Jacob Tharp’s memoir of Pekin’s founding

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The founding of Pekin was due to the influx of settlers of central Illinois during the 1820s, in the decade following Illinois statehood. This area’s newcomers in that wave of settlement were first attracted to Fort Clark (Peoria), but before long pioneers were establishing homesteads up and down the Illinois River valley in Peoria’ vicinity.

Pekin, as it well known, began with Jonathan Tharp’s homestead of 1824 on a ridge above the Illinois River, at what is now the foot of Broadway near downtown Pekin. Within a year, Tharp had been joined by several other settlers, including his own father Jacob Tharp (1773-1871) and brother Northcott Tharp, and his friend Jesse Eggman, all of whom arrived in 1825 and built cabins near Jonathan’s.

Most of what we know of Pekin’s “pre-history” during the 1820s comes from three sources: the 1860 diary of Jacob Tharp, William H. Bates’ 1870 account of Pekin’s history that he first published in the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory, and Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.”

The 1860 diary of Pekin pioneer Jacob Tharp (1773-1871), shown here, is one of the most important primary sources for the history of Pekin’s founding.

Jacob Tharp’s diary contains the earliest surviving reference to Pekin as “the Celestial City,” referring to the old pioneer tradition that Pekin had been named after Peking (Beijing), China. A transcript of Tharp’s diary was itself published on pages 565-562 of Chapman’s history, and Tharp’s account was substantially reproduced in the 1949 Pekin Centenary and the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volumes. Following are excerpts from Tharp’s diary, drawn from Chapman’s county history:

“. . . After a streak of bad luck, in 1825, [I] left Ohio, where I then resided, and traveled through Indiana with one ox-team, a span of horses, and a family of twelve persons, reaching the site of Pekin just before Christmas.

“Jonathan Tharp, my son, built the first house ever erected in the city of Pekin, in 1824, on the spot now occupied by Joshua Wagenseller’s residence. Jonathan’s farm embraced the land now covered by our heaviest business houses.

“At the time of my arrival, Jonathan was the only occupant. Their neighbors were Major Nathan Cromwell, living on the Hawley farm; Gideon Hawley, living on the Mackinaw side of Sand Prairie; Seth Wilson, living on John Young’s farm; John and Geo. Clines, between that place and Tremont; the Woodrows and John Summers, living in the Woodrow settlement; the Dillon family, after whom that township was named; the Hodgsons, friends and relatives of the Dillons; old Benj. Briggs, afterwards Sheriff; James Scott, who with Wilson, acted as constable in those days; and Wm. Eads, who was the first miller in this section of the State. He ran a ‘horse-mill,’ and ground only corn. On New Year’s day, 1827, I went to Fort Clark, now Peoria, where I found a few cabins occupied by John Hamlin, James Dixon, and others. Hamlin had a little store, and I bought groceries, coffee selling at 37 ½ cents per pound. On my way home I contracted for mast-fed pork at $2.50 per hundred. I soon built my cabin, placing it about half way between Joshua Wagenseller’s house and the present landing at the river.

“In the summer of 1827, the first consignment of goods was sent to Pekin, by one [Mordecai] Mobley, the land auctioneer. I received them, and so won the honor of being the first commission merchant. Most of the goods, however, went on to Mackinaw, which was the first shire-town. Pekin at this early day, was reported to be the best commercial point on the Illinois river. All goods came up from St. Louis, which was the great basis of supplies for the settlers.

“The Government surveys were made previous to 1828. This year we were cheered by a close neighbor, a Mr. Hinkle, who came to put up a trading house for Absalom Dillon. The goods came before the house was finished, and so my smoke-house was used for the first store. This season the Methodists established a mission, and their first service was held in Hawley’s house, on Sand Prairie. In the fall of 1828, Absalom and Joseph Dillon moved to Pekin, and ‘camped out’ for a while. Major Cromwell came in 1829, and bought out Dillon’s stock in trade, when those gentleman returned to the country. In the same year, Hawley and William Haines built cabins in our town. The inhabitants then consisted of Cromwell, Hawley, Haines, Dr. John Warner, the two Hiatts, Jonathan Tharp and myself. Mr. Clark made a raft of hewed puncheons, and started the ferry, placing a stake just below the present ferry landing to mark his claim.

“When the land sales were held at Springfield, there were several claimants for the Pekin town-site. On the first day of the sale the bidding ran high, and the land was knocked down to William Haines at $20.00 dollars an acre; but he did not comply with the regulations of the sale, and on the second day the same tract was sold for one hundred dollars per acre. The buyer again failed to comply, and the tract was once more offered on the third day. A man in Springfield, named Harrington, had in the meantime a deadly quarrel with Major [Isaac] Perkins, one of the principal claimants, growing out of some delicate question. Those were chivalrous days, and he determined on revenge. So he placed himself near the auctioneer, armed to the eyebrows, and when the coveted tract was put up, he bid one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre, and swore he would blow out any man’s brains who offered a higher bid. Major Perkins was stalking around the room, armed for battle and hunting blood. There was immense excitement, and death was felt in the atmosphere, but the tract was knocked down to Harrington. He complied with the regulations and walked out feeling sublime, but the Major and his friends captured the usurper, conveyed him to a room and persuaded him to make out deeds for the prize. From these papers the original title is derived.”

“In the spring of 1830, the proprietors surveyed and laid out the town, Perkins, Hawley, Haines and Cromwell being the active agents. Cromwell did the surveying. About this time Perkins sold out to Thomas Snell, from Cincinnati, Ohio. The gentlemen were much exercised about the way in which to lay off the celestial city. The elder Hiatt had a claim upon the Lake shore, but when the land sales occurred he forgot to bid, and Carpenter bought his tract, also buying eighty acres on the east side of said tract. The proprietors of the future city included these two tracts in the town-site. Mr. Hiatt was appeased with a pony purse of seventy-five or eighty dollars.

“After some property sales, the foreign owners were bought out and the entire city owned, body and soul, by five persons, namely: William Haines, Thomas Snell, Nathan Cromwell, William Brown, and David Bailey. The surveys were finally completed, and it was found that the lots had cost just twenty-eight cents apiece. The advertisement for the gale of lots was immediately made, to take place in April, 1830. The deed of partition was drawn up before the sale, and is the one now on record.”

Many additional details on Pekin’s founding were recorded in four pages of the original handwritten minutes of the stockholder meetings of the company that founded Pekin. From these minutes we learn that on Dec. 28, 1829, Cromwell was appointed to survey and stake out the proposed town, and Cromwell reported on Jan. 18, 1830, that “the survey of Said Town, is Compleeted (sic) and the Stakeing (sic) nearly done.”

On Jan. 19, 1830, according to the minutes, the company’s commissioners met again to decide on the name of the new town and to arrange the sale of lots to be announced in several newspapers throughout the Midwest. Isaac Perkins made the motion to vote on the town’s name, and three names were proposed: Pekin, Port Folio, and Portugal. According to old pioneer tradition, Nathan Cromwell’s wife Ann Eliza had proposed the name of “Pekin,” and that name garnered the most votes – and thus Pekin was born.

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Jonathan Haines and the Illinois Harvester

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin officially has been organized as a city since 1849. That year was important in Pekin’s history for other reasons, as the 1949 “Pekin Centenary,” page 9, explains:

“The year 1849, just 100 years ago, was the turning point in Pekin’s development. The Smith Wagon company, an enterprise which was then to become one of the city’s key enterprises and builders came into being at 301 Margaret street that year, and Jonathan Haines invented an improved mechanical reaper and built a reaper factory at Broadway and Ninth streets, the forerunner of the great steel and farm implement factories of this area.”

We have already told the story of the Smith Wagon company, but what can we learn about Jonathan Haines and his reaper factory?

Quite a lot, as it happens. But to tell the tale properly, first we must turn to Charles Bent’s 1877 “History of Whiteside county, Illinois,” in which a biographical sketch of Jonathan Haines’ life was published on page 302. Haines is mentioned many times in Bent’s history, but for our purposes we need only notice his biography, which reads as follows:

JONATHAN HAINES was a native of Butler county, Ohio, and came to Illinois in 1826, first settling in Tazewell county. In 1835 he came to Whiteside county on his way to Galena, and being so well pleased with the location of what is now known as Jacobstown, and the water privileges there, made a claim and erected a cabin. His purpose in going to Galena was to use his steam ice boat, which he had recently patented, in navigating the Upper Mississippi during the winter, feeling sanguine of carrying the United States mail, and keeping up trade with St. Paul, and the upper forts. He made a few trips to Dubuque. In the winter of 1835, Felix French lived in the cabin, and took care of the mill claim, Mr. J. T. Atkinson boarding with him during the time while he was making rails and cutting logs on his claim near by. Mr. Haines returned in 1836, and built a saw mill on his claim, on the opposite side of the creek from the present mill. This mill, however, was washed away by a freshet after one log had been sawed, and in 1837 he erected another one on the same site, to which he afterwards added a pair of burrs for grinding grain. In 1847 he invented the ‘Illinois Harvester,’ and put up machine shops at Unionville, where he manufactured them until his removal to Tazewell county, in 1849. These Harvesters have since been somewhat improved, and are now extensively used in all the Western States. Union Grove Precinct was named by Mr. Haines, J. T. Atkinson, and Henry Boyer, in the spring of 1836. Mr. Haines was quite a prominent man in Whiteside county at an early day, and held several positions of public trust. He was a useful citizen, a kind and generous neighbor, and endeared himself to all who became acquainted with his many excellent traits of character. He died in Pekin, Tazewell county, February 22, 1868, of apoplexy.”

As one of the earliest pioneers of Tazewell County in 1826, it’s no surprise that Jonathan Haines is also mentioned in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” Somewhat disappointingly, though, he is mentioned in that volume only once, on page 261, where he is said to have seen action but escaped with his scalp still in his possession at the military debacle of Stillman’s Run at the start of the Black Hawk War in 1832. An online memorial at Find-A-Grave shows a photograph of his grave and grave markers in Lakeside Cemetery, Pekin, and the inscription on his weather-worn gravestone says he had died “in the 60th year of age” and identifies him as “PVT CO 6 MTD REG (IVC) BLACK HAWK WAR.” An early photographic portrait of Jonathan Haines has also been uploaded to his Find-A-Grave memorial by Sue Durst. The memorial also says Jonathan was born Oct. 3, 1808, in Ohio, one of the many sons and daughters of Joseph and Sarah (Long) Haines. Jonathan’s oldest brother was none other than William Haines (1801-1834), one of the four co-founders of Pekin. Jonathan’s wife was named Sarah Hinsey (1814-1886), and they had at least two children, a daughter Rose Frances (1836-1917) and a son Murray J. (1844-1884)

Jonathan Haines (1808-1868)
IMAGE FROM SUE DURST VIA FIND-A-GRAVE

Despite the absence of any biographical information in Chapman’s 1879 history that might have told of what Haines did while living and working in Tazewell County from 1849 to his death in 1868, details from the story of Haines’ life and labor in Pekin can be gleaned from city directories, maps, and atlases in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room. An account of Haines’ business dealings in both Whiteside and Tazewell counties may also be found in Sam Moore’s article, “Acme Hay Harvester Company: Giant Among Farm Equipment Manufacturers Nearly Lost to Farm History,” published May 2010 in the online magazine “Farm Collector.”

It was in 1847 that Jonathan obtained a federal patent for his hay harvesting machine, which he called the Illinois Harvester. As mentioned above, at first Jonathan manufactured his invention in Whiteside County, but in 1849 he returned to Pekin and built a factory there.

The 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin, pages 30 and 79, shows that by that year Jonathan was in a partnership with his brother Ansel. The directory identifies their firm as “HAINES A. & J., manufacturers of Haines’s Illinois Harvester, agricultural implements, steam engines, and mill work, se. cor. Fleet and Campbell.” The names of Fleet and Campbell streets are no more, but the streets are still there – they are Broadway and Ninth. The Haines’ factory was located at a spot just across the street from James Field today, catty corner to the former West Campus. It’s a subdivision known as (naturally) the Haines Addition, where Benson’s Maytag and various residences are today. Jonathan and Ansel had built homes in Colts Addition, just south of St. Joseph Catholic Church and School. The land of Jonathan and Ansel is today bisected by Haines Avenue. (The 1861 city director shows that another Haines brother, Pekin attorney James Haines, also lived in Colts Addition at this time, and James’ house, which may have belonged to Jonathan before his death in 1868, is still there today.)

An 1864 wall map of Tazewell County published by “Surveyor & Map Publisher” of Dundee, Ill., shows “HAINS ADD” (Haines Addition) just east of Colts Addition, and in Haines Addition are shown five buildings identified as “Machin Works” (machine works), at the southeast corner of Fleet and Campbell.

This detail from an 1864 wall plat map of Pekin shows Jonathan Haines’ factory (“Machin Works”) in Haines Addition, where Haines’ patented invention, the Illinois Harvester, was manufactured. The area is across the street from James Field and catty-corner to the former location of West Campus.

The 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” shows “Haine’s Manufactory” (sic) in “HAINE’S ADDn” (sic) consisting of five buildings. The property of Jonathan and Ansel in Colts Addition is also marked on the map as “J. HAINES” and “A. HAINES,” although Jonathan had died four years earlier (the “J. Haines” property by then was certainly the home of their brother James Haines). The map indicates that Jonathan Haines’ factory was still operating even after his death. Sam Moore’s “Farm Collector” article explains what became of the Haines factory, telling of a man named:

“. . . Andrew J. Hodges, who also invented a header harvester during the early 1870s, and started the Hodges Header Co. in Pekin to build the thing. At that point, events are murky, but based on one account it appears that the Haines and the Hodges firms were combined, retaining the Hodges Header Co. name.”

Much of that murkiness can be dispelled with the help of the Pekin city directories from that time. The Haines and Hodges firms certainly were combined, probably after Jonathan’s death. In the 1870, 1876, and 1887 Pekin city directories, we find the “A. J. Hodges & Co. Haines Harvester” factory located at the same spot as the old Haines Harvester factory, at the corner of Fleet and Campbell. However, the Hodges firm does not appear in any later Pekin city directories. It was in 1890, according to Moore’ article, that Acme Hay Harvester Co. bought the Hodges firm, and thus we find in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas plat that the old Haines factory had become the “Acme Harvester Works” at the site of the old Haines factory. (Moore does not say whether or not Wile E. Coyote ever bought one of Acme’s harvesters.)

Acme does not appear in the 1893 Pekin City Directory nor in any later Pekin directory. From Moore, we learn that Acme moved to Peoria and built a large factory complex there, so it must have been about 1892 that Acme closed the Pekin factory and moved all operations to Peoria. During its heyday, Acme was one of the chief competitors of International Harvester, but finally lost its fight with IH and went out of business in 1917. Thus ended a tale that began with Jonathan Haines’ 1847 patent for the Illinois Harvester.

#a-j-haines, #a-j-hodges-co, #acme-hay-harvester-co, #ansel-haines, #bensons-maytag, #black-hawk-war, #colts-addition, #haines-addition, #haines-harvester, #hodges-header-co, #illinois-harvester, #james-haines, #jonathan-haines, #pekin-history, #william-haines

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

Here’s a chance to read an updated version of one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in July 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Who was Benjamin S. Prettyman?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the shelves of the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room is the 1864 edition of the “City Charter and Revised Ordinances of the City of Pekin, Ill.,” a relatively slim volume that comes to only 154 pages counting the index.

Perhaps most people would say the 1864 city charter generally makes for some dry reading, since it is only a collection of laws and regulations, with no narrative or characters or plot. In all its pages, this book mentions but one person by name, on page 29, at the start of the section on the charter’s amendments.

The first amendment to the charter was approved by the Illinois General Assembly on Feb. 10, 1849, a few months before the town of Pekin would be incorporated as a city. The amendment ratified the town board’s decision granting and confirming title to “the ferry across the Illinois river within the corporate limits of said town of Pekin” to “Benjamin S. Prettyman, his heirs and assigns.”

Who was this Benjamin S. Prettyman who had the distinction of being the only individual named in the 1864 Pekin City Charter? The answer is readily available in another book in the Local History Room collection, the 1893 “Portrait and Biographical Record of Tazewell and Mason Counties,” pp.457-461. Prettyman’s biography which appears in that volume is longer than most, indicating his prominence in the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County. An even lengthier biography of B.S. Prettyman was published in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County, Illinois,” pp.30-31, and his portrait adorns the title page of the atlas.

This portrait of Benjamin S. Prettyman was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Benjamin Stockley Prettyman was born Nov. 21, 1819, in Smyrna, Delaware, the only son and second child of Lewis and Harriet (Mason) Prettyman. Lewis brought his wife and five children to Tazewell County in 1831, “journeying up the Delaware to Philadelphia, thence to Pittsburgh, and from there down the Ohio and up the Mississippi. The boat upon which they journeyed from St. Louis to Pekin was the second that made the passage up the Illinois.”

Lewis Prettyman settled on land by the Mackinaw River that had never been broken by a plow. He built a fort at the river bank – this was the year before the Black Hawk War – and later built a log cabin at the forest’s edge “and broke the prairie soil with the first wooden mold-board plow introduced into the neighborhood.”

His son Benjamin was intellectually gifted, but had the common experiences of growing up in a pioneer family on the American frontier, which including being mostly self-educated since there was little access to formal schooling. Benjamin’s father served twice as County Surveyor, which led Benjamin to serve four years as Deputy Surveyor. It was during those years that Tazewell County, which formerly extended from the Illinois River to Sangamon County and included the city of Chicago, was reduced to its present boundaries. As deputy surveyor, Prettyman was one of the commissioners who divided the smaller county into townships around 1841.

Prettyman’s duties led him to begin legal studies in 1844 under Judge Robbins of Springfield. “He went to the office of Logan & Lincoln, but it was crowded with law students, and Logan advised him to get some legal books, adding that he would loan him such volumes as he desired. In March, 1845, he was admitted to the Bar of Illinois, at Springfield, and afterward settled in Pekin, which then had a population of four hundred.”

Prettyman’s connection to Pekin dates to as early as April 1840 – it was in Pekin at that time that he married Sarah A. Haines, daughter of William Haines, one of Pekin’s founders. He and Sarah had a large family, and one of their sons-in-law, Daniel Sapp, later became mayor of Pekin. Benjamin’s father-in-law “owned a mercantile establishment, a distillery, as well as the ferry and other important interests here.” That is how Prettyman came to be mentioned in connection with the Pekin ferry in the 1864 city charter.

Besides the family interest in the ferry, Prettyman also played a prominent role in bringing the railroad to Pekin and helping to extend rail lines throughout central Illinois. In addition, Prettyman was elected Mayor of Pekin in 1862. His 1893 biography says, “During the war he was twice elected mayor of Pekin, and served in the same capacity several times afterward.” Other published lists of Pekin’s mayors show only his 1862 term in office – during the other times he apparently served temporarily as acting mayor.

Prettyman’s 1893 biography notes that he then had “the distinction of being the oldest attorney in Tazewell County.” He died April 8, 1895, and is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin. His home in the 1100 block of North 11th Street still stands today.

Benjamin S. Prettyman’s home on 11th St. as it appeared in 1872 is shown in this lithograph from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Last month a descendant of Prettyman’s daughter Nellie donated to the Pekin Public Library Prettyman’s own copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a late-nineteenth-century compilation of photos of Pekin homes and locales. Prettyman signed his name in the book twice. Some of the images from “Pekin and Environs” appear in Rob Clifton’s 2004 “Pekin History: Then and Now.”

Shown here is Benjamin S. Prettyman’s signature from his copy of “Pekin and Environs,” a compilation of photographs published circa 1890.

#benjamin-prettyman, #pekin-history, #william-haines

A succession of county courthouses

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Tazewell County Courthouse in downtown Pekin celebrated its 100th birthday just last month. Serving the county for as long as it has, the courthouse is neither the first such structure in Tazewell County history nor the first courthouse to be built at that location.
As told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” the first Tazewell County Courthouse was located in Mackinaw, which was originally the county seat, being located in the county’s center. The first courthouse, a log house 24 feet long and 18 feet wide, was built at a cost of $125 in the summer of 1827 on lot 1 of block 11. Improvements were made to the simple structure in 1830, but in the summer of 1831 the court relocated to the old Doolittle School at the corner of Elizabeth and Second streets in Pekin.

Pekin historian William H. Bates drew this representation of the first Tazewell County Courthouse, located in Mackinaw, for the "Historical Souvenir" that Bates published for the dedication of the new courthouse in 1916.

Pekin historian William H. Bates drew this representation of the first Tazewell County Courthouse, located in Mackinaw, for the “Historical Souvenir” that Bates published for the dedication of the new courthouse in 1916.

The court was relocated to Pekin because in Dec. 1830 the Illinois General Assembly had created McLean County out of the eastern portion of Tazewell County, which originally was much larger than it is today. With the redrawing of the border, Mackinaw was now toward the eastern edge of the county, and many county officials thought the new town of Pekin would make a better county seat than Mackinaw.
For the next few years, Pekin would function as the de facto county seat even though it had not been established as such by law. But in 1835 the state legislature appointed a commission to permanently fix Tazewell County’s seat, and the commission opted for Tremont rather than Pekin, because Tremont was close to the center of the county. The court moved to Tremont on June 6, 1836, and a temporary courthouse was promptly erected there at the cost of $1,150. Then in 1837 construction began on a permanent brick courthouse in Tremont for $14,450. That structure was completed in 1839 – the same year that the residents of Pekin formally began efforts to have the county seat transferred back to their town.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 "Historical Souvenir" that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 “Historical Souvenir” that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse.

The contentious rivalry between Pekin and Tremont continued throughout the 1840s, and Chapman relates that, in their efforts to retain the county seat and to slow or halt Pekin’s growing prosperity, Tremont is said to have lobbied the General Assembly several times to have portions of Tazewell County sliced off and assigned to neighboring counties. After the election of May 1843, Chapman writes, “a stop [was] made to this dividing up and cutting off of Tazewell’s territory. Had they continued it much longer there would have been nothing left of the county but Pekin and Tremont. Then, we doubt not, a division would have been made and both towns have at least gained a county-seat.”
Further on, Chapman comments, “During these twenty years of local war, of course bitterness of feeling was intense, and great injury was done to all parts of the county. Many of the older citizens attribute very largely the prosperity and commercial advantages by Peoria over Pekin to the bitter feuds engendered during this long and eventful strife.”
The conflict ended in 1849, when the citizens of Tazewell County voted to move the county seat to Pekin, where it has remained ever since. A new courthouse was then built in Pekin in 1850, at the site of the present courthouse. “The question [of the county seat’s location] having been finally and definitely decided the courthouse was immediately erected by the citizens of Pekin, in fulfillment of their promise. The last meeting of the Board of Supervisors . . . that was held at Tremont was Aug. 26, 1850, when it moved in a body to their new and more commodious quarters, and on the same day dedicated the edifice by holding therein their first meeting in Pekin,” Chapman writes.
The old Tremont courthouse remained in use as a high school for several years, later being used as a community center and dance hall, until at last the ground level was used as tenements before the dilapidated structure was razed around 1895. The old county histories note that Abraham Lincoln practiced law in both the Tremont courthouse and the 1850 courthouse in Pekin.
“Pekin: A Pictorial History” notes that for the construction of the Pekin courthouse, “Gideon Rupert (his residence is the current homesite of the Noel-Henderson Funeral Home) contributed $600 and with others’ generosity, raised the needed funds for the building. The cost was $8,000. Local products of sandstone, quarried five miles northeast of Pekin, and bricks, fired at the Jansen and Zoeller Brickyard on the East Bluff, were used.” The building also had white marble columns.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in November 1903 is shown in this detail from a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. In addition to the courthouse, the block also encompassed a band stand, the county jail and Sheriff's dwelling, and the county offices building. The courthouse, band stand, and offices building were demolished in 1914 to make way for a larger, even more grand courthouse.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in November 1903 is shown in this detail from a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. In addition to the courthouse, the block also encompassed a band stand, the county jail and Sheriff’s dwelling, and the county offices building. The courthouse, band stand, and offices building were demolished in 1914 to make way for a larger, even more grand courthouse.

Also helping to defray construction costs were prominent local landowners David and Elijah Mark, who each gave $500. The heirs of the Mark estate would eventually donate the land that would become James Field in Pekin.
The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial records the tradition that, “Older Pekinites claim that the columns of the old County Court House were painted black up to the height of the first floor doors because the white marble was marred by the hand and fingerprints of the loungers who leaned against them.”
The 1850 courthouse remained in use until 1914, when it was razed to make way for a new and larger edifice – the current structure, which was built over the next two years at a cost of $212,964.
“Wide marble steps and Italian-imported white marble banisters graced the ‘architecturally noteworthy’ interior of the courthouse dedicated on June 21, 1916,” according to “Pekin: A Pictorial History.”
“Thousands attended the dedication services with Illinois congressman and candidate for governor, W.E. Williams, as the featured speaker. According to the Pekin Daily Times, Congressman Williams, ‘spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes . . . .’”

This vintage photograph shows the laying of the new Tazewell County Courthouse's cornerstone in 1914. Standing next to scaffolding in the foreground is William H. Bates displaying the time capsule to the crowd before it was sealed in the cornerstone.

his vintage photograph shows the laying of the new Tazewell County Courthouse’s cornerstone in 1914. Standing next to scaffolding in the foreground is William H. Bates displaying the time capsule to the crowd before it was sealed in the cornerstone.

Shown is a key to the old 1850 Tazewell County Courthouse that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Library Cornerstone time capsule. Another key to the old courthouse was included in the 1914 courthouse cornerstone time capsule.

Shown is a key to the old 1850 Tazewell County Courthouse that was preserved in the 1902 Pekin Library Cornerstone time capsule. Another key to the old courthouse was included in the 1914 courthouse cornerstone time capsule.

Though the old 1850 courthouse is long gone, some of the marble was claimed by Pekin’s pioneer photographer Henry Hobart Cole for use in the home he built in Tuscarora Heights in Peoria County.
Other surviving mementos of the 1850 structure are two courthouse keys. One was placed in a cornerstone time capsule at the construction the old Pekin Public Library in 1902. That time capsule was opened when the old library was razed in 1972, and that courthouse key and the other contents of the cornerstone, which were found to be in a very good state of preservation, are kept in the library’s historical archives. Another courthouse key was found in the recently opened 1916 courthouse time capsule.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in September 1925 is shown in this detail of a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. The courthouse's cornerstone was laid in 1914.

The layout of the Tazewell County Courthouse Block in September 1925 is shown in this detail of a Sanborn fire insurance map of downtown Pekin. The courthouse’s cornerstone was laid in 1914.

#courthouse-key, #mackinaw-courthouse, #pekin-history, #pekin-library-cornerstone-time-capsule, #sanborn-maps, #tazewell-county-courthouse-time-capsule, #tazewell-county-history, #tremont-courthouse, #william-haines

Dead and aborted towns of Tazewell County

Judging from the number of “likes” and “shares” on Facebook and Twitter, a great deal of interest was generated by the column last month on Pekin’s mysterious and ephemeral suburb of “Hong Kong,” marked on an 1857 wall map of Tazewell County but appearing on no other map nor in any other known historical document.

Hong Kong, of course, is far from the only toponym that has vanished from the map. In April 1979, the late local historian Fred W. Soady Jr. prepared a “Preliminary Master List of Settlements in Tazewell County, Illinois” for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. Soady’s list includes many place names that have long since disappeared, some of the settlements existing for a short time before dying out, others flourishing for a good while before succumbing to trends and pressures of migration and economics. The town of Circleville south of Pekin is a better known example of a town that was founded early in Tazewell County, flourished for many years (being on an old stage coach route), but later faded and died.

In other cases, the places on Soady’s list are still inhabited today but were renamed at some point. As this column has discussed in the past, the old neighboring settlements of Fond du Lac (Fondulac) and Blue Town merged to become Hilton, which later was renamed East Peoria. Other nearby settlements we’ve discussed include Wesley City, which later adopted the name of Creve Coeur, while North Pekin formerly was called Radio City.

As for the village of Mackinaw, which was Tazewell County’s first county seat, its original name was “Mackinawtown.” Soady’s list includes an entry for “MACKINAW TOWN” (two words), with a note saying, “oldest name (1827-28) for MACKINAW.” However, an old copy of a plat in the TCGHS archives, probably drawn during the 1850s from an original plat legally filed and recorded in the 1830s, shows the name as “Mackinawtown” (one word).

The copy of the Mackinawtown plat, along with another copy of a plat for the “Town of Mackinaw” (made from an original plat filed May 26, 1830, with Tazewell County Recorder of Deeds Isaac Perkins) are among the old land records and plats in the TCGHS archival collection. One set of historical hand-drawn copies of Tazewell plats in the TCGHS collection was preserved by being interleaved long ago among the map plates of an old 1855 “Mitchell Universal Atlas” (published by Charles DeSilver) that was donated to the TCGHS in 1990. These plats, most of them drawn in the 1850s, are of towns and settlements with familiar names – such as Tremont, Delavan, Dillon, Groveland, Armington, Morton, Spring Lake, Hopedale, Washington – or else show additions to area towns, such as the Colts, Haines, and Cincinnati Additions to Pekin, or the Semples and Dorseys Additions to Washington, or Bacons Addition to Groveland.

Several of these plats, however, are of settlements that no longer appear on our maps, or may never have appeared on any map or in any atlas or plat book. We have already mentioned Circleville, which no longer exists, and Wesley City, now called Creve Coeur. The Wesley City plat inserted in the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” is chiefly remarkable for showing a grid of streets and lots that is obviously and purely a fantasy of the plat owners, and is frankly impossible geographically, for the plat fails to account for Creve Coeur’s hills, gullies, and hollers.

A number of these plats are of settlements that probably never got off the ground – “aborted towns” that never made it past the planning stage of the land speculators – or perhaps only existed for a short time, or later were merged into neighboring settlements. Among these “dead” and “aborted” towns of Tazewell County shown in this collection of plats are Liberty (surveyed July 22, 1835, plat filed June 17, 1836), Spring Garden (plat recorded by its proprietor S. A. Bumstead), Hancock (surveyed October 1836), Madison, Hamilton (surveyed August-September 1836), Cleveland (plat filed Feb. 15, 1836), Montpelier (surveyed Sept. 8-9, 1836), and Danforth (located along the old T & P railroad, surveyed by William S. Morgan for proprietors E. W. Cantwell and W. F. Evans).

The town of Cleveland, on Peoria Lake, existed – or would have existed – about where East Peoria’s Walmart is located today. Soady’s preliminary list of Tazewell County toponyms suggests that Liberty may have been another name for Dillon, which, however, has its own plat in this collection separate from the Liberty plat. Soady’s list also suggests that Danforth may have been renamed Tullamore. But Spring Garden, Hancock, Madison, Cleveland, and Montpelier do not appear on Soady’s list.

One of the “aborted” towns in this collection of plats was to be named Cincinnati. Like the proposed town of Cleveland, it was to bear an Ohio place name – many pioneer settlers of Tazewell County in general and Pekin in particular came from Ohio. The plat owners of the prospective town of Cincinnati were Jonathan Tharp and Jesse Dillon. Tharp is famous locally for settling in 1824 at a spot that is now the foot of Broadway in Pekin, where the former Franklin School now stands. The published works on Pekin’s history mention that two rival groups of Pekin settlers wished to establish a town here along the Illinois River. While one group, including Nathan Cromwell, Isaac Perkins, and William Haines, proposed a town with streets running perpendicular to and parallel with the river, Tharp and Dillon proposed their town with streets running north-south and east-west.

Tharp and Dillon filed their plat for the town of Cincinnati on July 11, 1830 (Soady’s list says Tharp laid out the plat in 1827). Cromwell, Haines, and their associates drew up their own town plans in 1829 and also formalized a plat in 1830, apparently in such a hurry to file it that they didn’t have time to think of a name – they called their desired settlement simply “Town Site” and only came up with the name “Pekin” later in 1830. Meanwhile, the plans of Tharp and Dillon failed to bear fruit. Instead, their proposed town was recast as the Cincinnati Addition to Pekin, the northern border of which was Broadway, with Tharp’s home lot (No. 160) at the northwest corner of the Addition. The “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection includes a cartographer’s fragile template and accompanying legal description for a plat of “Cincinnati,” as well as a later plat copy of Cincinnati Addition which was drawn and recorded May 28, 1857 – tellingly, the plat copy of Cincinnati “Addition” is in fact still titled “Town of Cincinnati.”

Although the town of Cincinnati never came to fruition, “Cincinnati” is, of course, still an extant Tazewell County toponym – it’s the name of the township located to the south of Pekin Township.

The photo gallery below features selections from the “Mitchell Universal Atlas” collection of plats, all images courtesy of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.

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