D. C. Smith, veteran, congressman, banker

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago this column spotlighted the old Smith Wagon Company which operated a wagon, plough, and carriage factory at the corner of Third and Margaret streets in Pekin until the early 1900s. As we recalled in the previous column, the company was founded by the Smith brothers, a family of German immigrants who came from Hamsverum in Ostfriesland (today in northwestern Germany) and settled in Pekin in the mid-19th century.

As the family business grew more prosperous, several other business ventures were spun off, including a local bank. The bank’s first president was D. C. Smith (1840-1914), youngest of the Smith brothers, who is the subject of this week’s column. His full name was Dietrich Conrad Smith, and his parents were Conrad H. Smith (Coenraad Smid) and Margaret van der Velde. In addition to his involvement in his family’s businesses, D. C. Smith also was wounded in battle as a Union officer in the Civil War, afterwards being elected successively to the Illinois General Assembly and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley's 1882 "Public Men of To-Day."

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day.”

After his election to the U.S. Congress, a short biographical sketch of his career was published in Phineas Camp Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day,” pages 569-70. The sketch reads as follows:

“The Thirteenth Congressional District of Illinois is represented in the National House of Representatives by Dietrich C. Smith, of Pekin, who was born in Hanover, Germany, April 4, 1840. He is of Dutch-German extraction, and came to this country with his parents in the year 1849. Having availed himself of the advantages of the common schools and of more or less private tutorage, in which he prepared himself for his subsequent classical course, be entered Quincy College, Illinois, at which institution he graduated.

“At the breaking out of the Civil war, having just reached his majority, he entered the Union army with the Eighth Illinois Volunteer infantry, a ‘three-months’ regiment, and re-enlisted for a term of three years in the following July. He was engaged in the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and was severely wounded in the battle of Pittsburg Landing, which compelled him to resign his commission of Second Lieutenant of Company ‘Y,’ which he then held. He subsequently returned to the service as Captain of Company C of the 139th Illinois Volunteer infantry, and served until the expiration of the regiment’s term of enlistment.

“In 1863 Captain Smith became a member of the firm of Smith, Velde & Co., of Pekin, and three years later a partner in the firm of Teis, Smith & Co., bankers, of that city, and has continued that business connection to the present time. He is also a member of the firm of T. & H. Smith & Co., and Smith, Hippen & Co., the Pekin Plough Company. He has also been interested in several railroad corporations, as officer, director, and member of a construction company. Captain Smith has been for a long time prominent in Sabbath-school work in his county and throughout the State; also in the educational enterprises of the German Methodist Episcopal Church of the West; and he is now President of the Board of Trustees of the German College, at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

“He has been honored by the people with the offices of Alderman, School Inspector, Supervisor, and
Member of the General Assembly of Illinois. While in the State Legislature he interested himself especially in measures looking to the improvement of the water-ways by the government, and generally in all matters of public importance. He was elected to the Forty-seventh Congress, as a Republican, by a vote of 16,431 against 16,113 for his Democratic Greenback opponent.”

Additional biographical details may be found at his Find-A-Grave memorial, in an essay written by Russ Dodge, senior Find-A-Grave curator and administrator. Dodge provides further information on D. C. Smith’s military service during the Civil War, and adds the following note on Smiths’ post-war career:

“After the war Dietrich Smith became a successful banker and financier, and invested in construction and administration of railroads. He served a term in the Illinois State Legislature, then was elected as a Republican to represent Illinois’ 13th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1881 to 1883. Defeated for the seat by William McKendree Springer in 1882, he returned to his banking career in his hometown of Pekin, Illinois, where he passed away in 1914.”

Various family trees at Ancestry.com, including the “Goodrich/Ward/Smith/Walker Family Tree,” indicate that after returning from the war, D. C. Smith married Caroline “Carrie” Pieper (1844-1923), with whom he had a family of nine sons and three daughters. They lived at a grand mansion with ample room for a family of 14, located at 405 Willow St. Their home still stands today, though it is no longer the grand structure it once was. Rob Clifton’s 2004 volume, “Pekin History: Then and Now,” explains that the home formerly had a large second story and a third-story tower, but after a fire the house had to be rebuilt as a single-story building. D. C. Smith died April 18, 1914, and was buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin. After his death, Pekin attorney and judge William Reardon “bought the [Smith] home for his bride, who dreamed of living in the home many years prior to moving in,” Clifton says. A lithograph of the D. C. Smith mansion was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

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#d-c-smith, #pekin-history, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith-bank

Wagonloads of Smith wagons

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Students of the bygone days of Pekin will readily recognize the name of the T. & H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin as one of the most prominent and successful businesses in Pekin’s history. Those who would like to learn more about this company, which operated a large factory at the corner of Third and Margaret streets along the railroad track as well as a bank at 331 Court St., may consult a number of historical sources in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

One of those sources, James A. Velde’s historical essay, “A Sensational Criminal Trial in Central Illinois,” was the subject of a previous Local History Room column published in the Aug. 30, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. Velde’s essay tells the story of the scandal that led to the collapse of the Teis Smith Bank on April 2, 1906.

For a general overview of the Smith Wagon Company’s history, though, interested researchers can consult “Catalog No. 10 of the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill.,” a document from the beginning of the 20th century that was spared the ravages of time by being preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is the cover of a catalog of the T. H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin that had been preserved in the Pekin Public Library's 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is the cover of a catalog of the T. H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin that had been preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

This image shows one of the many kinds of wagon manufactured by the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill. The image comes from the copy of the company's Catalog No. 10 that was preserved in the Pekin Public Library's 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

This image shows one of the many kinds of wagon manufactured by the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill. The image comes from the copy of the company’s Catalog No. 10 that was preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Most of the pages of the Smith Wagon catalog, of course, are taken up with drawings, specifications, and prices of the company’s wagons and trucks. These details provide a window onto a lost and all-but-forgotten past, when farm work and transportation required literal horsepower. Also, on page 5 of the Smith Wagon Co. catalog is a page-length essay on the history of the company and its various offshoots in Pekin.

The company began as a blacksmith and woodworking shop that was established by a family of German immigrants who came to Pekin in 1849. The founders were the brothers Teis, Henry, and Fred Smith, and their brother-in-law Luppe Luppen, who started their business the same location where they later would build their wagon-making plant. Later, their youngest brother D. C. Smith and their cousin Habbe Velde joined as partners.

“Soon their own hands were unequal to the task of supplying their growing trade, which at first demanded extra help, then more room and finally separate factories, stores and warehouses,” the catalog essay says. “Starting with the manufacture of farm wagons, buggies, carriages, plows and agricultural implements, the business gradually took on also banking, dealing in grain and general merchandising. As the business grew it was found advisable to separate the different departments and the banking house of Teis Smith & Co. was established with D. C. Smith as its present manager, the grain business became known as the Smith-Hippen Co., and the implement part was taken up by Pekin Plow Co., with Luppe Luppen as its president and D. C. Smith as vice president and manager at the present time. The manufacture of plows was commenced in 1870 in a separate factory and with separate office force, the manufacture of buggies and carriages was gradually discontinued and the merchandising given over to other hands. The parent company, T. & H. Smith & Co., with Habbe Velde as its president, retains the same name and location it has had since the beginning and is now engaged exclusively in the manufacture of farm and spring wagons.”

A fire destroyed the company’s plant in 1899 and a new factory was built in its place in 1900. That setback contributed to the collapse of the Teis Smith Bank and liquidation of the wagon works a few years later.

These photographs of the Smith Wagon Company's founders and a short history of the company were printed in the company's Catalog No. 10.

These photographs of the Smith Wagon Company’s founders and a short history of the company were printed in the company’s Catalog No. 10.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

#d-c-smith, #fred-smith, #habbe-velde, #henry-smith, #luppe-luppen, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith, #teis-smith-bank

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in August 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In its account of the organization of Pekin’s first banking institutions, the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, pages 33-34, provides the following paragraph about a bank that popularly was known among the residents of Pekin as “the Smith Bank”:

“At about the same time that the first National Bank was organized [i.e., about the end of the Civil War], the Teis Smith banking firm was founded. The bank was located in the same block as the Smith wagon works, but it was conducted as a distinct and separate business. An interesting note in conjunction with the story of this operation is that upon the death in 1890 of Fred Smith, the senior partner who had taken over after his brother Teis died in 1870, Habbe Velde of the T. & H. Smith Company, Henry Block and John Schipper of the Schipper and Block dry goods establishment, and E. F. Unland of the Smith Hippen grain company (all of which are substantial businesses of old-time Pekin) stepped in as full partners to assure that the credit of the bank would not suffer greatly from his death.”

The 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 25, offers just a single sentence on the founding of this bank:

“That year [i.e., 1866] the Smith bank was established at 331 Court street, the First National bank at 304 Court street, . . . .”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) has even less to say about the bank – just a single reference on page 92 to the fact that Teis Smith “also had interests in banking and railroads.”

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Relying only on these brief notices in the standard works on Pekin’s history, one would never even be able to imagine the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the closing of the Smith Bank.

After operating for 40 years, the bank suddenly closed its doors on April 2, 1906, and the firm was then liquidated. When shareholders and depositors learned the reasons why the bank had closed, however, they went to the state’s attorney, who filed charges of embezzlement against the bank partners.

The story of that embezzlement trial – characterized in the Peoria Star’s contemporary reports as “the most sensational and deplorable affair that has ever come under the notice of Tazewell County residents” – is told in James A. Velde’s historical essay, “A Sensational Criminal Trial in Central Illinois,” a copy of which is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

This is how Velde explains the failure of the Smith Bank:

“After partner Frederick Smith, a younger brother of Teis, died in a railroad wreck in 1890, the wagon and plow companies were separately incorporated in Illinois to avoid the complications in settling a deceased partner’s interest. But the bank was not incorporated, perhaps because of a feared government interference in an incorporated bank. The bank partners were thus left with their personal unlimited liability for all the bank’s debts . . . Near the mid-1890s the three enterprises were adversely affected by nation-wide difficult economic conditions, including bank panics and years of business depression. There came a time when the payrolls and other expenses of the wagon and plow companies were financed by borrowings from the Smith Bank, whose managers and partners were officers and stockholders of the two corporations. When the loans became delinquent in large amounts, the corporations issued shares of capital stock in payment of the loans. This practice, since the stock had no market, depleted the bank’s liquid assets and led to its closing on April 2, 1906.”

On May 24, 1906, four of the six bank partners were indicted in Tazewell County Circuit Court for embezzlement, under an 1879 Illinois law that made it illegal for a banker to accept deposits when his banking company is insolvent. The four indicted partners were Dietrich Conrad Smith, youngest brother of Teis Smith, who was the bank’s president and vice president of Pekin Plow Company; Conrad Luppen, bank cashier; Ernest F. Unland, president of Smith, Hippen & Company; and Henry C. Block, president of Schipper & Block department store.

The case was prosecutors by State’s Attorney Charles Schaefer, owner of the land that came to be known as Schaeferville and later a Tazewell County judge, and Judge Jesse Black, who later successfully defended the Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies accused of torturing jail inmate Martin Virant to death in 1932.

The criminal prosecution stretched through the rest of 1906. Unfortunately, the issues of the Pekin Daily Times from that year are lost, but the indictment and trial proceedings were reported extensively in the Peoria Star (one of the predecessors of today’s Peoria Journal Star). The Star’s reports were usually sensationalistic and incendiary, often transgressing into libelous attacks on the personal character and even physical appearance of the defendants. During the course of the trial, as Velde shows, evidence was presented showing that the bankers had fraudulently been using depositors’ money to keep their troubled wagon and plow businesses afloat.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty against all four defendants on Dec. 15, 1906. However, defense attorneys almost immediately appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial, arguing that the conviction was not in accordance with a 1903 amendment to the 1879 statute under which the bankers had been indicted. In the end, both the trial’s judge, Leslie D. Puterbaugh, and State’s Attorney Schaefer agreed that the indictment had been a mistake, because the 1903 amendment had made it virtually impossible to obtain a conviction in a case such as the failure of the Smith Bank. The conviction was then set aside. Schaefer moved to have the indictment dismissed on April 15, 1907, and Judge Puterbaugh granted the motion.

With no attempt to disguise the dismayed at the overturning of the guilty verdict, the Peoria Star wrapped up its coverage of the affair with the comment, “Although the cases were stricken from the records, the memory of the wrecking of the Teis Smith and Company Bank by those behind it will linger for years to come.”

#charles-schaefer, #conrad-luppen, #e-f-unland, #fred-smith, #habbe-velde, #jesse-black, #leslie-puterbaugh, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #schaeferville, #schipper-and-block, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith, #teis-smith-bank

D. J. Veerman, Pekin carriage painter

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This week we’ll shine a spotlight on one of Pekin’s many German immigrant families who arrived here around the middle of the 19th century. The family, called Veerman, is memorialized in the name of one of Pekin’s streets, Veerman Street, which runs north-south between Willow Street and Sheridan Road. A residential neighborhood, Veerman is also the location of Willow Grade School and the Boys & Girls Club of Pekin.

A brief account of the Veerman family was published in the 1894 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties, Illinois,” pages 292-293, where one may read a biographical essay on Pekin notable Dietrich Jacob Veerman (1853-1938), who arrived in Illinois with his parents in 1864, settling with them in Pekin two years later. D. J. Veerman, who lived at 421 Charlotte St., became a painter and finisher of the popular carriages manufactured at Teis Smith’s factory in Pekin.

Veerman’s biographical essay is only six paragraphs long, and reads as follows:

“A plain statement of the facts embraced in the life of Mr. Veerman, a man well and favorably known to the people of Tazewell County, is all that we profess to be able to give in this volume. Yet upon examination of these facts there will be found the career of one whose entire course through life has been marked by great honesty and fidelity to duty. He has followed an active and industrious life, and is at present Superintendent of the painting and finishing department of the T. & H. Smith Manufacturing Company.

“Mr. Veerman was born in Hanover, Germany, October 29, 1853, and is the son of Jacob Veerman, also a native of the above place, where he was a farmer by occupation. Jacob Veerman came to America with his family in 1864 and located in Peoria, where he remained until the fall of 1866, when he came to Pekin and found work in the blacksmith shop of T. & H. Smith. Later he worked in the painting department for the above company, and departed this life in January, 1890.

“Mrs. Ella (Jansen) Veerman, the mother of our subject, was born in Germany, where she met and married Jacob Veerman. She was a Baptist in religious belief, and died in 1892. The parental family included one other son besides our subject, Edwin, who is engaged in painting in this city.

“D. J., of this sketch, attended evening school after coming to America, and in 1866 apprenticed himself to learn the painter’s trade under the instruction of Phil Weber. After thoroughly mastering the trade, he began working at the same in this and surrounding cities, and after returning to Pekin, worked for the T. & H. Smith Company, having charge of the carriage department until January, 1893, when he was appointed Superintendent of the painting and finishing work, and has a force of about forty men under his direction.

“Mr. Veerman was married in this city in 1876 to Miss Sophia, daughter of John Albertsen. . . . Mrs. Veerman was born in Germany, and has reared a family of four children, Ella, Lydia, Jay D. and Louis.

“In his political relations our subject is a strong Republican, and takes much interest in local matters. His life has been an honorable and upright one, which has gained him the confidence and respect of all with whom he has been brought in contact.”

After the publication of his biography, D. J. and his wife Sophia had another son, named Everett H., born in 1894. Sophia passed away in 1904, and D. J. then remarried to Hulda Hueinken, who also preceded him in death. Dietrich himself survived until 1938, dying Sept. 11. He and his first wife are buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. His obituary calls him a “well known and highly esteemed resident of Pekin” who “had served as an alderman in the city council and had been president of the school board and a member of that body for a number of years.”

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Shown is the cover of a catalog of the T. H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin that had been preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule. D. J. Veerman and his team would do the painting and finishing work on Smith wagons such as the one depicted.

#d-j-veerman, #dietrich-veerman, #pekin-history, #smith-wagon-company, #veerman