Pekin Riverfront Park Overlook - Elevators and Flooding

Pekin Riverfront History

Pekin Riverfront Park Overlook - Elevators and Flooding

Pekin, Illinois 61554, United States

Created By: Pekin Public Library


The area where the Pekin Riverfront Park Overlook now stands was for a long time the site of riverside grain elevators. In the early 20th century, the Turner-Hudnet grain elevator was located at 15-19 Front Street and the Smith-Hippen Co.'s elevator was located at 107-109 Front Street. The Turner-Hudnut elevator had a capacity of 75,000 bushels. It was destroyed by an arsonist on 23 Oct. 1910, causing $75,000 in damages. The arsonist also attempted to set fire to the Smith-Hippen elevator, but failed. That elevator was demolished several decades later, being replaced about the mid-1960s by new grain elevators that in time came to be operated by Tomen Grain. After Tomen closed its elevators in the early 21st century, their elevators were torn down in the fall of 2004 to make way for Pekin Riverfront Park.

Besides the man-made disaster of the Turner-Hudnut arson fire, Pekin's riverfront has been visited several times by natural disasters in the form of unusually severe flooding. It is not at all unusual for the Illinois River to burst its banks after the spring thaw and the arrival of spring rains, but at times flooding is extreme at Pekin. For instance, twice in two years Pekin was hit by very high floodwaters, on 22 April 1922 and again on 6 April 1924. A vintage photograph from one of those two floods shows a mail-delivering Chicago, Peoria, & St. Louis train splashing along the all but submerged Peoria & Pekin Union Railway near Worley Lake just north of Pekin. Another old Pekin Daily Times photograph from 9 March 1985 shows severe flooding of all of Pekin's riverfront grain elevators.

More recently, Central Illinois suffered the inundation of the Flood of 2013, when the Illinois River crested at Peoria at a record 29.35 feet on 23 April 2013, beating the 70-year-old previous flood mark by about half a foot.

Though its flood record is now surpassed, the Flood of '43 is still remembered by many in Pekin for its severity and destruction. Newspaper accounts mention that the Pekin-Peoria area suffered a month of heavy rains which swelled the Illinois river over its banks and levees on 20 May 1943, and then on 23 May a 99-year highwater record was swept away, with the river reaching a depth of 28.62 feet. (In June 1884 the river reached a depth of 26.1 feet, and on 18 May 1933 the river stood at 25.5 feet, but the Flood of '43 broke the 1884 record.) While this flood caused destruction on a large scale in Central Illinois, Pekin alone saw destruction or extensive damage to hundreds of homes along or near the riverfront and in lower-lying areas of the city. In addition, American Distillery found itself stranded on an island, and work also came to a stop at Standard Brands as well as at the riverfront grain elevators. Riverfront railroad tracks were submerged bring rail traffic there to a halt. The P. & P. U. tracks near Wesley Slough washed out and collapsed from the flood.


This point of interest is part of the tour: Pekin Riverfront History


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