A city that has been in existence for nearly 200 years, Pekin has probably seen thousands of structures come and go as residents built new places to live, work, learn and worship over the years. But it is natural for any community to take pride in its historic landmarks, such as the Tazewell County Courthouse and the home of late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen. Pekin boasts several historic houses from the 19th and early 20th century that have been carefully preserved and sometimes repurposed.
“These houses remind of Pekin’s past,” said Tazewell Genealogical and Historical Society president John Durdle. “They give us a glimpse of how things were in former times. Most people today aren’t building houses like these. If you’re interested in history, they’re worth seeing.”
Several of Pekin’s historic houses belonged to members of the Herget family, 19th century German immigrants who became prominent members of the community. The Herget National Bank bore the family’s name until 2014, and the name lives on in the city directory as a residential street.
“The Hergets came over from Germany in the 1850s, and they were involved in corn products, a sugar refinery, and a bank,” said Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society archivist and vice president Rindi Shannon. “They were also grocers and retailers. There were quite a few of them, and they were involved in Pekin business for many years.”
The Carl Herget residence was built about 1912 and designed by the Peoria architectural firm Hewitt and Emerson. The Classical Revival mansion features a full-height porch topped by a pediment and supported by four Corinthian columns and two Corinthian pilasters, a marble fireplace and a third-floor ballroom. In later years, it became the corporate headquarters for Vogel’s Inc., and its subsidiary business, Bird Provision Company. Most recently, the mansion at 420 Washington St. was the Herget House Bed and Breakfast.
In 1849, the brothers Teis, Henry and Fred Smith arrived in central Illinois from Germany. With their brother-in-law Luppe Luppen, they founded a blacksmith and wood working shop in Pekin. Later, they established a wagon-making plant and a bank, and the T&H Smith Wagon Company became one of the most successful businesses in Pekin’s history. Durdle remembers the family with some pride, not only because of their distinctive place in local history, but also because of regional ties that extend beyond Tazewell County.
“They came from Ostfriesland,” said Durdle. “That’s the same part of Germany that my family came over from.
The family suffered some reversals when a fire destroyed the company’s plant in 1899, and the Teis Smith Bank closed in 1906. But the Teis Smith’s mansion at 500 N. 4th St. serves as a reminder of the immigrant family’s prosperity and importance in Pekin’s business community. The mansion was built in the late 1860s. Smith’s heirs owned the property until 1955, when it was sold to Preston Funeral Home. The house was extensively remodeled in 2001 with more handicap-accessible features and a new, spacious chapel. Preston-Hanley Funeral Homes and Crematory, LLC, currently operates on the site.
In 1862, pioneer settler Gideon Rupert, who was credited with naming Tazewell County after Gov. John Tazewell of Virginia, built Rupert Park Estate, an 11-room colonial style mansion at 420 Walnut St. in 1937, Orville W. Noel purchased the Rupert Park Estate, which became the Noel Funeral Home. Following Noel’s death in 1946, his employee William Weimer carried on the business until his own death in 1964. Merl Henderson, who had worked alongside Weimer for several years, bought the funeral home in 1965. In 2013, the Henderson Funeral Home moved to a new location. Currently, a Crossroads Programs., Inc, mental health services facility is in operation at the Rupert Park Estate.
“These mansions are part of Pekin’s heritage,” said Shannon. “They are a reminder of some of the leading citizens from Pekin’s past. They’re beautiful houses and they have been well taken care of by the people who occupied them after the original owners.”