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

‘Ever since the boat blew up’ – a letter from a Pekin riverboat disaster survivor

‘Ever since the boat blew up’ – a letter from a Pekin riverboat disaster survivor

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

The current issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly features a letter written 170 years ago by a Pekin woman who had survived a recent riverboat disaster.

The letter was provided to TCGHS by Dr. Bruce Ramsdall of Whitesburg, Georgia, whose great-great-grandmother Mary Amanda Nixon was the addressee of the letter, which was written 11 Jan. 1853 by Mary’s friend Fidelia L. Thompson.

In her letter, Fidelia tells Mary, “Ma has been sick almost ever since the boat blew up,” and also mentions, “Pa was scalded so bad we thought he would not live. I was taken out from the water for dead, but a lady saved Hellen by holding her out from the water.

This letter, reproduced in the Jan. 2023 TCGHS Monthly, was written 11 Jan. 1853 by Fidelia Thompson of Pekin to her friend Mary Nixon. Thompson, her parents, and her sister were survivors of the Prairie State riverboat disaster of 25 April 1852. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The date of the letter is in fact written as “1852,” but given the fact that Thompson and her family were from Pekin, it is thought that the riverboat explosion to which Thompson refers must be that of the Prairie State, which collapsed its flues at Pekin on 25 April 1852. The letter’s date “was likely an error for 1853 which is common when dating things right after the first of the year,” the TCGHS article says (page 511).

We told the story of the Prairie State disaster here at “From the History Room” a few years ago. Contemporary reports indicate that the explosion of the boat’s boilers killed no less than eight people and scalded at least 11, some of whom later recovered while others may have later died from their injuries. “Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters” (1856), page 293, says 20 people were killed or wounded.

The report on the disaster in the New York Times, dated 6 May 1852, includes an admittedly incomplete list of kn dead and scalded, but Fidelia Thompson and her family are not on that list.

As time went on, memories of the disaster grew less and less accurate, and the tally of the dead became greatly inflated, until at last in “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2002) it was erroneously claimed that 110 were killed, a figure that, if true, would make the explosion of the Prairie State one of the worse steamboat disasters in history. Even the date of the disaster was misremembered, with older published histories of Pekin mistakenly putting the tragedy on the nonexistent date of Sunday, 16 April 1852 — but that date was a Friday.

Pekin’s first riverboat disaster, and apparently Tazewell County’s first calamity resulting in sudden mass loss of life, was the 1852 explosion of the steamboat Prairie State, which killed or injured a total of about 20 people. This photograph was reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

#dr-bruce-ramsdall, #fidelia-l-thompson, #mary-amanda-nixon, #pekin-history, #prairie-state, #steamboat-disasters, #steamboats, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #wreck-of-the-prairie-state

Nance Legins-Costley and Pvt. William Costley to be honored by Pekin monument

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Plans are underway for a permanent stone monument in downtown Pekin to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William Henry Costley.

In the past few years, Nance and her son William have been the subjects of multiple articles posted here at “From the History Room.” Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) of Pekin and Peoria is known to history as the first African-American to secure her freedom with the help of Abraham Lincoln, through the landmark 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Her oldest son William H. Costley (1840-1888) of Pekin later went on to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in the 29th Illinois Colored Infantry, Co. B., and was present in Galveston, Texas, on the first Juneteenth in 1865.

The story of Nancy Legins-Costley is told by Carl Adams in his book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln.” IMAGE PROVIDED BY CARL ADAMS

Partners involved in this project include Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, the City of Pekin, Pekin Main Street, the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Dirksen Congressional Center, and Abel Monument. Ackerman also credits research on Nance Legins-Costley and her family that has been conducted or made possible by the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society and the Pekin Public Library’s Local History collection.

According to Ackerman, the memorial is being privately donated, and Abel Monument is now at work on it.

The monument will be four feet in length and three feet in height, and will bear a header inscription reading, “Tazewell County Remembers.” The names of Nance and her son William, and words of tribute to their lives, will be inscribed on the front and back of the monument.

Ackerman says the memorial is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St.

Coming this summer, a memorial to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William H. Costley is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St. GOOGLE STREET VIEW IMAGE

Placement and dedication of the monument is to be on or near Juneteenth this summer.

This will be the second Central Illinois memorial devoted to memorializing the life of Nance Legins-Costley.

As was reported here last week, the life of Nance Legins-Costley is also commemorated on an Illinois State Historical marker currently on display at the Peoria RiverPlex facility.

That marker and two others were created last year for the planned Freedom & Remembrance Memorial that will be placed and dedicated this spring at the corner of South Adams and Griswold streets in Peoria. The purpose of the memorial is to honor the lives of the more than 2,600 Peorians (Nance among them) buried at the defunct Moffatt Cemetery that was located a very short distance north of that intersection.

Nance Legins-Costley’s life and that of her family forms a part not only the history of Pekin, where she lived from 1829 to the late 1870s, but also of Peoria, where she lived for most of the rest of her life from the late 1870s until her death in 1892. She and her husband and one of her sons were interred in Moffatt Cemetery.

But I am of the opinion that Nance and her story really belong to all of Illinois, since she was born in Kaskaskia, the old territorial capital (and later the first state capital), and later was taken to Springfield before Nathan Cromwell brought her to Pekin. She even lived briefly with one of her sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after her husband Benjamin’s death.

However, the real reason it can be said that Nance belongs to all of Illinois is the indomitable courage and persistence she showed in fighting to secure the recognition of her freedom – for her fight and her strength resulted in an important Illinois Supreme Court ruling benefitting not only her and her family but every other African-American held in indentured servitude in Illinois.

In my opinion, that’s definitely worthy of a monument or two – or more.

#abel-monument, #abraham-lincoln, #bailey-v-cromwell, #carl-adams, #john-ackerman, #juneteenth, #local-history-room, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-area-chamber-of-commerce, #pekin-history, #pekin-main-street, #pekin-nance-memorial, #peoria, #peoria-freedom-remembrance-memorial-park, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #william-henry-costley

The Tazewell County Jail of 1892

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Shown here is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence that was built in 1891-1892 at the present site of the McKenzie Building next to the Tazewell County Courthouse. This jail was built while Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich was Tazewell County Sheriff, and it is possibly Sheriff Friederich standing in this photo.

Over a year after Tazewell County was erected by the Illinois General Assembly in 1827, the county’s first jail was constructed at Mackinaw, the county seat, at a cost of $325.75. That first jail was a two-story building made of hewn timber, 16 feet square, and at the time was thought to be the strongest – and the costliest – jail built by the pioneers of Central Illinois.

That didn’t stop the jail’s first prisoner, a horse thief named William Cowhart, from escaping from it, though.

Later on in the county’s history, after the struggle between Pekin and Tremont over which town would get to be the county seat was finally settled in Pekin’s favor in 1849, a new county jail was constructed at Pekin in 1852 at a cost of $7,000. It was from a tree in front of the 1852 jail that the outlaw William Berry, leader of the Berry Gang, was lynched on July 31, 1869. The lynch mob had been enraged by Ike Berry’s killing of Tazewell County deputy sheriff Henry Pratt earlier the same month.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an “Aerial View of Pekin,” a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings — at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc. Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence (which was replaced in 1892 — today it’s the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s). Since this map was drawn in 1877, it’s only eight years after Bill Berry’s lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth. Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail — there’s no telling which of them was Berry’s gallows tree.
This detail of the 1892 Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin shows the foundations of the 1892 jail next to the old 1852 jail.
This detail from the 1898 Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin shows the county jail six years after it was constructed. There is no more trace of the old 1852 jail.

That jail building was replaced in 1892 with a new jail and sheriff’s residence, a limestone and red-brick edifice constructed at a cost of $20,000 on a site adjacent to the 1852 jail. This new jail structure was built while Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich was Tazewell County Sheriff. Friederich was sheriff from 1890 to 1894.

The 1892 Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, shown in a colorized photograph from an early 20th century postcard.
The 1892 Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence as shown in a postcard that was mailed in 1914. (This is the same kind of postcard as the colorized one shown above — the image is identical.)

Because the job of county sheriff included the duty of overseeing the county jail and the prisoners held there, the old practice was for the sheriff and his family to live in the jail. As a rule, county sheriffs were married men for the practical reason that his wife would be hired by the county board to be the jail’s “matron.” Her main responsibility was cooking the meals for the jail inmates.

Sometimes there would be a county sheriff did not live in the jail – for example, Sheriff James J. Crosby (1930-1934) – in which case it would be the chief deputy and his family who will live in the jail and directly oversee jail operations. The last county sheriff to live in the jail seems to have been George Saal, who served two non-consecutive terms, 1950-1954 and 1958-1962.

These are the Tazewell County Sheriff’s who served during the years when the 1892 county jail was in use:

Johann Christian “Chris” Friederich (1838- )          1890-1894

John Edmond Stout (1856- )                                        1894-1898

John D. Mount (1860-1925)                                        1898-1902

Robert Ingersoll Clay (1869-1920)                             1902-1906     1918-1920

James Alfonzo Norris (1855-1939)                             1906-1910

Christian A. Fluegel (1863- )                                       1910-1914

John Lee Wilson (1864- )                                             1914-1918

Athol Sebree “Pat” Whitmore (1889-1960)            1920-1922

Emil Neuhaus (1861-1941)                                          1922-1926

Ernest Leroy Fleming (1873-1955)                              1926-1930

James Jackson Crosby (1855-1939)                            1930-1934

Ralph Croy Goar (1896-1976)                                     1934-1938

Guy Emmet Donahue (1892-1958)                             1938-1942

William Grant (1881-1947)                                         1942-1946

Herbert Hirstein  (1947-1988)                                     1946-1950

George Leroy Saal (1918-1996)                                  1950-1954     1958-1962

Ray Owen Crafton (1904-1981)                                  1954-1958

George H. Sweeter (1907-1964)                                 1962-1964

Arch E. Bartlemay (1919-1987)                                  1964-1970

Notable moments in the history of the 1892 Tazewell County jail and sheriff’s residence include:

  • The Little Mine Riot (6 June 1894) near Wesley City. The mob leaders of the riot were arrested by Sheriff Friederich and held at the jail before they were convicted and sent to the state penitentiary in Joliet.
  • Albert Wallace’s murder of his sister Belle (Wallace) Bowlby, for which he was sentenced to death and was hanged by Sheriff Stout on a gallows built outside the jail on 14 March 1896. This was the last legal hanging in Tazewell County.
  • Inmates attempted to break out of the jail in Oct. 1899 by sawing through the bars.
  • Samuel Moser murdered his wife and three children with extreme brutality and fled to Utah, where he was captured. Sheriff Mount was granted extradition and personally went to Utah to retrieve Moser, who was sentenced to 23 years at Joliet (where Moser later hanged himself).
  • The Oct. 1902 attempted escape of James Hastings, a Galesburg shoe store thief. While Sheriff Mount walked Hastings to the jail, Hastings broke free and ran through the Block & Kuhl store, making it several blocks and hiding in a barrel, where the Sheriff found him and hauled him to a jail cell.
  • The jail escape of William Eddie, alias William Young, who was caught in Springfield in May 1903 and brought back to the Tazewell County jail.
  • The death of Sheriff Robert I. Clay on 4 Sept. 1920. Clay suffered a gunshot wound to the knee during a gun fight with bootleggers in Wesley City, and the wound became infected causing the sheriff’s death. Clay is the only Tazewell County sheriff to be killed in the line of duty.
  • An attempted jail break of four prisoners, Mack Houchins, Frank Milton, Dan Cassey, and Thomas Erb, in March 1910. In an elaborate plan, the four fashioned their own jail cell keys, sawed bars, and picked at plaster around a jail window, with the intention of murdering Sheriff Norris and escaping. Norris became aware of their plans and allowed them to break into a jail corridor, where he and his deputies awaited them with revolvers drawn.
  • The May 1913 arrest of Ruby Miller for “white slavery” human sex trafficking.
  • Sheriff Wilson’s appointment of his daughter Frances as a deputy in 1916 – the first woman to serve as a Tazewell County sheriff’s deputy.
  • The arrest of Nick Kepper for the murder of “bootlegger king” Tom Miller of East Peoria on 19 Sept. 1927. Kepper was sentenced to life in prison in the state penitentiary.
  • The 1 Sept. 1932 death in his jail cell of Martin Virant, who was suspected as a material witness or accomplice in the murder of Lew Nelan at an East Peoria speakeasy. Virant had been severely beaten during interrogation by Sheriff Crosby’s deputies and had succumbed to his internal injuries. Two or more deputies then faked a hanging of Virant’s corpse. The incident sparked months of outrage and an attempted to impeach the sheriff and his entire force, but in the end no one was held accountable for Virant’s murder or the cover-up.
  • The murder of Betty C. Crabb of Delavan in March 1938, a scandal that is the subject of Norman V. Kelly’s book “Shadow of a Nightmare.”
  • The Aug. 1951 escape of two boys who had been arrested for breaking windows at a Delavan school. The boys ripped out some bars and got out the back door. Sheriff Saal apprehended the boys only four blocks away.
  • The March 1956 escape of three teenage boys, who were being held at the jail for stealing a car in Anderson, Indiana. The boys used a broken broomstick and a wire coat hanger to jimmy the locks of the detention room and then stole a deputy’s car. The escapees were apprehended less than two hours later in Springfield.
  • The Jan. 1957 murder of Mackinaw Night Marshall Charles H. Norris by three young men, who got hold of Norris’ own gun and used it to shoot him.

The above list of sheriffs and summary of notable events is drawn almost entirely from Susan Rynerson’s series on Tazewell County’s sheriffs that ran this year in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society’s Monthly newsletter.

The old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, as shown in a 1949 photograph.

By 1960, the county was in need of a new and larger jail facility. Therefore, during George Saal’s second term as sheriff, the county began the construction of the McKenzie Building. The new facility was built at a cost of $1 million over a three-year period, from 1960 to 1963, to serve as the site of the new jail as well as certain county governmental offices. For many years after that the south half of the McKenzie Building housed the jail and the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department – but gone were the days of the sheriff and his family living in the same building as the jail. In 2003 the jail and sheriff’s department moved to the current $16.5 million Tazewell County Justice Center located at the corner of Capitol and Elizabeth streets.

#albert-wallace, #arch-e-bartlemay, #athol-sebree-whitmore, #berry-gang, #betty-c-crabb, #bootlegger-king, #charles-h-norris, #christian-a-fluegel, #dan-cassey, #emil-neuhaus, #ernest-fleming, #ernest-leroy-fleming, #frances-c-wilson, #frances-c-wilson-jurgens, #frances-wilson, #frank-milton, #george-h-sweeter, #george-leroy-saal, #george-saal, #guy-emmet-donahue, #henry-pratt, #herbert-hirstein, #ike-berry, #james-alfonzo-norris, #james-hastings, #james-jackson-crosby, #johann-christian-friederich, #john-d-mount, #john-edmond-stout, #john-lee-wilson, #lew-nelan, #little-mine-riot, #mack-houchins, #martin-virant, #mckenzie-building, #murder-of-belle-wallace-bowlby, #nick-kepper, #norman-v-kelly, #pat-whitmore, #pekin-history, #ralph-croy-goar, #ralph-goar, #ray-owen-crafton, #robert-clay, #robert-ingersoll-clay, #ruby-miller, #samuel-moser, #sanborn-maps, #shadow-of-a-nightmare, #sheriff-arch-bartelmay-jr, #sheriff-chris-friederich, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-jails, #tazewell-county-justice-center, #the-third-degree, #thomas-erb, #tom-miller, #william-berry, #william-cowhart, #william-eddie, #william-grant, #williamyoung

Dreadful tornado smashes through central Illinois

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

Dreadful tornado smashes through central Illinois

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Buildings Twisted and Torn from their Foundations,” the newspaper headline said, describing a “DREADFUL TORNADO” that tore through Washington – the worst one that had ever struck the community in living memory.

It could have been a headline from November 2013 (nine years ago last week), but in fact this was a story published in the 20 May 1858 edition of the Washington Investigator.

That 164-year-old news report was featured in the Jan. 2009 newsletter of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. In this week’s From the Local History Room column, we’ll draw upon the society’s newsletter to help us recall that harrowing event as seen through the eyes of some of Tazewell County’s early settlers.

This detail of a page from a May 1858 edition of the Washington Investigator shows part of a news article about a tornado and storms that hit Washington and other communities in central Illinois that year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Unlike the twister that left a trail of devastation in Tazewell County on 17 Nov. 2013, the tornado that hit Washington on the night of 13 May 1858, was accompanied by a severe thunderstorm that continued through the early morning hours of May 14, causing extensive flooding throughout the area. Eyewitness accounts from central Illinois residents indicate that the storm system that generated Washington’s 1858 tornado also sent rain, hail, high winds and tornados through many communities in Tazewell and McLean counties.

The severest gale of wind, accompanied with rain and hail, visited our town last Thursday night, that has ever been known to the oldest inhabitants,” says the report in the Washington Investigator.

The report continues:

“About half past 6 o’clock the wind began to blow from the northwest, where a dark, heavy cloud had been hanging for sometime. It continued to increase in intenseness for near a half hour, accompanied with torrents of rains and volleys of hail. A little past seven o’clock it lulled away, the rain in a measure ceased, but devastation and ruin were the visible traces of its angry visit.

“Notwithstanding the fierce wrath of the storm had found its crisis at about seven o’clock, had visited almost every habitation in our town with a destroyer’s merciless intent, leaving them more or less scored and bruised, yet the heavy clouds poured down their torrents of rain, the forked lightning hissed its fiery course in vivid awfulness athwart the sky, the winds howled about the dwellings, thrashing trees and shrubbery with destructive violence till between two and three o’clock Friday morning when a calm began gradually to reign over our storm-scathed village.”

The Washington Investigator’s report then provides an extensive inventory of destruction in Washington and nearby communities – buildings moved off foundations, roofs torn off, doors smashed in, church spires demolished, barns wrecked, board sidewalks ripped up and blown away, fences blown down, bridges destroyed, orchards stripped.

“A small frame house in the east part of [Washington], occupied by Mr Creismann, was carried about ten feet from its foundation, and set down again, before him self and wife could get out of it. . . . A tree standing on the edge of Farm Creek, in the neighborhood of the depot, some two feet in diameter, was twisted off about ten feet from the ground, and the upper portion hurled some distance along the bank. The bridges on the north and south of town have been swept away by the flood; leaving no ingress for teams in either direction. A horse was found dead in the creek just below the flouring mill; supposed to have been blown into the water and drowned.”

At the town of Cruger, the tornado arrived just as a train was pulling into the east end of town, blowing the train off the tracks and dumping it upside-down into a ditch filled with two feet of water, but amazingly only four of the passengers were reported to have been hurt.

The widespread destruction left many people injured. Remarkably, Washington escaped with no fatalities, but reports from elsewhere mentioned persons killed or missing. The Washington Investigator says:

“At Kappa a number of dwellings were torn to pieces. Three persons killed – a man in attempting to save his house from blowing over, was crushed beneath the falling timbers of his house, which contained his wife and child – all killed . . . Two men were killed a short distance from Eureka . . . A rumor reached here, the truth of which we are unable to substantiate, to the effect that a house containing a family of several persons, situated on the prairie, about two miles north of the head of Walnut Grove, was missed from its accustomed locality, when some persons went in search of it. They visited the spot where it had once stood, and found nothing but the fallen chimney. They followed the direction the storm had taken, but no trace of the lost house or its occupants could be discovered.”

Other storm deaths included a number of people who drowned in Peoria Lake – the storm came through while they were boating on the Illinois River. Some of the survivors were rescued by the crew of the Samuel Gaty, “which had lain at Pekin during the heaviest part of the storm” and then came up the river and took aboard “the wrecked passengers of the Obion . . . among which were three ladies – one, Mrs. Tew, of Pekin, was very feeble from long exposure in the water,” according to the Washington Investigator report.

The storm appears to have extended over a territory of more than 25 miles in width,” the report says, “but where it commenced or where it ended in its devastating journey, we have no means of stating at our present writing. The dismay and suffering, loss of life and property, and the consequent lamentation, marks the progress of this sweeping tornado, as one that has scarcely, if ever been equaled in Illinois.

#2013-tornado, #creismann, #obion, #preblog-columns, #sam-gaty, #samuel-gaty, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #tcghs, #tew, #the-washington-investigator, #tornado-of-1858, #tornado-of-2013, #washington, #washington-tornado

Union House, an old hotel and tavern of Pekin

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Recently Fred Massaglia brought an old photograph to the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society (see the Sept. 2022 issue of the TCGHS Monthly). The subject of the photograph was an old Pekin business called “Union House,” a hotel and tavern (or saloon) with an accompanying beer garden.

This vintage photograph of Union House Hotel on Court Street, in the possession of Fred Massaglia, shows nine men standing out front. The men likely include the hotel proprietor and the hotel/tavern staff.

Old Pekin city directories shows that Union House formerly stood at 130 Court St., the southwest corner of Court and Second streets. It first appears in Pekin city directories in 1876, when it is listed at 132 Court St., and owned and operated by a German immigrant named Dietrich Leonard.

The 1885 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Pekin shows the southwest corner of Court and Second to have then been occupied by an unnamed “Saloon.” Two years after that, the 1887 Pekin City Directory lists Union House under “Hotels,” giving the address as 130 Court St. rather than “132.” In that directory, the proprietor of Union House is said to be “Dietrich Leonhard.”

In this detail of the 1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Pekin, the Union House building and its adjacent beer garden is shown at the southwest corner of Court and Second streets.

It was probably around 1890 that Leonard sold his business to another German immigrant named Henry Eberhard, who first appears in the Pekin city directories in 1887, when he was an organ builder at Hinners & Albertsen and lived at 1106 Ann Eliza St.

Eberhard appears as the proprietor of Union House in 1893 and again in 1895. Soon after that, he seems to have sold out and moved to Peoria, where we find him in the 1900 U.S Census working as a carpenter and living with his wife Mary and brother-in-law John Lautenschleger. The census record says Henry was born in Oct. 1866 in Germany and immigrated to America in 1884, while Mary was born in April 1869 in Germany. Their Tazewell County marriage record shows they were married on 6 Nov. 1888, and says Henry was the son of Hyronimus Eberhardt and Christine Therolf, while Mary was the daughter of Jacob Lautenschleger and Christine Kraemer.

Eberhard sold Union House to yet another German immigrant named John Eidenmueller or Eidenmuller, who is listed as proprietor of Union House in the 1898 and 1904 Pekin city directories. John H. Eidenmueller was born in 1846 in Hesse-Darmstadt, a son of Georg and Gertrude (Barth) Eidenmueller. He died in Pekin on 31 March 1927 and is buried alongside his wife Julia (Becker) Eidenmueller in Lakeside Cemetery.

Eidenmueller sold Union House to the Taubert Brothers, one of whom was Henry L. Taubert, who became the last proprietor of Union House. “Taubert Bros.” are listed as proprietors in the 1908 Pekin City Directory. Afterward, Henry L. Taubert is listed as sole proprietor from 1909 to 1924. Union House does not appear in the Pekin city directories after 1924.

The 1908 director entry reads, “UNION HOUSE, Taubert Bros., Proprs, Sample Room and Summer Garden in connection, 130 Court. Citizens phone 533,” The following year, the entry says, “UNION HOUSE, Henry L. Taubert, propr, Sample Room and agt Leisy Brewing Co. Summer Garden in Connection, 130 Court. Citizens phone 533.

In 1914, however, the directory misspells Taubert’s name: “UNION HOUSE, H. L. Taulbert, prop. Agent for the Celebrated Leisy Beer, which is always on Tap, Cool and Refreshing, 130 Court. Citz phone 74.

A close examination of Fred Massaglia’s photograph of Union House shows a sign at the front corner of the façade that seems to say that “…RHARD” was “prop.” of the “Union Hotel.” That must be “Henry Eberhard,” second proprietor of Union House. Thus, the photograph must have been taken in the early to mid-1890s, and Henry himself must be one of the nine men shown in the photo. He is probably the man standing in the very middle just in front of the double doors.

As shown in this detail of the sign on the corner of the Union House Hotel building, the hotel’s proprietor at the time of this photo was surnamed ___ERHARD. That would be Henry Eberhard, who owned and operated Union House in the early 1890s, thus dating the photo to those years.

The other eight men were probably employees or friends (or relatives) of Eberhard. A close examination of the 1893 and 1895 city directories might be able to locate other Union Hotel staff members, who probably were among those posing in the photo.

#christine-kraemer, #christine-therolf, #dietrich-leonard, #dietrich-leonhard, #georg-eidenmueller, #gertrude-barth-eidenmueller, #henry-eberhard, #henry-l-taubert, #hyronimus-eberhardt, #jacob-lautenschleger, #john-eidenmuller, #john-h-eidenmueller, #john-lautenschleger, #julia-becker-eidenmueller, #leisy-brewing-co, #mary-lautenschleger-eberhard, #pekin-history, #pekin-hotels, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #union-house, #union-house-hotel

A thwarted kidnapping: Shipman and Mose – the rest of the story

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

In September 2013 and January 2014, we recalled a dramatic story that was recorded in Charles C. Chapman’s “History of Tazewell County, Illinois” (1879) – the stirring account of the kidnapping of a family of free blacks from rural Tazewell County in 1827, and the bold and decisive actions taken by some of the county’s early settlers to rescue the victims.

The story, as Chapman recorded it, tells of how an early Tazewell County settler named Shipman had brought a family of free blacks with him to Illinois. The story in Chapman’s account does not name any of the blacks except the father, who is referred to simply as “Mose.”

The kidnappers struck in the middle of the night, seizing Mose and his family, but before the criminals had gone very far, Moses (who had a double row of sharp teeth) gnawed through his ropes and escaped, making his way back to the settlement and alerting his fellow pioneers. Johnson Sommers, William Woodrow, and Absalom Dillon mounted their horses and gave chase.

The pioneers rode hard in pursuit of the traffickers and managed to intercept them in St. Louis, Missouri, both pursuers and pursued landing on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River at the same time. Chapman’s account concludes:

“. . . Sommers jumped from his horse, gathered up a stone and swore he would crush the first one who attempted to leave the boat, and the men, who could steal the liberty of their fellow men, were passive before the stalwart pioneers.

“One of the pioneers hurried up to the city, and procured the arrest of the men. We do not know the penalty inflicted, but most likely it was nothing, or, at least, light, for in those days it was regarded as a legitimate business to traffic in human beings. The family was secured, however, and carried back to this county, where most of them lived and died. All honor to the daring humane pioneers.”

Quite frustratingly to local historical researchers, Chapman provides no other information on Mose and his family. He does not even tell us who “Shipman” was who had brought Mose and his family to Tazewell County. But subsequent research by members of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society was able to determine that “Shipman” was a Revolutionary War veteran from Kentucky named David Shipman (c.1760-1845) who is recorded as being buried in Antioch Cemetery near Tremont. Shipman’s probate file shows that the full name of “Mose” was “Moses Shipman,” who had adopted his former master’s surname, apparently out of gratitude for David Shipman’s having freed him and his wife and children. Moses and his family must have held David Shipman in great fondness, for when David died without any children, Moses handled the funeral arrangements and then purchased most of David’s possessions at the estate auction. The probate file includes reimbursement for Moses Shipman due to the diligent care he provided for David and David’s wife during their final years.

That still leaves numerous questions unanswered, though – namely, why did David Shipman come to Illinois, how and why did he free his slaves, and who were the other members of Moses Shipman’s family?

Census, marriage, and military records for the mid-19th century tell of several African-American Shipmans living in Tazewell and Peoria counties. No doubt they were related to Moses Shipman, very probably his children. One of them, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, was Pvt. Thomas G. L. Shipman, a Pekin native who served in the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry as a sharpshooter during the Civil War, giving his life for his country on 31 March 1865 and leaving a widow, Martha, and son, Franklin.

Another African-American Shipman was a woman named Mary Ann, whose son George W. Lee also served in the Colored Infantry during the war, afterwards marrying Mary Jane Costley, one of the children of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (but it is unknown if George and Mary Jane had any children, or least any who survived infancy).

While these records tell us a good deal about the African-American Shipmans of Tazewell and Peoria counties, they of themselves offer no confirming evidence that they were children of Moses Shipman, nor do they tell us who their mother was, or how and why David Shipman brought them to Tazewell County.

Research conducted by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society has provided the answers to those questions, and then some.

The most important thing that Rynerson has discovered is that, contrary to the impression left by Chapman’s account, the family of Moses Shipman was not immediately brought back to Tazewell County. Rather, it took the intrepidity and endurance of Moses’ wife Milly, supported by the steadfast advocacy of Tazewell County’s abolitionist settlers, to convince Missouri’s courts that Milly Shipman, her children, and the others who had been kidnapped were free persons.

The full story of the ordeal of Milly Shipman and her children and companions can be learned by studying the 150 pages of the case file of Milly v. Stephen Smith (including papers from three related cases), which is available at the website of the library of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Milly’s 1827 case can be compared to the steadfast efforts of Nance Legins-Costley to secure recognition of her freedom, which at last was obtained through the 1841 case of Bailey v. Cromwell & McNaghton.

From those documents we learn that the kidnapping of the Shipman family was not a random attack of slavers looking for likely victims. It was more in the line of a family dispute involving a potential heir of David Shipman – namely, David’s nephew Stephen Smith of Kentucky, to whom David owed a sum of money. To help pay off that debt, two of David Shipman’s slaves in Shelby County, Kentucky, named Sarah, 27, and Eliza, 15, were seized and sold.

David, however, evidently wanted his slaves to be free, so he and his wife moved to Madison, Indiana, with the rest of his slaves. There on 3 Oct. 1826, David filed and recorded Deeds of Emancipation for the rest of his slaves, i.e., Moses, 30, Milly, 25, their children Allen, 4, Mary Ann, 3, and David, 15 months, and two others named Henry Dick, 16, and William, 12. David Shipman then moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, bringing his newly freed companions with him. (Mary Ann is certainly the Mary Ann Shipman Lee who was mother of Pvt. George W. Lee, while little David Shipman must be the David Shipman who married Elizabeth Ashby of the Fulton County African-American Ashbys.)

David Shipman’s actions were not at all to the liking of his nephew Stephen Smith, who had expected to inherit his uncle’s slaves and planned to sell them in order to obtain money to buy land. When he found out where his uncle had gone, he visited his uncle in Illinois and attempted to take the former slaves with him, but was prevented from doing so.

Smith then gathered a gang of kidnappers and on the night of 4 May 1827 – while everyone was asleep at his uncle’s home at what would later become Circleville in Tazewell County – seized the former slaves and dragged them down to the St. Louis slave market. Smith and his gang managed to grab Moses, Milly, little David, David’s infant brother (probably Charles), as well Henry Dick and William – but as we have seen, Moses escaped and made it back home, alerting his fellow settlers to what had happened.

The rescuing posse intercepted Smith and his gang with their victims on 8 May 1827. The posse members, including Nathan Dillon, quickly filed papers in St. Louis court to prevent Smith from carrying the kidnapping victims to any other jurisdiction. That gave Moses’ wife Milly and her companions time to file a freedom lawsuit that same month. (In one of the documents in the Milly v. Stephen Smith court file, Smith complains about what he saw as the meddling of David Shipman’s Quaker neighbors.)

As historian Lea VanderVelde has related at length in her 2014 book “Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott,” Milly was one of numerous free blacks who petitioned for their freedom in Missouri during the 1800s under the legal rule then reigning in Missouri courts of “once free always free.” That is, even though Missouri was a slave state, their courts in those days did not allow the practice of kidnapping a free black in one state and selling him into slavery in Missouri. Just last month, on June 20 during Juneteenth weekend, a new memorial was unveiled outside the Civil Courts Building in St. Louis, inscribed with the names of every black person who brought a freedom suit in Missouri. Among the names on the memorial under the year 1827 are “Milly, a free mulatto woman,” “Harry Dick, a free negro man,” “William, a free negro boy,” and “David Shipman, a free mulatto boy.

Among the names inscribed on the new St. Louis Freedom Suits Memorial are Milly, Harry Dick, William, and David Shipman, four free blacks who were kidnapped from Tazewell County in May 1827 by Stephen Smith, who wished to turn a profit by selling them back into slavery. The new monument was erected and dedicated during the Juneteenth weekend last month, on 20 June 2022.

Milly and the others were held in St. Louis as her case slowly made its way through Missouri’s circuit court as depositions were taken from relevant witnesses in Kentucky and Illinois – with attorneys even traveling to the home of John L. Bogardus in Peoria to take deposition statements. The circuit court erroneously ruled in favor of Smith, claiming that David Shipman was not legally able to free his slaves on account of the money he owed his nephew. However, that judgment was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court 23 Sept. 1829, finding that Shipman’s debt did not bar him from freeing his slaves. The case was then remanded to the circuit court, which confirmed the Supreme Court’s decision on 13 April 1830, and Smith was ordered to repay to Milly and her companions all court costs.

Milly and her children were at last able to reunite with Moses Shipman in Tazewell County. The 1840 U.S. Census shows David Shipman living in Tazewell County as the head of a household that included black persons whom Susan Rynerson has plausibly identified as Moses Shipman and wife Milly and their children Allen, Mary Ann, David, Charles, and Thomas, along with Henry Dick and William.

As I noted above, a few weeks ago we recalled the life of Thomas Shipman and his service in the Civil War. I am indebted to Susan Rynerson for bringing to my attention the fact that on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the courthouse, Thomas Shipman’s name is listed immediately below Milton S. Sommers, who was a son of Johnson Sommers, one of the men who pursued Stephen Smith to St. Louis and prevented Thomas’ mother and brothers from being sold back into slavery.

This is the first page of the St. Louis freedom suit petition of Milly Shipman, Harry Dick, William, and David Shipman, free blacks who were kidnapped in May 1827from their home in Tazewell County and dragged down to St. Louis for the purpose of selling them back into slavery. IMAGE FROM WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS LIBRARY WEBSITE.
This is the second page of the freedom suit petition of Milly Shipman, Harry Dick, William, and David Shipman. Significantly, each of the petitioners signed their own names, indicating that their former owner David Shipman had been teaching them how to read and write. IMAGE FROM WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS LIBRARY WEBSITE.
This is the first page of an informative petition of Tazewell County settler Nathan Dillon supporting the fact that Milly Shipman, Harry Dick, William, and David Shipman were free. Dillon also relates how the four were kidnapped by Stephen Smith, nephew of their former master David Shipman. IMAGE FROM WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS LIBRARY WEBSITE.
This is the second page of a petition of Tazewell County settler Nathan Dillon supporting the fact that Milly Shipman, Harry Dick, William, and David Shipman were free. IMAGE FROM WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS LIBRARY WEBSITE.

#absalom-dillon, #allen-shipman, #charles-w-shipman, #david-shipman, #eliza-slave-of-david-shipman, #elizabeth-ashby, #franklin-shipman, #freedom-suits-memorial, #george-w-lee, #henry-dick, #john-l-bogardus, #johnson-sommers, #lea-vandervelde, #martha-ann-powell-shipman, #mary-ann-shipman, #mary-jane-costley, #milly-shipman, #milly-v-stephen-smith, #milton-s-sommers, #moses-shipman, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-dillon, #redemption-songs, #sarah-slave-of-david-shipman, #stephen-smith, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tcghs, #thomas-shipman, #william-a-free-black, #william-woodrow

Jefferson Frizzel and Peter Logan, Tazewell County’s first African-American landowners

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Last week we told the story of how Nance Legins-Costley became one of Tazewell County’s earliest African-American homeowners through her purchase of her home lot in 1849.

Remarkable though Nance’s achievement was, other African-Americans owned land in Tazewell County well before 1849. For example, we have previously noted an early Tazewell County settler named Jefferson Frizzel, who was living in Pekin with his wife and children at the time of the 1850 U.S. Census. Frizzel, who came to Tazewell County circa 1833, is identified in census records as “mulatto” (being of both black and white descent).

Frizzel is shown in federal and state land records to have purchased land in Tazewell County on 22 June 1836, 18 March 1837, and 1 Nov. 1839. That would seem to make Frizzel the earliest known African-American to own land in Tazewell County. He and his family are enumerated as Pekin residents in the 1850 U.S. Census, but do not appear in Tazewell County after that.

Earlier this year, however, Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society conducted extensive research in the life and family of Peter Logan, a former slave who settled near Tremont in the 1830s. The fruit of Rynerson’s research was featured in the April 2022 issue of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly (pages 328-330), and earlier this month Rynerson spoke about Logan’s life and accomplished during a special Juneteenth Weekend event at the Tazewell County Courthouse on Saturday, June 18.

As Rynerson has shown, Peter Logan was born into slavery in Virginia about 1780. In her TCGHS Monthly article, Rynerson says Logan is mentioned in Emma Scott’s “Early History of Washington, Illinois, and Vicinity,” where Scott says Logan “was owned by a man in Arkansas, who gave him a chance to buy his own freedom and also that of his sister Charlott (sic) and her daughter Nancy . . . . They came and located near Tremont, where he was for many years in the employ of the Dillons and was known for miles around as Uncle Peter Logan.” Rynerson also notes that Scott describes Logan’s sister Charlotte as an excellent cook and says Nancy was a very good student at school.

Among the documents pertaining to Peter Logan’s life that Rynerson located is a deed of sale dated 14 Jan. 1837 whereby Logan purchased land in Sections 22 and 29 of Elm Grove Township, Tazewell County, for $880. Logan built his homestead in Section 22 at what is today the corner of Franklin Street and Springfield Road. He used his land in Section 29 for timber – that land was along Mennonite Church Road just north of Red Shale Hill Road.

By this deed of sale, dated 14 Jan. 1837, Peter Logan of Tremont became the earliest known former slave to become a landowner in Tazewell County. (Image from the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

This land purchase made Peter Logan the first former slave to become a landowner in Tazewell County. Frizzel had purchased his land about six months earlier than Logan, but it is not known if Frizzel had ever been a slave.

Rynerson found that Peter Logan was enumerated in the 1840 U.S. Census as head of a household that included a woman (probably Charlotte) and a younger woman (probably Nancy). Nancy is the Nancy Hurst who married George Williams in 1845 in Tazewell County. Peter and his sister Charlotte are listed in the same household in the 1850 U.S. Census, but Charlotte died on 31 Oct. 1857, so Peter is found living alone in the 1860 census. His sister Charlotte Hurst was buried in Dillon Cemetery. (Rynerson also has conducted further research on Nancy’s family, but so far has only brought them down to the late 19th century.)

After his sister’s death, Logan began to sell off his land. In March 1859 he sold all by 10 acres of his homestead to Thomas A. Prunty. In 1860 Logan sold the timber lot in Section 29, but the following year that lot was quit-claimed back to him, and he kept the ownership of that land until his death.

In the early 1860s, Logan left Tazewell County and moved to Peoria, where he died 21 March 1866. He was almost certainly buried in Peoria’s Old City Cemetery. Most likely his grave was destroyed or built over after that cemetery was closed.

In his will, Peter Logan named the famous Peoria abolitionist Moses Pettengill as the executor of his estate. He left all his estate to his niece Nance (Hurst) Williams, his only living heir. Pettengill oversaw the sale of Logan’s timber lot on 14 June 1866. Logan’s probate file shows that his coffin was built by J. R. Ziegler, the funeral hearse was provided by B. O. Warner, and his grave was dug by Alexander Forderer, sexton of Peoria’s Old City Cemetery.

The detail of a deed of sale, dated 14 June 1866 and located by Susan Rynerson, shows that Peoria abolitionist Moses Pettengill, executor of Peter Logan’s estate, sold off Logan’s timber lot in Elm Grove Township, Tazewell County, after Logan’s death. (Image from the TCGHS Monthly)

One of the most remarkable things Rynerson discovered about Logan were memories of David A. Strother of El Paso, Illinois, that were printed in the 27 July 1900 edition of the Weekly Pantagraph of Bloomington. Strother (who is famous as the first black man to vote in an election following the passage of the 15th Amendment) indicates that Logan’s niece Nancy Williams had informed him in 1896 that her late uncle Peter “was one of the station men of the underground railroad.”

That is the only historical notice that Peter Logan had been involved in the activities of the Underground Railroad in Eastern Tazewell County. But considering Logan’s life story, where he lived, and his association with the Dillons and with Moses Pettengill, it would hardly be surprising that Logan, who had known slavery firsthand, would be active in helping his brothers and sisters to free themselves.

These clippings from the 27 July 1900 Weekly Pantagraph of Bloomington, found by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, tell of an 1840 incident when escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad were captured in Tazewell County, and testify to Peter Logan of Tremont’s activity as a station man on the Underground Railroad. (Images from the TCGHS Monthly)

#alexander-forderer, #b-o-warner, #charlotte-logan-hurst, #david-a-strother, #george-williams, #j-r-ziegler, #jefferson-frizzel, #jesse-wright, #moses-pettengill, #nancy-hurst-williams, #peoria-old-city-cemetery, #peter-logan, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #tazewell-county-history, #thomas-a-prunty, #underground-railroad, #uriah-h-crosby

Nance Legins-Costley, Pekin home owner

By Jared Olar
Local History Specialist

Earlier this year, another important part of the life of Nance Legins-Costley was uncovered by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. As was announced in the May 2022 issue of the TCGHS Monthly (pages 348-349), Nance became the owner of her own home during the approximately five decades that she lived in Pekin.

Rynerson made this discovery on Saturday, 19 March 2022, while engaged in research in early Tazewell County land deeds. There she found a deed of sale dated 19 July 1849, by which “Nancy Costley” purchased the land that her home occupied, Lot 6, Block 26 in the City of Pekin, from William and Caroline Cromwell for the price of $10.

This deed of sale, dated 19 July 1849, conveyed Lot 6, Block 26 in the Original Town of Pekin from William and Caroline Cromwell to Nancy Costley, for the price of $10. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

This deed of sale is significant not only for the new light it sheds on Nance’s life, but also for the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County – for it means that Nance had achieved the status of homeowner a mere eight years after the landmark case of Bailey v. Cromwell which had confirmed Nance’s freedom and that of her three oldest children. It also means Nance was one of the earliest African-American landowners in the county.

It’s also interesting and significant that the deed of sale was made out to Nance rather than to her husband Benjamin. Illinois coverture law at that time, however, considered that the land became Benjamin’s by virtue of his being the head of the Costley household. That law was changed in 1861 such that wives would retain title to their land rather than it passing to their husbands.

It is also noteworthy that Nance bought her home from William Cromwell and his wife Caroline, because Nance had lived and worked in the Cromwell household from 1828 until 1836, when her purported master Nathan Cromwell (one of Pekin’s co-founders and father of William) attempted to sell Nance to David Bailey for $376.48. It was Bailey’s refusal to pay that amount (because Nance had again asserted her freedom) that led to the legal process that culminated in the Bailey v. Cromwell ruling of 23 July 1841.

The Pekin city directories for the years 1861, 1871, and 1876 show the Costley family living at the location of Lot 6, Block 26 in Pekin, which is the southwest corner of Somerset and Amanda streets. Rynerson noted, however, that it appears from the map of Pekin in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas that Lot 6 had been covered by the widening of Somerset Street by that time.

On this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin, from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” a star indicates the location of the home of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley and their children.

Nance and her family left Pekin and moved to Peoria in the late 1870s, but Rynerson found that in 1868 the Costleys lost possession of their home lot due to delinquent property taxes.

Although William Cromwell sold the lot to Nance for only $10, the county decided to assess the value of the land at $200 – no small amount for that period, which would mean an annual tax assessment that Nance and Ben were too poor to be able to pay. The 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register newspaper listed “Benj Costly” as owner of Lot 6, Block 26, and owing $6.44 in back taxes for the years 1856 and 1857. The taxes were listed as delinquent again in 1860.

This detail from the 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register lists Benjamin Costley among those owing back taxes to Tazewell County. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

Eventually the county auctioned of the Costleys’ home lot to pay off the delinquent taxes. On 10 Oct. 1868, the Tazewell County Sheriff deeded dozens of parcels of land – including Lot 6, Block 26 – to Benjamin Bourland of Peoria. Bourland acquired title to the lot for the price of $9.

In 1875, Bourland quit claimed the land to someone named Eggleston, and then in 1883 (by which time the Costleys had been living in Peoria for at least three years) the Tazewell County Clerk transferred this lot to Joseph Dietz.

Despite their land being sold out from underneath the Costleys, there is no evidence that the Costleys were evicted from their home. It seems rather that as long as the county received its property tax revenue, the Costleys were left unmolested. It is known from William H. Bates’ 1870 history of Pekin that Nance herself was esteemed in the community: “For more than forty years she has been known here as a ‘negro’ upon whom there was no discount, and her presence and services have been indispensible on many a select occasion,” Bates wrote.

During the course of the 1870s, some of the Costley children (by then adults) moved to Peoria, and toward the end of that decade their parents joined them there also. Benjamin Costley first appears in the Peoria city directories in 1880, and he died in Peoria in 1883. Nance followed him in death almost 10 years later, in 1892. She, Ben, and their son Leander were buried in Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria.

#bailey-v-cromwell, #benjamin-bourland, #benjamin-costley, #caroline-cromwell, #david-bailey, #eggleston, #joseph-dietz, #moffatt-cemetery, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-history, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #william-cromwell

George Ehrlicher, shoemaker and grocer

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in Oct. 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

George Ehrlicher, shoemaker and grocer

By Jared Olar

Library assistant

The first two Pekin City Directories, published in 1861 and 1871, mention a merchant named George Ehrlicher. His 1861 city directory entry says, “Ehrlicher George, firm of Reuling & E, res. Ne cor. of Sixth and Margaret,” indicating that he lived at the northeast corner of Sixth and Margaret streets, and was one of the co-owners of a grocery store called Reuling & Ehrlicher, located on the south side of Court Street, 11 doors east of Fourth Street.

Ten years later, however, George’s city directory entry reads, “EHRLICHER GEO., dealer in groceries, provisions, queensware, woodenware, stoneware and liquors, ss Court 5 d e Fifth; res ns Margaret 3 d e Sixth.” By that time, he had started his own grocery store on the south side of Court Street, five doors east of Fifth Street.

If the only information available on George Ehrlicher were the old city directories, we could hardly guess that he in fact was a prominent citizen of Pekin. “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) p.132, reveals that George’s full name was “Johann Georg Ehrlicher,” and says that he “arrived in Pekin from Germany in 1851 first working as a shoemaker and later as a grocer. He died at the early age of 52, leaving behind his 41-year-old widow, Johanna, with 9 children to raise.

Johann Georg Ehrlicher (1824-1876), a Pekin shoemaker and grocer, patriarch of the Ehrlicher family of Pekin.

That information matches the city directory entries on him – George disappears from the Pekin city directories by 1876, the directory of that year only listing his widow Johanna and his son. Additional details about him are provided by Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pp.999-1000, which included George Ehrlicher in its section on the biographies of the notable men of Pekin, as follows:

“George Ehrlicher (deceased), whose death, April 29, 1876, was regarded as a distinct setback to the early development of Pekin, was a shoemaker by trade, but, in later life, was successful as a groceryman, and prominent as a liberal minded and progressive citizen. A native of Bavaria, Germany, and date of birth, March 13, 1824, he was a son of George Ehrlicher, born in Bavaria April 17, 1784; his mother being a native of the same part of the kingdom, and born May 17, 1794. As was the custom in the Fatherland, Mr. Ehrlicher began his self-supporting career at the age of fourteen, being apprenticed to a shoemaker, and later, for a number of years, working as a journeyman.

“In July, 1850, our subject made his way to a sea-coast town, embarked in a sailing vessel for America, and finally located in Tazewell County. In 1851 he became proprietor of a shoe business, continuing the same until 1860, when he disposed of his establishment and opened a grocery store on Court Street. Owing to ill health, he was obliged to dispose of his place in 1875, and permanently retired from active business. He was a Democrat in politics, and one of the founders of the St. Paul Evangelical Church.

“On May 25, 1853, Mr. Ehrlicher was united in marriage to Johanna Hindermeier. His wife was born June 23, 1835, and died April 12, 1904, being survived by three sons and four daughters.”

Both George and Johanna came from Anspach, Bavaria. George’s place in the community of Pekin must have been significant indeed if his early death at age 52 in 1876 would be “regarded as a distinct setback to the early development of Pekin.” The subsequent history of his family bears out that George had placed them on a solid footing. Thus, “Pekin: A Pictorial History” goes on to say that after George’s death, his son George J. Ehrlicher “helped to provide for his nine (sic — eight) brothers and sisters. In the years to come, he held a substantial place in the city’s and state’s commerce. He was proprietor of Schipper and Block department story. His brothers, Henry M. and Otto D. are recognized as Pekin’s first druggists. George was succeeded by his son, Arthur, in the company which flourished in Pekin for almost 100 years and broadcast the name of Pekin across the state.

As noted in this column previously, the brothers George, Henry and Otto and their wives donated the land on 14th Street between Court Street and Park Avenue where the original Pekin Hospital structure was built in 1918. Also, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society’s library was christened the “Ehrlicher Research Center,” in recognition of the 1997 donation that enabled the society to buy the building – the donation came from Arthur Ehrlicher’s widow Virginia J. Ehrlicher (1918-2003), a former head librarian at the Pekin Public Library. Arthur had died in 1990. He and Virginia are buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

#arthur-ehrlicher, #ehrlicher-bros-drug-store, #ehrlicher-brothers, #ehrlichers-shoe-store, #george-ehrlicher, #george-ehrlicher-jr, #henry-ehrlicher, #johann-georg-ehrlicher, #johanna-hindermeier, #mrs-arthur-ehrlicher, #otto-ehrlicher, #pekin-hospital, #reuling-ehrlicher-grocery-store, #st-pauls-german-evangelical-church, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #virginia-j-ehrlicher