Sunday, August 30, 2009

Peoria Historical Society River City Tour

On Lily's birthday (August 15) we celebrated with Karen's birthday present: a tour of part of Peoria organized by the Peoria Historical Society. The tour we chose was their "River City Tour" which varies depending on the tour guide, but hits a variety of subjects important to Peoria's past. Our guide was a gentleman that enjoyed studying architecture, so our tour was heavy on recognizing homes or public buildings with historic significance.
Our transportation for the tour was this cute bus built in the shape of a trolley and run by the company that provides public bus service for the Peoria area. The trolley is strong on charm, but weak on air conditioning. Our recommendation: don't take a tour on a hot day.
Here's the birthday girl and her younger sister trying to appear candid.
The tour began with a bit of information about Peoria Heights' fame as the center of bicycle manufacturing at one point in the 19th century, and then we proceeded to Grand View Drive. Completed in 1904, it was originally the destination of wealthy Peoria families that wanted to get away from the city to their "summer home" each year. The property values are still probably some of the highest in the area although most of the homes were built before World War II. The home pictured above was designed and built in the 1920s based on a dream a woman had. Her husband must have enjoyed indulging his wife's desires since he hired an architect and builder to create the home based on the woman's recollection of her dream. Unfortunately, the family lost a good bit of their wealth in the market crash of 1929, and had to sell the house after living in it for less than a year.
These photos were all taken from inside the trolley, so I apologize for reflections and poorly composed shots. The image above is a view of the Illinois River from Grand View Drive near the upper end of the Pimiteoui Trail. In 1910 Teddy Roosevelt named this road "The World's Most Beautiful Drive," and though I don't know what qualified Mr. Roosevelt as a judge of beautiful vistas, I think the drive is definitely one of the prettiest in the area.
This house is informally known as the "castle" house as its design was based on features a young lady had observed on various castles during her travels in Europe. Her father built this house and gave it to her and her husband as a wedding present. I hope my daughters have lower expectations.

This shot simply shows the interior of the trolley. Again, big on charm, not so big on warm weather comfort.
On to downtown Peoria where we observed the Peoria City Hall, as well as other significant structures. This building was built in 1897 and is one of several structures in town listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also downtown near the County Court House is The Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Memorial, dedicated in 1899. President McKinley and his entire cabinet were present for the dedication, probably because the president was a good friend of Joseph Greenhut who was involved in funding the construction of the monument. The inscription on the face of the monument on the left reads, "We write on page of granite what they wrought on field of battle."

Evidence of Peoria's wealth as the distilling capital of the world in the 1880s still exists in the homes on High Street. Many have been carefully restored, and they always provide viewing pleasure for our family.

Another of the unique old homes of High Street.

The tour was supposed to last an hour and a half, but our guide was so interested in sharing information that our tour stretched to two hours. The price was $8 per person, of which $7 goes to the Historical Society, and the last buck goes to the bus company. With the exception of the air conditioning issue, we enjoyed the tour so much that we look forward to taking another tour soon. Thanks for visiting!


  1. Cool post! Grandview and the homes in Peoria Heights are indeed beautiful. I spend a lot of time near that area, and it's one of my favorite places in Peoria to walk to. This is one good aspect of living where I do.

    When I first moved to Peoria, I lived a lot closer to Bradley. I was within walking distance of Moss Avenue and downtown Peoria, so I developed quite an appreciation for them as well. Given that I'm from a smalltown, I am easily impressed by old, big buildings and homes.

    I've often considered taking some of the guided tours that cover Grandview, Moss, and downtown but just have never gotten around to it. Please know that I am now jealous of the Riggenbach family. ; -)

    By the way, when Lily gets married someday, maybe she'll let you off easy by just having you build her a nice red barn with a sewing room. Gretel may have you do the same for her; however, she'll probably require even more room for her cat horde.

  2. Ooooh, I LOVE all the old houses!! Too neat! Did you get to go inside the castle house?
    If Lily & Gretel expect a house like that and you really don't feel up to the challenge, here is my suggestion to help you out of the difficulty - make it a husband requirement that he can marry one of the girls on the condition that he builds them a house like that one! Voila! Problem solved! (it's an easy way to weed out any not-so-serious suitors too...)

  3. Kathryn, you're a genius! I'm all about weeding out not-so-serious suitors!

    We didn't leave the trolley during the tour, so no, we did not see the inside of any of the houses.