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History of Peoria, Illinois

Peoria is a city in northcentral Illinois, situated on the Illinois River where it widens into Lake Peoria, midway between Chicago and St. Louis. In 1673, the French explorers Marquette and Jolliet, on their return trip from their historic exploration of the upper Mississippi River, stopped at Lake Peoria. La Salle built Fort Crevecoeur at the foot of the lake and spent the winter of 1679-1680 there. He had intended to use the fort as a base for exploring the lower Mississippi, but the fort was destroyed during a mutiny of his garrison and it was never rebuilt. In the next decade, a trading post was built that flourished for a few years before being abandoned. A new French settlement developed after the defeat of the hostile Fox Indians in 1733. In 1778, this settlement moved to a new location, where it remained until the War of 1812. At that time, American settlers destroyed the village because they believed the French were inciting the Indians to go on the warpath. The U.S. Army built Fort Clark on Lake Peoria in 1813, but abandoned it after the war. The first permanent American settlers arrived in 1819. Peoria was incorporated as a town in 1835 and chartered as a city by 1845. The first train reached Peoria in November, 1854, and subsequently Peoria became the fourth largest regional hub in the American railroad system. At one time, Peoria served 15 separate railroads. Due to the number of distilleries in Peoria at the end of the 19th century, the city was nicknamed "Whiskey Capital of the World." By the end of the 19th century, excursion boats, sidewheelers, and sternwheelers were common on the Illinois River, bringing entertainment to the towns they visited. The excursion business was essentially ended, however, when tragedy struck in the early morning of July 5, 1918. The Columbia, carrying a contingent of passengers mostly from the town of Pekin, probably struck a submerged snag or a sandbar and broke in half as it attempted to pull away. About 80 people lost their lives.