A Publication of WTVP

In celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the Peoria Public Library developed a brochure with photos of early facilities and library directors, which it distributed during the August History Trolley Tours. The brochure also included the image of an 1896 mural, “View from Prospect Heights,” by Chicago artists Frank Peyraud and Hardesty Maratta. The 20-foot by 11-foot mural painted for Peoria’s 1895-1966 library presently is stored in the vault of Lakeview Museum.

The landscape seems unfamiliar, showing a meandering river, islands, and perhaps a backwater lake. Although artists can take license in rendering their perspective, the contour maps produced by early geologists testify to the presence of islands in what’s now the broad expanse of upper Peoria Lake. Lower Peoria Lake also held islands and marshlands before levees were built, lands drained and filled, and the lock and dam constructed south of Peoria in 1939.

Peyraud led classes for aspiring women artists in Peoria in those Victorian days when painting outdoors and capturing natural scenes was fashionable. Photographs confirm late 1890s groups at Shady Beach along the river, ladies who no doubt observed shoreline vegetation, flocks of birds, and water teeming with the great abundance that evoked its Indian name, “Pimeteoui.”

Another vantage opened in 1904, when the Peoria Pleasure Drive and Park District constructed Grand View Drive, eventually home to a high observation tower and a lower pavilion. Today, the popular River City trolley tour and the Springdale tour pause at Pimeteoui Point on Grand View Drive to reflect on the view enjoyed through the generations.

This October, when participants gather in Peoria for the 10th biennial conference on management of the Illinois River system, they’ll learn about the progress and promise of the Illinois River. They’ll see not only artistic renderings and photographs of the river, but also NASA-funded satellite images and computer-generated interpretations. Newer mapping techniques highlight the landforms left by receding glaciers and the uses of the land today.

In contrast, historical aerial photography, a legacy of the Great Depression’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration, is being studied for the changes it chronicles. Begun in 1933 as an accurate and efficient tool for estimating cropland acreages—an inventory of the nation’s agricultural lands—this USDA resource provides a unique perspective on Illinois’ cultural, economic, and natural history.

The digital age is helping bring online access of these photos to groups as diverse as land surveyors, planners, scientists, engineers, historians, teachers, genealogists, and students.

Today, Geographical Information Systems technology, along with Global Positioning Systems linked to satellites, give precision—whether measuring eroding streambanks, enlarging deltas, or new meanders. Combinations of high- and low-frequency radars provide accurate streamflow gauging, allowing for totally non-contact monitoring.

When this 10th biennial river conference convenes in Peoria October 4 to 6 at the Holiday Inn City Centre, it brings together a broad spectrum of concerned agencies and organizations, scientists, citizens, and river activists from local, state, and national levels. Successful interagency and multi-disciplinary programs have resulted in streambank stabilization, wetland restoration, conservation reserve, and reuse of dredged sediment for island construction in Chillicothe and park development on former industrial sites, including the former Wallace Station opposite downtown on East Peoria’s riverfront and a former steel mill in south Chicago on Lake Michigan.

The conference also includes a day-long motor coach tour October 4 from Peoria to Hennepin—an on-the-ground introduction to sand and gravel mining, wetland restoration, and Native American burial sites, as well as views of fish and wildlife refuges, streambank stabilization, agricultural best practices including rotational grazing and conservation reserve sites, stories of waterfowl hunting, and the artistry of decoy carving.

Free events for the public include the Illinois River Coordinating Council’s quarterly meeting at 6:30 p.m., October 4, in the Holiday Inn’s Salon C, chaired by Lt. Governor Pat Quinn. The public also is invited to see garbage art, created from trash collected during the Illinois River Sweep and sponsored by the Friends of the Illinois River. The display, along with live old-time music and photos, will be at Peoria’s Gateway Building from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information about the conference, call 637-5253 or visit

Whether removing garbage, creating art, encouraging tourism, protecting wildlife, assisting commercial transport and economic development, providing recreational opportunities, keeping soil on the land, or fighting pollution, there’s a new shared perspective regarding the Illinois River. Take a look. AA!