The Port of Peoria is the biggest city on the Illinois River, and it is the Peoria County seat. About 58 nautical miles upriver (100 kilometers or 63 miles northeast by air) from Beardstown, Illinois, the Port of Peoria is over 200 kilometers (126 miles) southwest of Chicago. In 2010, the Port of Peoria was home to over 115 thousand people, but more than 370 thousand lived in the Port of Peoria Metropolitan area. The Port of Peoria is part of the Mississippi-Illinois River System.
Illinois' third biggest city outside Greater Chicago, the Port of Peoria exemplifies Middle America. The old Vaudeville question, "Will it play in Peoria?" reflects the idea that whatever succeeds in the Port of Peoria will be a success in the American mainstream. The Port of Peoria is the home of the Obama Administration's Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. It is also the home for industrial giant Caterpillar Inc.
Humans inhabited the Port of Peoria area as long ago as 10,000 BC. A highly-organized and ritualistic indigenous people left burial mounds and artifacts to testify to their presence. By the mid-17th Century, tribes of the Algonquin Nation lived in the future Port of Peoria area.
When white men entered the area, the found the indigenous Peoria (meaning "traveling fire" or "prairie fire") tribe, a part of the Illinois Confederation of Native American tribes. French Canadian explorers Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette encountered the Peoria when they came to the area in 1673.
After Jolliet and Marquette had opened the area to outsiders, French Jesuit missionaries began to convert the tribes to Roman Catholicism. Part of the Algonquian-speaking people of North America's East Coast and Great Lakes regions, the Peoria moved southwest to the Missouri Territory in the latter half of the 18th Century.
French Canadian Jean Baptiste Maillet played a leadership role in the early Port of Peoria village during the 1760s. In 1773, he sold his property to the Port of Peoria's most well-known black settler, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, who became the founder of Chicago.
When the British won the French & Indian War in 1763, they took over the Illinois Territory, but they did not force the French Port of Peoria villagers to leave. In 1778, the Illinois Country was conquered by Virginian George Rogers Clark. Six years later, Virginia turned the territory over to the new United States.
General Clark appointed Jean Baptiste Maillet as the military commander for the village, and he built a fortified house 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) south of the old village to what is would become the downtown Port of Peoria. Farm animals, orchards, and gardens circled log cabins and barns, and the village had a blacksmith, cobbler, carpenter, and several carriage, and trading shops. The emerging Port of Peoria also had a winepress and underground wine vault, a chapel, and a big windmill.
The War of 1812 brought tragedy to the future Port of Peoria. Believing the French residents of the Port of Peoria supported Native uprisings, they massacred the village of Chief Black Partridge's people. In a few weeks, they burned French Peoria down, captured its residents, and moved them to Alton near St. Louis, Missouri. Later, the United States Congress compensated the villagers for their loss, but the indigenous populations were forced to leave the area.
In 1813, Fort Clark was constructed. When Peoria County was created in 1825, its name was changed to Peoria. The first Americans to settle the future Port of Peoria were Abner Eads and five young men. Until Cook County was established in 1831, Chicago was part of Peoria County.
During the American Civil War, the residents of the Port of Peoria were divided on the slavery issue. Rallies held by Abolitionists were protested by sympathizers with the South. Local citizen Moses Pettengill used his home as a station for the Underground Railroad. Lincoln and Douglas made heartfelt speeches on the courthouse steps in 1854. When the Civil War began in 1861, Camp Lyon was established for training Union solders, and 7500 men were trained there. By the end of the war, over 500 men from Peoria County had died to preserve the Union.
In the late 1800s, Vaudeville acts came to the Port of Peoria from across the United States. It was during this period that "Playing in Peoria" became a major step for success for entertainers. The Port of Peoria's Grand Opera House and the Orpheum, Lyceum, and Majestic Theatres reflected the style of that Golden Age. When Vaudeville was a thing of the past in the 1920s, the stage shows were replaced by silent movies.
In 1830, John Hamlin built a flour mill on Kickapoo Creek, starting the Port of Peoria's first important industry. In 1837, E.F. Nowland started a pork-packing plant. The Port of Peoria's first industries included foundries, warehousing, furniture- and pottery-making, ice harvesting, and carriage and glucose factories. The same year, William Nurse began a farm machinery factory.
Also in 1837, Andre Eitle established a brewery, and Almiron Cole built a distillery in 1843, making the Port of Peoria a world-rated distilling center with many breweries and 22 distilleries. The Port of Peoria even generated the most internal revenue tax on alcohol for single tax revenue districts in the US, bringing wealth to the Port of Peoria and a smashing building boom.
Soon after in 1843, the steel plow made by Toby and Anderson became a nationwide hit. Many manufacturers (including Acme Harvester, Kingman Plow, Avery Manufacturing) dominated the local economy. By the 1880s, the Port of Peoria was home to several worldwide dealers and importers of bicycles and accessories their home there. In 1889, Keystone Steel & Wire created the first woven wire fence, and it led the Nation as an independent wire manufacturer for the next century. In 1893, Charles Duryea developed the first commercial gasoline automobile in the Port of Peoria.
In 1925, the Benjamin Holt Company and C.L. Best Tractor Company merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company. A decade later, the earth-moving company of Robert G. LeTourneau started making dozers and scrapers. That company eventually became Komatsu-Dresser, Haulpak Division.
As the Port of Peoria grew, ancient trails used by the indigenous people of the area became roads and stagecoach lines. Hand-pushed ferries and steam-powered vessels traveled the Illinois River. In 1829, the steamboat Liberty came to the Port of Peoria, beginning the era of the riverway transport system. By 1844, about 150 steamboat companies were operating on Peoria Lake. In 1854, the first passenger train came to the Port of Peoria. At the peak of the railroad era, more than 100 trains came to the Port of Peoria's Union Station every day. In 1907, the inter-urban electric railroad, Illinois Traction System, started services between Peoria and other cities in the region. Those services continued for almost 50 years. Mt. Hawley Airport opened in 1921, and the Greater Peoria Airport was constructed in 1942.