 1928 from a path in the Sunken Gardens. Eventually this structure was torn down, but the main entrance was salvaged and is now attached to the north side of the 1931-2 addition, beneath a large clock.

The original hospital as seen from Park Avenue and 14th Street.

A closeup of the south end of the original Pekin Public Hospital building as seen from the area of 14th Street and Park Avenue about 1938.

Built by Ed F. Lampitt & Sons building contractors, the 1918 facility was erected on 14th Street between Court Street and Park Avenue on land donated by three Ehrlicher brothers and their wives, George Jr. and Mary, Henry and Amelia, and Otto D. and Minnie. (Henry and Otto were Pekin’s first pharmacists.) It should be noted that “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), p.142, mistakenly substitutes the surname of “Herget” for George Jr.’s real surname.

The new edifice was formally dedicated Sunday afternoon, June 2, 1918, in ceremonies that were attended by a crowd of about 5,000. In its front page story on June 3, 1918, the Pekin Daily Times estimated that about 10,000 people toured the newly opened hospital that day.

This detail from the front page of the 3 June 1918 Pekin Daily Times shows the first part of the story about the formal dedication of Pekin’s new hospital.

The standard historical publications on Pekin’s history offer differing figures on the first hospital’s capacity. The 1949 Pekin Centenary says in one place that the hospital had a capacity of 20 beds, but elsewhere in the same book it says the capacity was only 18 beds, while the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says the hospital had a capacity of 30 patients. The Pekin Daily Times story of the dedication ceremonies says the hospital had “18 patients’ rooms, fully equipped.”

Whatever the correct figure was, within a few years the need was evident for a larger hospital. “In 1931, a $150,000 fundraising drive (no small feat during a depression) resulted in additional construction and remodeling which boosted the capacity to 75 beds. This portion of the hospital is on Park Avenue, and for many years the main entrance was from that street,” says the 1974 Sesquicentennial.

Pekin Public Hospital in a view looking across Park Avenue, from the 1949 “Pekin Centenary” volume.

As Pekin continued to grow, Pekin Public Hospital again had to be expanded. In the early 1950s, $750,000 was raised locally and was matched by a federal grant, enabling the construction of a six-story $1.5 million addition on Park Avenue that increased the hospital’s capacity to 150 beds. The expansion was formally dedicated on June 19, 1955.

“But Pekin’s growth continued, and some of the older parts of the hospital became outmoded, so in the early 1960s another drive was undertaken,” says the Sesquicentennial. “This one succeeded in raising $1 million locally, and hospital officials borrowed another $1.5 million from a firm in Wisconsin, thus providing the necessary funding for the most recent expansion on Court Street. The main entrance once again was moved, and presently leads into this new six-story addition. Total capacity is now over 230, and plans call for the erection of a sixth and seventh floor on this newest addition which will house an intensive care unit and the obstetrics ward. As these floors are made ready, other areas of the older parts of the hospital will be closed (in fact, at least two floors are not in use now), and the total capacity will be around 250.”

Pekin Memorial Hospital as photographed in 1966 by Ralph James Goodwin. Note that the original hospital building is still there, though wood paneling covers the north wall indicating construction work under way. The old building was torn down subsequently, but its entrance was salvaged and later installed on the north wall of the Park Avenue addition.

It was in 1976 that those additional two stories were built, housing intensive and coronary care as well as obstetrics and pediatrics. Then, from 1979 to 1981, areas of the 1932 and 1954 additions were renovated to make room for pharmacy, medical records, a medical library, electrocardiography, respiratory therapy and radiology.

On June 23, 1985, ground was broken on a $10.1 million addition that would include surgery and radiology as well as a lobby, pharmacy, gift shop, restaurant and Park Court Medical Center. The building program moved the main entrance from Court Street to 13th Street, where it is today.

In Jan. 2018, Pekin Hospital completed the process of affiliation with Des Moines, Iowa-based UnityPoint Health, joining a system that now includes Methodist Medical Center (“UnityPoint Health-Methodist”) and Proctor Hospital (“UnityPoint Health-Proctor”) in Peoria. A year later a state-of-the-art Pekin physicians center opened at Griffin and Veterans Drive on Pekin’s east end – a building project initiated by Pekin Hospital in 2015, before the hospital affiliated with UnityPoint Health.

#amelia-ehrlicher, #ed-f-lampitt-sons, #g-a-kuhl, #george-ehrlicher-jr, #henry-ehrlicher, #illinois-bicentennial, #j-m-rahn, #mary-ehrlicher, #minnie-ehrlicher, #otto-d-ehrlicher, #pekin-hospital, #pekin-memorial-hospital, #pekin-public-hospital, #preblog-columns

Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

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.

Prehistory and history of the Schipper and Block building

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the files of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is a newspaper clipping from the Jan. 13, 1994 Peoria Journal Star – an article written by Valari Hyatt, entitled, “Old stores haunt memories of downtown Pekin.”

The subject of the article is the old Schipper and Block building, which stands at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. “Rich in history, the building’s legacy dates back before its birth,” Hyatt wrote.

Once the location of a popular and successful clothing store, the Schipper and Block building’s history and “prehistory” reaches back to the period of the Civil War.

The business began in 1863 or 1864 as C. Bonk and Co., which ran a dry goods store with John H. Schipper as Bonk’s partner. After Bonk’s death, Henry C. Block joined the company, which became the Schipper and Block Co., located at 304 Margaret St., a block north of the corner of Court and Capitol which later would become its location. The 300 block of Margaret Street was then known as Smith’s Row, because that is where Dietrich and Teis Smith had their business operations, including their well-known Wagon Works.

In 1874, Schipper and Block moved their store to the corner of Court and Third streets – at 302 Court St., next to the post office. As their business thrived, they opened a second shop at 332 Court St., the corner of Court and Capitol streets, on Oct. 12, 1879. Some years later they opened a store in Peoria which soon after became the largest dry goods operation in Illinois outside of Chicago. The Peoria store became a Carson Pirie Scott in 1961.

The original Schipper & Block building at the corner of Court and Capitol streets opened in 1879, but was destroyed by fire in 1898.

Schipper died Sept. 25, 1893, in Louisville, Ky., while on his way home from Block Island near Rhode Island, where he had gone for a rest due to his ill health. Block continued to operate the business until the turn of the century, when the Pekin store operations consolidated at the corner of Court and Capitol streets.

That came about as the result of a fire in 1898 that destroyed the Schipper and Block store at the corner of Court and Capitol streets. A new structure was erected in its place. Then around 1900, Block sold a considerable amount of his holdings in the Pekin operation to George Ehrlicher, who had been Block’s right-hand man for many years. It was about that time that the decision was made to close the store at 302 Court St. and consolidate in the newer building at 332 Court St.

The second Schipper & Block building was erected in 1898 to replace the 1879 store after a fire, but the new building itself succumbed to flames in 1922.

The company’s name was changed to Block and Kuhl Co. on Jan. 1, 1914, when Theodore Kuhl became president – but the “Schipper & Block Co.” sign remained, so everyone continued to call it the Schipper and Block building. Another fire in Feb. 1922 destroyed the “new” building, but by December of that year the company had rebuilt at the same location. That’s the structure one can see at that corner today.

George Ehrlicher’s sons George Jr. and Arthur took over the business after their father, and they kept the business going until May 1962, when business reverses made it necessary for them to sell the store. George Jr. died in Sept. 1962, just four months after the sale. The new owners, Harold Whaley of Ottawa and William T. Malloy of Peoria, were unable to return the business to profitability, however, and the store went bankrupt in 1964, when a receiver was appointed. The store limped along for another four years, finally going out of business in March 1968. The Schipper and Block building would then remain vacant for 26 years.

The Schipper & Block building that stands vacant today is shown in this photograph taken by Ralph James Goodwin in 1966, two years before the store went out of business.

Though much of the glamour has faded,” Hyatt wrote in 1994, “the old Schipper and Block building – as it has been called for over a hundred years, no matter who owned it – still stands on solid ground. In fact, the city recently sold the property at 332 Court St. to Tobin Brothers, with a developer’s agreement. According to Lee Williams, city marketing director, the transfer of ownership occurred Jan. 4.

‘The Schipper and Block building is dear to the hearts of the mayor and (all of those on) the City Council. They had decided that the Schipper and Block building was definitely not going to be torn down . . . because of the historic background,’ Williams said, noting that Tobin Brothers is remodeling the three-story brick building for about $350,000.

Their goal is to put the building back to its original state, then lease the building to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and several other businesses.

More recently, the State of Illinois’ budget crunch led to the closing of the Pekin DCFS office. The old building once again went vacant and is for sale.

The official logo of the Illinois Bicentennial was officially unveiled at the Old State Capitol in Springfield on Jan. 12 of this year.

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