History of 126 Sabella St.

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

History of 126 Sabella St.

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

About 15 years ago, the Historic Preservation Commission of Pekin turned its attention to the possibility of preserving an old building apparently built in or around 1879, formerly located at 126 Sabella St.

As they researched the history of the families and businesses that lived in or operated from that location, the commission members gathered a wide array of historical materials going back to some of the earliest owners of the property. Regrettably, after this research was conducted, the structure was later demolished and this old lot is empty today.

Above is shown the rear of the former Vogels grocery store that was located at the corner of Second and Sabella streets. The structure, demolished about a decade ago, was apparently built around 1880 by George W. Rankin, who operated a mill work business out of it.

Lot 11, Block 3, of the Original Town of Pekin, the southwest corner of Second and Sabella streets, was originally owned by the town founders, such as Nathan Cromwell and William Haines. The lot is only three blocks north of the site of Jonathan Tharp’s log cabin of 1824, the first structure built by a European-American settler in what would become Pekin. From 1831 to 1847, the property changed hands 15 times. One of those times was on April 24, 1843, when lots 1 through 12 of Block 3 were purchased by Charlotte Bacon for $1,200.

Four years later, John and Eliza Ayers purchased Lot 11 and another lot in a different block for a total price of $150. John, who was only 42 years old, died later that year on Nov. 26, 1847. In 1855, the John Ayers estate was involved in legal action in which Abraham Lincoln appeared as an attorney. This was the case of Ayers vs. Brown & Brown, in which Ayers’ estate, represented by Lincoln, sued John and Thomas Brown to recover a number of horses and cattle. In May 1855, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the Ayers estate got one horse and the Browns were allowed to keep the other animals.

John’s widow, Eliza Ayers, continued to live at 126 Sabella St., and the very first Pekin City Directory in 1861 shows her living there. Among her neighbors that year were lumber merchant Alex Bateson on the southeast corner of Second Street and Sabella, and Edwin Browne, who operated a dry goods store on the northeast corner of that intersection.

Eliza Ayers died on Sept. 21, 1877, and in her will directed that her house and Lot 11 be sold and the proceeds given to her brother William McDowell, who was then living in Missouri. Two years later, on Oct. 6, 1879, George W. Rankin purchased Lot 11, where he apparently built a brick building which he used to conduct a mill work business that, according to the 1887 Pekin City Directory, made sashes, doors, blinds and lumber.

Henry A. Reuling bought Rankin’s business and Lot 11 on Oct. 7, 1891. Reuling merged his business with K. S. Conklin’s lumber business and acted as the manager of the new firm, the Conklin-Hippen Reuling Co. They were the contractors who built the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion and Palm House, the old Tazewell Club building, and also did work on the old Pekin City Hall.

In 1902, Lot 11 was sold to the Pekin Gas & Heating Manufacturing Co., which operated a machine shop out of the first floor and used the second floor for storage. By 1901, the property had been sold to Henry Weber, who operated the Pekin Engine & Machine Co. on the first floor while he and his wife Emma lived on the second floor. The Weber estate sold Lot 11 to Roscoe Weaver in 1948, and Weaver also operated a machine shop out of the same building.

Then in 1963, Ruth Weaver sold Lot 11 to Vogels Inc., which ran a well-known grocery store for many years at that location. Today both Vogels and its old brick building that probably was built in 1879 by George W. Rankin are only a memory of Pekin’s past.

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Pekin’s Chamber of Commerce makes it to 125

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last time we reviewed the history of the Tazewell Club, a men’s leisure group for Pekin’s professionals and business leaders that operated from 1893 to 1960. However, there is another Pekin business group that was organized at about the same time and is still going strong – the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Just as Illinois is celebrating its bicentennial, Pekin’s Chamber of Commerce is now preparing to celebrate its “quasquicentennial” – its 125th birthday.

Bill Fleming, executive director of Pekin’s Chamber, has graciously provided the Pekin Public Library with historical records and photographs illustrating the Chamber’s founding and history, which we’ll now review.

In October 1893, about a month after the founding of the Tazewell Club, a group of Pekin’s businessmen organized a group called the Citizens Improvement Association of Pekin, the original name for the organization today called the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.

The association’s articles of incorporation – filed with the Illinois Secretary of State on Oct. 6, 1893 – state that the group’s purpose was “advancing the business interest and promoting the commercial growth of the City of Pekin.” It’s similar to the Tazewell Club’s purpose, except the Tazewell Club’s emphasis was on “the social enjoyments of the members of the organization,” whereas the Citizens Improvement Association of Pekin had more of a civic orientation and less of a recreational purpose.

While today’s Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce started out as the CIAP, the group went through several name changes and a merger before it reached its present form. In 1910 the organization’s members changed its name to the Commercial Club of Pekin. The following year, the Commercial Club merged with the Pekin Retail Merchants Association, which had been founded in 1900 with the aim of promoting better business practices among Pekin’s retailers.

In 1916 the Commercial Club became the Association of Commerce-Pekin, a name that stuck for the next 46 years, when in 1962 the name was changed to the Chamber of Commerce of Pekin. Sixteen years after that the Chamber, having broadened its geographical reach, made one final name-change, to “Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.”

Five of Pekin’s leading businessmen signed the articles of incorporation on the Citizens Improvement Association of Pekin in Oct. 1893: Everett Woodruff Wilson, George Herget, Jesse B. Cooper, Henry C. Block, and Joseph Verdi Graff. All five men were active in Pekin’s economic and cultural development and advancement.

Coming from a family of Peoria distillers, Wilson later became a co-founder of the German American Bank in Pekin and first president of the American Distilling Company. He was also active in politics, serving as a Pekin alderman in the 1880s and being elected twice as mayor of Pekin in the 1890s. The grand home he built on South Fifth Street is now Abts Mortuary.

George Herget

In Pekin the Herget name has long been associated with banking. Like Wilson, George Herget was involved in distilling and later founded Herget Bank – but also invested in or headed various other companies, including the Globe Cattle Company, the Illinois Sugar Refining Company, and the Pekin Electric Light & Power Company. Herget was the first president of the Pekin Park Board and also was elected to the Pekin City Council, the Pekin School District Board of Education, the Pekin Township Board, and the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Herget also donated the site of the 1902 Pekin Carnegie Library.

Jesse B. Cooper

Cooper served as superintendent of the Tazewell County Poor Farm from 1872 to 1881, afterwards operating a 75-acre fruit orchard on the land northeast of 11th and Willow streets. He also served as Pekin Township Supervisor in the 1880s and 1890s, and in 1893 became Overseer of the Poor of Pekin Township as well as Township Treasurer.

Henry C. Block

Block came from a long line of merchants, working for dry-goods stores in Germany before coming to American in 1865, working for stores in Pekin and Peoria. As a valuable employee of Bonk & Company in Pekin, Block eventually became a partner in the business. After the death of the company’s founder he became head of the business, which was renamed Schipper & Block, a Pekin downtown department store that is still well-remembered.

Joseph V. Graff

Graff worked in the mercantile business in the 1870s while he studied law, operating a law practice first in Delavan and later in Pekin. At the time the Citizens Improvement Assocation of Pekin was founded in 1893, Graff’s law office was in the Marshall Building on Elizabeth Street, across the street from the Tazewell County Courthouse – the office is now occupied by the law firm of Kuhfuss & Proehl. Graff was also an inspector of Pekin public schools and later became the School Board president. In 1894, he was elected to Congress, where he served eight terms in office.

Next week we’ll take a look at two local community organizations that have both been around for 98 years – the Pekin Rotary Club, and the Pekin Kiwanis Club.

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The Tazewell Club was the gentleman’s club of 1893

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, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The Tazewell Club was the gentleman’s club of 1893

By Linda Mace and Jared Olar
Library assistants

What comes to your mind when you think of a “gentlemen’s club”? Words acquire new meanings or different connotations as time goes on, and what “gentlemen’s club” might mean to some today isn’t what it meant over a hundred years ago.

Perhaps I’ve watched too many movies, but hearing the words “gentlemen’s club,” I think of New York City, of elegantly appointed, hushed rooms with men dressed in their finery, a cigar in one hand and a beverage of some type in the other hand.

Established in 1893, Pekin had the Tazewell Club, and while it may not have been touted as a gentlemen’s club, for all practical purposes that seems to be what it was.

The 2004 book “Pekin: A Pictorial History” tells us that it was once the hub of social life in Pekin.

“The club promoted local business interests and offered hours of wholesome recreation for the businessman, the professional and the clerk. The building had bowling alleys in the basement, meeting rooms, a card room and billiard room on the main floor, and a ballroom on the third.”

The Tazewell Club, established in 1893, met at this building that used to stand at the corner of Fourth and St. Mary streets.

Over 200 men were members of this club, with them “allowing” the Pekin Woman’s Club and the Litta Society the use of their facility for the ladies’ afternoon meetings.

But time marches on and membership eventually declined. In 1959 the club house was sold to the Herget National Bank and was demolished in 1960 for a parking lot.

Originally located on the corner of South 4th and St. Mary streets, the Tazewell Club was a grand building, worthy of the many social events that took place there.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 927-937, provides a detailed account of the founding and early history of the Tazewell Club, written by Fred H. Robbins. The account includes a quote from the club’s constitution and by-laws explaining its purpose: “The primary object of this Club shall be to promote the business interests of the City of Pekin, and the social enjoyments of the members of the corporation.

According to Robbins, the club was founded Sept. 14, 1893, at a meeting of local businessmen and leading men of the city in Holland’s Hall in Pekin, presided over by E. F. Unland, with O. F. Weber as secretary. The interim officers were Judge George C. Rider, president, and Weber again as secretary, with an organizing committee made of up Carl G. Herget (builder of the Herget Mansion), W. L. Prettyman, Fred W. Velde, W. A. Holt, and Dr. W. H. Allen.

Once the club was organized, the members elected Unland as president, Prettyman as vice-president, Weber as secretary, James M. James (in whose honor James Field is named) as treasurer, and Holt, Henry G. Herget, D. D. Velde, F. P. Maus, and Henry Birkenbusch as members of the club’s board of managers.

Though the club house is long gone and the Tazewell Club is a thing of the past, there is another community organization that was founded around the same time that is still very much living and active, and is soon to celebrate an important anniversary – the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.

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