What comes to your mind when you think of a “gentlemen’s club”? Words acquire new meanings or different connotations as time goes on, and what “gentlemen’s club” might mean to some today isn’t what it meant over a hundred years ago.
Perhaps I’ve watched too many movies, but hearing the words “gentlemen’s club,” I think of New York City, of elegantly appointed, hushed rooms with men dressed in their finery, a cigar in one hand and a beverage of some type in the other hand.
Established in 1893, Pekin had the Tazewell Club, and while it may not have been touted as a gentlemen’s club, for all practical purposes that seems to be what it was.
The 2004 book “Pekin: A Pictorial History” tells us that it was once the hub of social life in Pekin.
“The club promoted local business interests and offered hours of wholesome recreation for the businessman, the professional and the clerk,” the book stated. “The building had bowling alleys in the basement, meeting rooms, a card room and billiard room on the main floor, and a ballroom on the third.”
Over 200 men were members of this club, with them “allowing” the Pekin Woman’s Club and the Litta Society the use of their facility for the ladies’ afternoon meetings.
But time marches on and membership eventually declined. In 1959, the club house was sold to the Herget National Bank and was demolished in 1960 for a parking lot.
Originally located on the corner of South Fourth and St. Mary streets, the Tazewell Club was a grand building, worthy of the many social events that took place there.
Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” page 927-937, provides a detailed account of the founding and early history of the Tazewell Club written by Fred H. Robbins. The account includes a quote from the club’s constitution and by-laws explaining its purpose: “The primary object of this Club shall be to promote the business interests of the City of Pekin, and the social enjoyments of the members of the corporation.”
According to Robbins, the club was founded Sept. 14, 1893, at a meeting of local businessmen and leading men of the city in Holland’s Hall in Pekin, presided over by E. F. Unland, with O. F. Weber as secretary. The interim officers were Judge George C. Rider, president, and Weber again as secretary, with an organizing committee made of up Carl G. Herget (builder of the Herget Mansion at 420 Walnut St. in Pekin), W. L. Prettyman, Fred W. Velde, W. A. Holt and Dr. W. H. Allen.
Once the club was organized, the members elected Unland as president, Prettyman as vice-president, Weber as secretary, James M. James (in whose honor James Field is named) as treasurer, and Holt, Henry G. Herget, D. D. Velde, F. P. Maus and Henry Birkenbusch as members of the club’s board of managers.
Though the club house is long gone and the Tazewell Club is a thing of the past, there is another community organization that was founded around the same time that is still very much living and active, and is soon to celebrate an important anniversary – the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Learn more about Pekin and Tazewell County history, read past columns, view slideshows and photo galleries, post comments and suggestions, and keep up to date on the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection at fromthehistoryroom.wordpress.com.