The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

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

The Roaring ’20s in Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In March 2013, this column concluded a 25-part series that had begun in Sept. 2012 on a pair of sensational murders that occurred in East Peoria and Pekin in the early 1930s. The series put a magnifying glass on different aspects of life, law and crime in Tazewell County toward the end of the Prohibition Era.

The era of Prohibition, of course, is commonly known as the Roaring ’20s, a colorful description of a generally high-spirited time of material prosperity and swift social change. It’s now been a century since the start of that decade. A book about that time is included in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection: “Roaring in the ’20’s in Tazewell County,” produced in 2002 by the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society and compiled by Vivian Higdon.

The book is only 46 pages, yet “Roaring in the ’20’s” has individual chapters on all of the things for which that era is known: not only gangsters and organized crime, or Prohibition and speakeasies, but also the Woman’s Suffrage Movement, fashions, automobiles and roads, new inventions, sport and entertainment, and heroes and daredevils.

The Roaring Twenties weren’t all gangsters, speakeasies, and flappers. Sometimes it was a group of neighborhood boys in Pekin shooting a game of marbles, as in this undated 1920s photo from the Peoria Journal-Transcript. Shown left to right are Urban Albertsen (1917-1999), Edwin Hamilton, Dan Reardon, Howard Riopel (on bicycle), Chester Marshall, Harvey Bennett, Paul Herren (1917-1986), Joe McNaughton (1919-2002), Murray Revoid, and Robert Hamilton. The photographer was Brooks Watson.

Among the social changes of that decade were changes in the language, so it makes sense that “Roaring in the ‘20’s” also has a handy one-page glossary of 1920s-era slang, from “applesauce” to “whoopee.”

Here are some selections from the glossary:

Applesauce: Horsefeathers!
Bee’s knees: An excellent idea, person, thing
Berries: Similar to bee’s knees
Big cheese: Big shot
Bluenose: Prude
Bump off: Murder or kill
Bunk: Nonsense
Cake-eater: A ladies’ man
Cat’s meow: See “Bee’s knees”
Cat’s pajamas: See “Cat’s meow”
Cheaters: Eyeglasses
Crush: Infatuation
Darb: Reliable to pay a check
Drugstore cowboy: A man who tries to pick up girls on the corner
Dumb Dora: A stupid woman
Flapper: A stylish, brash young woman wearing short skirts and shorter hair
Giggle water: Alcoholic beverage
Heebie-jeebies: The jitters
Hoofer: Dancer
Hotsy-totsy: Pleasing
Jake: It’s OK
Joint: A club, usually serving alcohols
Keen: Attractive, appealing
Nerts: To show disgust (“Nuts!”)
Scram: Leaving quickly after being told to
Sheba: Woman with sex appeal
Sheik: Man with sex appeal
Spifflicated: Drunk
Struggle buggy: Backseat of a car (a parent’s worst nightmare)
Swell: Wonderful; or a rich man
Take for a ride: Drive off with someone to bump him off
Torpedo: A hired gun
Upchuck: To vomit as a result of drinking too much
Whoopee: To have a good time

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Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in April 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Pieces from Creve Coeur’s past

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the books in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection are a few histories of local communities in or near Tazewell County. Of that sort of publication, one recent addition to our collection is Vivian Higdon’s 116-page “Pieces From Our Past: Creve Coeur 1680-1998,” a gift to the library from Tyler Chasco. This week we’ll look back at Creve Coeur’s past with the help of Higdon’s book.

As noted in this column about a year ago, Creve Coeur is best known for its ties to Fort Crevecoeur, which was built by French explorer Rene Robert Chevalier de La Salle in January 1680. Consequently, Creve Coeur can boast a history much longer than any other Tazewell County community.
That’s not to say that the modern Village of Creve Coeur has an unbroken history tracing back to 1680, of course. It was not until May 5, 1921, that community voted to incorporate as the Village of “Crevecoeur.” Later, as Higdon explains, Mayor Carroll Patten in 1960 petitioned to have the official spelling of the village changed to “Creve Coeur,” because he believed “Crevecoeur” was a misspelling.

The village’s name was chosen because it included the site that traditionally was believed to be where La Salle’s stockade fort had briefly stood. Others doubt they had correctly identified the fort’s location, and Dan Sheen of Peoria in 1919 offered compelling arguments that the correct spot was a site in what is today East Peoria. Despite the contending theories of historians and archaeologists, the story of Fort Crevecoeur is integrally connected with Creve Coeur’s history and heritage, which is commemorated through Fort Crevecoeur Park and the events held there each year.

Prior to the incorporation of Crevecoeur, the community was known as Wesley City, an unincorporated settlement on the Illinois River which was first platted in 1836. An echo of the name of Wesley City lingers on in the name of Creve Coeur’s Wesley Road that tracks the riverfront. With the shifting of the Illinois River over the years, however, most of the streets of the original Wesley City are today submerged.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

This detail from the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County shows Wesley City, former name of Creve Coeur. Most of the streets shown on this map are now under water.

Wesley City had grown up near the site of an old French trading post which was built around 1775, nearly a century after La Salle’s ephemeral fort. Among the French Catholic fur traders who lived and worked there were Toussant Tromley and Louis Buisson (or Besaw), “both of whom were well-known to some of the pioneers” of Tazewell County, according to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 history of the county.

The trading post at Wesley City, located about three miles south of the Franklin Street Bridge, carried on a prosperous business with the Native Americans and white settlers until Pekin and Peoria established themselves, after which the old fur trade dwindled away. Also called “Opa Post” or Trading House, the log building was the home over the years to several French families, some of whom took Native American wives. When the State of Illinois expelled all the Indians after the 1832 Black Hawk War, some of these intermarried French-Indian families left Tazewell County and accompanied their Native American kin to reservations in Kansas.

In the meantime, a Methodist preacher named Phillips and a few other settlers built a grist and sawmill near the trading post, which led to the founding of the community that they named Wesley City, after the Methodist leader John Wesley. Around that same time, the Rusche family arrived in Illinois from Alsace-Lorraine and settled in Wesley City. Over the generations, the Rusches had a prominent role in the development of their community, and their place in the history of Wesley City/Creve Coeur is commemorated with the naming of Rusche Lane.

#creve-coeur, #fort-crevecoeur, #opa-post, #preblog-columns, #vivian-higdon, #wesley-city