Tazewell County’s Civil War artifacts are coming home

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Program Coordinator

Almost 45 years after Tazewell County’s collection of Civil War artifacts were carried away in the back of a mysterious blue pick-up truck, the collection will soon return to Tazewell County.

Just a few weeks ago, on Tuesday, April 11, Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, Tazewell County Auditor Brett Grimm and Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower issued a press release making the joint announcement that the county’s Civil War artifacts, which were taken from the courthouse in July 1978, had been located and will be coming home to Pekin.

The Pekin Daily Times article published 21 April 1990 lists some of the Civil War artifacts that formerly were displayed in “Historical Hall” at the Tazewell County Courthouse, but were transferred to the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Springfield. With the permanent closing of the GAR Museum in Springfield, Tazewell County’s Civil War artifacts are coming home and returning to the custody of Tazewell County.

It turns out that since 1979 the missing artifacts had been in the keeping of the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum in Springfield, which closed permanently on Friday, March 31. The National WomeFred n’s Relief Corps, which had operated the museum for 82 years, decided in early March to close the museum and have its collections moved to the John A. Logan Museum in Murphrysboro, Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Tazewell County Clark’s Office completed the digitization of the official minutes of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. The digitization of the county board minutes made it possible for Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society to compile all of the references to the old Courthouse Historical Hall museum and the former Tazewell County Historical Society, which she published in the March 2023 issue of the TCGHS “Monthly”. Rynerson’s compilation was then posted and shared here at “From the History Room” on March 2.

That provided the impetus to renew the search of the county’s missing artifacts. The last time the artifacts are mentioned in county board minutes was on 15 Aug. 1968, when the board directed the Tazewell County Clerk to have the collection “sorted, packed, and stored in a bonded warehouse, at County expense, until such time as arrangements can be made to have this collection placed where it can be properly displayed and protected.

Ten years after that, the Civil War artifacts that formed a significant portion of the county’s collection were removed from the courthouse. In the April 11 press release, Ackerman reported, “In 1983 then Sheriff James Donahue opened an investigation looking for the missing artifacts at the request of then Tazewell County Board Member Paul Grethey, but no new information was discovered at that time. Testimony was taken into the record from several county employees that the artifacts had been taken by a mysterious person from the Courthouse in July of 1978, reportedly to an unknown state museum.

In disappearance of the artifacts was the subject of some Pekin Daily Times articles published on 21 April 1990, by Times staff writer Joe Lerner. The articles’ headlines were, “Who stole the War? – Search for missing Civil War memorabilia goes hither and yon with few answers,” “Whose blue pickup?,” “Where’s Santa Ana’s wooden leg?,” and “A list of the relics on display.”

Lerner’s articles came in the wake of the early 1990 rediscovery of a small collection of the Tazewell County Courthouse’s Civil War artifacts, which were found on display in the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum in Springfield. The GAR museum then returned those artifacts to the county.

But what of the main Civil War collection? The GAR museum in Springfield could not approve transfer of any other artifacts unless Tazewell County could produce a complete, valid inventory – and by 1990 the old records of Pekin’s Grand Army of the Republic chapter, Joe Hanna Post #117 (which disbanded in 1989), as well as the records of Pekin’s Women’s Relief Corps Post # 236 (auxiliary to Joe Hanna #117), were gone. Lost too was an inventory of what remained of the courthouse’s Historical Hall collection that had been prepared in 1983 by late local historian Fred Soady.

According Lerner’s main article, in the late 1970s the Women’s Relief Corps of Pekin “raised concern that the irreplaceable treasures would mildew in the dampness of the courthouse basement,” where the collection was stored.

WRC Post #236 then contacted the Springfield corps chapter to “take a few of the items to its museum for ‘safe-keeping,’ according to Lois Didier of Chicago. Didier, a past national corps president and co-manager of the GAR Museum in Springfield, said a portion of [the] Tazewell County collection was transferred to the museum in the late 1970s by station wagon.

The GAR museum’s inventory of its Pekin artifacts said the museum obtained the “Pekin Collection” in 1979. Sheriff Donahue’s investigation, however, obtained statements from a number of witnesses who reported that a blue pick-up truck arrived at the courthouse in July 1978.

Lerner reported in his article “Whose blue pickup?” –

“The driver reportedly presented the late Irv King, the county’s former maintenance supervisor, with what sources said King told them was an ‘official-looking order’ authorizing the driver to remove a host of items from the basement storage area. . . . the driver of the truck knew where to go and exactly what items he wanted. His destination supposedly was Springfield.”

The GAR museum’s accession inventory of the “Pekin Collection” includes the following description:

“This collection appears to have been the property of Joe Hann GAR Post No. 117, Pekin, IL. It was placed in the Tazewell County Courthouse, in two storage rooms in the basement, in 1957. It was later taken by the Joe Hanna WRC No. 236, Pekin, IL and sent to the GAR Memorial Museum in 1979 for safekeeping. Some of the collection may have come in at other times but have been accreted to 1979.002 for ease of access. Several items have labels that indicated they were loaned to the Joe Hanna GAR Post by W. H. Bates. Several others have labels that say they were donated by Clifford Oswald but it is uncertain if they were donated to the GAR Post or directly to the Museum.”

Based on what we know, or think we know after all these years, the best that can be determined is that presumably the pickup driver had come to transfer the Civil War artifacts to Springfield as a part of the abovementioned arrangement between Pekin’s and Springfield’s WRC chapters. It seems Pekin’s WRC did not notify the Tazewell County Board of the arrangement, however.

And with the county unable to produce a complete inventory for the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum to examine, there the matter rested from 1990 until this spring, when County Clerk Ackerman began to pick up the loose threads of this tale. Discovering that the GAR museum likely had perhaps all or a good portion of the county’s former GAR artifacts, and finding that the museum was closing and was moving its collections to a new home, Ackerman set out to have the GAR transfer its Pekin artifacts back to Tazewell County.

Ackerman notes that the GAR Museum Accession Inventory List of their “Pekin Collection” matches and corroborates the museum’s older “Items Received From Pekin, Illinois 1979” listing. Both inventory lists establish Tazewell County’s ownership of the materials, he says.

With these detailed inventory listings now in our possession, the most important of which was the GAR Museum Accession Inventory, and now with knowledge of the location of the artifacts, we reached out and the GAR Museum has been extremely receptive of our request for the return of the artifacts to Tazewell County,” Ackerman said in the April 11 press release.

He added, “If this discovery of these inventory list had been delayed by just another week, these artifacts would have been impossible to recover because of the formal closure of the GAR Museum and future movement of the displays to other museums. The timing of this entire effort has been amazingly lucky,” he added.

We have been reassured the Tazewell County Civil War artifacts will be returned at a date yet to be determined, but before August of this year,” he said.

The Civil War artifacts total more than 70 cataloged items, including:

1849 Springfield musket

1855 Colt 6 shot revolving carbine

1864 Burnside rifle

1847 Springfield musket

1852 Sharps carbine, “captured at Bull Run by Confederates, reissued at Richmond Arsenal, picked up on the Antietam Battlefield.”

Cavalry Saber “used by a member of Wharton’s Texas Rangers. Plowed up by a Mr. Thomas 20 years after Battle of Shiloh.”

Schenkel rifled cannon shell

Grapeshot from Fort Donelson

Belt with cap box and bayonet scabbard

Union Canteen found at Battle of Shiloh

Watch found at Battle of Corinth


1840 Musician’s sword

Since these artifacts are invaluable, and because the collection includes firearms and other weapons, Tazewell County Sheriff Jeff Lower will have a unit to drive to Springfield to collect the artifacts and drive them back home to Tazewell County. After their return, the Sheriff’s Office will securely store the collection while the County Clerk and Auditor, assisted by Susan Rynerson, create an inventory of the materials returned. Arrangements for public display and viewing will then be made.

#brett-grimm, #civil-war, #clifford-oswald, #fred-soady, #grand-army-of-the-republic, #grand-army-of-the-republic-museum, #historical-hall, #irv-king, #james-donahue, #jeff-lower, #joe-hanna-post-no-117, #john-a-logan-museum, #john-ackerman, #murphrysboro, #national-womens-relief-corps, #paul-grethey, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-board, #tazewell-county-board-of-supervisors, #tazewell-county-clerk-john-ackerman, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #tazewell-county-history, #womens-relief-corps, #womens-relief-corps-post-no-236

Tazewell County’s ‘Historical Hall’

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The late Christal Dagit (1943-2019) was long-time president of the Tazewell County Historic Places Society, and also served as long-time director of the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center. In the four years since her passing, however, the museum to which she devoted so many years has had to close and its collection be placed in storage, with the Tazewell County Board now making plans to demolish the historic Arcade Building where the museum had been housed.

Many years before the Tazewell County Museum and Education Center was established, however, artifacts and mementos of the history and heritage of Pekin and Tazewell County were displayed in a “Historical Hall” within the Tazewell County Courthouse. A part of this old collection is displayed at the courthouse still today, even as monuments on the grounds outside the courthouse help to commemorate the county’s military veterans and the numerous visits that Abraham Lincoln to Pekin and Tremont.

In the years from 1914 to 1916, when plans were made for a larger and grander Neo-Classical edifice to replace the 1850 county courthouse, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors made provisions to establish and maintain what it said would be a permanent museum in a room of the new courthouse.

The Historical Hall’s collection was under the care of the long-defunct Tazewell County Historical Society, which was among other things a museum board appointed by the Tazewell County Board. In the 1950s, however, the collection was moved to rooms in the courthouse basement and the former Historical Hall room became the County Assessor’s Office.

In the latest issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society “Monthly” (March 2023), page 555-557, are presented the Tazewell County Board’s proceedings related to the courthouse Historical Hall, from 1914 to 1968. Since these proceedings are sure to be of interest to many in our area who wish to learn more of our local history, I will transcribe them here:

12 Sept. 1914 – The permanent building committee would recommend that the historical step formerly at the entrance of the Bemis House, but now at the north-west corner of the Court House block be placed in the historical room of the new Court House in a place to be selected by the Architects.

This early 20th century Pekin postcard shows the threshold of the former Tazewell House hotel displayed at the northwest corner of the Tazewell County Courthouse grounds. The threshold was moved inside the new courthouse during construction from 1914 to 1916. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIP SNYDER
Bemis House, at one time Pekin’s preeminent hotel, is shown in this early 20th-century photograph. Under its original name of Tazewell House, the hotel once hosted Abraham Lincoln and other notable local attorneys when they came to Pekin on legal business at the Tazewell County Courthouse. The site at the corner of Court and Front streets is now a part of Gene Miller Park, adjacent to Pekin’s Riverfront Park. PHOTO COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE

14 March 1916 – On motion of Supervisor Strubhar the rules were suspended and . . .  Mr. Allensworth, Miss Gaither and Mr. Prettyman addressed the Board in reference to having an historical association in Tazewell County; and Mr. Cole in reference to preserving the photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County; and Mr. Bates in reference to issuing a souvenir containing historical facts of Tazewell County and distributing same when court house is dedicated and urged the appointment of a committee to confer with him in regard to the matter.

16 March 1916 – Supervisor Quigg suggested that the Board take up the matter of what the Historical room is to contain, Mr. H. H. Cole addressed the Board in reference to the matter. Resolution offered by Supervisor Birkenbusch was read. Supervisor Gulon moved as an amendment to the resolution that Mr. H. H. Cole be granted the privilege of using the North, East and part of the South wall of the historical room for placing photographs of deceased and old residents of Tazewell County. The amendment was carried.

Resolved, That the Public Printing Committee be authorized to confer with W. H. Bates in reference to souvenir issue in connection with the dedication of the Tazewell County Court House, also to take up the matter with H. H. Cole of placing our Art Gallery in the Tazewell County Court House. Offered by Henry Birkenbusch, Supervisor Quigg moved that the first room, opening on the East and West Corridor and East of the South entrance be designated as the historical room; Supervisor Porter moved as an amendment that the room be designated as the Historical and Soldiers Rest Room of Tazewell County. Supervisor Quigg accepted the amendment, and the motion as amended was on vote declared carried. On motion of Supervisor Reardon each Member of the Board was urged to present the names of at least three persons residing in their township, who would interest themselves in reference to historical matters pertaining to Tazewell County not later than the next adjourned meeting.

Communication from Joe Hanna Post No. 1176 G.A.R. of Pekin, Illinois in reference to Historical Room was read.

Mr. H. H. Cole stated that he desired to have a group photograph of the Members of the Board, the same to be placed in the historical room.

29 March 1916 – Supervisor Gulon inquired whether or not the Spanish American War Veterans would be permitted to hold their meetings in the Historical Room. On motion of Supervisor Reardon, the Spanish American War Veterans were granted permission to use the Historical Room for their meetings.

26 April 1916 – Resolution offered by the Permanent Building Committee, in reference to the Historical and G.A.R. rooms was read. On motion of Supervisor Nixon the resolution was adopted. Be it resolved by the Building Committee of the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, that the two rooms situated in the southeast corner on the first floor of the court house shall be designated “Historical Hall” and that there shall be placed therein the photographic exhibits heretofore made and now being made by H. H. Cole and that the placing of said exhibits shall be under the personal supervision of H. H. Cole and the Public Building Committee of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Resolved, that the room on the first floor of the court house on the south side and immediately west of Historical Hall shall be designated Grand Army Hall; that it shall be used and occupied by the Grand Army of the Republic, The Sons of Veterans, The Spanish-American War Veterans and the Women’s Relief Corps, and all similar organizations of Tazewell County that may hereafter be organized. Resolved, that the three rooms designated in the preceding sections of this resolution as a whole shall be known as the Memorial Section of the court house in the County of Tazewell and State of Illinois. Peter Sweitzer, C. C. Reardon, B. F. Quigg, J. S. Nixon.

15 Sept. 1916 – Mr. W. H. Bates addressed the Board in reference to having cases made of the walnut benches which were in the Old Court House, for the G.A.R. and Historical room. On motion of Supervisor Porter the matter was referred to the Committee on Public Buildings.

13 June 1916 – Order #26338 to H. H. Cole for labor and materials furnished for Historical Photograph Room.

10 June 1918 – The report of the committee on the claim of H. H. Cole was read. Your committee to whom was referred the adjustment of the claim of H. H. Cole for portraits, cases etc. placed in Historical Room in Court House . . .  . we allow H. H. Cole the sum of $450 in full payment for same and it is further agreed that any more work done, for which he expects payments from the County, must be authorized by someone with authority before proceeding.

7 Dec. 1920Judge W. R. Curran was granted permission to address the Board in reference to the memorial services of the Tazewell County Historical Society, commemorating the organization of the Union League of America, to be held in the Circuit Court room at 2 P.M. December 7th, 1920.

13 June 1949 – Mr. Canaday, Representative from State Historical Society, Springfield, was introduced by Chairman McClarence, who stated that he had been sent to Pekin in regard to the matter of transferring original records signed by Abraham Lincoln, now in Tazewell County files to Springfield Library. Chairman McClarence appointed Supervisors J. A. Henderson of Little Mackinaw, D. H. Snell of Washington and Clark Barton of Tremont to serve on the Lincoln Records Special Committee.

8 March 1955 – It is recommended after a special meeting between the Building Committee and representative of the Women’s Relief Corps and the Grand Army of the Republic that the Building Committee be authorized to obtain the services of an architect and lay plans for the creation of a suitable room in the basement to be occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps, Grand Army of the Republic and Historical Society. The room on the main floor which presently is occupied by the Women’s Relief Corps and Grand Army of the Republic will be taken over by the Supervisor of Assessments after the establishment of the basement quarters.

25 April 1955 – Supervisor Condon of Pekin moved that the Chairman appoint a committee of six to confer with the Fair and Park Boards in regard to having Historical Rooms, Veteran Rooms and Museum in the Fair Buildings.

13 June 1955 – Chairman Mooberry stated there was a delegation present representing the Womens Relief Corps and the Spanish American War Veterans. Mrs. Minnie Stockert was their spokesman and addressed the Board in respect to the Historical or G.A.R. room, and brought up the question of what would become of the war relics as the law stated that, if they were moved from their present location, they would have to be returned to the State Museum.

Motion was made by Supervisor Lowry of Spring Lake, seconded by Supervisor McKenzie of Fondulac that letters received by the Board in regard to the G.A.R. and Historical Room be read. Motion carried.

Twelve letters from individuals and organizations of Tazewell and Peoria Counties were read by the Clerk. Motion was made by Supervisor Robins of Washington, seconded by Supervisor Schilling of Pekin that the letters be received and placed on file. Motion carried.

8 Sept. 1959 – A letter from George H. Iftner in regard to Items of Historical Value now in the Historical Room in the basement. Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint three to act as Trustees of the Historical Society . . . to take care of the items of Historical Value.

8 Dec. 1959 – Motion was made by Supervisor Snell of Washington that the Chair appoint a nine member committee to act as Trustees for the Tazewell County Historical Society. Motion was seconded by Supervisor VanderHeyden of Pekin. Motion carried and Chairman Schilling of Pekin appointed the following Committee:


Vera Dille, Gary Planck, Dale Sarver, William Hoffman, Dr. R. K. Taubert and Gene Sangalli all of Pekin, Thomas Pinkham of East Peoria, Forrest Altine of Morton, and Howard Simpson of Mackinaw.

21 Feb. 1968 – Moved by Supervisor Urish of Malone, seconded by Supervisor Hoffman of Mackinaw, that the Building Committee investigate the Historical items in the basement of the Court House. The Committee is to make plans of what to do with said items.

15 Aug. 1968 – Be it resolved by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that, whereas, the Tazewell County Historical Society, the G.A.R.’s and D.A.R.’s have for past years held their meetings in rooms provided them in the Court House and, Whereas, a great collection of articles, antique furniture, relics, documents, pictures, etc. have been housed in these rooms, and Whereas, during the past few years these items have not had proper care and protection in the present basement room, with the end result that valuable pieces have been removed and other articles have been broken, damaged or defaced and Whereas, each item in this collection is of great value as such and can never be replaced, but should be preserved for the benefit of future generations, now therefore BE IT Resolved, by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors that the Building Committee be authorized to have the contents of this room sorted, packed, and stored in a bonded warehouse, at County expense, until such time as arrangements can be made to have this collection placed where it can be properly displayed and protected.

#abraham-lincoln, #arcade-building, #b-f-quigg, #bemis-house, #ben-c-allensworth, #c-c-reardon, #christal-dagit, #clark-barton, #d-h-snell, #dale-sarver, #dr-r-k-taubert, #forrest-altine, #gary-planck, #gene-sangalli, #george-h-iftner, #grand-army-of-the-republic, #henry-birkenbusch, #henry-hobart-cole, #historical-hall, #historical-room, #howard-simpson, #j-a-henderson, #j-s-nixon, #judge-w-r-curran, #kip-snyder, #mary-gaither, #minnie-stockert, #peter-sweitzer, #sons-of-veterans, #spanish-american-war-veterans, #tazewell-county-board, #tazewell-county-board-of-supervisors, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-historical-society, #tazewell-county-museum, #tazewell-house-hotel, #thomas-pinkham, #union-league-of-america, #vera-dille, #william-henry-bates, #william-hoffman, #womens-relief-corps

The changing face of Pekin

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

The changing face of Pekin

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Changes and developments come to a community day by day, week by week. New buildings and homes are erected, old ones are demolished, new businesses come to town while older ones expand or close their doors.

Sometimes changes can come rapidly and dramatically, but usually they are gradual and often not noticed at first – and before we know it, years have gone by and a city’s or town’s appearance bears little or no resemblance to the way it looked in the past.

To help Pekin residents remember or discover what their city used to look like, various publications compilations of photographs are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room for study, musing and reminiscing. One of them, often quoted in this column, is “Pekin: A Pictorial History,” first published in 1998 and updated in 2004. The 1949 “Pekin Centenary” and 1974 “Pekin Sesquicentennial” volumes are also filled with old photographs.

The compilation of old Pekin photos that perhaps is the most effective way of showing the ways Pekin has changed is Rob Clifton’s “Pekin History Then and Now,” which, as the title indicates, reprints a vintage photo of Pekin on one page and then displays a contemporary photo of the same location on the opposite page. Sometimes the same structures still exist in the contemporary photos, but usually something new has taken their place.

Among Clifton’s sources or guides for finding old photos is a publication that was prepared and issued in July 1912 by The Commercial Club of Pekin (ancestral to the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce), having the length title, “Pekin, Illinois – Interesting Views of Public Buildings, Churches, Schools, Clubs, Office Buildings, Residences, Parks, Street Scenes and the Industries of the City.”

The book was arranged and compiled by Albert Walter Lewis, and almost all of its photographs and images were the work of Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole. As mentioned in previous Local History Room column, Cole also produced a small booklet of engravings and photographs, “Cole’s Souvenir of Pekin,” as a way to advertise Pekin to businessmen and to give visitors and tourists a handy memento of their stay.

Lewis’s publication from July 1912 is something like Cole’s “Souvenir,” only on a larger scale. It is mostly a collection of photographs, with a few drawing or engravings, but it also has a few pages of text that describe and promote Pekin as an ideal place to live, work and worship.

Those pages include section headings such as: “Pekin’s Progressiveness,” “Reasons Why Manufacturers Seeking Locations Should Come to Pekin,” “Pekin’s Manufacturing Interests,” “The Near-By Coal Mines Mean Cheap Fuel for Industries,” “Excellent Railroad Advantages and Transportation,” and, “Pekin’s Beautiful Homes, Parks, Drives, etc.”

As a sample of these promotional essays, the latter section says:

“Few cities of our size present as attractive an appearance as is given Pekin by its many handsome residences, its neatly kept broad lawns, its magnificent shade tree, clean streets and drives. Every street and avenue in each direction is adorned with great shade trees, which throw out their massive branches until they meet in the center of the streets.

“There are five public parks, and it is the aim to make them as popular as possible, and that the public should be invited to them. The largest of the parks is Mineral Springs Park, which contains a large pavilion, children’s play grounds, base ball diamond, swimming pools and natural mineral springs, whose waters have a curative power of a high value. These parks mean a healthy city for any one to live in, and is the best evidence of a spirit of progress, and among the first things that a thoughtful manufacturer looks for today in seeking a factory location.

“There are many fine drives about the city, which give to the visitor many visions of the beauties of the city.”

This vintage photograph by Pekin photographer William Blenkiron shows the old Pekin plank bridge that spanned the Illinois River from 1885 to 1930, when it was replaced by a lift bridge.
Shown is the old Pekin High School that stood at the present site of Washington Intermediate School on Washington Street. Built in 1891, this school served as the high school until a new high school was built in 1916. The old high school remained in use as an intermediate or junior high school until 1930, when it was replaced by the current Washington Intermediate School.
This old postcard shows the old Tazewell County Courthouse that served the county from 1850 to 1914, when it was razed to make way for the current, larger county courthouse that opened in 1916. Note the front columns — the bottom half of the columns were painted black to hide the stains from the hands of people leaning on the columns.
In this William Blenkiron photograph we see the old St., Paul’s Evangelical Church on Seventh Street in Pekin.
This Konisek photograph shows the gymnasium and stage in the old parish house of St. Paul’s Evangelical Church in Pekin.

#albert-walter-lewis, #coles-souvenir-of-pekin, #commercial-club-of-pekin, #courthouses, #henry-hobart-cole, #konisek, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-a-pictorial-history, #pekin-centenary, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekin-history-then-and-now, #pekin-sesquicentennial, #preblog-columns, #rob-clifton, #st-pauls-german-evangelical-church, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #washington-intermediate-school, #william-blenkiron

Tazewell County Courthouse Square History Walk

The Pekin Public Library, with the help of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, has prepared a self-guided historical tour of the Tazewell County Courthouse Square in downtown Pekin, comparing today’s downtown with a look back to 100 years ago or more. Printed itinerary brochures are available in the library lobby and Local History Room.

The tour, entitled “Tazewell County Courthouse Square History Walk,” may also be accessed on a smart phone using the PocketSights app (which may be downloaded and installed at the PocketSights home page or at the Apple App Store or Google Play Store). When using the app, vintage photographs of downtown buildings may be pulled up for viewing, along with brief historical descriptions.

This self-guided tour takes approximately 25 or 30 minutes to complete, or could last longer depending on one’s pace and one’s interest in each of the buildings and points of interest.

The itinerary extends along the four blocks surrounding the courthouse, starting at the courthouse and McKenzie Building, then beginning a square at the intersection of Court and Fourth streets, heading west down to Capitol Street, then south to Elizabeth Street, east to Fourth, and then north back to the intersection of Court and Fourth. The tour debuted on Thursday, June 24, during celebratory programs marking the 125th anniversary of the Pekin Public Library’s existence as a department of Pekin’s city government.

Highlights along the tour include the former sites of Herget National Bank and Farmers’ National Bank, the historic Arcade Building, Schipper & Block (Block & Kuhl) department store, Old Post Office, former sites of the Pekin Theater and the Tazewell Hotel (formerly Woodard’s Hotel), former site of the Zerwekh Building (later the Pekin Times Building), and the corner of Fourth and Court streets where Circleville outlaw Bill Berry, leader of the Berry Gang, was lynched by a mob on July 31, 1869.

This vintage photograph shows the laying of the new Tazewell County Courthouse’s cornerstone in 1914. Standing next to scaffolding in the foreground is William H. Bates displaying the time capsule to the crowd before it was sealed in the cornerstone.

#local-history-room, #pocketsights, #self-guided-tours, #tazewell-county-courthouse, #walking-tours

The legal profession’s earliest days in Tazewell

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Feb. 2015, before the launch of this weblog.

The legal profession’s earliest days in Tazewell

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

In Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” a former local judge named A. W. Rodecker was asked to write an essay on the history of the legal profession in the county. Rodecker’s essay, on pages 878-880 of Allensworth’s history, is entitled “Bench and Bar” and sketches the general shape of the legal practice in Tazewell during the county’s early years.

Rodecker began with an acknowledgement of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of Western civilization that then informed the practice of law and the functioning of the courts in America. Rodecker commented, “. . . it is true that, in the courts of the country, the Decalogue is recognized as the guide, and as embracing all law and all equity. If a law-making power declares an act to be a law which contravenes the law ‘thundered from Mount Sinai,’ it cannot be enforced, but is null and void.

Of Tazewell’s first attorneys, Rodecker said, “The lawyers of Tazewell County who came here, or grew up here in an early day, were of the kind who hewed out their way over the roughest road, and blazed it with the glory of well-earned success. They had few books from which to learn, and few decisions of the courts to guide them to settle disputes that grew up in the new State. They fell back upon the old text-books, and became well grounded in principles, and were by no means ‘case lawyers.’ They knew the reason for every rule, and backed up their opinions with a familiarity that was almost invincible. Their knowledge of common law pleadings had to be almost perfect. There was no great code of practice, no very helpful books of forms. They had to plead ‘on the spot.’ A continuance meant costs to their clients, and cases were not then ‘won by delays’ and procrastination. Even on the criminal side of the court, indictments and pleadings did not indulge in a waste of words.

To illustrate how indictments and pleadings in those days “quickly came to the point,” Rodecker copied an indictment that had been “drawn” in September 1837 by Stephen A. Douglas, who later served as senator for Illinois, but who was then Tazewell County’s interim state’s attorney. The indictment, which Douglass brought before a grand jury, but which the grand jury declined to endorse, said:

“The grand jurors chosen, selected and sworn, in and for the County of Tazewell, in the name and by the authority of the people of the State of Illinois, upon their oaths present that Clark Kellogg, on the twenty-seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Seven, at the county aforesaid, one bay mare, of the value of Fifty Dollars, of the goods and chattels of one Joseph Kelso, in the peace, then and there being found, unlawfully, and feloniously, did steal, take away, and drive away, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the same people of the State of Illinois.”

Rodecker’s essay then tells of how the first term of the circuit court in Tazewell County was convened in Mackinaw, the county seat, on May 12, 1828, with Samuel D. Lockwood as the presiding judge. “The first common law case was one of debt, and the first criminal case was for assault and battery,” Rodecker said.

Continuing, Rodecker said, “In 1831 the county-seat was moved from Mackinaw to Pekin, and court was held in what was then known as the Snell School House, which was situated on the west side of Second Street, between Elizabeth and St. Mary’s Streets. In 1826 it was moved to Tremont . . . In 1850 the present court house was completed, and, in August of that year, the county-seat was again moved to Pekin.” That was the court house building that preceded the current Tazewell County Court House.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse, which served the county from 1850 to 1914, when it was demolished to be replaced by the current courthouse.

Rodecker was evidently pleased to be able to boast in 1905 that “Not in all the years of Tazewell County’s existence has a member of its bar been convicted of a crime, or been disbarred for unprofessional conduct” – something that can no longer be said today.

After an enumeration of the county’s attorneys and judges, Rodecker told the following anecdote of swift justice concerning Judge Charles Turner, who had served as a colonel and brevet brigadier general during the Civil War:

“He was a fearless man in every emergency. I well remember that his courage was put to a strong test while he was Judge of the Circuit Court. One night, after he had retired, he heard a noise in the basement of his house, and he got out of bed to investigate and found that his home was being burglarized. He caught sight of a man stealthily creeping from room to room. The Judge as quietly crept after him, and when, in reaching distance, pounced upon him. The burglar was armed with an iron poker, and a terrible fight followed. First the Judge was on top, and then the burglar; but the Judge proved the more powerful man, and, although the burglar was a desperate fighting, the Judge soon had him at his mercy. By this time some of the female members of the family came to his aid with lights, and he bound the burglar, and marched him off to jail. The Grand Jury was in session, and the next day the burglar was indicted, and a Judge from an adjoining county called to hold court; the man plead[ed] guilty and was sentenced, and the following day sent to the penitentiary.”

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