The names of Illinois’ counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the last few weeks we have recalled how Tazewell County was founded and named, and how the county boundaries were redrawn during the 1830s and 1840s. As we noted previously, Tazewell County was named for a Virginia state governor and U.S. Senator named Littleton Waller Tazewell.

But what of the names of the other 101 counties of Illinois? Where did they get their names? Starting today and continuing over the next few weeks, we’ll present the counties of Illinois in order of their founding, telling the years they were established and the origins or meanings of their names. Most of our state’s counties were named for notable men of U.S. and Illinois history.

St. Clair County was established in 1790 when Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory. It was named for Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), first governor of the Northwest Territory.

Randolph County was established in 1795 during the time when Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory. It was named after Edmund Randolph (1753-1813), the first U.S. Attorney General as well as a U.S. Secretary of State.

Three counties were founded in 1812, three years after the formation of the Illinois Territory: Gallatin County, named for Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), the fourth U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (and the one who served the longest); Johnson County, named for Richard Mentor Johnson (c.1780-1850), ninth U.S. vice president and a U.S. senator from Kentucky; and Madison County, named for President James Madison (1751-1856).

In 1814, Edwards County was formed, named after Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833) who later served as Illinois’ third state governor. The city of Edwardsville, county seat of Madison County, is also named after Ninian Edwards.

White County was formed the following year, being named for Isaac White (1776-1811), an Illinois settler who joined the Indiana Territorial Militia and was slain at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The next year, in 1816, Crawford County was founded, named after William H. Crawford (1772-1834), ninth U.S. Secretary of War and seventh Secretary of the Treasury.

Also founded in 1816 were Jackson and Monroe counties, named for Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe (it was Monroe who would admit Illinois to the Union two years later), and Pope County, named for Illinois Territorial Delegate Nathaniel Pope who played a central role in getting Illinois admitted as a state. Then in 1817, Bond County was formed, being named for territorial congressional delegate Shadrach Bond (1773-1832), who would be elected the first Illinois state governor just one year later.

Three new counties were formed in the preparation for Illinois’ admission to the Union as the 21st state in 1818, which explains the very patriotic names they were given: Franklin County, named after the famous Founding Father Benjamin Franklin; Union County, named in honor of the national Union of the states; and Washington County, named for the first U.S. President George Washington.

This map, from the “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the boundaries of Illinois’ counties at the dawn of statehood in 1818.

The year after Illinois statehood, 1819, saw the creation of four new counties: Alexander County, named for William M. Alexander, a pioneer settler of Illinois who was elected to the Illinois General Assembly; Clark County, named for George Rogers Clark who led the Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War; Jefferson County, named for Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president; and Wayne County, named for Gen. Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), who fought in the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War.

In 1821, the state legislature created seven new counties: Fayette, Greene, Hamilton, Lawrence, Montgomery, Pike, and Sangamon. The county seat of Fayette County is Vandalia, second Illinois state capital (1820-1839). The current state capital, Springfield, is also the Sangamon County seat of government.

Fayette County was named in honor of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a French aristocrat who won the enduring love of the American people by aiding the nascent U.S. army during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette later was a leader of the French Revolution, whose hopes to create an American-style republic in France were dashed by the violent insanity of the Reign of Terror and the rise of the self-crowned despot Napoleon. Lafayette returned to tour the U.S. in 1824-25, visiting with Illinois Gov. Edward Coles and other Illinois dignitaries at Kaskaskia, the former state capital, on April 30, 1825. When the U.S. entered World War I to support the British and French in 1917, the U.S. Expeditionary Force formally proclaimed their arrival in France with the words, “Lafayette, we are here!”

Greene County was named for Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), a Revolutionary War major general. Hamilton County was named after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (Hamilton’s son William, a pioneer settler of Springfield and Peoria, was one of the dignitaries who met Lafayette at Kaskaskia in 1825).

Lawrence County was named for Capt. James Lawrence (1781-1813), commander of the U.S.S. Chesapeake in the War of 1812, remembered for his command, “Don’t give up the ship!” Montgomery County was named for Gen. Richard Montgomery (1738-1775), a Revolutionary War leader who led a failed American invasion of Canada.

Pike County is named after the explorer Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), after whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. Finally, Sangamon County is named for the Sangamon River that flows through it. “Sangamon” comes from a Pottawatomi term, Sain-guee-mon, meaning a place where food is plentiful.

Four more counties were added in 1823: Edgar County, named for John Edgar (c.1750-1832), a very wealthy settler who served as an Illinois delegate to the Northwest Territory’s legislature; Fulton County, named after Robert Fulton, the famous inventor of the steamboat, which greatly aided Illinois commerce and transportation; Marion County, named in honor of Revolutionary War Gen. Francis Marion (c.1732-1795); and Morgan County, named after Revolutionary War Gen. Daniel Morgan who later served as a U.S. Congressman for Virginia.

That brings us to the eve of the arrival of Pekin’s first pioneer settler Jonathan Tharp in 1824 (the future site of Pekin was then in Sangamon County), which is a convenient place for us to pause. Next week we’ll continue with the three counties founded in 1824 – Clay, Clinton, and Wabash counties.

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Pekin expands northward

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Taking up again last month’s exploration of the story of Pekin’s expansion over time as shown in historical atlases and plat books of Tazewell County, in this week’s From the Local History Room column we’ll zoom in on the city’s northward expansion.

The earliest atlases and plat books indicate that development and expansion on the city’s north side was relatively slow during the 1800s. During that period, most of the land within or just outside the city’s northern borders was parceled out into a patchwork of a good number of private farms. The 1891 county atlas shows the following names of families owning and working land along the city’s north side but south of what is now Sheridan Road: Weise, Cummings, Moore, Cooper, Myer, Becker, Pfanz and Heisel. Between Sheridan and what is now Route 98, the 1891 atlas shows farms owned by the families of James Shanklin and A. Shanklin, Tucker, Heisel, A. Neirstheimer, Kratz, Wightman and Beinfohr.

The picture was little changed by 1910 – the atlas and plat book that year shows most of the same family farms in that area of the city and its northern border, and the developed city had moved only slightly further north at one or two spots. The southern part of the old Tucker place, however, had been acquired by the Worley family, for whom Worley Lake along the west side of Route 29 is named. The Velde family also appears as a land owner north of Lakeside and Sacred Heart cemeteries and south of Worley Lake on the west side of the future Route 29. The Velde name, of course, is still attached to property in that part of town – the noted car dealership on Pekin’s Auto Row, on the east side of Route 29.

Moving ahead to 1929, the plat map for Pekin Township shows that the city had acquired more land on the north side, with developed Pekin extending as far as a few blocks along the south side of Sheridan Road. Land owners and farmers in the area included the families of Pfanz, Heisel, Moore, Crager, Cunningham, Adolph Nierstheimer Jr., Soldwedel, Cummings, Urish, Jost, Clara and Emma Shanklin (operating Sunny Acres Farm), and  James Shanklin Sr. Also operating along Highway 24 (today Route 29) in 1929 was McGrath Sand & Gravel Co.

At this point of the story, we’ll jump ahead 38 years to consult the 1967 Tazewell County plat book. The Local History Room has several Pekin maps from the time between 1929 and 1967, but they’re not formal plats identifying land owners and businesses on Pekin’s north side. By 1967, Pekin had spread north of Sheridan Road, and old Highway 24 had become Illinois Route 29 while Route 98 had also received its designation. Most of the old farming families no longer appear on the map, however – only Crager, Heisel, and A.C. Nierstheimer still had farms in the area, but their acreage was greatly reduced. The old Shanklin farm had passed to Nelson Wright. Tim and David Soldwedel also had farms in the area – these were the days of the old Soldwedel Dairy.

Most of the land between Sheridan and Route 98 was held by the Pekin Park District (McNaughton Park and adjacent park lands) and McGrath Sand & Gravel Co. (or McGrath Investment Co.). Monge Homes also owned a block of land – the core of Monge’s planned subdivision of Holiday Hills which was just then beginning. Parkway Drive did not yet exist.

By 1975, the county plat book shows that the old McGrath Sand & Gravel property had been broken up among several land owners, the largest of whom was the Martin Marietta Corp. The Holiday Hills subdivision was well established. At this time, my own family lived in a house in Holiday Hills, and in the summer months my brothers and I and other neighborhood kids would sometimes play (i.e. trespass) for hours in the nearby fields north of Holiday Hills (now themselves residential subdivisions) or would tread even as far as the old McGrath gravel pit – quite an adventurous hike for young boys. The Soldwedel Dairy was gone, though the Soldwedels still had some land in the general area. Other stretches of land were held by the Park District, Herget Bank, Ray Yeakel, and CILCO. The Nelson Wright place was still in operation, but of the oldest farming families only the Nierstheimers remained. One of my brothers recalls seeing the horses on the Yeakel or Wright places off in the distance back in those days.

The area has seen a great many changes in the decades following. Consulting a few of the more recent plat books, we see that by 1982 the Marigold Estates subdivision had been established north of Holiday Hills. Martin Marietta still owned most of the former gravel pit, though McGrath Investments also held some of the land as well. The Yeakel and the Wright places were still there, and the Nierstheimer name can still be seen in the area. The city of Pekin by then owned land as far north as Route 98.

Not much had changed by 1990 in the way of land ownership, but Ray Yeakel had acquired a second plot of land. Leaping ahead another 25 years, the most recent plat book this year shows great changes with Pekin Township, with the city of Pekin embracing all the land up to Route 98. The old McGrath gravel pit has become Lake Whitehurst, surrounded by the Lake Whitehurst Cliffs subdivision. The names of Yeakel and Wright no longer appear on the map, replaced by the names of Yordy and Sites. But most remarkable is that the old Nierstheimer name, first seen on the maps at the start of our survey, still appears on property along Parkway Drive held in trust for Ken G. Nierstheimer.

PekinTownship1891

PekinTownship1910

PekinTownship1929

PekinTownship1967

PekinTownship1975

PekinTownship1982

PekinTownship1990

PekinTownship2012

PekinTownship2015

#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county

Pekin’s growth traced through old maps

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room resources available for study are a series of old atlases featuring maps of the Townships, municipalities, and settlements of Tazewell County.

As we noted last week, apparently the earliest known wall map of Tazewell County was produced in 1857, just three decades after Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at a spot on a bluff above the Illinois River, the location that is today the foot of Broadway. That wall map may be examined at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, while editions of the later published maps and atlases are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

A few years later, in 1864, another large plat map of Tazewell County was produced. The 1864 plat map was the subject of a From the Local History Room column that appeared in the March 8, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. In 1979, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society prepared a copy of the 1864 map for publication in a single volume that also includes the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois” and the 1891 “Plat Book of Tazewell County, Illinois.”

A third TCGHS-commissioned reprint of old county atlases includes the 1910 “Standard Atlas of Tazewell County, Illinois,” and also bring us down to 1929, with that year’s edition of the “Standard Atlas” and county plat book.

As a convenient example of the value of old maps and atlases, we may consider the growth of the city of Pekin from the time of the 1857 map down to 1929. In 1857, the streets of Pekin extended no further north than the area where North Second and Sommerset streets meet, no further south than Walnut Street, and no further east than 14th Street (then called East Street). Pekin’s streets in 1864, in the last full year of the Civil War, showed little if any change – but the city limits themselves extended to what is today Sheridan Road on the north, what is today 17th Street on the east, and what is today Koch Street on the south (those three streets did not then exist, however). Just beyond the city limits on the east was a large horse race track, something not shown on the 1857 map.

By 1873, however, Pekin’s street grid had stretched a bit further south – Derby Street was then the city’s southernmost street, while on the east the grid extended as far as Primm and Christopher streets – short north-south roadways that no longer exist, but which used to be in the general area where Coal Car Drive today cuts through Mineral Springs Park. The northernmost streets were Ruth Street (a little cul-de-sac that no longer exists, just north of the junction of Second and Sommerset) and Franklin Street (today called Amanda). That horse race track outside Pekin’s eastern city limits was then designated the “Fair Grounds of the Pekin Agricultural & Mechanical Association,” occupying 80 acres along the north side of Broadway near 18th Street (see From the Local History Room, Pekin Daily Times, Jan. 18, 2014).

The street layout of Pekin in 1891 had not expanded greatly beyond its 1873 extent, but on the east the gridwork shot out an arm or two as far as the border of Daniel Sapp’s “Pekin Driving Park,” then the name of the old horse race track. Less than two decades later, however, the atlas in 1910 shows a grid of streets in the southeastern corner of town reaching as far as Koch Street – the neighborhood of Cooper, Herget and Sapp streets. Nearby to the west, South Capitol, South Fourth, Bacon, and South Fifth streets extended as far as South Street. On the southwest of Pekin, a new subdivision south of Court Street appeared near the northwest shores of Bailey Lake (later called Lake Arlann, now called Meyers Lake). On the east, a full grid of streets reached as far as 17th Street and north to Willow Street. The race track was still there, but the “Pekin Driving Park” was then on land owned by H. G. Herget and was operated by the Pekin Trotting Association.

The 1929 atlas shows additional growth, with added subdivisions south of Court Street and east of Bailey Lake, an impressive, broad swath of new streets between Derby and Koch streets and east of South Fifth, and a new subdivision north of Willow Street and east of Eighth on part of the old Cummings estate. There still were no named or numbered streets beyond 17th on the east, however, but the race track was no more – adjacent to the former race track property was the entrance to the old Grant Coal Mine.

The photo gallery here features Pekin maps from the above mentioned maps, atlases, and plat books.

#city-of-pekin, #old-atlases, #old-maps, #old-plat-books, #tazewell-county

The Arcade Building through the years

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Downtown Pekin’s historic Arcade Building, located at 15 S. Capitol St. across from the Tazewell County Courthouse, has been on the minds of many in recent weeks and months. One reason is because the Tazewell County Museum recently has completed the transfer of its collections and operations from its former Sunset Plaza location to the Arcade Building.

But this structure also has been the subject of discussions regarding whether or not the Arcade Building will have a future in the long term, after inspections found the building to be in great need of repairs to its foundation. The building is county-owned, and the county recently agreed to provide the repairs, rather than condemn and demolish it – so the Arcade Building will remain a fixture of Pekin’s downtown for years to come.

Over the course of the 110 years of its existence, the Arcade Building has seen a lengthy list of tenants come and go. Until closing its doors not very long ago, perhaps the most popular tenant – especially for county workers on lunch hour – was the Courtyard Café. The space next to that, on the south end of the building, has hosted numerous tenants over the decades, from the Palace of Sweets in the early 20th century, to the Will Harms Co. in the 1960s, to Radio Shack around 1970.

Several volumes in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection can help us trace the history of the Arcade Building. For example, Rob Clifton says in his “Pekin History: Then and Now” (2004), “Built in 1905 the Arcade building was to house a new theater. The theater never panned out but many businesses have occupied the space.” Clifton also discusses a store that once occupied the building’s center space under the arch, where shoe shines were once offered.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on pages 52-54, tells of local realtor Robert B. Monge’s restoration work after he had acquired the Arcade Building.

“In the spring of 1946,” the Sesquicentennial says, “Robert and his brother, Emile B. Monge, Sr., started their business by building four houses. Approximately 30 homes were built within the next three years, and then the two brothers entered the subdivision business and developed Lawndale Subdivision in 1949 and 1950. There they established their first office, which served the business with several additions until December of 1971, when they moved downtown into the Arcade Building. It has since been extensively restored as a sample of Monge’s interest in the redevelopment of the downtown area.”

Monge had also sought to restore and revitalize the old Pekin Theater next door to the Arcade Building. Though his efforts to save the theater failed, he did save the Arcade Building.

An exhaustive list of all the businesses and tenants that have operated from the Arcade Building since 1905 would be several pages long, but following is the tally of the building’s tenants as shown in the 1908-09 Pekin City Directory (including the home addresses or residences of the business owners or staff):

Black, Edward E., attorney, 235-237 Arcade bldg, r 1201 Bacon

Cooney, Wm. B., attorney, suite 216-218 Arcade bldg, r 621 Hillyer

Lawley, David F., attorney, Arcade bldg, r 614 Hillyer

Wilkins, Frank, attorney, Arcade bldg, r 500 Elizabeth

Nixon, Al, barber, Arcade bldg., r 1023 Catherine

Brereton, C. L., Box Ball Alley, Arcade bldg, r 902 Park (“Box Ball” was a popular coin-operated arcade game in the early 20th century – based on bowling, the game was made of wood and somewhat resembled skee-ball.)

Willett, R. C., dentist, rms 232-234 Arcade bldg., r 417 Haines

American General Agency Co., Geo. L. Colburn pres, 217 Arcade bldg.

Pioneer Life Insurance Co., Geo. L. Colburn pres; I. P. Mantz, sec, Arcade bldg.

Buck, Chas. A., insurance agent, Arcade bldg., r 213 S. Second

Peoria Journal, Abie Schaefer, mngr, Arcade bldg.

Peoria Herald-Transcript, C. R. Barnes, representative, Arcade bldg.

Coleman, John M., physician, Arcade bldg, r 349 St. Mary

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Shown is a vintage photograph of the Arcade Building in downtown Pekin, taken apparently within the first 10 to 15 years after its construction in 1905.

#arcade-building, #pekin-city-directory, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county