I remember back to my days in high school history class, thinking, “Why am I here? This material is irrelevant [to a 17-year-old], and I will never use this in my life.” I had, and still have, much to learn and regret my past lack of motivation. History has so much to teach us if we are willing to listen. Nathan Jensen put it succinctly when he said, “We should remember the past because there is collective wisdom that we deprive ourselves of when we refuse to look back.” Tazewell County has a rich history that is not only interesting, but has so much that is still teaching us today.
Tazewell’s earliest recorded history goes back to the 1600s, with LaSalle and Tonti paddling down the Illinois River while exploring this uncharted area. Encountering several groups of Native Americans, they quickly gained their trust and constructed Fort Creve Coeur on a bluff overlooking the river as a sign of their commitment to the local population. A replica of that fort in present-day Creve Coeur still stands today.
Fast-forward more than two centuries to 1827, when Tazewell County was formed out of Peoria County. The original county included all of Woodford and Mason, with portions of McLean and Logan counties. It’s believed the original name came from Littleton Tazewell, a U. S. Senator who became governor of Virginia in 1834. At 658 square miles, modern-day Tazewell is much smaller than the original.
Fast-forward once again to today, where the best place to learn our history is the Tazewell County History Museum. With two separate locations in Pekin, the museum is “dedicated to the preservation and protection of historic sites, buildings and artifacts important in the development of Tazewell County.” It also provides educational opportunities to schools, scouting troops and members of the general public who are interested in the past.
Of particular interest to everyone would be Abraham Lincoln’s impact on our county. Lincoln spent significant amounts of time in Tazewell County, practicing law on the circuit before he became president. Closely related to that era are the information and displays detailing the men and women who participated in the Civil War. The museum contains extensive photos, books and records of that time period, including names and regiments from this area.
Senator Everett Dirksen is also featured prominently. A Pekin native, Dirksen played a critical role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and many of his personal effects are on display. In addition, the Dirksen Congressional Center in Pekin contains Dirksen’s papers, carrying out its mission to “help people better understand the U.S. Congress, its people, its processes and the public policies it produces.” Again, the center takes us back in history to teach us about tomorrow.
The museum also provides photographs, displays, books and records detailing Tazewell County’s coal mining heritage, distilleries, railroads and of course, Caterpillar. The NASA collection and agricultural displays also provide very teachable moments.
This only begins to scratch the surface of the history available to us all if we are willing to look, talk and learn. I’ve learned since my high school days that history is interesting, relevant and well worth my time. iBi