The Alchemy of ‘Oops!’: Inaccuracies in Heerman’s treatment of Nance Legins-Costley’s trials

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

In recent years, the lives of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) and her family have become much better known thanks chiefly to fresh light being brought to the subject as a result of the research of Carl Adams, who began delving into Nance’s story in the 1990s.

As we have related here at “From the History Room” more than once, Nance Legins-Costley is known to history as the first African-American slave to secure her freedom with the help of Abraham Lincoln. First appearing in published Pekin historical accounts in 1871 (in William H. Bates’ original narrative of Pekin’s early history), Nance and her persistent efforts to obtain acknowledgement of her freedom later were briefly mentioned in the 1949 Pekin Centenary volume. A much fuller (though far from complete) account was included in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (pp.6-7).

Apart from local historical narratives, prior to Adams’ research Nance’s story has been mostly relegated to relatively brief notices or passages in Lincoln biographies and studies. For example, John J. Duff devoted just four extended paragraphs to the story in his 1960 tome “A. Lincoln, Prairie Lawyer” (pp.86-87).

Adams himself has contributed two significant articles on the subject to the Abraham Lincoln Association’s newsletter, “For the People” – first, in the Autumn 1999 issue (vol. 1, no. 3), “The First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A Biographical Sketch of Nance Legins (Cox-Cromwell) Costley, circa 1813-1873,” and second, in the Fall 2015 issue (vol. 17, no. 3), “Countdown to Nance’s Emancipation.” Adams is also the author of the paper, “Lincoln’s First Freed Slave: A Review of Bailey v. Cromwell, 1841,” in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (vol. 101, nos. 3/4 – Fall-Winter 2008, pp.235-259). Finally, Adams has treated this subject in story form in his 2016 book, “NANCE: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A True Story of Mrs. Nance Legins-Costley.”

More recently, Nance and her story have been treated in a number of histories devoted to Lincoln or to the subject of American slavery.

For example, Lincoln scholar Guy C. Fraker addresses the case of Bailey v. Cromwell and McNaughton in a single paragraph on p.52 of his 2012 book, “Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit.” There Fraker offers a bit of polite criticism of the manner of telling the story of Nance and her trials “as a case where Lincoln’s role was to ‘free a slave,’” which Fraker says “is simply not accurate.” Rather, Fraker insists, “Nance’s gallant efforts to assert her free status, not Lincoln, resulted in her freedom.

Fraker’s criticism is well received, because while Lincoln’s place in Nance’s story was very important in enabling her to secure the freedom that she always (and rightly) insisted was hers, this is in truth Nance’s life story rather than the story of how Lincoln purportedly set out to free a slave. From the standpoint of Lincoln scholarship, this case is significant as the first time Lincoln had to directly wrestle with the moral and legal issues related to slavery. But, as Adams himself agrees, from the viewpoint of Nance Legins-Costley this case was quite simply a matter of the greatest importance, because on it depended her freedom and that of her children.

Most recently, Lincoln historian and scholar Michael Burlingame tells the story of Nance and the case of Bailey v. Cromwell in a lengthy paragraph on pp.20-21 of his new (2021) book, “The Black Man’s President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, & the Pursuit of Racial Equality.”

As only to be expected in historians of the stature and scholarly diligence of Burlingame and Fraker, their accounts of Nance and Bailey v. Cromwell are accurate and informative.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to use those two adjectives to describe the way in which the story of Nance is told in M. Scott Heerman’s 2018 volume, “The Alchemy of Slavery: Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730-1865.” I have not had occasion to give a close reading to Heerman’s entire book, which appears to be a generally compelling study of the manner in which human servitude was practiced in the officially free state of Illinois. Nevertheless, regarding Heerman’s treatment in his book of the life and trials of Nance Legins-Costley, a number of serious factual errors seem to have slipped past his fact checker during the editorial process.

Heerman introduces Nance and her trials in his chapter 4 (pp.105-106), where he refers to, “The first case, Nance, a Negro Girl v. John Howard (1828).” More accurately, that was the second case. The long tale of Nance’s struggles to win her freedom began (as Heerman himself describes) the previous year, when Nance’s master Thomas Cox’s possessions (including Nance and her family) were auctioned off to pay for a debt. She did not wait until 1828 to protest her freedom, but already in October of 1827 we find the freedom suit Nance, a Negro girl v. Nathan Cromwell. The second case, against Howard, was filed due to Sangamon County Coroner John Howard’s role in selling Nance to Cromwell.

Heerman returns to the story of Nance in his chapter 6 (pp.135-136), but here we again find factual errors. Of Nance he writes (p.135), “Born in Maryland around 1810, she was brought to Illinois and converted into a registered servant.” U.S. Census records consistently show Nance’s place of birth as Maryland, and indicate that she was born circa 1813. However, Adams’ research into Nance’s family history shows that she was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, not Maryland. It was rather her master Nathan Cromwell who was born in Maryland, and presumably Nance, not knowing where she was born, herself came to believe she was born in Maryland as well. Her parents and siblings, who perhaps could have reminded her of where she was born, were sold away from her in 1827, when Nance was about 14. It was Nance’s parents Randol and Anachy (Ann) Legins, not Nance herself, who were brought to Illinois (by Nathaniel Green) – but they were from South Carolina, not Maryland.

Next, on the same page Heerman says, “In 1828, Nathan Cromwell sold Nance at public auction to John Howard. She disputed her sale before the Illinois Supreme Court, in Nance, a Negro girl v. John Howard (1828), . . . .” This is a remarkable instance of confusion on Heerman’s part. Howard did not purchase Nance; he rather oversaw the auction whereby Nance, an indentured servant of Thomas Cox, was sold to Nathan Cromwell. Heerman’s confusion seems to have arisen from his overlooking the earlier case of Nance v. Cromwell, and from misreading the court documents in Nance v. Howard.

Heerman once more returns to the story of Nance and her family in his concluding chapter (pp.166-167). There he correctly recalls that “In 1841, Abraham Lincoln helped to free Nance Cromwell from bondage in a local case, and during the war, her son William Costley took up arms.” But at this point we again encounter some very serious errors of fact.

Heerman proceeds to say that Nance’s son William “enlisted in the 26th Volunteers, and after fighting in Missouri and Mississippi, the company went to Virginia, where on April 9, 1865, Costley witnessed Lee’s formal surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

Shown here is the white Union soldier William Henry Costley (1845-1903) of Weldon, DeWitt County, Illinois, who is not to be confused with the black soldier William Henry Costley/Cosley (1840-1888) of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. Image is from the Logan Collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, and may also be found at the Find-A-Grave memorial of William H. Costley of Weldon.

On this point, Heerman and his fact checker should have paused to consider how and why a black man, William Costley, would have served in a white Union regiment during the Civil War. Even more remarkable, on p.167 Heerman presents the photograph of a white Union soldier whose name, regiment, and company are written in cursive hand as “William Costley, Co. D, the 26 Ills Volls.” Heerman’s caption for this photo reads, “William Costley, son of Ben and Nancy Cromwell, age about twenty-one, Boys in Blue, Logan Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield Ill.” (The same photo may be seen at William Costley’s Find-A-Grave memorial.) This same image appears on the front cover of Heerman’s book.

In fact, William Costley was the son of Ben and Nancy Costley, not Cromwell. “Cromwell” was one of the surnames that Nance bore during her lifetime – specifically, during the time she spent as a servant and ward of Nathan Cromwell. (Before that, she would have been known as Nance Legins and then Nance Cox, and the Peoria County marriage records of her children also give her a maiden name of “Allen”.) In this case, Heerman made a simple mental slip, for in his book he usually refers to Nance as “Nance Cromwell.”

However, he clearly has misidentified the white soldier William Henry Costley (1845-1903) of Weldon, DeWitt County, Illinois, as the black soldier William Henry Costley/Cosley (1840-1888) of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. Nance’s son William (Bill) served in the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, Co. B. – and although the 29th U.S.C.I. was present (along with the 26th Illinois Volunteers) at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Bill himself was not there, because (as his pension file says) he was wounded in action on April 1 and subsequently was sent to a military hospital. Bill recovered in time, however, to take part in the landing at Galveston, Texas, on 18 June 1865, and thus was present for the first Juneteenth.

Incidentally, Carl Adams believes the white Costleys of DeWitt County may have formerly been the owners of Nance’s husband Benjamin Costley – a fascinating possibility that I have not been able to confirm or disprove. All we know at present is that Ben Costley was a free black, born in Illinois, and first appears on record in the 1840 U.S. Census as a head of household in Tazewell County, where he and Nance married on 15 Oct. 1840.

As I mentioned above, generally speaking Heerman’s work seems to make for a compelling study of the way slavery perdured in Illinois despite laws banning it — and he rightly and very helpfully places the story of Nance Legins-Costley in its broader historical context. However, Heerman’s fact errors and misinterpretation of primary documents regarding the story of Nance and her family (matters with which I have had occasion to become familiar), give us reason to be cautious and critical regarding his treatment of historical examples elsewhere in his book.

#29th-u-s-colored-infantry, #a-lincoln-prairie-lawyer, #abraham-lincoln, #anachy-legins, #benjamin-costley, #carl-adams, #col-thomas-cox, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #guy-fraker, #illinois-history, #john-howard, #john-j-duff, #juneteenth, #lincolns-ladder-to-the-presidency, #m-scott-heerman, #michael-burlingame, #nance-cromwell, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #nathaniel-green, #pekin-history, #randol-legins, #the-alchemy-of-slavery, #the-black-mans-president, #william-h-bates, #william-henry-costley

Joshua C. Morgan, Pekin’s first Town President

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

One of the most prominent of Pekin’s community leaders in the earliest years of its existence as a pioneer settlement was Joshua Carmen Morgan (1804-1849), whose name appears repeatedly in the early records of Pekin’s history. He was born 15 July 1804 in Xenia, Ohio, eldest son of Isaac and Margaret (Carmen) Morgan, who were natives of Virginia and Kentucky, respectively.

Turning to William H. Bates’ first-ever history of Pekin (which was included in the 1871 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory), we find the several notices regarding Joshua C. Morgan, all of them relating significant facts in Pekin’s early history.

First, on page 12 Bates informs that Morgan held most Tazewell County offices from 1831 to 1836:

“During the time intervening between the removal of the County Seat from Mackinaw to Pekin in 1831 and its removal from Pekin to Tremont in 1836, the offices of Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Recorder, and Master in Chancery were held by Joshua C. Morgan, who was also post-master. He lived with his wife and four children, a brother and a young lady, and transacted the business of all his offices, in two rooms of the house now occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. His house was also a great resort for travelers, and our informant says: ‘I have spent the evening at his house when the entire court and bar were there with many others.’”

While we can be grateful that Bates provided us with this description of Morgan and his important role in Pekin’s and Tazewell County’s early days, nevertheless there is a problem with his statement that Morgan’s house was “now” (i.e. in 1870-71) occupied by Dr. W. S. Maus. On page 46 of the same directory, Bates says Dr. W. S. Maus then resided in a home at the northeast corner of Logan St. and Park Ave., a very unlikely location for the home of one of Pekin’s earliest residents during the 1830s. However, Bates also mentions on page 46 that Dr. J.S. Maus then resided at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and Capitol, a far more probable site for Morgan’s home.

The unnamed informant’s recollection of seeing the entire court and bar being entertained in Morgan’s home means that the notable visitors to his house would have included men such as David Davis, John T. Stewart, and Samuel Treat, and later Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.

The very next paragraph of Bates’ history of Pekin, also on page 12 of the 1871 city directory, named J. C. Morgan among the settlers who had arrived in Pekin prior to 1831 and who had survived the “Deep Snow” of 1830. In addition to this information from Bates’ account, federal land records show that Morgan obtained letters patent for grants of land in Tazewell County on 15 Oct. 1834, 22 Oct. 1835, and 1 Nov. 1839.

At the bottom of page 12, Bates devotes a paragraph to the Black Hawk War of 1832. He does not mention, however, that Joshua C. Morgan himself served in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War. The Illinois Secretary of State’s Illinois Veterans Index says Morgan served in the 5th Regiment of Whiteside’s Brigade, with the rank of Quartermaster, having entered the service at Dixon’s Ferry in what is now Lee County.

On page 13, Bates devotes a paragraph to the terrible cholera outbreak of July 1834 that carried away many of the pioneers not only of Pekin but other parts of Tazewell County:

“With the opening of July, 1834, Pekin was visited by the Asiatic Cholera, and for a time the village was enveloped in a pall of gloom, sorrow and despondency. Quite a number of prominent (sic) citizens, among whom we find the names of Mr. Smith, Mrs. Cauldron, Thomas Snell, Dr. Perry, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. J. C. Morgan, and many others, fell victims ere the terrible malady took its departure.”

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history, page 566, relates these same facts in very similar wording (showing that Bates’ account was Chapman’s source).

Mrs. J. C. Morgan was Almeda (Moore) Morgan, who had borne Joshua two daughters, Julia and Caroline, and two sons, Isaac and Frank. Joshua remained a widower for less than a year, for Tazewell County marriage records show that he remarried on 23 April 1835 to Elizabeth Green Shoemaker, who bore him five sons and two daughters, Alphonso, Jerome, Spencer, Charles, Sidney, Florence, and an unnamed daughter who died in infancy.

On 2 July 1835, the residents of Pekin voted to incorporate as a Town, which gave Pekin to right to govern itself through an elected Board of Trustees. This event, however, is not mentioned in Bates’ history of Pekin. As we have previously related, for some reason the incorporation vote was not legally recorded. (Morgan, as we have seen, was then the Recorder of Deeds.) That omission made it necessary for Pekin’s officials to ask the Illinois General Assembly to retroactively legalize the incorporation of the Town of Pekin, which the General Assembly did by a special act passed on 19 Jan. 1837.

Be that as it may, on page 13 of the 1871 directory Bates tells us the results of Pekin’s first Town election:

“‘July 9th, 1835, agreeable to notice given according to law, in the Court House, in the Town of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois, for the purpose of electing Five Resident Freeholders of the Town of Pekin, as Trustees of the same, who shall hold their office for one year and until others are chosen and qualified.’ The vote given was for D[avid] Mark, 24; D[avid] Bailey, 24; Samuel Wilson 17; J. C. Morgan, 22;  S[amuel] Pillsbury, 24, and S. Field, 12. The five gentlemen first mentioned were elected, and the members were qualified before Alden Hull, a Justice of the Peace. On the 11th of the same month, the Board of Trustees was organized, J. C. Morgan being elected President, and Benjamin Kellogg, Jr., Clerk.”

Probably the most important act of Morgan’s administration as Pekin’s first Town Board President was the removal of the County Seat from Pekin to Tremont. The primary reason for the relocation of the County Seat was the then-prevailing opinion in the General Assembly that a County Seat ought to be geographically central within a county’s borders. Tazewell County was much larger when first erected in Jan. 1827, but by 1835 the county was much smaller due to portions of Tazewell County being reassigned to newly erected counties. Another consideration was that Pekin in the 1830s was something of a swampy place and (especially after the 1834 cholera outbreak) was regarded as sickly.

Bates tells the story of the removal of the County Seat to Tremont on page 14, and concludes his account with:

“The last meeting of the first Town Board was held on the 27th of June, 1836, at which meeting Joshua C. Morgan having removed the courts to Tremont, resigned, and Samuel Pillsbury presided.”

After that, Morgan no longer appears in Bates’ narrative of Pekin history. Although he is known to have acquired additional land in Tazewell County in late 1839, at some point after that he must have joined his parents and other relatives in Lee County, Illinois. He died in Palmyra in that county on 12 July 1849 and was buried in Prairieville Cemetery near Prairieville in Lee County. His widow Elizabeth later moved to Seward, Nebraska, where she died on 20 Oct. 1900 at age 85. She is buried in Clarinda Cemetery, Clarinda, Iowa.

The gravestone of Joshua C. Morgan, who served as Pekin’s first Town President, in Prairieville Cemetery, Prairieville, Lee County. Photo by Michael Kuelper.

#alden-hull, #almeda-moore-morgan, #benjamin-kellogg-jr, #black-hawk-war, #cholera-epidemic, #county-seat, #david-bailey, #david-mark, #deep-snow, #dr-joseph-s-maus, #dr-samuel-pillsbury, #dr-william-s-maus, #elizabeth-green-shoemaker-morgan, #isaac-morgan, #joshua-c-morgan, #joshua-carmen-morgan, #margaret-carmen-morgan, #pekin-history, #pekin-incorporation-snafu, #s-field, #samuel-wilson, #tazewell-county-history, #tremont-cooperative-grain, #william-h-bates

A glimpse inside ‘A Traveler’s Diary from 1835’

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

Last autumn a newly-published diary detailing an Easterner’s 1835 travels in the Midwest was added to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Collection. Because the diary-writer’s travels took him to Central Illinois towns including Tremont and Pekin, the diary is of local interest and can provide interesting glimpses at life in those places and at that time.

The diary was published last year under the title “A Traveler’s Diary from 1835.” The original copy of the diary is in the possession of Karen Dustman, who edited the diary and augmented it with photographs, maps, and explanatory notes. Dustman acquired the diary at an antique shop in Cambria, Calif., in 1988.

Edited and extensively annotated by Karen Dustman, “A Traveler’s Diary from 1835” is an Easterner’s contemporary account of his adventurous trip to the Midwest — including Illinois — during the post-Black Hawk War land rush of the 1830s.

Unfortunately the diary-writer’s identity is unknown, but in her introduction Dustman tells what we may glean about the writer’s identity:

“One tiny clue about the writer’s identity comes from the diary itself: a brief mention of his rice crop, suggesting he might have been a Southerner. ‘If you have not sold my rice and there should be any appearance of the march laying claim, I wish you to dispose of it before they get a preemption,’ he wrote.

“More likely, however, is that he actually hailed from New England. The diary both begins and ends in New York State, for one thing. And the antique dealer I bought the diary from said she’d found it in Tiverton, Rhode Island (south of Newport). An 1830s newspaper clipping tucked in the back pages of the diary similarly came from a Newport paper.

“Notations at the end provide us a likely guess for the man’s name. The beginnings of a promissory note are sketched out in the diary’s final pages, a personal document hinting that the diary might have belonged to one Elijah Brown of New Hampshire.”

The diary-writer’s first entry, dated June 1, 1835, tells of his arrival in Buffalo, New York, by way of the Erie Canal. In the early stages of the trip, the diary-writer traveled in the company of two married couples, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley and Mr. and Mrs. Sturgis, along with a certain Mr. Russell. The group seems to have been intending to scout for land on which to settle “out West.”

The party only made it as far as Tecumseh, Mich., however, where the two married couples gave up and headed back east – a diary entry indicates that the Buckleys and Sturgises were sick or were otherwise exhausted from the trip. The diary-writer and Mr. Russell then continued their trip together.

They reached Chicago on June 10, then by stages made it to Utica, where on June 16 they boarded the steamboat Banner headed for Peoria, which they reached the following day. His entry for Peoria is brief but positive: “Arrived at Peoria, very pleasantly situated” (p.49).

During their stay in Peoria, the diary-writer and his companion Mr. Russell crossed into Tazewell County and took a trip to Tremont on June 18-19, evidently hoping to find some land to buy, but did not find anything to their liking. (This was a year before Tremont became the county seat.) On June 19 they viewed various farms in Peoria, where Mr. Russell opted to purchase land for his new home in Illinois.

It was the next day that the diary-writer embarked on steamboat at Peoria, heading for St. Louis, Missouri. Not long after leaving Peoria, the steamboat stopped briefly at Pekin – but long enough for the diary-writer to form an appraisal and opinion of the place (p.55):

“June 20:

“Took Steamboat Friendship for St. Louis.

“Touched at Pekin to receive freight. Population about 500; very sickly, cold, dreary-looking place. It commands a better and much more settled back country than Peoria.

“Arrived at Beardstown, in the night.”

The diary-writer may perhaps be excused for finding Pekin to be “very sickly, cold, [and] dreary-looking,” because Tazewell County and areas throughout Central Illinois in 1835 experienced an unusually wet May and June. Dustman notes (p.56) that another diary from this period mentions that in May and June 1835 the county had “uncommonly wet, soggy weather” along with heavy thunderstorms, hail, and even frost.

The diary-writer’s dismal description of Pekin is reminiscent of the way Tazewell County pioneer Eliza Farnham of Groveland related her impressions of her 1836 arrival in Pekin, which she disdainfully dubbed “Pokerton” in her account:

“We worried on through the flood of water that was pouring down the bed of the Illinois and submerging its banks, till the night of the fifth day brought us to the landing place of our friends in the town of Pokerton. It was at that time the county seat of one of the largest and wealthiest counties in the state. Its name is faintly descriptive of its inhabitants in a double sense: one of their favorite recreations being a game at cards, which is indicated by the first two syllables of this name. . . .”

A long, lost feature of Pekin’s local geography during pioneer days – erased by the growth and improvement of the city over time – no doubt contributed to the negative impressions formed by Farnham and the diary-writer. That feature was a seasonal body of water that was named Bitzel’s Lake, which was perhaps the remnant of an ancient backwater of the Illinois River.

Describing Bitzel’s Lake on his 1910 historical map of Pekin, William H. Bates says, “This lake was created by a depression from St. Mary to Derby streets. After a heavy rain it would reach of width of over 100 yards, and about 1 mile long. It was a favorite skating resort in winter. It had an outlet via N. 3rd, N. Capitol, the big ditch, then into Pekin Lake.

Given the wet weather in June 1835, Bitzel’s Lake probably made Pekin an especially swampy place.

Incidentally, the diary-writer’s brief stop at Pekin took place just 12 days before Pekin’s inhabitants voted to incorporate as a Town under Illinois law (though as we have previously related here, the failure properly to record the results of that vote made it necessary for the Illinois General Assembly to pass a law in January of 1837 ‘legalizing’ Pekin’s incorporation).

#a-travelers-diary-from-1835, #bitzels-lake, #buckley, #chicago, #elijah-brown, #eliza-farnham, #karen-dustman, #pekin-history, #peoria, #pokerton, #russell, #steamboat-banner, #steamboat-friendship, #sturgis, #tremont, #utica, #william-h-bates

The Pekin Public Library’s move to Dewey

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

Among the big changes that came to the Pekin Public Library when it moved into its very own building in 1903, the library that year also changed how it catalogued the books and magazines in its collection.

Shortly before Pekin’s Carnegie library opened to the public on Dec. 10, 1903, the staff of the library commenced the re-cataloguing of the materials in its collection, in order to bring the Pekin Public Library’s cataloguing system into agreement with the Dewey Decimal Classification System. Pekin’s library has used this system, with modifications over the years, ever since.

The Dewey Decimal Classification System was invented by Melvil Dewey (1851-1931) in the 1870s. Dewey was one of the founding members of the American Library Association (ALA), and he was a leader in promoting the use of library cards and card catalogs.

About 1890 or so, the Pekin Library Association published a new and updated catalogue of the books and periodicals in its collection, which served the library until the construction of the Carnegie library in 1902-3. Shown here is the cover of a copy of that edition of the catalogue.
Shown here are pages 6 and of the 1890s pre-Dewey catalogue of the Pekin Library Association. The cost of the printing of the catalogue was underwritten by most of Pekin’s businesses, whose advertisements filled nearly half of the catalogue.

Prior to the introduction of Dewey’s classification system, libraries would assign a permanent number and shelf location in their stacks based on when the library acquired an item and what size it was. Some libraries also developed their own classification systems based on topic or author. Library stacks were normally closed to the public, and librarians themselves retrieved the books, periodicals, or pamphlets that patrons requested.

That is how the Ladies Library Association and Pekin Library Association operated, and it is also how the Pekin Public Library operated prior to Dec. 1903. The Pekin Public Library’s archives include some copies of an 1882 edition of the public catalogue of the Ladies Library Association of Pekin (printed by the Daily Times Published House), as well as a few copies of the public catalogue of the Pekin Library Association from the 1880s and 1890s (published by Pekin printer William H. Bates, and filled with advertisements of the numerous Pekin businesses that had sponsored the printing of the catalogue).

Shown here is the cover of the 1882 catalogue of the Ladies Library Association of Pekin (which incorporated in 1883 as the Pekin Library Assocation). This copy was owned by Filener S. Bates (1843-1926), wife of Pekin pioneer historian William H. Bates.
In this images are shown pages 10 and 11 of the 1882 catalogue of the Ladies Library Association of Pekin, showing the pre-Dewey index numbers that had been assigned to these books in the library’s collection.

These catalogues and other mementos and relics of Pekin’s library history are currently on display in the Local History Room and in a display case under the stairs to the library’s second floor.

These public catalogues were pocket booklets that were given to library patrons so they would know what materials could be borrowed from the library’s collection. The catalogue indexes show that the materials must have been assigned numbers based on when the Library Association acquired them or based on an author’s surname, and only secondarily based on subject matter, because there is often little or no correlation between an item’s number and its subject.

Melvil Dewey wanted libraries to catalogue their materials using the concepts of “relative index” and “relative location,” in which books would be added to a library’s collection and assigned numbers based their subject matter and decimal numbers based on subtopic. To structure his cataloguing system, Dewey relied on the classification of the fields of human knowledge (or “sciences,” from the Latin word scientia, “knowledge”) that was proposed by Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an English Protestant natural philosopher who lived during the Renaissance. Bacon’s system was in turn derived and adapted from medieval Catholic philosophy, beginning with basic or general knowledge, then moving on to philosophy, then religion, then the various divisions of natural philosophy and natural science (including mathematics), followed by the arts (including music), literature (particularly poetry and drama), and finally biography and history.

The Dewey Decimal System is not the only classification system in use today, but it remains the most popular system in use in U.S. libraries. The other preeminent system used in the U.S. is the Library of Congress Classification System, which was originated around the same time as the Dewey Decimal System. During his lifetime, Dewey himself held the copyright to his classification system, but today it is owned and maintained by the Online Computer Library System (OCLC, formerly the Ohio Computer Library System).

Before the system was computerized, libraries that used the Dewey system would record their materials and classification numbers by hand in large and heavy accession books, in which library staff would write each item’s date of acquisition and the date that an item was removed (“weeded”) from the collection. Pekin Public Library’s old accession books were kept on the shelves of our Local History Room for many years, but are now stored in our archives.

Our oldest Dewey accession book was begun on Dec. 2, 1903, just eight days before the Pekin Carnegie library opened to the public. The first item recorded in that book was E. C. Brewer’s 1,243-page “Reader’s Handbook” (1902), which was assigned the Dewey number “803” (literature).

The Pekin Public Library continues to use modified forms of the Dewey Decimal System in both its Adult and Youth Services areas. For those unfamiliar with the system, the library provides “Book Finder” pamphlets to help patrons narrow down their searches and aid in browsing.

Next week, we’ll review the library’s history during the first half of the 20th century.

Shown is a detail from the first page of the Pekin Public Library’s oldest Dewey Decimal Classification accession book, which was begun on 2 Dec. 1903, just eight days before the new Pekin Carnegie library opened to the public.

#accession-books, #dewey-decimal-classification-system, #dewey-decimal-system, #e-c-brewer, #filener-s-bates, #filener-s-haberfield-bates, #francis-bacon, #library-of-congress-classification-system, #melvil-dewey, #oclc, #ohio-computer-library-system, #online-computer-library-system, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #readers-handbook, #relative-index, #relative-location, #william-h-bates

Dedication of the Pekin Carnegie library cornerstone

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

In recent weeks, we have looked back to the way the groundwork was laid for the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library. By early 1902, the library board’s building committee had selected Paul O. Moratz as the architect to design the new library building, and Moratz had submitted his plans to the board on March 13, 1902.

This photograph from the 1930s shows Pekin’s old Carnegie Library, which was built to the design of Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz in 1902-1903. The cornerstone was located to the right of the front steps. One of the two wrought-iron lamps at the entrance steps was saved when the library was demolished in the early 1970s. The lamp stood in the new library’s plaza until 2014, at which time it was restored and refurbished so it could be moved to the remodeled and expanded library’s new Local History Room.

In her 1902 account of the Pekin Public Library’s early history, Miss Mary Gaither told of the next steps in the process:

“In June, the reports of this Committee stated that the contracts had been let, as agreed upon, reserving certain details, and the bid of Mr. J. D. Handbury was, after due deliberation, accepted by said committee.”

In the bidding competition, J. D. Handbury had gone up against Conklin-Hippen-Reuling Co. and E. Zimmer & Co. All three construction firms were based in Pekin. Besides those three Pekin contractors, the building committee had also considered bids from a Peoria contractor and two or three Bloomington contractors.

After the selection of the contractor, the ground at 301 S. Fourth Street was prepared and staked off. Plans were then made for a grand public ceremony and parade in which the Carnegie library’s cornerstone would be dedicated and laid. Within the cornerstone a time capsule would be stored.

The date for the ceremony, which drew a large crowd of Pekin residents both great and small, was set for Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1902. The library board members at the time were Franklin L. Velde, William J. Conzelman, Carl G. Herget, Henry Birkenbusch, Ben P. Schenck, Mrs. W. E. Schenck, Mrs. J. L. Hinners, Miss Emily Weyrich, and (of course) Miss Gaither.

One of them items in the cornerstone time capsule was a telegram received at 9:04 a.m. on Aug. 14, 1902, from John Oglesby, private secretary of Illinois Lieut. Gov. William A. Northcott (1854-1917), expressing Northcott’s regrets that he could not attend the cornerstone laying ceremony.

Shown here is one of the invitations to the ceremonial laying of the Pekin Carnegie Library’s cornerstone and time capsule, which took place following a grand parade on Aug. 19, 1902.

It is likely that Pekin’s own historian William H. Bates (1840-1930) oversaw the selection and preparation of the contents of the time capsule, as he later did in the case of the 1914 Tazewell County Courthouse cornerstone time capsule. Bates’ obituary recalled that “He was at the fore in all public demonstrations” (i.e. celebrations or ceremonies), and it is telling that one of the items in the library’s 1902 cornerstone was the 1883-1884 library card of Bates’ own daughter Ida.

In any event, the contents of the cornerstone chiefly consisted of an assortment of documents and relics pertaining to the library’s early history, the history of the plans and preparations leading up to the construction of Pekin’s Carnegie library, lists of the local governmental officials in office at the time of the laying of the cornerstone, and mementos of the 38 local service clubs that took part in the cornerstone ceremony.

Also placed in the cornerstone time capsule were a number of mementos and artifacts that are not directly related to the library, such as postages stamps, calling cards, an Oct. 1899 Pekin Street Fair brochure, and a Smith Wagon Co. catalog. Also included were five local newspapers, three of them from August 1902 and two of them from February 1896. The reason for including three August 1902 newspapers is obvious – they are issues with dates that are close to the day of the cornerstone laying: the Pekin Daily Post-Tribune of Aug. 18, 1902, the Pekin Daily Times of Aug. 16, 1902, and the Pekin Freie Presse of Aug. 14, 1902. (Pekin formerly had a German language newspaper due to the heavy influx of German immigrants to Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s.)

The two newspapers from February 1896 were the Pekin Daily Tribune and the Pekin Daily Evening Post, both of 13 Feb. 1896. They were chosen for the time capsule because that date was close to the day that the library became a municipal body of Pekin’s city government.

With the library cornerstone laid, construction proceeded apace and the new Pekin Public Library opened its doors to a proud and grateful community on Dec. 10, 1903, with a formal dedication ceremony on Dec. 14, 1903..

When we continue the story of Pekin’s library next week, we’ll turn our attention to some of the Carnegie’s library’s special furnishings – which included a pair of beautiful clocks.

#1899-pekin-street-fair, #ben-p-schenck, #carl-herget, #conklin-hippen-reuling-co, #e-zimmer-and-co, #franklin-velde, #henry-birkenbusch, #ida-bates, #j-d-handbury, #john-oglesby, #lieut-gov-william-a-northcott, #miss-emily-weyrich, #miss-mary-e-gaither, #mrs-j-l-hinners, #mrs-w-e-schenck, #paul-o-moratz, #pekin-daily-evening-post, #pekin-daily-post-tribune, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-daily-tribune, #pekin-freie-presse, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #smith-wagon-company, #william-a-northcott, #william-conzelman, #william-h-bates

The ‘Pekin Public Library’ comes on the scene

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

As we continue the story of the early history of Pekin’s library, this week we will learn how “Pekin Library Association Inc.” became the Pekin Public Library.

As we recalled last week, it was on April 5, 1883, that the Ladies Library Association of Pekin was formally incorporated under the laws of the State of Illinois under the new name of “Pekin Library Association” (a name the association had begun to use by 1882). In this way, the library ceased its existence as a local service club.

The decision to incorporate was taken with an eye toward possibly reestablishing the library association as a free community service that would be owned and provided by Pekin’s city government. Thus, Miss Mary Gaither’s history tells:

“In June, 1883, a committee called upon the City Council with a proposition to make the Library a free city Library, but the Council committee, to whom was referred the request, reported adversely.”

With that, the idea of turning the library into a department of city government was to lay dormant for another decade.

Three years later, Gaither’s history notes that the Library Association employed Miss Agnes Alexander was employed as librarian at a salary of $8 per month. The library cards that the association issued to its patrons had to be renewed every three months.

This 1883 Pekin Library Association library card was among the items preserved in the 1902 Pekin Carnegie library cornerstone time capsule. The card belonged to one of the daughters of Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates, a local printer and journalist.

The library in those days continued to operate from the second floor of downtown Pekin buildings along Court Street. The 1888 Bates City Directory of Pekin says the Pekin Library Association then had its Library Room at 411 Court St., with its entrance between 413 and 414 Court. The library’s hours were, “Open every Tuesday evening and on Saturdays from 3 to 5 and from 7 to 9 p.m.,” the directory says.

According to Gaither’s history of the library, in the Spring of 1889, the library association relocated from the Frederick Building on Court Street to Pekin’s old city hall and firehouse at the corner of Fourth and Margaret streets.

In 1892, the library board approved a resolution that the Pekin Library Association should seek to become a municipal library operated by the Pekin city government. On Feb. 6, 1893, the association formally submitted a petition to the city government asking that the library and its collection be transferred to the city’s ownership.

The work to bring this transfer to completion took about three more years. It was through the efforts of Mrs. George Rider, library board president, and Miss Emily Weyrich, board secretary, that transfer of ownership to the city was accomplished, thereby converting library into a department of the city, called “the Pekin Public Library.” The library then had 2,449 books in its collection, 341 library card holders, and weekly circulation was 600 books.

Under city ownership, the library board’s first president was Mr. Henry M. Ehrlicher, and the secretary was Mr. Ben P. Schenck – men who would continue to play important roles in the library’s history in the coming years, as we shall see.

Most interestingly, although it wasn’t until mid-February of 1896 that the city assumed full ownership of the library, the Pekin Library Association began using the new name “Pekin Public Library” as early as 1893, the year the association submitted its petition to the city.

Thus, the Bates City Directories of Pekin for the years 1893 and 1895 both list the library as “Pekin Public Library, junction Court and Broadway” (i.e. Seventh and Court). The library was then operating out of a building at 616 Court St., which is now the parking lot of First Federal Savings of Pekin, and it would remain at that spot until 1899.

Next time we will tell of the Pekin Public Library’s early years as a city-run library.

#ben-p-schenck, #first-federal-savings-of-pekin, #henry-ehrlicher, #ida-bates, #ladies-library-association, #miss-agnes-alexander, #miss-emily-weyrich, #mrs-george-rider, #pekin-library-association, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule, #pekin-public-library, #pekin-public-library-history, #william-h-bates

Nasty winters and ‘Snowbirds’

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

Nasty winters and ‘Snowbirds’

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

Today the term “snowbird” can be a slang term for U.S. retirees from northern states who own a second home or condominium in places like Florida or Arizona, where they live during the winter months, returning north with the return of warm weather in the spring. Tazewell County’s 19th century “Snowbirds” didn’t have that luxury but may have wished they did.

As “Pekin: A Pictorial History” (2004) explains, the Snowbirds of Tazewell County were “survivors of the deep snow that fell over Tazewell County in late December 1830, leaving drifts as high as 20 feet in some places. It snowed 19 times from December 29, 1830 to February 13, 1831. It was told that after the spring melt one could walk for a quarter acre stepping on the bones of the deer that perished.

About 50 years after that unusually harsh winter, the county’s Snowbirds who were still alive got together for a group photograph at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan. That photo is reproduced in “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”

Tazewell County survivors of “the deep snow” — the unusually harsh winter of 1830-1831 — were known as “Snowbirds.” About 50 years after that winter, the county’s Snowbirds who were then still living got together for this group photograph at the Tazewell County Fair in Delavan.

Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates has more to say about that winter in his “Souvenir of early and notable events in the history of the North West territory, Illinois, and Tazewell County,” which Bates published in commemoration of the June 21, 1916 dedication of the new Tazewell County Courthouse. (Bates’ “Souvenir” is not in the library’s Local History Room collection, but it can be accessed free of charge at

On page 12 of his “Souvenir,” Bates wrote:

“The deep snow of 1830-31, was not only a record breaker, but established a record: Snow began falling December 29th, 1830, and continued for three days and nights, leaving the earth covered with a white mantle about four feet thick, with some drifts at least twenty feet deep. Many cattle and hogs, also all kinds of wild game, met death by freezing. The early settlers suffered many privations through hunger and cold. Between December 29, 1830, and February 13, 1831, snow fell nineteen times. The sun was seldom seen and a general gloom pervaded the settlements. Corn that had been left on the stalk in the field had to be gathered by digging in the snow for it. Many of the brave settlers had to travel on snow-shoes to the more favored places, to secure food and necessaries to save their families from starving. They stood on the crust of the frozen snow, and for fuel, cut off trees so high that after the snow had melted away some time in April, 1831, the stumps left above ground were tall enough for fence rails.”

That extreme winter weather apparently was part of a generally cooling trend at the time, because further on Bates commented, “There was frost during every month of 1831, consequently poor crops followed the efforts of the pioneer husbandman.

The county had another bout of crazy winter weather just five years later. On page 14, Bates shared this recollection:

“’What a sudden change!’ is an expression often heard — but later years have not produced one equal to that of January, 1836: Snow had fallen to the depth of four inches, which was followed by a drizzling rain, leaving the earth covered with ‘slush’. A cold wave came from the northwest, and so sudden was the change that cattle, hogs, chickens, etc., froze fast where they were standing and had to be cut loose. Men and women, out in the fields and gardens, and short distances from their homes, nearly froze to death before they could seek covered protection, owing to the bitter cold.”

#bates-souvenir, #deep-snow, #pekin-a-pictorial-history, #preblog-columns, #snowbirds, #william-h-bates

A look inside Root’s City Directory of 1861

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

A look inside Root’s City Directory of 1861

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

A couple months ago in this column space, we took a look through the city of Peoria’s very first city directory, “The Peoria Directory for 1844,” compiled and published by Simeon DeWitt Drown, town surveyor for Peoria.

The later city directories for Peoria were published by Omi E. Root – and it was Root who published Pekin’s first city directory in June 1861, 17 years after the publication of Drown’s Peoria directory. A facsimile copy of the 1861 directory for Pekin, reprinted by the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society, may be found in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

Besides a facsimile reprint of the 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin available for study in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, the library’s private archives also include a fragile first edition of the 1861 directory that had belonged to Pekin historian William H. Bates (who heavily annotated this copy while preparing the 1870 directory).

Called “Root’s Directory of the City of Pekin for the year 1861,” this volume is only 93 pages long. To give an idea of Pekin’s growth since 1861, the most recent Polk city directory for Pekin extends to 470 pages.

Later Pekin city directories, prepared and published by William H. Bates, would include an essay on the history of Pekin, but Root’s directory has no historical or geographical essays. The entries are grouped into nine categories, each with its own section. The section titles are: Special Business Directory; Streets and Avenues; Names; City, Town, and County; Stages, Railroads, and Packets; Educational; Companies and Associations; Religious; and Business Directory.

The largest section of the directory (from pages 12 to 64) is “Names,” which lists the households of Pekin in alphabetical order by the surname of the head of household. “Stages, Railroads, and Packets,” on page 68, lists the local stage coach, railroad and steamboat companies for the convenience of those needing transportation or shipping of merchandise or property.

Shown here is an advertisement from the 1861 Root’s Pekin City Directory for local riverboats and railroads that operated in and around Pekin.

The next section, on page 70, lists the schools of Pekin. At the time, Pekin had only six schools, each with simple if not especially memorable or interesting names: the Brick School-House (predecessor of Pekin Community High School, and remembered by its former students as “the Old Brick”), Cincinnati School, Yellow School-House, Second-Street School, Frame School-House, and German and English School.

The section entitled “Companies and Associations” is a descriptive list of Pekin’s community clubs, such as the Odd-Fellows, the Masons or the Sons of Temperance. Curiously, the city’s three fire companies – Independent No. 1, Rescue No. 1 and Defiance, all organized in 1860 – are grouped with the community associations. That was before the establishment of a single fire department as a branch of city government.

Under the header of “Religious” are listed the 11 churches that then existed in Pekin: First Baptist Church (30 members, 140 Sunday School students), the Roman Catholic Church (400 members), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (50 regular attendants), the German Evangelical Association, St. Paul’s German Evangelical Church (64 members), the German Evangelical Church (separate from St. Paul’s, having 45 members), St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (40 members), the Methodist Episcopal Church (96 members), the German Methodist Episcopal Church, the Reformed Dutch Church (average attendance of 60), and the First Universalist Church of Pekin (38 members).

The section called “City, Town, and County,” on page 65, is a list of the elected and appointed government officials of the city of Pekin, Pekin Township and Tazewell County. In those days, municipal elections took place annually on the third Monday in April, and Isaac E. Leonard had just been elected to serve a one-year term as mayor of Pekin. The city council in those days was a Board of Aldermen, with four aldermen representing the city’s four wards. Also in the list of county officers were Tazewell County Sheriff Chapman Williamson, Coroner John Wildhack, County Clerk John Gridley, Circuit Clerk and County Recorder George H. Harlow, and County Treasurer William S. Maus.

Notably, Maus (a former physician whose biography has been sketched in a previous Local History Room column) was wearing two hats in April 1861. He was Pekin Township Supervisor as well as County Treasurer, having been asked to fill a vacancy in the treasurer’s office on Dec. 8, 1860. He served as treasurer until the end of the unexpired term in November of 1861.

Among the full-page advertisements in the 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin was this one for the Haines Agricultural Works, which was owned and operated by the brothers Ansel and Jonathan Haines at a spot just east of present-day James Field. Among the implements made at their factory was Jonathan’s patented Illinois Harvester, also known as the Haines Harvester.

#a-j-haines, #ansel-haines, #coroner-john-wildhack, #county-clerk-john-gridley, #dr-william-s-maus, #drowns-directory, #first-baptist-church, #first-universalist-church-of-pekin, #george-h-harlow, #german-evangelical-association, #german-evangelical-church, #german-methodist-episcopal-church, #haines-harvester, #isaac-e-leonard, #jonathan-haines, #methodist-episcopal-church, #nebraska-packet-boat, #old-brick, #omi-e-root, #pekin-fire-companies, #preblog-columns, #reformed-dutch-church, #roots-city-directory, #sheriff-chapman-williamson, #simeon-dewitt-drown, #st-johns-evangelical-lutheran-church, #st-joseph-catholic-church, #st-pauls-episcopal-church, #st-pauls-german-evangelical-church, #william-h-bates

Nance Legins-Costley and her historian recognized by African-American Hall of Fame Museum

On Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the culmination of African-American History Month, the African-American Hall of Fame Museum held a ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Among the highlights of the evening was an award and recognition ceremony, and among those honored as inductees into the Hall of Fame were Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (formerly of Peoria) and her historian Carl Adams, who has published a book on Costley as well as several papers on Costley and her family.

The stories of Costley and her family, and Carl Adams’ work, have previously been featured here at “From the History Room” several times. Brought to Pekin as an indentured servant (a virtual slave) by Nathan Cromwell, one of Pekin’s co-founders, Costley was steadfast in her efforts to secure legal recognition that she and her children were free. With the aid of an attorney named Abraham Lincoln, that legal recognition finally was obtained for Costley and her three eldest children through the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, in which the Illinois Supreme Court handed down a verdict declaring that Costley had never been an indentured servant. In effect, Costley and her three eldest children were the first slaves freed by Lincoln.

Nance Legins-Costley was well-known to Pekin’s pioneer families, and was so highly esteemed that Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates devoted a long paragraph just to her in his original 1870 sketch of Pekin’s history. The paragraph, headed, “A Relic of a Past Age,” says:

“With the arrival of Maj. Cromwell, the head of the company that afterwards purchased the land upon which Pekin is built, came a slave. That slave still lives in Pekin and is now known, as she has been known for nearly half a century, by the citizens of Pekin, as ‘Black Nancy.’ She came here a chattle (sic), with ‘no rights that a white man was bound to respect.’ For more than forty years she has been known here as a ‘negro’ upon whom there was no discount, and her presence and services have been indispensible (sic) on many a select occasion. But she has outlived the era of barbarism, and now, in her still vigorous old age, she sees her race disenthralled; the chains that bound them forever broken, their equality before the law everywhere recognized and her own children enjoying the elective franchise. A chapter in the history of a slave and in the progress of a nation.”

Plaque presented in memory of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (later of Peoria) during the African American Hall of Fame Museum Ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Costley had been an “indentured servant” (de facto slave) in Illinois. The African American Hall of Fame Museum chose to honor her memory for her repeated efforts to secure legal recognition of her freedom which culminated in the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, which Abraham Lincoln successful argued before the Illinois Supreme Court. The verdict in the case established that Costley and her three eldest children had never been indentured servants and were therefore free.

Plaque presented Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, to local historian Carl Adams during the African American Hall of Fame Museum Ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. The plaque recognizes Adams’ contribution to civil rights, which include his book and articles on the family of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (later of Peoria), who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln.

#abraham-lincoln, #african-american-hall-of-fame-museum, #bailey-v-cromwell, #black-nance, #carl-adams, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #william-h-bates

News of days gone by: the 1st Pekin Daily Times

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is!”

With these words, the Pekin Daily Times made its debut 139 years ago this month. It began as a four-page broadsheet, with five columns to a page, published by Joseph B. Irwin and W. T. Dowdall, and delivered by four newsboys: Ad Merrill, Charley Wagenseller, Benny Irwin, and Johnny Michael. Joseph Irwin and Dowdall had purchased the Pekin Weekly Register in 1873 and rechristened it the Pekin Weekly Times. On Jan. 3, 1881, Irwin and Dowdall made the risky decision of starting a daily edition of their newspaper.

It was only the second time anyone had ever published a daily paper in Pekin (there was an abortive attempt to publish a daily paper in 1876, when William H. Bates put out a daily called The Pekin Daily Bulletin for nine months, from Jan. 3 to Oct. 5, 1876), and even after the Pekin Daily Times was born, for a while Irwin and Dowdall continued to publish a weekly edition alongside the Daily Times. Over the decades the Daily Times continued to thrive in a local market that included several other weeklies, but one by one its rivals shuttered their offices or were purchased by the Pekin Daily Times, until by the mid-20th century the Daily Times was Pekin’s only newspaper.

Shown here is the top half of the front page of the Pekin Public Library’s copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times, Pekin’s second — and only successful — daily newspaper.

The Times has changed hands several times since Irwin and Dowdall brought it into being, including an ugly two-year period in the early 1920s when it was owned by three leading members of the Ku Klux Klan. The paper enjoyed its greatest success and prosperity under F. F. McNaughton’s leadership, who came to the Times in 1927 and passed away in 1981, when the McNaughton family sold the paper to Howard Publications of California. In 2000 the newspaper was sold to Liberty Group, which later renamed itself GateHouse Media Inc. In the last months of 2019, Gannett Co., owner of the USA Today, and GateHouse merged, so the Daily Times is now a Gannett paper.

In an editorial column apparently written by Irwin on page 3, the publishers announced the new daily paper and issued what amounts to a mission statement for their journalistic endeavor. Here are excerpts from that column:

“For a long time the citizens of Pekin have wished that they might have a daily paper printed in the place – they have wanted a home daily. This statement will not be disputed any where.

“The issuances of this sheet materializes that well-defined wish into a living reality – a palpable fact. The PEKIN DAILY TIMES is born. How long it will live depends entirely upon the good people of Pekin and Tazewell county. If it lives it will be because the people of Pekin and Tazewell sustain it. If it dies, it will be because they do not sustain it. . . .

“That a good daily paper will be of great value to Pekin, no man in his senses will deny. For years Pekin has been over-shadowed, ridiculed, sneered at and derided by the numerous daily papers of the burg on the river just above us. It has been the butt and laughing-stock, a standing subject for the cheap jibes and jokes of these papers forever. We had to bear it because we had nowhere else to go for our daily news. Pekin should have self-respect enough to change this condition of affairs at the first opportunity. That opportunity now presents itself. . . .

“We have many evidences going to show that Pekin has just entered an era of renewed prosperity. All the signs are most encouraging for our little city. It now only needs a daily to vitalize its yet partly dormant energies, to encourage its embryotic enterprises, and to thoroughly advertise its growing prosperity and its very many splendid advantages.

“The DAILY TIMES itself, from day to day, must tell the story of what it is to be. Would you know what this is, you must read it. This only do we promise: That so long as it lives it shall be in every way a credit to Pekin. Its quality shall be as good as a liberal outlay of money can make it.

“Citizens of Pekin, here your daily is! If you like it and want it to live, patronize it. If you don’t like it and don’t want it to live, don’t patronize it.”

The first edition of the Pekin Daily Times filled its front page with news that had come over the telegraph from Washington, D.C., Columbus, Ohio, Grand Haven, Mich., St. Paul, Minn., and New York City, as well as international news from Paris, France, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. In keeping with the usual practice of 19th century newspapers, two whole columns of the front page were given over to local advertising. An opinion column on page 2 warned of the political and cultural influence of the Mormon religion, and decried the Mormon practice of polygamy (which the Mormons did not formally renounce until 1890).

The last page of the paper was taken up by local news – but not what we today would expect of local news coverage. The local news in the first Pekin Daily Times was a long string of items of a prosaic or even mundane nature, chiefly being announcements of family visits, out-of-town trips of Pekin residents, community events, or how Pekinites had enjoyed their sleighing and bobsledding during the New Year’s holiday. As an example: “Ben Towner, of Teller, Col., is in the city on a visit to old friends. He was the second city marshal of Pekin, after it became a city, and is well known by all the old residenters.

Perhaps the most remarkable local news item in the Daily Times’ first edition was the announcement that Eugene Hyers had been granted a divorce from his wife Anna in Peoria Circuit Court, accompanied by the libelous comment that Mr. Hyers “was drawn into a very unfortunate marriage with a woman who had neither honor or virtue and we congratulate the young man upon his release.

Definitely not the kind of “news” that would ever make it into print today.

A copy of the first edition of the Pekin Daily Times is on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#ad-merrill, #anna-hyers, #ben-towner, #benny-irwin, #charley-wagenseller, #eugene-hyers, #f-f-mcnaughton, #johnny-michael, #joseph-b-irwin, #kkk, #mormons, #pekin-daily-bulletin, #pekin-daily-times, #pekin-weekly-times, #polygamy, #the-bulletin, #w-t-dowdall, #william-h-bates