A Publication of WTVP

From real estate to medicine, one of Peoria’s earliest settlers had a tremendous impact on its future.

I have written about quite a few impressive men in Peoria’s past who were responsible for the remarkable growth of the City of Peoria, Illinois. Some of them went on to fame and fortune, leaving Peoria to reach their expansive goals. That was not the case for Dr. Rudolphus Rouse. I want to bring you the story of this young, remarkable doctor and the impact he had on Peoria’s future.

Peoria’s First Resident Physician
Rouse was born in New York on July 20, 1793, and found himself a surgeon in the War of 1812. He married early in life and was the father of five daughters and three sons. From New York, he settled in St. Louis to pursue his medical practice. It was there that he heard of the beauty of the central Illinois area and a small, but growing trading center.

He came to Peoria and looked upon the tiny settlement, which had but seven log cabins and two frame dwellings. The setting of this primitive little place—the beauty of the Illinois River Valley—impressed Rouse, and he decided to move his family here. Peoria benefited by that decision in many ways.

There was a physician here before him, but his practice ranged from Chicago all the way to Springfield, so Dr. Rouse was really our first resident physician. Of course, folks came and went, into and out of Peoria. At that time, just 44 souls called the village of Peoria their home, situated within 16 blocks that included a courthouse square. Dr. Rouse was an immediate success, and few physicians in the State of Illinois could equal his skills. He proved himself to be an honorable man, public-spirited and eager to expand Peoria’s boundaries, as well as his reputation as a qualified, highly-trained physician.

On July 18, 1835, Peoria filed the proper papers to become a town, selecting Dr. Rouse to be on the first board of trustees. He served as its president for six years.

The Doctor Thrives
In 1837, Rouse acquired a large piece of property in the heart of the town at Main and Jefferson. On that prominent lot, he had built a large, three-story brick building that would house his offices in the basement and allow for the rental of several office spaces for tenants. It quickly became known as “Rouse Hall,” and was the dominating piece of property in Peoria for many years. In 1857, he expanded that property to the rear, providing Peoria with an entertainment area known as Rouse’s Opera Hall. Actually, the townspeople considered them separate buildings and businesses, which indeed they were.

Along with a few other citizens, Dr. Rouse realized the potential in Peoria and set about to enhance their businesses and promote the new town. He encouraged other doctors to come to Peoria, including Drs. Frye, Bartlett and Dickerson, who later became associated with Rouse.

Take a look at the physicians that were located in Peoria, Illinois during those early years. There was no governing body, of course, nor regulations to abide by. I guess you just popped into town and “put out your shingle.”

There were allopaths, homeopaths, botanic doctors and… wait for it, root doctors. Naturally, the highly-trained physicians of the time frowned on some of those practices, and in 1848, Dr. Rouse and 19 other doctors formed what would become known as the Peoria Medical Society. Two years later, Dr. Rouse presided over a medical convention in Springfield, which became the Illinois State Medical Society.

It Was Not All Medicine
Acquiring real estate seemed to be a hobby with Mrs. Rouse as well as Dr. Rouse. He purchased a large area between Adams and Washington streets south of Cedar Street, which became known as the “Rouse Addition,” while Mrs. Rouse bought valuable property at Main and Adams. For you older Peorians, that was the area we knew as the Central National Bank. She paid a whopping $87.50 for that very suitable area, where Dr. Rouse had a three-story brick business building erected. A mercantile library was put in there, as well as a dry goods store. Folks in Peoria called it the “Rouse Corner.”

In 1888, that building suffered a severe fire, but was quickly repaired and somewhat expanded. By 1893, the Central National Bank moved into the ground floor and obtained a long lease from the Rouse estate. Most people my age knew of the Central Bank, but certainly little about the history behind that piece of property. Finally, by 1913, the bank had razed the original building and in 1930, a new bank was built on that site.

Dr. Rouse was also heavily into the local railroad business, which was sold off to T.P.&W. That railroad eventually was owned by George McNear, who was murdered here in Peoria. I wrote a story about him and his railroad, called “The Railroad Man,” which can be found online.

After Dr. Rouse died in 1873, his widow moved to Philadelphia, where she died in 1886. The last of this eminent pioneer family, Henry and Jennie Rouse, brother and sister, lived at 309 North Perry for many years. The Rouse family plot is located in Springdale Cemetery. iBi

Norm Kelly is a true crime and fiction writer and contributor to several local magazines. He can be reached at [email protected].