The land for the town of New Pekin was first entered on August 25, 1818. The town of “Old” Pekin was platted in what is now Polk Township on the Mutton Fork of Blue River. It contained lots in Section 30 of Range 5 East. Christian Bixler did this on November 30, 1831. It was not officially surveyed until October 1837 by John I. Morrison. The original town plat was made on December 23, 1883, by W. A. Graves. The town of New Pekin was incorporated in 1903 to provide funds to build and operate a school. The New Pekin post office has been in operation since 1840. "Old" Pekin On September 29, 1819, Isaac Davis entered section 30 in what was to become Polk Township. Several years later, in 1831, Christian Bixler laid out the town of Pekin on the south side of Mutton Fork, Blue River. Before 1831, there were several buildings at this location.
A Train Comes to Town
As early as 1830, stagecoaches were making regular runs between Jeffersonville and Salem. A wagon route between Salem and New Albany also passed through this area. Pekin was a staging stop where horses were watered and changed. When the New Albany and Salem Railroad was laid in 1851, a station was established just across Blue River in Pierce Township which came to be known as “New” Pekin. The train station was built on the more level north side of the Blue River. Businesses gradually migrated to the new location. As a result of the railroad, the town of New Pekin began to flourish while Old Pekin declined so much that it was declared vacant by the county commissioners in 1854.
In 1852, a new building was built in New Pekin by Charles D. Green. This building served as the railroad depot, post office and a store. This building burned around 1867. A new building was built and was owned by Bierly and Elrod. Around 1900, Post Master W. A. Graves built another railroad depot and moved the Post Office into it. Later the post office was moved into the Flat Iron Building. From 1927 until 1933, the post office was in the International Order of Red Men building. It was then moved into the Bierly building and later to the Harry Gill building before being moved to the present building in 1966.
In 1901 and 1903 additions were made to the town. Further additions were made in 1907, 1908, 1915, 1922, 1925, 1946, 1951, and 1952. Pekin High School New Pekin was incorporated in 1903 to provide funds to build a public school. A four-room school house was built in New Pekin in 1904. Pekin at the time had a population of about 300. The first high school was organized in 1906. A gymnasium was built in 1927. A new school building was finished outside Pekin just northeast of the town in the fall of 1967. Students from Pierce, Polk, Jackson, and Franklin Townships attended the high school. The elementary wing housed students from Pekin and Martinsburg. Eventually students from all 4 townships attended a new elementary school building in 1981 built just south of the high school. The township elementary schools were sold. Old Pekin and New Pekin eventually came to be commonly known as simply Pekin.
Pekin's First Fire Department
Pekin’s early fire department began with a man-powered pumper. Then in 1927, a Model T ford fire engine was purchased. It was used until approximately 1950 when a 1946 fire jeep began to be used. In 1954, a Chevrolet fire truck was purchased and a fire house was built. In 1956, the Pierce-Polk Volunteer Fire Department was formed and they operated out of the same firehouse as Pekin’s Volunteer Fire Department. In 1982, the Pekin Fire Department was disbanded. The old skating rink building was purchased by the volunteer firemen, and it was remodeled into a firehouse where the Pierce-Polk Department would serve the town of Pekin and Pierce and Polk Townships. Most of the fire equipment is owned by the townships.
Telephones came to Pekin in 1901. In the following years the switchboard was moved from house to house as the operators changed. In 1952, Washington County Rural Telephone Cooperative was formed. Direct dial service began in 1956 on party lines for Pekin, Borden, and Chestnut Hill communities. In 1958, Martinsburg was added to the Pekin exchange. In 1967 all 8-party lines were reduced to 4-party lines, and in 1973 all lines were changed to private lines, and a central office was built in Pekin. Internet service was made available in 1994. The name of the phone company was changed to Tele-Media Solutions. Cable television was made available in 2000, and a cell phone tower was built in Pekin in 2014.
Fourth of July Celebration
Fourth of July celebration The town of New Pekin claims the distinction of having the oldest consecutive Independence Day celebration in the United States of America. Pekin began celebrating Independence Day in the year 1830. Few historical facts about the earliest celebrations exist, with the information available coming from oral tradition. The first several celebrations were said to be neighborhood affairs, though it is assumed that it did not stay that way for long. Many families lived in the surrounding townships and there were few social activities. Various sources recount that the celebration was held near Old Pekin from 1830 until 1856. Around 1857, the celebration was moved to near the Blue River, where festivities were held until 1885. In either 1872 or 1873, the picnic was held at the farm of James Campbell, where he had built a recreational area. The fall of 1884 saw the completion of the fairgrounds. The following year, the celebration was moved to the new fairgrounds. Many local residents did not agree with the celebration being moved there and held a second celebration at Tash Grove.
In 1909, the Gill brothers bought the southern part of the old fairgrounds, which became known as Gill's Grove. This became the present location of the Pekin Community Park, where the celebration has been held every year since. Today the celebration consists of a fireworks display, a parade, live bands, three-on-three basketball tournament, carnival, food vendors, a flea market, reading of the United States Declaration of Independence, prince and princess contest, horseshoe pitching contest, a queen contest, cookouts and many other small celebrations around the town of Pekin. Former Indiana Rep. Mike Sodrel said in 2006, “If Norman Rockwell’s America exists anywhere today, it has to be in the 9th District of Indiana. There is nothing that I can think of that is more Americana and Rockwellesque than the Independence Day parade in Pekin.”
In 1955 the Pekin Community Betterment Organization bought the “Grove,” and the celebration continues to be held there, in what is now the Pekin Community Park. In the early days of Pekin, on July 4th, families from all the surrounding areas did their chores early, prepared food for the day, and loaded into their wagons and buggies and headed to Pekin for the celebration and to spend the day. At that time many people came by train. Pat Gill, on horseback and sporting a flowing red sash, met the train at the station and the parade started from there. Patrick Gill served as master of ceremonies for more than 40 years until his health prevented him from doing so in the 1930's. A fife and drum band has traditionally been part of the parades. Lulie Davis lived in Polk Township in the 1890's, and she told of always hearing the fife and drums on the morning of the fourth as they made their way to Pekin for the parade. The Spirit of 1776 Fife and Drum Band has been part of the parade for many years.
Arthur Weller, born in 1875 and a long time citizen of Pekin started the publication of The Pekin Banner in 1923 and attended 93 Fourth of July celebrations in his 99 years plus lifetime. Even to date celebration always starts with people arriving early to find seating for the 10:00 AM parade and later going to the park for music, games, patriotic speeches, food, and a lot of visiting with friends and neighbors. Through the years, regardless of the date of the first celebration and the various sites in which it has been held, Pekin's Fourth of July Celebration continues to be a very important social, patriotic, community and historic event which gives pride to our community.
Early businesses in Old Pekin were stores and a tavern. With the establishment of the railroad station in New Pekin, new businesses arose near the station. General stores, warehouses, a stock pen, grocery stores, a watch repair shop, saw and grist mills, feed and farm supply stores, a drug and novelty store, a millinery, a tannery, blacksmith shops, a lumber company, barber shops, used merchandise shops, a hardware and implement store, a woodworking shop, a variety store, restaurants, a clothing store, a furniture store, and a hotel. The Citizens Bank was established in 1906. Some of these stores operated for years; others operated only for a short time. Many of the buildings were lost to fires. In the early 1900’s, a cream and milk receiving station was built, as was a garage and machine shop, also a livery stable, beauty shops, and a box-making shop.
The first light plant was built in Pekin round 1912. In 1920 the electric lines were rebuilt, machinery repaired, and meters were installed. Standard Oil erected bulk storage tanks in Pekin in 1915. A mill with a mixer and grinder came to Pekin in the 1920’s. The Pekin Packing Co., a cannery for vegetables and produce, was built in 1925. The 1930’s brought a filling station, a boarding house, and a chicken hatchery. In 1938, Highway 60 was completed through Pekin. In 1947, a radio repair shop was opened. It expanded to become a television sales and repair shop and photography shop. A poultry dressing plant operated for a few years from 1949 until the mid-fifties. In 1954, a roller skating rink was established. In 1954, the Fabri-Form Company came to Pekin making plastic products. It operated until 2014. The first newspaper in Pekin was The Independent. It lasted just a few months. The Pekin Advance started in 1911, and it only lasted for a few years. In late 1923, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Weller published the first Pekin Banner. In 1933, Victor Green bought the newspaper, and it continued to be published as Green Banner Publications.
Thomas H. B. Baker became Pekin’s first doctor in 1882 and practiced here until his death in 1905. Dr. W. L. Green came in 1901 and practiced until 1954. He was followed by the following doctors: William T. Paynter, Charles Carty, and Kalen Carty-Kemker. Today a clinic owned by St. Vincent’s Hospital operates southeast of town. Early church records in Pekin list the following congregations: Missionary Baptist (1935-36), a Christian Church (1851) in Old Pekin whose name later became the Church of Christ, Pekin Methodist Church (1903), New Pekin Church of Christ (1909), the Highway Church (1929), Wesleyan Methodist Church (1950), and the Church of God (1954). Since the 1950’s the following churches have been established: First Baptist Church, Free Gospel Fellowship, and the Tabernacle of God.
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