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This blog is maintained by the History and Archives Committee of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria, Illinois. To learn more about our church, visit www.peoriauuchurch.org.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weathering the Storms in Our Church’s History

Since we are located in the Midwest, it should not surprising that over a span of 167 years and counting, events at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria have occasionally coincided with outbreaks of severe weather, including tornadoes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010
The most recent example was a potluck on June 5 to honor and bid farewell to our intern minister for the past year, Jim Parrish. As we watched a video tribute prepared for the occasion, it gradually became apparent that the whine heard in the background wasn’t a glitch in the sound system, but a tornado warning siren. The group did a great job of moving quickly but calmly into the children’s area, away from the windows, and the program continued there.

Although several tornadoes touched down in Central Illinois that night—including one that caused extensive property damage in Elmwood—thankfully, no one was hurt.

Saturday, May 10, 2003
For many members and friends in our congregation, the events of June 5 were a reminder of another memorable night: the congregational meeting on Saturday, May 10, 2003, when we voted on whether to sell our property on Hamilton Boulevard and build a new church.

The decision process included a series of ballots through which the congregation narrowed down six possible courses of action to one. Sometime around 10 p.m., after the third ballot had been collected, a tornado warning siren caused the meeting to be relocated from the sanctuary to the basement. Voting continued with only a slight delay, resulting in the final decision to build a new church on Richwoods Boulevard.

The tornadoes that struck the area that night caused injuries and property damage, most notably in South Pekin and Morton, but no deaths.

Although you may remember the stormy night when we voted to leave our home on Hamilton Boulevard, did you know that a tornado had also struck the area 92 years before, on the very day that building was dedicated?

Sunday, May 28, 1911
After months of construction, the new, larger Universalist church on Hamilton Boulevard—with its distinctive dome and beautiful arched stained-glass windows—was finally complete, or nearly so. The curved pews were crowded for the dedication service at 10:30 that Sunday morning. The Peoria Star reported that “in spite of the great heat, the ventilation could not be surpassed and every one was perfectly comfortable.”

But a cold front was on its way, bringing a dangerous storm. At 1:40 p.m., a tornado struck Pekin, killing two boys, ages fourteen and fifteen. They had been part of a group of fifteen boys who were swimming in Pekin Lake when the storm hit. Most of the boys were able to take shelter in the ice houses. The two who were killed didn’t get inside and were crushed when one of the ice houses collapsed.

In spite of the storm, the 7:30 evening service at the Universalist church was well attended. The weather by then was much more comfortable than it had been in the morning. According to the next day’s newspaper, the temperature in Peoria had dropped from 91 degrees to 71 degrees between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon.

These events remind us that we should always be prepared for weather emergencies, at church and everywhere else, especially during tornado season. Be safe!

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Blogging Hiatus ... For Now

So why there haven't been any posts on this blog for awhile? Well, mainly it's because I need to spend as much time as possible working on the new, updated church history book. It's coming along well, and I look forward to announcing its publication sometime later this year.

After the history book is published, the blog will start up again. It will serve as a way to share not only personal stories, but also tidbits that we didn't have room for in the history book, plus all the new discoveries that will inevitably follow. Until then, please enjoy the previous posts, and feel free to add comments.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The “Bradley Memorial” Name

History is a tricky thing. There are so many things we’d like to know, but don’t have information about. And sometimes historical “facts” turn out to be things we thought we knew, but now aren’t so sure about.

Case in point: We know that for a time, our church went by the name “Bradley Memorial.” This name was adopted in memory of Tobias S. Bradley, a prominent member of the church who died in 1867. His widow, Lydia Moss Bradley—also a member of our church—went on to become a businesswoman, philanthropist, and founder of Bradley University.

We thought we knew that the name change to “Bradley Memorial” took place in 1886. After all, it says so in the first published history of our church, written in 1926. And it says so in a handwritten church history found in one of our oldest surviving record books: “On the 19th of May 1886 at a regular Parish meeting it was decided to change the name of the Church to ‘Bradley Memorial’ First Universalist Church.” That history was apparently written around 1900.

A history of Peoria county published in 1902 seems to agree. It mentions the United States General Convention of Universalists held in Peoria in October, 1885, and says that the name of the church was changed to Bradley Memorial “soon after.” So we all agree it was in 1886, right?

However, on the day of our 165th anniversary dinner, an astute observer pointed out that the cover of the program featured a church document dated 1875, which plainly says “Bradley Memorial - First Universalist Church.”

Further investigation has revealed several other instances of the “Bradley Memorial” name being used prior to 1886. These include an 1885 entry in a church record book, the “Thanksgiving Newspaper” published by the ladies of the church in 1882, and a history of Peoria County published in 1880.

So just when was the name changed? And why do so many sources say it was in 1886? I don’t have definitive answers, but I’ll share some thoughts in a future post. In the meantime, feel free to share your comments.