The Tazewell County Poor Farm

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

The Tazewell County Poor Farm

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously, this column told of the means by which the poor of Tazewell County were provided for during the early years of the county’s history, before the establishment of private charitable organizations and public social welfare programs. Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” devoted several pages to the subject of how Tazewell’s pioneers cared for their “paupers.”

The next chapter in that story may be read in Ben C. Allensworth’s updated 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 739-742, where we find an extended account of the Tazewell County Poor Farm, which was located at the site of the Tazewell County Emergency Managament Agency, the Tazewell County Health Department and other county facilities off Illinois Route 9 near Tremont.

This is how Allensworth tells of how the Poor Farm came to be established:

“Prior to the purchase of the present Poor Farm site and the erection of the buildings thereon, the paupers of the county had been ‘let out’ for their ‘keep’ to the lowest bidder in the respective townships where they resided. It occurred to the authorities that the expense was greater than it would be should the county itself provide a home for its unfortunate poor. The feeling at this time was expressed by a resolution offered at the January term of the Board of Supervisors, in 1864, when Mr. Wenger presented the following preamble which was received, read and adopted:

“‘Whereas, the present system of supporting the poor of the townships of Tazewell county is very expensive and inefficient, and only tends to make pauperism fashionable; therefore,

“‘Resolved, that the chairman of the Board of Supervisors appoint a committee of three, to take into consideration the subject of purchasing a Poor Farm for the use of the county poor, and report to the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors.’

“Whereupon Messrs. Elias Wenger, W. S. Mans and Dillon were appointed said committee.

An initial proposal in August 1866 to purchase Lemuel Allen’s farm for $7,000 for use as a Poor Farm was rejected by the Tazewell County Board. After further investigation and deliberation, by May 1871 the county had agreed to the purchase of the 211 ½-acre farm of James Smith in Elm Grove Township and to prepare it for occupancy for a total price of $4,550.10. Allensworth writes, “There were at that time nineteen paupers in the home in the care of Mrs. E. Hall, who had been engaged as matron, with Dr. Bumstead as physician. . . . Not all the paupers in the County were lodged at the Poor Farm. In 1872, at a May meeting of the Board, it was shown that since the building of the Poor House, the sum of $1,624.07 had been paid out by the county on account of the poor. For the same time — that is, from the August term, 1871, to the February term, 1872 — the county had paid the current expenses of the Poor Farm $5,997.31, and had sold property from the farm to the amount of $1,097.85. The net expense of the Poor Farm was, therefore, $4,899.46, from which cost must be deducted the improvements made, making a net cost of the paupers at the Poor Farm $2,344.56.”

The Poor Farm was operated by a superintendent appointed by the County Board, which originally would let out the superintendency to the lowest bidder. The farm’s first superintendent, appointed in March 1873, was J. B. Cooper of Washington. A few months later, Allensworth writes, the county committee on the Poor Farm reported to the County Board that “they had visited the Poor Farm and, by observation and conversation with the paupers, they found the inmates without exception as happy and well contented as any class of like persons could be expected to be.”

From Allensworth’s account can be gleaned a hint of the social stigma that was attached to poverty, as he writes, “The education of the minor inmates of the Poor Farm has been constantly a source of agitation since the beginning of the institution. Some of the resident patrons of the school district object to the presence of the pauper children in the public school, and it became a matter of some importance to the school district on the ground that the school quite frequently became overcrowded; and it was held by some that a sufficient amount was not paid as tuition for these children, as they were not recognized as being legally entitled to the privileges of the school.” At the time of publication of Allensworth’s 1905 history, the issue of whether or not poor children should be permitted to receive an education in Tazewell County’s public schools, and how the community should pay for their education, was still unresolved.

By the 1890s, the facilities at the Poor Farm were no longer adequate, and the County Board moved to finance the construction of new buildings. To find out how to improve the Poor Farm, a county committee toured poor farms in other Illinois counties that had more modern facilities. The county opted for a plan modeled closely on Ford County’s Poor Farm, and the new buildings were completed on May 18, 1900, at a total cost of $18,377.74.

Shown in this 1954 aerial photograph from “This is Tazewell County, Illinois,” is the former Tazewell County Poor Farm. The site, now the location of the Tazewell County Health Department and Emergency Management Agency, was then the location of a nursing home.

Allensworth concluded his account with a list of the Poor Farm’s superintendents. “The present Superintendent of the Farm is J. l. Hollingsworth, who has had charge since February, 1898. The first Superintendent was Sarah C. Hall, who was succeeded by a Mr. Brown, who had charge from March, 1873, when J. B. Cooper was elected Superintendent, and remained until March, 1882. Following him was Jefferson Ireland, who was succeeded in 1885 by Milton Kinsey. Mr. Kinsey died suddenly, after nearly two years at the farm, when S. H. Puterbaugh, of Mackinaw, was elected Superintendent, and held the position until February 13, 1898. This institution has, in the main, been well managed from the very start, and owes its prosperity almost altogether to Superintendents Cooper, Puterbaugh and Hollingsworth.”

Eventually changes in how society provides for the underprivileged led to the closing of the Poor Farm, which was turned into a children’s home and a later a nursing home before the old structures were replaced with the current county facilities. The Poor Farm cemetery still exists, however, in a grove about a half-mile behind the TCEMA and TCHD facilities, where one may find a monument erected in 1910 “In Memory of the Unfortunate of Tazewell County.”

This photograph of the Tazewell County Poor Farm Cemetery was taken by Linda T. and uploaded to the Find-A-Grave website.

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Caring for paupers in pioneer times

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

Caring for paupers in pioneer times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Modern society has numerous private charitable organizations and public social welfare programs that provide assistance to those who are poor or in need. However, in the early years of Tazewell County, the poor – usually called by the older term, “paupers” – had few options. Those who were unable to work, and whose relatives could not or would not help them, could have their living expenses defrayed at public expense.

Often this form of assistance involved the county reimbursing private individuals for their expenses in providing for a pauper. This is what was done in the case of an elderly pauper of Tazewell County named Nicholas Miller, as explained on pages 246 and 253-254 of Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

Chapman writes, “In June, 1832, John Summers was allowed $78 for keeping old man Miller. In the June previous Summers came into Court and explained that a certain Nicholas Miller, a pauper, was living at county expense while he had a well-to-do son named Joseph, who should, both in equity of the law and from filial affection, support his father. Thereupon the Sheriff was posted after the undutiful Joseph. It appears, however, that Joseph was not found at the time, nor until 1834, if we rely upon the records for information, for no mention is made of him until that time. He then appears and gives as his reason for not supporting his parent, ‘inability to do so.’”

This episode illustrates the public welfare system then in use. The expectation was that a pauper’s family would provide for him. If they couldn’t do so, or refused to do so, then the county would provide money – but it would not be given directly to the poor person, but rather to whoever was “keeping” the pauper, and his keeper would have to petition the county court for the reimbursement.

Today, of course, $78 would not be much money, but the sum that Tazewell County paid to Summers for his year’s worth of expenses was not a small sum for the year 1832. To get a better idea of how much money that was, Tazewell County’s entire budget for 1832 consisted of only $689.50 in expenses and $729.24 in revenue.

In fact, money for paupers living at the county’s expense made up a not insignificant portion of Tazewell County’s expenditures in 1832. That is probably why the county court that year tried to rid the county of the expense of caring for its paupers Sarah Stout and Nicholas Miller – by attempting to sell them into servitude. According to Chapman, during the same court session when Miller’s son Joseph claimed an inability to provide for his father, Stout’s relatives Hosea Stout and Benjamin Jones also said they couldn’t provide for her.

“Thus,” Chapman writes, “the veteran and venerable paupers were thrown back upon the county, whereupon the Court ordered ‘Nathan Dillon and Wm. McClure to dispose of said paupers at public sale or private contract.’ It seems that they were not regarded as valuable paupers and not one bid was made for them. But all through the records for years are bills allowed for their maintenance. In 1835 the Court, being worried with the many claims for bills for supporting Miller, lifted up its voice and peremptorily commanded the Sheriff to sell him. The poor old man had outlived his years of usefulness and even became a burden to the indulgent county.”

Miller would remain on the county’s pauper rolls for the next decade. This is how Chapman tells the story of “The Last of Poor Old Nic. Miller”:

“During the years 1840 and ’41 we find a remarkable increase in the number and amount of bills allowed for keeping paupers. Throughout the record during these two years are bills upon bills of this nature. The increase seemed surprising to the Commissioners themselves, and they made particular inquiry into the status of affairs before granting the bills. It seems the county was imposed upon in several instances by the unnatural actions of those who preferred that their relations should be kept at the county’s expense rather than their own. One Jane Morrill it was found had a husband living able to provide for her.

“Poor old Nic. Miller, the ancient pauper, was still on hand, but his bill these years was curtailed to nearly one-half. Year after year the customary bill for his support was handed in, until through familiarity the name of ‘Nic. Miller’ became a by-word. We doubt not that when the old veteran died, and no more bills for his care were presented to the Court, the generous, kind-hearted Commissioners dropped a tear, felt a pang of sorrow steal through the tender cords of their heart, and softly muttered, ‘Poor old Nic. Miller is no more!’ Death, the poor man’s best friend, called the old gentleman away during the year 1845. The poor old man who had been refused bread by his own son, and who had been buffeted about by many adverse winds, now returned to trouble them no more.”

#nathan-dillon, #nicholas-miller, #paupers, #tazewell-county-history

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

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

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the biographies of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County featured in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” is an extended account of the life of a Tazewell pioneer named Joshua Wagenseller. Joshua’s family is commemorated today in the name of Wagonseller Road south of Pekin. Following are excerpts of Joshua’s biographical essay — omitting most of the remarkably florid prose in which this and the other biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map” were written.

“Joshua Wagenseller is a native of Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, born July 5, 1813. He is the fifth child of Peter and Susanna (Longaker) Wagenseller. Mr. W., father of Joshua, was a native of Montgomery county, Pa., and his parents were of German descent. He followed farming as the vocation of his life. He emigrated to Ohio about the year 1832, and settled in Columbus, Franklin county, where he resided until his death, which occurred about two years after. His wife, mother of Joshua, subsequently removed to Pekin, Ill., terminating a useful life in 1866, while residing with her son Joshua. . . .

“The subject of this biography acquired his early culture mostly at Green Tree Seminary, in his native country, where he acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of a good, practical, business education. His first business engagement after completing his course was in a wholesale dry goods house in the city of Philadelphia, where he obtained a position as bookkeeper and accountant. The next business engagement was with his brother in Union county, Pa., where he remained about two years. We would remark that these experiences of his early life laid the foundation for that successful business career which in after life distinguished him in his subsequent mercantile transactions.

“He was now of age, and, looking westward for a richer field in which to enlarge and develop his energies, he went to Columbus, Ohio, and erected a saw mill on Elm creek, and was engaged in the manufacture of lumber about three years, or until the spring of 1837, when he removed to Illinois, and settled in Pekin, Tazewell county. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller formed a partnership with his brother Benjamin, and, under the firm name of ‘B. & J. Wagenseller,’ he began, in Pekin, a course of mercantile life, which business he has since followed. This original firm ceased in 1844, by the death of his brother. They went through the financial crash of 1840 unscathed. . . . Since the dissolution of this firm, Mr. Wagenseller has been at the head of subsequent business houses, and although he has been identified with other business largely in life, merchandising has been his leading vocation. He has been engaged in milling covering an aggregate of nearly ten years. He rebuilt and owned the first good grist mill propelled by water in Tazewell county. . . .

This drawing of the downtown Pekin store of J. Wagenseller & Son was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

“Mr. Wagenseller was married May 7, 1840, to Miss Harriet, daughter of Henry and Naomi Rupert, of Pekin, — formerly of Virginia. As the fruits of this union, they have had a family of six children. Two of his sons are now engaged with him in his present mercantile operations. Two of his sons are married, and all of his family are at this time (1873) residents of Pekin. Mr. Wagenseller and wife are both members of the Congregational Church of Pekin, and are among the original members of that church.

“Mr. W., in addition to his mercantile business, owns and carries on a farm near Pekin. He also owns a large area of land located in Iowa. . . . Politically, in early life, Mr. Wagenseller became a whig. His first vote for president was cast for Gen. Wm. H. Harrison, in 1836. He was anti-slavery in his sentiments, and the following circumstance, as related by himself, opened his eyes to the inhumanity of the slave traffic. While on a trip to New Orleans, on a steamboat, a slave owner came on board with a woman and six children. He witnessed the revolting spectacle of a slave girl sold on the block. ‘The scene,’ said Mr. W., ‘made me ever afterward an abolitionist.’ On the disorganization of the whig party, in 1856, he became identified with the republican party, to which he has since been strongly attached. He voted twice for the immortal Lincoln and twice for the valiant Grant, who so ably assisted in firmly planting the stars and stripes on the bulwark of American freedom. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller has been required to represent the interests of his ward for several years in the common council of the city, and was vice president of the Peoria, Pekin, & Jacksonville Railroad Company. He has been one of the active, public-spirited citizens of Pekin for thirty-six years.”

#abolitionism, #joshua-wagenseller, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #slavery, #tazewell-county-history, #wagonseller-road

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in August 2012 before the launch of this weblog.

Ben C. Allensworth, Tazewell County historian

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Over the years this columns has from time to time spotlighted a few of the scribes who played important roles in recording the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County: writers and researchers such as William H. Bates, Charles C. Chapman, and Fred Soady, or Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry H. Cole. This week we’ll take a closer look at the life of another important Tazewell County historian, Ben Campbell Allensworth of Pekin.

Allensworth’s chief contribution to local history was as the editor of the 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” which updated Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history. Allensworth’s history was published in the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Tazewell County.” The first volume and part of the second volume, the encyclopedia, were edited by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, while Allensworth was in charge of the Tazewell County history in volume two.

Allensworth was well suited to his task, because he was a school teacher and superintendent as well as an experienced and accomplished journalist. As the old saying goes, journalism gives us the first draft of history — but Allensworth had a hand in both a first and second draft of Tazewell County’s history.

This portrait and signature of Ben C. Allensworth was included in the 1905 “History of Tazewell County” of which Allensworth was the editor.

Included in Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, on pages 968-970, is his own biography, written by his friend, Judge A. W. Rodecker. “Ben C. Allensworth, the editor of the History of Tazewell County, having, from some cause, failed to furnish his own biography to the publishers of this work, they asked me to write it,” Rodecker apologetically explains. Allensworth’s portrait also is interleaved between pages 682 and 683.

Rodecker’s biography of Allensworth says, “Ben C. Allensworth was born in Little Mackinaw Township, one-half mile southeast of Tazewell, in Tazewell County, Ill., October 27, 1845. His parents were William P. and Arabel Waggener Allensworth. William P. Allensworth was born in Muhlenberg County, Ky., September 25, 1820, and died in Minier, Ill., May 8, 1874. He was a kind hearted and courtly gentleman, and highly esteemed by all who knew him. He held the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court for four years, and was an efficient and popular officer. The mother of B. C. Allensworth was born in Christian County, Ky., July 9, 1827, and died in Galesburg. Ill., March 25, 1902. She was a woman of culture and refinement, anxious for the success of her children, and labored with her husband in his every endeavor to educate and make them good and useful citizens.

“The subject of this sketch was the eldest of nine children, all of whom, with the exception of two, are living. He was reared on a farm, but, when he could be spared, attended the country schools and was a diligent pupil. It was easy for him to master the studies taught, and he early evinced a purpose to be more than a common school scholar. At the age of twenty he entered the State University at Normal. He ranked high in his studies, and when he graduated in 1869, left a record in the school which gave him a high standing with the school men of the State. Soon after his graduation, he was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools in Elmwood, Peoria County, which place he held until the spring of 1872. . . .

“In April, 1872, Mr. Allensworth bought of W. T. Meades a half-interest in ‘The Tazewell Register,’ and connected therewith John F. Mounts, a printer and writer of some considerable reputation. In September of that year, Meades purchased Mounts’ interest in the paper. The partnership of Meades and Allensworth, in the publication of the Register, continued until January 1873, when, on account of failing health, Mr. Allensworth sold out to Meades. Then retiring from the newspaper business, he went to farming in Little Mackinaw Township. He taught school in the winter time until 1877, when he was nominated by the Democratic party for Superintendent of Tazewell County Schools, being twice elected to this position. . . .

“For a portion of the time during which he was Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Allensworth carried on farming, and was just farmer enough to be compelled to use all the salary he made out of his office to keep up the farm — or rather make an attempt at it. . . . He dropped his farming venture in 1884 and moved to Pekin, where he has since resided. In May, 1885, he took editorial charge of ‘The Pekin Times,’ but owing to a disagreement with its proprietor, J. B. Irwin, as to the policy to be pursued by the paper, he gave up this position in the following September. In 1886, Irwin having sold the paper, Mr. Allensworth accepted the position of editor and business manager for the Times Publishing Company, which position he relinquished January 14, 1894, to take charge of the Pekin Postoffice (sic), to which place he had been appointed December 21, 1893, by Grover Cleveland. After the expiration of the four-year term in the postoffice, he went into the insurance business, in which he is now engaged. For a number of years he has been a member of the Pekin Board of School Inspectors, and has served one term as President of the Board.”

Rodecker also states that Allensworth married Charity A. Tanner in Minier on Oct. 7, 1875. He and Charity had three daughters and two sons. Charity died in 1912, and Allensworth died at Pekin Hospital on the morning of Sept. 3, 1929, being survived by three of his children and four grandchildren. His lengthy obituary — which is mostly a somewhat abridged version of Rodecker’s biography — was published at the top of the front page of that day’s edition of the Pekin Daily Times. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Little Mackinaw Township.

#ben-c-allensworth, #charity-a-tanner, #j-b-irwin, #john-f-mounts, #judge-a-w-rodecker, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-register, #w-t-meades

Tazewell County’s ‘Greatest Generation’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Our nation this week marked the 77th anniversary of the Empire of Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that triggered the United States’ entry into World War II on the side of the Allies. From that point until the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945, the entirety of America’s military, industrial, and spiritual might was committed to the war effort.

By the war’s end, the U.S. had lost over 400,000 soldiers in a global shedding of human blood that included anywhere from 21 million to 25.5 million military deaths, 29 million to 30.5 million civilian deaths due to war or to crimes against humanity, and another 19 million to 28 million civilian deaths due to war-related famine and disease. The horrific human cost of the genocidal aims and expansionist ambitions of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.S.R. was an estimated 75 million to 85 million souls.

Most fittingly, the generation in America who bore that terrible burden of suffering, and who afterwards exerted themselves to rebuild and repair their broken world, has come to be known as “The Greatest Generation” (a title bestowed on them by retired NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw). With the blessed conclusion of that conflict receding further and further into the past – it’s now been more than 73 years since the end of World War II – each day that passes there are fewer and fewer men and women left to tell us of their experiences.

These were the fathers and mothers, the grandfathers and grandmothers, and great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers of the current generation. My own father, Joseph, is one of them – but he wasn’t old enough to be drafted until December of 1945, so he avoided all the fighting, instead spending what he says was the most boring year of his life in the U.S. Army’s peacekeeping forces near Manila in the Philippines. How stark is the contrast between his experience and that of those who had liberated the Philippines from Japanese occupation a year before – not to mention the experience of his older brothers who fought in Europe and the Pacific.

On Dec. 31, 1945, the Pekin Daily Times published a special “Victory Edition” that presented extensive lists of the men and women of Tazewell County who had served their country during World War II.

It is to help us to remember those times that the Pekin Public Library has provided opportunities this year to view oral histories such as “We Were There: World War II” (shown earlier this year on May 4) and “World War II POW Stories’ (originally scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m., but instead to be rescheduled to a time following the completion of the library’s repairs).

The library has a wide area of books and videos on World War II in its circulating collection. The above mentioned videos, however, are just two items among the resources related to the history of World War II that may be found in the library’s Local History Room Collection.

The three most notable World War II-related items in the Local History Room are three books that compile the stories of Tazewell County’s “Greatest Generation.”

Two of those volumes were the work of the late Robert B. Monge of Pekin, who in 1994 authored and edited “WW2 – Memories of Love & War: June 1937-June 1946,” a hefty 991-page book that collects personal stories, newspaper reports, and obituaries of Tazewell County World War II veterans and fallen heroes.

Three years later, in 1997, Monge collaborated with Jack Shepler and the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial Committee to produce the 261-page “Book Eternal: Tazewell County Veterans Memorial,” which tells of the planning and construction of the county’s Veterans Memorial located at the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn in downtown Pekin. “Book Eternal” also lists those whose names are inscribed on the memorial’s stones, which display the names of every Tazewell County soldier who died in the service of his country.

This photograph from the front page of the Pekin Daily Times’ “Victory Edition” on Dec. 31, 1945, reminded readers of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who had been killed in World War II.

A decade later, in 2007 the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society compiled its own book on the experiences of our local World War II veterans: “Tazewell County Veterans of World War II: Remembrances – Pearl Harbor to V-J Day,” which extends to 488 pages.

About 11 years ago, former Pekin Public Library Reference Librarian Laurie Hartshorn collected and compiled the wartime stories and recollections of 16 local women. Their personal memories are collected in “Women of the Greatest Generation Tell Their Stories.”

The Local History Room Collection also has archival boxes and files of newspaper clippings and World War II-era magazines, and even several donated complete issues of the Pekin Daily Times from those years.

One of those newspapers is the “Victory Edition” of the Pekin Daily Times, published Dec. 31, 1945. The Daily Times that year devoted its traditional “Year In Review” issue to a look back over the nation’s and Pekin’s experiences of the previous four years, preparing and publishing a list of 143 young men from Tazewell County who had been killed in the war, along with extensive Draft Board lists of names of men from Pekin and Morton who been called up to serve their country, including the county’s women who had volunteered as Army and Navy nurses.

Section Two of this special edition is headlined, “6102 Tazewell Men On World War II Honor Roll,” with other headlines including, “Nearly Half of Morton’s 3116 Out of Uniform” and “2986 Are On Pekin List; Estimate 1400 Discharged.” A separate story, “62 Tazewell County Women Serve Country,” is devoted to the honored group of women who had volunteered as WACs (Women’s Air Corps), WAVES (women in the Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard auxiliary), and the Marines women’s auxiliary force.

The special edition also struck a somber tone, however, reminding its readers of “Nine Tazewell Boys, Missing In Action, Still Unfound; Families Hold Hope.”

But the mood throughout those yellowed pages was chiefly one of gratitude and joy – gratitude for those who had fought for freedom, and joy that the war was over and peace had returned. Looking back to celebrations and the utter relief at Japan’s surrender that ended the war – “V-J Day,” “Victory-over-Japan Day” – the special edition recalled that “V-J Day Was 1945’s Gayest Day In Pekin.”

In keeping with what Bob Monge wrote, may we never forget the men and women of that generation whose names are, or soon will be, written in God’s Book Eternal.

#jack-shepler, #laurie-hartshorn, #pearl-harbor-day, #pekin-daily-times-victory-edition, #pekin-history, #robert-monge, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-veterans, #women-of-the-greatest-generation, #world-war-ii

Celebrating and mapping Tazewell County’s history

Jared Olar
Library assistant

The opening of Illinois’ Bicentennial Year A.D. 2017-2018 was marked across the state last winter with formal ceremonies in which local governments raised the official State Bicentennial flag. The chief flag-raising for Tazewell County took place on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn, in a ceremony organized and presented by the Tazewell County Illinois Bicentennial Committee.

Since then, the committee, made up of representatives of local communities and organizations, has continued to meet on a monthly basis to help with the ongoing celebration of the Bicentennial in Tazewell County. Among the events gearing up for the celebration of Illinois’ 200th birthday this December was an Illinois Bicentennial Tea, presented May 12 at the Pekin Park Pavilion by the Tazewell County Museum and the Pekin Woman’s Club. The event was attended by about 30 people, who listened to a historical address by Stu Fliege, director of the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.

One of the committee’s projects has been the construction of an online historical StoryMap of Tazewell County, an initiative of the Tazewell County Board. Janna Baker, Tazewell County geographic information system coordinator, has been at work on the StoryMap, adding the locations of county historical sites along with information about them that she has researched or that committee members have provided.

Shown is a screenshot of the Tazewell County Historical StoryMap, a local Illinois Bicentennial project that can serve as an information resource for local historical education. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY ILLINOIS BICENTENNIAL COMMITTEE

The sites on the Tazewell County Historical StoryMap are organized under four page tabs: Historical Places of Interest, National Register of Historic Places, State Historical Markers, and the Springfield-to-Peoria Stage Coach Road.

The Historical Places of Interest range from the sites of the county’s first courthouse in Mackinaw and the old French trading post in Creve Coeur early in Tazewell County’s history, to the location of the Little Mine Riot and the nation’s first Vacation Bible School (both of which happened in 1894), to the former Springlake Clubhouse (where infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone is said to have gone hunting) and the Deer Creek-Mackinaw Middle School World War II memorial.

The average Tazewell County resident is probably unaware that the county has 12 structures on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Old Post Office, the Tazewell County Courthouse, and the Carl Herget Mansion in Pekin, the Dement-Zinser House and Denhart Bank Building in Washington, and the Waltmire Bridge across the Mackinaw about five miles south of Tremont.

Tazewell County also has four State Historical Markers, including one for the Riverboat Columbia Disaster of 1918 at the Pekin riverfront, and one for Fort Crevecoeur, which was the first European structure built in the future Tazewell County in 1680.

The StoryMap also traces the path of the old Springfield-to-Peoria state road, a stage coach route that the Illinois General Assembly established as an official state road in Feb. 1827, just a month after they had formed Tazewell County. The route is now known as Springfield Road, though it has been a long time since it has gone all the way from Springfield to Peoria. One fascinating historical detail is that Abraham Lincoln once owned land along Springfield Road in Tazewell County.

Even after the State Bicentennial Year concludes on Dec. 3, 2018, the StoryMap will continue to be available as an educational resource.

The Tazewell County Historical StoryMap may be viewed HERE.

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Redrawing the Tazewell County line

This is a slightly revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in March 2013 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Redrawing the Tazewell County line

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the “From the Local History Room” column that ran March 9, 2013, we recalled the story of the old rivalry between Pekin and Tremont as the two communities contended for the honor and status of being the governmental seat of Tazewell County. It was due largely to that struggle that Tazewell County acquired its present geographical boundaries. As we noted previously, the county originally was much larger than it is today.

The trimming and shaving of Tazewell County during the 1830s and 1840s was just the last part of the process by which the county acquired its permanent shape on the map. When the Illinois General Assembly first created Tazewell County in 1827, the county was much larger than it is today. The frequent change in the county’s borders up to the year 1839 (prior to the Tremont-Pekin struggle) can be tracked by consulting the maps of Illinois found in one of the volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room: a 63-page booklet published by the State of Illinois in 1991 with the title, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties.”

The county boundaries of Illinois as they stood in 1827 are shown in this map from the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties.” Originally, Tazewell County also included all of Woodford, over half of McLean, and parts of Mason, Logan, DeWitt, and Livingston counties.

This booklet presents the development of the counties of Illinois beginning in 1790, when the land that would become the State of Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. In that year, there were only two counties in Illinois: Knox County (not to be confused with today’s Knox County which borders Peoria County on the west), which included most of the eastern half of Illinois and parts of Indiana, and St. Clair County, which took up about the southwestern third of Illinois. The Illinois River served as the northwestern boundary of St. Clair County and part of the northwestern and western border of Knox County. Most of present Tazewell County was then a part of Knox County, with about a fourth of Tazewell including in St. Clair County.

By 1801, Illinois was a part of the Indiana Territory, and the county lines had been moved, with almost all of Illinois (including the future Tazewell County) encompassed by St. Clair County. The southern quarter of Illinois was assigned to Randolph County. Knox County, however, was almost edged out of Illinois altogether. Most of Knox County was in Indiana, and just a narrow strip along the eastern border of what would become the State of Illinois was all that remained of Knox in Illinois.

Eight years later, in 1809, Knox County was no more – Illinois had but two counties, Randolph in the south and St. Clair in the north. In only three years, however, the territorial counties had been re-envisioned, with the southern quarter of Illinois divided among St. Clair, Randolph, Gallatin and Johnson counties, and the northern three-quarters of the territory (including Tazewell) assigned to Madison County.

Apart from some border adjustments of the southernmost counties, that basic arrangement remained until 1815, when two new counties were created: White County in southern Illinois, and Edwards County, which was formed out of the eastern half of Madison County by drawing of straight north-south line right through the middle of the Illinois Territory. The remaining territory of Madison County included the area that would later become Tazewell County.

By 1817 – just a year before Illinois became a state – the northern three-fourths of the Illinois Territory were taken up by three large counties: Crawford County in the east (which was most of the former Edwards County), Madison County in the west (which was most of the former Madison County), and a new county named Bond, created by slicing a perfect north-south strip from Madison County. Most of Tazewell County was included in Bond County, while the western part of Tazewell was in Madison County. The western border of Bond County passed right through the future site of Pekin.

Four years later, in 1821, the fledgling State of Illinois redrew the county borders in the northern three-fourths of its territory, reducing Bond County to a tiny rump of its former area and creating several new counties. One of them, Sangamon County, extended from Sangamon County’s present southern border as far north as the northern border of Putnam County at the Illinois River. Within Sangamon’s boundaries was the future Tazewell County – and in the summer of 1824, along the northwestern border of Sangamon County at the Illinois River, Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin where the city of Pekin would later arise.

In 1825, Sangamon County was reduced in size, with its northern half being separated from Sangamon and administered from the newly created Peoria County. This unorganized territory was not a part of Peoria County, but it also was not a county in its own right and was administered from Peoria.

Finally, on Jan. 31, 1827, the State of Illinois created Tazewell County out of lands that not only included the whole of the present Tazewell County, but also encompassed territory from the former Fayette County (which territory is today the western half of McLean County) as well as the whole of the future Woodford County and parts of Mason, Logan and De Witt counties.

Tazewell’s first reduction in size came with the creation of McLean County on Dec. 25, 1830. At that time, Tazewell acquired most of its current eastern border. Tazewell’s territory then still included a good part of what would become Woodford and Mason counties as well as a northern slice of the future Logan County.

Tazewell County would retain that shape and size for much of the following 10 years, after which the Pekin-Tremont rivalry reduced Tazewell to its permanent boundaries.

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