The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of two videos about Pekin’s first astronaut Lt. Commander (ret.) Scott Altman. The videos are a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

First will be a 35-minute video of Altman’s keynote address at an April 1996 meeting of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards will be a showing of the footage of Altman’s recent induction into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, a video 20 minutes in length.

While the Bicentennial Series videos next week exemplify the astounding technological progress of the modern age, this week’s “From the Local History Room” column looks back to an important aspect of the push for moral and cultural progress in Illinois. This will we will take a trip back to the days of the slavery abolition movement, which made its mark in Pekin and Tazewell County, as it did in many other communities in the Northern States. The “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” volume presents an enlightening narrative of that important time in our local history.

As we have seen from earlier columns in our Illinois Bicentennial Series, although Illinois was a “free” state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois. In our area, according to the Centenary (p.15), “Pekin was a pro-slave city for years. Some of the original settlers had been slave-owners themselves, and the overwhelming sentiment in Pekin was Democratic. Stephen A. Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln, was the local hero, although Lincoln was well-liked, and had some German following.

Lincoln, of course, was one of Illinois’ leading abolitionist attorneys and politicians, and in 1841 he argued and won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that secured the freedom of “Black Nance,” a Pekin resident who was the former slave of Nathan Cromwell, whose wife Ann Eliza had chosen Pekin’s name. On Oct. 6, 1858, Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin and addressed a large crowd in the court house square. (Trumbull would later co-author the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery.)

It was largely due to the influx of German immigrants into Pekin, many of whom had fled religious persecution in their home countries, that abolitionist sentiment began to flourish in our city. Many Baptists were abolitionists, and in 1853 a German congregation of Baptists organized in Pekin – the origin of Pekin’s Calvary Baptist Church.

Among Pekin’s abolitionist leaders, according to the Pekin Centenary, was Dr. Daniel Cheever, who engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad), by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada. Other early Pekin settlers active in the abolitionist movement were the brothers Samuel and Hugh Woodrow (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife, and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s). The Woodrows aided runaway slaves at their homes in the vanished village of Circleville south of Pekin.

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Illinois cities such as Pekin and Peoria were divided between the pro-slavery element, who favored the Confederacy, and the abolitionist and pro-Union element. In the early days of the war, a secessionist organization calling itself the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (which was something of a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan) boldly worked in support of secession and slavery. The Centenary says the Knights were “aggressive and unprincipled,” and “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid.”

This detail from an 1877 “aerial view” map of Pekin shows the building, marked by the number 55, where the Union League was organized on June 25, 1862.

To counter the dominance of the Knights and promote the cause of the Union, a secret meeting was held on June 25, 1862, above Dr. Cheever’s office at 331 Court St., where 11 of Pekin’s early settlers formed the Union League to promote the cause of Union and abolition. The anti-slavery Germans of Pekin quickly became active in the League. Soon a chapter of the Union League was organized in Bloomington, and then an important chapter in Chicago, where John Medill, founding publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a leading member.

Very soon the Union League had “swept the entire North and became a great and powerful instrument for propaganda and finance in support of the War” (Pekin Centenary, p.21). After the war, the League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

The 11 founding members of the Union League were the Rev. James W. N. Vernon, Methodist minister at Pekin; Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

The building where these 11 men gathered in June 1862 was later the location of the Smith Bank and Perlman Furniture in downtown Pekin. Perlman Furniture burned down in 1968 and a few years later Pekin National Bank was built on the site. Plaques commemorating the Union League’s founding are displayed inside and on the outside of the bank building.

A historical plaque on the outside wall of Pekin National Bank at the corner of Court and Capitol streets in downtown Pekin marks the site where the Union League of America was founded. IMAGE COURTESY OF ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #alexander-small, #ann-eliza-cromwell, #black-nance, #charles-turner, #dr-daniel-cheever, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #hugh-woodrow, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-w-n-vernon, #john-medill, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #knights-of-the-golden-circle, #levi-f-garrett, #lyman-trumbull, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-national-bank, #perlman-furniture-co, #preblog-columns, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #samuel-woodrow, #stephen-a-douglas, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

Remembering the Pekin Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the east side of the Pekin National Bank, on the wall facing N. Capitol Street at the Corner of Court Street, is an informative plaque telling of an important event in Pekin’s history – the founding of the Union League during the Civil War.

This column on Feb. 4, 2012, briefly told of the founding of the Union League. In addition, an article in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times that lacked a byline but was accompanied by two photographs not only told the story of the Union League but also related the history of Pekin’s historical plaques that have commemorated the Union League.

Shown in this photograph from the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times are Marty Perlman, left, and Gerald Conaghan, right, president of Pekin National Bank, holding a historical plaque commemorating the founding of the Union League. The plaque was first placed on the east wall of the old Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building at the corner of Court and Capitol in 1920, but in 1975 was remounted in the lobby of the Pekin National Bank, which was built on the same site as the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building which burned down in 1968.

First, here’s the story of the Union League as reported in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times:

“It was June, 1862, and the early summer weather in Pekin had taken a back seat to the bad news coming from such places as Shiloh, the valley of the Shenandoah and communities in Indiana and other northern states which had been hit by Confederate raiders.

“There were reports of sabotage by southern subversive groups like the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty, and these, plus inflation and the draft, were beginning to shake the faith in President Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War policies.

“It had become clear to a handful of Pekin leaders that something should be done to firm up the North’s support for the war and to strengthen their resolve to abolish slavery in the South.

“Then came the one bright spot: the capture of Ft. Donelson by Gen. U. S. Grant and the freeing of Tennessee, much of which had remained fiercely pro-union despite harsh Confederate measures to crush Union sympathizers.

“As a result, those Tennesseeans (sic) remaining true to the north had met secretly to encourage each other to oppose the Confederate government. These groups called themselves Leagues of Union men or Union Leagues. . . .

“The concept was brought to Pekin by the Rev. J. W. N. Vernon, the new minister of Pekin’s First Methodist church, who had just come to this community from Tennessee.

“And so it was that on June 25, 1862, Rev. Vernon and ten other Pekin men gathered secretly on the third floor of the old brick building at Court and Capitol known for many years as the Smith Bank building.

“From that meeting came the Union League, an organization which became one of the most influential and fast-growing movements in the nation’s history.

“Within a year of the original meeting, the League had 606 councils and 75,000 members in Illinois alone and eventually may have had 2 million members in councils in nearly every local township and village in the North.

“It was the basis, in fact, of the Union party which elected Lincoln and Johnson in 1864. At the close of the Civil War, the military councils of the League were to become the Grand Army of the Republic.”

As this column recounted over five years ago, in the initial stages of the Civil War pro-Confederacy and pro-slavery sentiment remained prominent even as far north as Peoria and Pekin (both communities having been founded by slave-owning families). Consequently, prior to the formation of the Union League “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid,” says the 1949 Pekin Centenary.

Besides Rev. Vernon, the founding members of the Union League were Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

After the Civil War, the Union League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

But here in Pekin, the founding of the Union League was commemorated by a plaque placed on the side of the old Smith Bank building in 1920. Later the building housed Marty Perlman’s business, the Perlman Furniture Co., which was destroyed by a fire in Oct. 1968. But, the Daily Times reported, “Perlman pried the charred plaque off the east wall after the flames had been extinguished, had it reconditioned and saw that it was kept safely until it could be remounted in an appropriate place at a significant time.”

That time and place came on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1975, when the old 1920 plaque was remounted in the lobby of Pekin National Bank (built on the site of the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture Co. building) on the occasion of President Gerald R. Ford’s visit to Pekin to dedicate the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Center.

But a few days before that, the outside plaque on the east wall of the Pekin National Bank had already been mounted. That plaque, donated by the Union League of America and the Illinois State Historical Society, was formally dedicated at the same time as the remounting of the 1920 plaque.

#abolitionism, #alexander-small, #charles-turner, #civil-war, #copperheads, #dr-daniel-a-cheever, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #levi-f-garrett, #marty-perlman, #perlman-furniture-co, #rev-j-w-n-vernon, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

D. C. Smith, veteran, congressman, banker

By Jared L. Olar
Library assistant

A few weeks ago this column spotlighted the old Smith Wagon Company which operated a wagon, plough, and carriage factory at the corner of Third and Margaret streets in Pekin until the early 1900s. As we recalled in the previous column, the company was founded by the Smith brothers, a family of German immigrants who came from Hamsverum in Ostfriesland (today in northwestern Germany) and settled in Pekin in the mid-19th century.

As the family business grew more prosperous, several other business ventures were spun off, including a local bank. The bank’s first president was D. C. Smith (1840-1914), youngest of the Smith brothers, who is the subject of this week’s column. His full name was Dietrich Conrad Smith, and his parents were Conrad H. Smith (Coenraad Smid) and Margaret van der Velde. In addition to his involvement in his family’s businesses, D. C. Smith also was wounded in battle as a Union officer in the Civil War, afterwards being elected successively to the Illinois General Assembly and to the U.S. House of Representatives.

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley's 1882 "Public Men of To-Day."

D. C. Smith as depicted in P. C. Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day.”

After his election to the U.S. Congress, a short biographical sketch of his career was published in Phineas Camp Headley’s 1882 “Public Men of To-Day,” pages 569-70. The sketch reads as follows:

“The Thirteenth Congressional District of Illinois is represented in the National House of Representatives by Dietrich C. Smith, of Pekin, who was born in Hanover, Germany, April 4, 1840. He is of Dutch-German extraction, and came to this country with his parents in the year 1849. Having availed himself of the advantages of the common schools and of more or less private tutorage, in which he prepared himself for his subsequent classical course, be entered Quincy College, Illinois, at which institution he graduated.

“At the breaking out of the Civil war, having just reached his majority, he entered the Union army with the Eighth Illinois Volunteer infantry, a ‘three-months’ regiment, and re-enlisted for a term of three years in the following July. He was engaged in the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, and was severely wounded in the battle of Pittsburg Landing, which compelled him to resign his commission of Second Lieutenant of Company ‘Y,’ which he then held. He subsequently returned to the service as Captain of Company C of the 139th Illinois Volunteer infantry, and served until the expiration of the regiment’s term of enlistment.

“In 1863 Captain Smith became a member of the firm of Smith, Velde & Co., of Pekin, and three years later a partner in the firm of Teis, Smith & Co., bankers, of that city, and has continued that business connection to the present time. He is also a member of the firm of T. & H. Smith & Co., and Smith, Hippen & Co., the Pekin Plough Company. He has also been interested in several railroad corporations, as officer, director, and member of a construction company. Captain Smith has been for a long time prominent in Sabbath-school work in his county and throughout the State; also in the educational enterprises of the German Methodist Episcopal Church of the West; and he is now President of the Board of Trustees of the German College, at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

“He has been honored by the people with the offices of Alderman, School Inspector, Supervisor, and
Member of the General Assembly of Illinois. While in the State Legislature he interested himself especially in measures looking to the improvement of the water-ways by the government, and generally in all matters of public importance. He was elected to the Forty-seventh Congress, as a Republican, by a vote of 16,431 against 16,113 for his Democratic Greenback opponent.”

Additional biographical details may be found at his Find-A-Grave memorial, in an essay written by Russ Dodge, senior Find-A-Grave curator and administrator. Dodge provides further information on D. C. Smith’s military service during the Civil War, and adds the following note on Smiths’ post-war career:

“After the war Dietrich Smith became a successful banker and financier, and invested in construction and administration of railroads. He served a term in the Illinois State Legislature, then was elected as a Republican to represent Illinois’ 13th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1881 to 1883. Defeated for the seat by William McKendree Springer in 1882, he returned to his banking career in his hometown of Pekin, Illinois, where he passed away in 1914.”

Various family trees at Ancestry.com, including the “Goodrich/Ward/Smith/Walker Family Tree,” indicate that after returning from the war, D. C. Smith married Caroline “Carrie” Pieper (1844-1923), with whom he had a family of nine sons and three daughters. They lived at a grand mansion with ample room for a family of 14, located at 405 Willow St. Their home still stands today, though it is no longer the grand structure it once was. Rob Clifton’s 2004 volume, “Pekin History: Then and Now,” explains that the home formerly had a large second story and a third-story tower, but after a fire the house had to be rebuilt as a single-story building. D. C. Smith died April 18, 1914, and was buried in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin. After his death, Pekin attorney and judge William Reardon “bought the [Smith] home for his bride, who dreamed of living in the home many years prior to moving in,” Clifton says. A lithograph of the D. C. Smith mansion was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

This vintage photograph from the early 1900s shows the D. C. Smith mansion at 405 Willow St., Pekin, as it then appeared. The second floor and the tower later were lost in a fire.

#d-c-smith, #pekin-history, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith-bank

Wagonloads of Smith wagons

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Students of the bygone days of Pekin will readily recognize the name of the T. & H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin as one of the most prominent and successful businesses in Pekin’s history. Those who would like to learn more about this company, which operated a large factory at the corner of Third and Margaret streets along the railroad track as well as a bank at 331 Court St., may consult a number of historical sources in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

One of those sources, James A. Velde’s historical essay, “A Sensational Criminal Trial in Central Illinois,” was the subject of a previous Local History Room column published in the Aug. 30, 2014 Pekin Daily Times. Velde’s essay tells the story of the scandal that led to the collapse of the Teis Smith Bank on April 2, 1906.

For a general overview of the Smith Wagon Company’s history, though, interested researchers can consult “Catalog No. 10 of the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill.,” a document from the beginning of the 20th century that was spared the ravages of time by being preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is the cover of a catalog of the T. H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin that had been preserved in the Pekin Public Library's 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is the cover of a catalog of the T. H. Smith Wagon Company of Pekin that had been preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

This image shows one of the many kinds of wagon manufactured by the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill. The image comes from the copy of the company's Catalog No. 10 that was preserved in the Pekin Public Library's 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

This image shows one of the many kinds of wagon manufactured by the Smith Wagon Company of Pekin, Ill. The image comes from the copy of the company’s Catalog No. 10 that was preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s 1902 cornerstone time capsule.

Most of the pages of the Smith Wagon catalog, of course, are taken up with drawings, specifications, and prices of the company’s wagons and trucks. These details provide a window onto a lost and all-but-forgotten past, when farm work and transportation required literal horsepower. Also, on page 5 of the Smith Wagon Co. catalog is a page-length essay on the history of the company and its various offshoots in Pekin.

The company began as a blacksmith and woodworking shop that was established by a family of German immigrants who came to Pekin in 1849. The founders were the brothers Teis, Henry, and Fred Smith, and their brother-in-law Luppe Luppen, who started their business the same location where they later would build their wagon-making plant. Later, their youngest brother D. C. Smith and their cousin Habbe Velde joined as partners.

“Soon their own hands were unequal to the task of supplying their growing trade, which at first demanded extra help, then more room and finally separate factories, stores and warehouses,” the catalog essay says. “Starting with the manufacture of farm wagons, buggies, carriages, plows and agricultural implements, the business gradually took on also banking, dealing in grain and general merchandising. As the business grew it was found advisable to separate the different departments and the banking house of Teis Smith & Co. was established with D. C. Smith as its present manager, the grain business became known as the Smith-Hippen Co., and the implement part was taken up by Pekin Plow Co., with Luppe Luppen as its president and D. C. Smith as vice president and manager at the present time. The manufacture of plows was commenced in 1870 in a separate factory and with separate office force, the manufacture of buggies and carriages was gradually discontinued and the merchandising given over to other hands. The parent company, T. & H. Smith & Co., with Habbe Velde as its president, retains the same name and location it has had since the beginning and is now engaged exclusively in the manufacture of farm and spring wagons.”

A fire destroyed the company’s plant in 1899 and a new factory was built in its place in 1900. That setback contributed to the collapse of the Teis Smith Bank and liquidation of the wagon works a few years later.

These photographs of the Smith Wagon Company's founders and a short history of the company were printed in the company's Catalog No. 10.

These photographs of the Smith Wagon Company’s founders and a short history of the company were printed in the company’s Catalog No. 10.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

This lithograph from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County depicts the home of D. C. Smith, youngest of the Smith brothers and first manager of the Teis Smith Bank.

#d-c-smith, #fred-smith, #habbe-velde, #henry-smith, #luppe-luppen, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith, #teis-smith-bank

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in August 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In its account of the organization of Pekin’s first banking institutions, the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, pages 33-34, provides the following paragraph about a bank that popularly was known among the residents of Pekin as “the Smith Bank”:

“At about the same time that the first National Bank was organized [i.e., about the end of the Civil War], the Teis Smith banking firm was founded. The bank was located in the same block as the Smith wagon works, but it was conducted as a distinct and separate business. An interesting note in conjunction with the story of this operation is that upon the death in 1890 of Fred Smith, the senior partner who had taken over after his brother Teis died in 1870, Habbe Velde of the T. & H. Smith Company, Henry Block and John Schipper of the Schipper and Block dry goods establishment, and E. F. Unland of the Smith Hippen grain company (all of which are substantial businesses of old-time Pekin) stepped in as full partners to assure that the credit of the bank would not suffer greatly from his death.”

The 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 25, offers just a single sentence on the founding of this bank:

“That year [i.e., 1866] the Smith bank was established at 331 Court street, the First National bank at 304 Court street, . . . .”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) has even less to say about the bank – just a single reference on page 92 to the fact that Teis Smith “also had interests in banking and railroads.”

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Relying only on these brief notices in the standard works on Pekin’s history, one would never even be able to imagine the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the closing of the Smith Bank.

After operating for 40 years, the bank suddenly closed its doors on April 2, 1906, and the firm was then liquidated. When shareholders and depositors learned the reasons why the bank had closed, however, they went to the state’s attorney, who filed charges of embezzlement against the bank partners.

The story of that embezzlement trial – characterized in the Peoria Star’s contemporary reports as “the most sensational and deplorable affair that has ever come under the notice of Tazewell County residents” – is told in James A. Velde’s historical essay, “A Sensational Criminal Trial in Central Illinois,” a copy of which is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

This is how Velde explains the failure of the Smith Bank:

“After partner Frederick Smith, a younger brother of Teis, died in a railroad wreck in 1890, the wagon and plow companies were separately incorporated in Illinois to avoid the complications in settling a deceased partner’s interest. But the bank was not incorporated, perhaps because of a feared government interference in an incorporated bank. The bank partners were thus left with their personal unlimited liability for all the bank’s debts . . . Near the mid-1890s the three enterprises were adversely affected by nation-wide difficult economic conditions, including bank panics and years of business depression. There came a time when the payrolls and other expenses of the wagon and plow companies were financed by borrowings from the Smith Bank, whose managers and partners were officers and stockholders of the two corporations. When the loans became delinquent in large amounts, the corporations issued shares of capital stock in payment of the loans. This practice, since the stock had no market, depleted the bank’s liquid assets and led to its closing on April 2, 1906.”

On May 24, 1906, four of the six bank partners were indicted in Tazewell County Circuit Court for embezzlement, under an 1879 Illinois law that made it illegal for a banker to accept deposits when his banking company is insolvent. The four indicted partners were Dietrich Conrad Smith, youngest brother of Teis Smith, who was the bank’s president and vice president of Pekin Plow Company; Conrad Luppen, bank cashier; Ernest F. Unland, president of Smith, Hippen & Company; and Henry C. Block, president of Schipper & Block department store.

The case was prosecutors by State’s Attorney Charles Schaefer, owner of the land that came to be known as Schaeferville and later a Tazewell County judge, and Judge Jesse Black, who later successfully defended the Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies accused of torturing jail inmate Martin Virant to death in 1932.

The criminal prosecution stretched through the rest of 1906. Unfortunately, the issues of the Pekin Daily Times from that year are lost, but the indictment and trial proceedings were reported extensively in the Peoria Star (one of the predecessors of today’s Peoria Journal Star). The Star’s reports were usually sensationalistic and incendiary, often transgressing into libelous attacks on the personal character and even physical appearance of the defendants. During the course of the trial, as Velde shows, evidence was presented showing that the bankers had fraudulently been using depositors’ money to keep their troubled wagon and plow businesses afloat.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty against all four defendants on Dec. 15, 1906. However, defense attorneys almost immediately appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial, arguing that the conviction was not in accordance with a 1903 amendment to the 1879 statute under which the bankers had been indicted. In the end, both the trial’s judge, Leslie D. Puterbaugh, and State’s Attorney Schaefer agreed that the indictment had been a mistake, because the 1903 amendment had made it virtually impossible to obtain a conviction in a case such as the failure of the Smith Bank. The conviction was then set aside. Schaefer moved to have the indictment dismissed on April 15, 1907, and Judge Puterbaugh granted the motion.

With no attempt to disguise the dismayed at the overturning of the guilty verdict, the Peoria Star wrapped up its coverage of the affair with the comment, “Although the cases were stricken from the records, the memory of the wrecking of the Teis Smith and Company Bank by those behind it will linger for years to come.”

#charles-schaefer, #conrad-luppen, #e-f-unland, #fred-smith, #habbe-velde, #jesse-black, #leslie-puterbaugh, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #schaeferville, #schipper-and-block, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith, #teis-smith-bank