Discover History of Pekin

foundersThe History of the City of Pekin

Robert De La Salle, along with a fleet of canoes and 33 men, is believed to be one of the first European explorers to visit the area. In 1680, his crew constructed a winter refuge in what is now the southeast quarter of Section One in Pekin Township. Although travelers and Native Americans frequented the area, it was not until the summer of 1824 that Jonathon Tharp built a small log cabin on the high east bank of the Illinois River, and encouraged his father, friends and other family members to follow him. The local Native American residents, the Pottawatomi Indians, and their chief, Shawubena, were friendly with the settlers.

In 1829, a County Surveyor named William Hodge laid out what was to become Pekin. He called it "Town Site", indicating the land was suitable for settlement. The town was named Pekin, after China's City of the Sun - Pekin(g).

Commercial development had begun as early as 1827. Pekin built its first school in 1831 and the Pekin post office opened in 1832. By 1837, the community had a school and post office, three stores, two taverns, a church, a ferry service and a railroad, the Pekin and Terminate. Steamboat trade was also a growing factor in the local economy.

By 1849, the population of Pekin had swelled to 1,500 and residents unanimously agreed to organize under a City charter. That year, voters elected their first mayor and four aldermen. In the 1850's, industry took root in the community with a wagon maker, a manufacturer of reapers, a packing plant and a distillery.

Pekin later abandoned the mayor/aldermen form of government in 1911 for the commission form. Since 1995, a council and manager system has governed Pekin and has helped to set the city's standards. The City Council consists of a mayor and six council members, who are elected to staggered four-year terms. In addition, a professional city manager is hired by the City Council to manage the daily operations of city government.

For more information on the History of Pekin and Tazewell County - visit Tazewell County Museum or Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society