President Ford dedicates the new Dirksen Center and library

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

This week we reach the point in the history of the Pekin Public Library when Pekin was visited by a sitting U.S. president for the second time in just two years.

As we recalled last month, it was on Friday, June 15, 1973, that Pekin was visited by President Richard Nixon, who came to unveil and dedicate the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Congressional Center. Nixon came to honor the memory of an old friend and fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, whose papers were to be archived and made available for study at the new Dirksen Center.

Nixon had come to Pekin in 1973 at the invitation of Dirksen’s widow Louella. After Nixon’s return to Washington, D.C., however, his presidency foundered due to the Watergate scandal. Facing impeachment and the probability that he would be removed from office by the Congress, Nixon resigned the office of the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, whereupon Vice President Gerald R. Ford became president.

The following summer, Mrs. Louella Dirksen invited President Ford to visit Pekin to dedicate the new Everett McKinley Dirksen Congressional Research Center, along with the new library building in which the Dirksen Center was housed.

The date for the dedication ceremony was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1975 – not coincidentally, that was 73 years to the day since the cornerstone of the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library was dedicated and laid.

When President Gerald R. Ford approached the podium for his address at the dedication of the Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Congressional Research Center on Aug. 19, 1975, an unidentified teenage girl (shown applauding at the upper left corner) waited for the applause to die down and then shouted, “Atta Boy, Jerry!” The president and the crowd then erupted in laughter.

Just as had happened during Nixon’s visit two years earlier, the area adjacent to the library and Dirksen Center was filled with several thousand spectators and special guests. In addition to President Ford and the First Lady, the guests of honor included Sen. Dirksen’s widow Louella and their daughter Joy, son-in-law Sen. Howard Baker, and grandchildren Darek and Cynthia Baker.

Sen. Baker himself arrived in Pekin on Monday evening, Aug. 18, so he could personally crown the 1975 Miss Marigold Queen Karen Geier at the 3rd Annual Pekin Marigold Festival. Sen. Baker also introduced President Ford prior to his speech on Tuesday, Aug. 19.

President Gerald R. Ford addresses a crowd outside the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center during a speech dedicating the new facility on Aug. 19, 1975, exactly 73 years after the cornerstone of Pekin’s Carnegie library had been dedicated and laid.

Much of President Ford’s dedicatory speech was a recollection of the years that Ford spent in Congress when Dirksen was the Senate Minority Leader. “I learned a lot from Ev, and it is only fitting that others also should learn from him.

Ford also recalled a comment that Dirksen wrote in 1968 in the days after Sen. Robert Kennedy was assassinated:

“Senator Dirksen said, ‘The time has come to rethink our history. It should have emphasis in every school, church and forum in the land. The legacy which is ours came from those who were here before us. Into this land they built their skills and talents, their hopes and dreams, their tears and sacrifices.

“‘Today we are the trustees of America. Upon us is a two-fold duty. The one is to those who came before us and gave us this land for our inheritance. The other is to those who shall come after us.

“‘Perhaps three words can state the whole case – dedication, discipline and duty.’

“I know that those words, spoken as only Ev Dirksen could say them, are somewhere in this edifice, reminding Americans of their continued need for dedication, discipline and duty. Yes, Louella, his words still echo.”

After his speech, the president and his entourage attended a brief reception in the foyer of the Pekin Public Library, and toured the interior of the Dirksen Center and library.

Even after Ford’s visit, it would still be a few months before the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center – which had been unveiled and dedicated by President Nixon in 1973 – would be formally laid, signifying the completion of the new library facility. We will tell that story next week.

As photographers in the presidential press pool snap pictures, President Gerald R. Ford speaks with John B. Hackler, architect of the new Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Congressional Research Center facility, during a tour of the facility after Ford’s speech dedicating the library and Dirksen Center on Aug. 19, 1975.
This ticket to President Gerald R. Ford’s speech in Pekin in 1975 belonged to the late Nelson Eddings, a library board member and an English teacher at Pekin Community High School.

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President Nixon dedicates cornerstone of new Pekin library and Dirksen Center

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

As construction proceeded in 1973 on the new Pekin Public Library and Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center, library and city officials paused for a moment on May 31 of that year to look back at the library’s and city’s past by opening the Pekin Carnegie library’s 1902 time capsule, which had been secured in a hollowed-out niche in the library’s cornerstone.

The next step, naturally, was to have a formal ceremony dedicating the new facility’s cornerstone. Because the facility was to house a research center dedicated to the late Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, who was the leader of the U.S. Senate’s Republicans as Senate Minority Leader, Dirksen’s widow Louella extended an invitation to the Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon to come to Pekin and conduct the cornerstone unveiling and dedication that summer.

The president and first lady graciously accepted the invitation. Given their personal and political ties to the late Sen. Dirksen and his family – which included the Dirksens’ son-in-law, Republican Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee – the Nixons were pleased to honor the memory of their friend and ally in his hometown.

But this was also the time when the Watergate scandal had begun to heat up, with the hearings of the U.S. Senate’s Watergate investigation committee being televised from May 17 to Aug. 7. The Nixons must have welcomed the opportunity to leave Washington, D.C., for a few days during those months.

The community of Pekin, for its part, was generally very happy to welcome the president for the dedication ceremony, for it is not every day that a sitting U.S. president comes to visit a small city like Pekin. A very great deal of work had to be done in a relatively short period of time to prepare for the visit, including the construction of bleachers and a speaker’s platform along Broadway adjacent to the library, the placement of heavy metal barrels for security along the route that the president’s motorcade would travel, the coordination of security details and local law enforcement (which included the placing of armed guards atop nearby buildings, including the Carnegie library itself), and the printing and distribution of invitations and tickets to the event.

This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows U.S. President Richard Nixon and Mrs. Louella Dirksen, widow of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, unveiling of the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center facility on Friday, June 15, 1973.

The coming of Mr. and Mrs. Nixon to Pekin was not confirmed until June 11, 1973, as announced by a banner front page headline in the Pekin Daily Times that day – “It’s Official! Nixon Coming to Pekin!” Word had already begun to leak out of the possibility of the president’s visit in the week prior, when it was noticed that the Secret Service and White House officials were in town.

Just four days after the visit was confirmed, on Friday, June 15, 1973, the president and first lady flew into the Greater Peoria Airport near Bartonville, landing at about 11 a.m. and arriving in time for the ceremonies in Pekin at about 11:30. The event attracted a jubilant crowd of about 10,000 to the immediate area next to and near the library, while many other people lined streets and roads along the route of the presidential motorcade.

This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows U.S. President Richard Nixon addressing a vast crowd in Pekin during ceremonies dedicating the cornerstone of the new Pekin library and Dirksen Center on Friday, June 15, 1973.

Numerous national, state, and local public officials attended the event, including Illinois Gov. Dan Walker, a Democrat. Both the Republic president and the Democrat governor were to see their careers brought down by scandal – and both would later experience somewhat of a rehabilitation of their reputations in certain circles.

The event culminated in a speech by the president and the unveiling and dedication of the cornerstone by President Nixon and Mrs. Louella Dirksen.

Afterwards, the cornerstone was set aside in a safe place so it could be brought out again for a cornerstone-laying ceremony when the library and Dirksen Center was complete. Meanwhile the president and first lady returned to face the political repercussions of the Watergate coverup that were looming ever larger day by day.

Next time we will tell of the founding of the Friends of the Pekin Public Library, and recall the 1974 auction of the furnishings of the Pekin Carnegie library.

U.S. Army Sgt. Stan Newell, a former Vietnam War POW, leads the assembled crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance during the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon to Pekin on Friday, June 15, 1973. Nixon came to Pekin on the invitation of Mrs. Louella Dirksen, widow of U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin, so he could unveil and dedicate the cornerstone of the new Pekin library and Dirksen Congressional Research Center.
A platform and bleachers were erected in the area of Broadway and Sabella streets adjacent to the Pekin Public Library in the days prior to the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon on Friday, June 15, 1973.
This Pekin Daily Times print from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection shows a guard atop the Pekin Carnegie library during the visit of U.S. President Richard Nixon to Pekin to dedicate the cornerstone of the new library and Dirksen Center on Friday, June 15, 1973.
It’s not every day that a sitting U.S. president visits Pekin, and when he does it is bound to be front page news. As it was an afternoon paper for most of its history, the Pekin Daily Times was able to get its story on Nixon’s visit into print the same day, before any other area newspaper.

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Landmarks on the way to the new Pekin Public Library

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In the previous installment of our ongoing series on the history of the Pekin Public Library, we recalled how Pekin’s “Baby Boom” population increase and the steady growth of the library’s collection led to the decision in the late 1950s to begin planning on a new, larger library building.

It was the dream of Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade that the new building would house both the Pekin Public Library and a Dirksen Congressional Center that would serve as an archive for the papers of U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Pekin and a research center for students of the history and workings of the U.S. Congress.

In January of 1964, incorporation papers for the Dirksen Center were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State by Mayor J. Norman Shade, Walter V. McAdoo, and Harold E. Rainville. From that point, preparations for a new library really began to ramp up. The next visible development in that planning process came in December of 1965, when the Pekin library board acquired two more residential properties behind the library.

Around that same period of time, there came another development that was very important to the Pekin Public Library and many other Central Illinois libraries. On Jan. 7, 1966, Pekin Library Board Chairman John E. Velde Jr. was elected first president of the new Illinois Valley Library System, which then included 17 public libraries in Tazewell, Peoria, and Woodford counties.

It was in Dec. 1965 that the Pekin Public Library joined the Illinois Valley Library System, which was a predecessor of the present Alliance Library System to which Pekin’s library now belongs. Somewhat later than his election as IVLS president, Velde would be named to President Richard Nixon’s new National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences.

The next major landmark in Pekin Public Library history occurred about a year later. On Dec. 31, 1966, it was announced that Pekin’s Carnegie library would be razed and replaced by a larger, modern structure. Charles M. Mohrhardt and Ralph A. Ulveling, head of the Detroit, Mich., library system, were invited by the library board to share their insight and expertise in helping to plan the new structure.

After about two years of the library board’s planning work, on Nov. 1, 1968, Pekin Public Library director John Wicks announced that the architectural firm of John B. Hackler and Co. of Peoria was awarded the contract to design for the new library and Dirksen Congressional Center, projected to cost $750,000.

In the midst of the preparations for a new library, in February of 1971 the library board appointed Mrs. Paula Weiss of Columbia, Mo., as head of Pekin Public Library’s Children’s Department and Cataloging Department. Weiss would eventually become the Pekin library director.

Nearly six years after the announcement that the Pekin Carnegie library would be replaced by a new and larger structure, the design concept of John B. Hackler and Co. was unveiled. On Oct. 15, 1971, Pekin Public Library director Richard N. Peck revealed the plans for the new library and Dirksen Center, a 37,000-square-foot facility (of which 15,500 square feet would be occupied by the Dirksen Center) to be built at a projected cost of $1,450,000. The facility would be a two-storey structure and would include a hall for public assemblies and events as well as an exhibition hall.

This 1971 architect’s drawing shows the layout of the main floor of the planned facility that would house the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Congressional Research Center, as designed by Peoria architects John B. Hackler and Co. The facility was built and modeled according to this plan.

The structure’s planned dimensions would later be trimmed to 32,500 square feet, of which 11,000 square feet would belong to the Dirksen Center and 19,000 square feet would house the Pekin Public Library facilities.

The next stage of the planning process arrived on June 20, 1972, when the Pekin library board accepted the low bid of Del Construction Co. of Washington, Ill., to build the new library and Dirksen Center for $1,111,780. That cost later was adjusted in Jan. 1973 with the addition of $51,842 in needed sewer system, pumping, and sidewalk work, because the Hackler design called for a sunken structure.

And with that, construction of the new library and Dirksen Center got under way.

But that is a story we will tell next week.

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Looking back over 155 years of Pekin library history

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

This month the Pekin Public Library marks an important anniversary in its history: it has been 125 years since the library became a branch of Pekin’s city government. It was in Feb. 1896 that the city of Pekin formally assumed the ownership and management of the old Pekin Library Association, a private corporation that was first organized in Nov. 1866.

So, while the library itself will turn 155 this November, the institution known as “Pekin Public Library” is now 125 years old. This anniversary provides a good occasion to take a look back over the library’s history. In today’s column, we’ll run through a general overview of the history of the library and the library building. In columns over the next few weeks and months, we’ll take close looks at specific aspects and episodes of the library’s history.

As both longtime residents of Pekin and attentive visitors to the library know, the current Pekin Public Library building is not the first one to be erected on its site. Prior to the construction of the current library in 1972, Pekin’s readers were served by a smaller structure that stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway. When the old library was demolished, its former site became a sunken plaza, but since the 2015 remodel and expansion of the library, the old sunken plaza is no more, replaced by a quiet reading room and a grove of trees with water drainage.

That earlier library structure – one of the nation’s many Carnegie libraries, built in 1902 under the patronage of famous American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie – was the first building constructed in Pekin to serve specifically as a public library. In 1900, Miss Mary Elizabeth Gaither (1852-1945) had written to both Carnegie and to Pekin banker George Herget, seeking their support for the construction of a library building. Carnegie agreed to provide funds, and Herget donated land to the city to provide a site for the new library, and Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz was hired to design it.

Shown in this clipping from a 1901 edition of the Pekin Daily Times is Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz’s sketch of his proposed design for the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library. It has been 125 years since the city of Pekin assumed ownership of the Pekin Public Library.

To celebrate this milestone in Pekin’s history, a formal dedication ceremony took place on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902. On that occasion, the library’s cornerstone was laid – and within the cornerstone was placed a time capsule containing an assortment of documents and relics pertaining chiefly to the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library.

The time capsule remained sealed for 70 years. When the old library was replaced with a new, expanded facility in 1972, the cornerstone was opened and the contents of the time capsule were found to be in a very good state of preservation. For many years after that, the cornerstone materials were stored at Herget Bank, later being transferred to the Pekin Public Library’s own historical archives, where they are stored and preserved today.

Among the items that had been placed in the 1902 time capsule were two local newspapers from February 1896 – a copy of the Pekin Daily Tribune and a copy of the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896. They were selected for the time capsule because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

Shown here is part of the front page of the Feb. 13, 1896, Pekin Daily Tribune, one of the newspapers that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Public Library cornerstone time capsule.

Miss Gaither, whose actions and advocacy were responsible for the construction of our Carnegie library, prepared a historical report for the Library of Congress in 1903, in which she related the story of the library from 1866 to 1903. (Her historical account had previously been included in the 1902 time capsule.) Her “History of the Pekin Public Library” says:

On November 24th, 1866, a large number of the ladies of Pekin met to organize what was for many years known as the ‘Ladies Library Association.’” Also included in the cornerstone time capsule was one of the handwritten invitations to that meeting.

On March 5, 1883, the Pekin Library Association formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois – the original, sealed articles of incorporation from 1883 also were included in the cornerstone time capsule.

Ten years later, on Feb. 6, 1893, the Library Association petitioned the city to have the library and its collection handed over to the city’s ownership. The process of transferring the library from private to public control was completed three years later.

Pekin’s Carnegie Library served the community for seven decades, after which construction began on an entirely new library in 1972 – the one still in use today. The new facility was also the home of the Dirksen Congressional Center for 28 years, and in June 1973, President Richard Nixon came to Pekin to dedicate the Dirksen Center. Two years later, in August 1975, President Gerald Ford returned to dedicate the new library building.

Since then, the Pekin Public Library has benefited from advances in technology and some remodeling. The most significant changes came in 2014 and 2015 thanks to a $6 million remodel and expansion that included a new entrance, community and conference rooms, study rooms and a quiet reading room, and a fresher, brighter, and lighter look within and without.

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Presidents in Pekin on display

The Local History Room at the Pekin Public Library currently features a display of articles and mementos pertaining to the Pekin connections of U.S. Presidents. As is well known here in Pekin, prior to his election as President, Abraham Lincoln frequently visited Pekin and Tremont while working as an attorney in central Illinois from the 1830s to the 1850s. Much later, President Herbert Hoover made a quick whistle stop in Pekin during his re-election campaign on Nov. 4, 1932. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also made a campaign whistle stop in Pekin on Oct. 2, 1952. Then in June 1973, President Richard Nixon came to Pekin to dedicate the Dirksen Congressional Center here at the Pekin Public Library. Two years later, in August 1975, President Gerald Ford returned to dedicate the new library building. Pekin was next visited by Vice President George H. W. Bush in Sept. 1988 during his successful election campaign that year. During his U.S. senatorial campaign in 2004, Barack Obama made a campaign stop in Pekin, and later, during his 2005-2008 term in the U.S. Senate, President Obama visited the Aventine Renewal Energy plant in Pekin on March 14, 2005, also meeting constituents at the Pekin Public Library as senator. He later visited East Peoria as president (but not Pekin). Similarly, John F. Kennedy campaigned in East Peoria before his election, and George W. Bush visited East Peoria as president, but neither of them visited Pekin. (President Theodore Roosevelt also once went hunting in the Spring Lake area of Tazewell County.)

The Local History Room display, which will be exhibited through Lincoln’s Birthday next month, includes mementos of Lincoln, Hoover, Nixon, Ford, and Bush.

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presidentsinpekin-lincoln-hoover

presidentsinpekin-ford-bush

presidentsinpekin

Photographs by Emily Lambe, library staff

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