Pekin has a long and storied past. Records indicate that French explorers spent the winter of 1680 at a site in what was to become the southeastern section of Pekin Township. Recently, a clerk in the Tazewell County Court House at Fourth and Court Streets discovered numerous documents that were either written or signed by Abraham Lincoln while he was a young lawyer.
Jonathan Tharp was the communitys first official resident. In 1824, he built a small log cabin in the area and farmed the land. In 1829,
a county surveyor laid out a "Town Site," indicating the land was suitable for settlement. A subsequent auction of the town plat was held in Springfield when the town was awarded to Major Isaac Pekins, Gideon Hawley, William Haines and Major Nathan Cromwell. Cromwells wife named the City of Pekin after Peking - Chinas City of the Sun - and also named several streets.
Commercial development began in 1827, when John Tharp opened a smokehouse.
A general merchandise store opened in 1829, followed by a grocery, notions, and dry goods store. In addition, Gideon Hawley opened a combination hotel and tavern.
The towns first school was built in 1831 and the Pekin post office opened in 1832. By 1837, Pekins growth, stimulated by burgeoning steamboat trade, was well under way, with the school and post office, three stores, two taverns, a church, a ferry service and the Pekin and Tremont railroad.
By 1849, Pekin had grown to more than 1,500 residents
who unanimously agreed to organize under a city charter, elect their first
mayor and four aldermen. By the 1850s, industries such as a wagon maker,
a reaper manufacturer, a packing plant, and a distillery led county officials
to name Pekin the County Seat of Tazewell County. Soon thereafter, a new
Grecian-style courthouse was built. Famous Americans such as Abraham Lincoln,
Stephen A. Douglas, Senator James McDougal and United States Supreme Court
Justice David Davis practiced law in the original courthouse building,
which was replaced in 1916.
Through the rest of the nineteenth century, additional industries were attracted to Pekin, including a canning factory, a marble works, a gun stock factory and a steam generator factory, among others. In 1879, the Perfection Organ Works opened, selling its beautiful cabinet organs worldwide.
In its century and a half of existence, Pekin has been the birthplace of many famous citizens including former U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.
Today, Pekin residents have the best of small town living in a progressive, serene environment.
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