Through his membership in the Facebook group “If You Grew Up in East Peoria, You Remember …,” Ken Christianson of East Peoria has become something of an amateur historian who focuses on East Peoria’s past. He joined the group in 2011 and became an administrator in 2013, largely because he had become by then one of the group’s more active posters, frequently sharing historical photos on the group’s page.
“We got to the point where so many people were coming on to the group that Jason Friend, the founder, was getting a little overwhelmed with all of the traffic,” said Christianson. “He announced that he was making me an admin, because I was constantly posting and uploading new pictures. In my first year in the group, I hardly posted at all. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but somebody was looking for a particular photo and I thought, ‘I’m pretty good with Google and I’m pretty good at finding things.’ I took a shot at it and found the picture we were looking for. After that, it became a challenge to find new pictures to post. I was posting on almost a daily basis.”
Christianson finds many of the pictures he posts online, through such sites as www.archive.org and www.newspapers.com. But sometimes, there is no substitute for a brick-and-mortar library, and Christianson is a fairly regular visitor at both the Fondulac District Library and the Peoria Public Library, where he searches through relevant archived press clippings. A truck driver by profession, he is often on the road. However, he tries not to let his frequent absences from East Peoria lead to frequent absences from his Facebook group.
“I might not post as much when I’m on the road, but I always find something, even if it’s a repost,” said Christianson. “I consider all of the new members who came onboard in the last year, and repost something that I put up something from two years ago that they haven’t seen yet.”
When Christianson began posting old photographs of East Peoria, he did not see his endeavor as the work of a historian so much as the offering of a local resident who wanted to share memories of the way his town used to look. However, his research methods are not unlike those a historian might employ, and he has developed a keen interest in local history as a result of his frequent inquiries.
“While I’m out finding new pictures to post, I’m also getting a history lesson,” he said. “Then, I get to pass on that history to the other members when I post. Sometimes, the members teach me the history lesson. I might post a picture and not know anything about it, but someone who’s been in the group longer than I have will know the place in the picture and give us all some information about it.”
One intriguing chapter in East Peoria’s history was the existence of a latter-day Atlantis inn the area. Wesley City was a small, but apparently flourishing community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The unincorporated settlement on the Illinois River, near present-day Creve Coeur, grew up on the site of an 18th century French trading. Most of the streets of the settlement are now submerged, but the memory of Wesley City lives on in the name of its main thoroughfare: Wesley Road.
“Wesley City had everything a small town was supposed to have,” Christianson said. “It had a gas station, a church, a school, a store, and residential streets. But the Illinois River rose, possibly in the 1930s when the Peoria Lock and Dam complex was built, and basically inundated the town west of Wesley Road.”
“If You Grew Up in East Peoria …” currently has over 5,000 members. The group's Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/groups/218936524819734/.