The “ghost” writing on the side of the Prairie Center of the Arts is a reminder of Peoria’s past industrial roots.

The partnership of Edward Heidrich and Martin Kingman in 1888 to form the Peoria Cordage Company showed the growth of the American agricultural industry. The new company would specialize in producing binder twine and other similar products, and through another Kingman owned company, fulfilled product demands throughout the Midwest, South and Western states. Having survived the Panic of 1893 and a coerced partnership, the National Cordage Trust went on to employ over 330 people.

The company started construction on a series of buildings in about 1888 at what is currently 1506 S.W. Washington St. when Paul Leitz was contracted to design at least the first two buildings both facing Washington Street. Hewitt & Emerson, who would be architects for such buildings as the Pere Marquette and the Peoria Country Club, would design several of the later buildings. By 1920 there would be a series of at least 10 buildings on the property that would serve various purposes: milling, carding, storage, office, cafeteria and even on-site living quarters for employees.

The two-story buildings facing Washington Street are some of those constructed during the first years. They are of brick construction with wood floors and post & beam construction as is typical in late 19th century industrial design but show an added level of detail through the use of more elaborate brickwork around multiple windows. This brickwork also creates pilasters and corbels along the parapet. Though the buildings along Washington appear to have been built as one, detail variations of lighting was an important aspect in the design of the building as many windows captured as much natural light as possible. Monitor windows were used on at least one building to break through the otherwise solid roof, allowing light to radiate into the interior.

Peoria Cordage Company operated through the mid 1970s and retained leadership within the Heidrich (Page) Family through the final years. In 1976, Tri-City Machine Products bought the property. Finding space to be available, the new owners, Joe and Michele Richey, charted new waters in the “New Urbanism” movement and turned part of the unused space into the Prairie Center of the Arts. This pivotal step of collaborative space and appreciation for the effect that artists can bring to a community helped spur the renaissance of the art community in the area.

The Peoria Cordage Company buildings were placed on the Nation Register of Historic Places in 1982 and act as a reminder that the local industrial base spurring Peoria’s growth was created not only from distilling spirits but through many agricultural endeavors from farm implements, livestock and products needed as farming spread throughout the country. The buildings also serve to remind us of the many first-generation residents moving to Peoria who found jobs and the energy that helped Peoria find a new identity with the arts.

(As a note, Martin Kingman, one of the original owners of the Peoria Cordage Company, built a mansion on Perry Street for his family. Unfortunately, after not finding an owner who would restore the house, it is in the process of being torn down. Salvage of many of the architectural elements is occurring.)

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