Taking a Glimpse Into the Peoria Public Library's Local History Room

Oct 15, 2019

Meet the man whose job is sharing local history with the public. 

Chris Farris is a reference assistant at the Peoria Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Room. He runs a popular page on social media - and posts with purpose. 

“I’m looking for breaking news items, especially as they’re related to Peoria’s past. So then I can intertwine the past with the present, and maybe the future," he said.  

The history room maintains thousands of historic books, photos, and microfilm newspaper records.

They’re not only utilized by local history buffs, but also genealogists tracing their family histories and business developers applying for historic tax credits. For instance, the library was involved in OSF HealthCare's efforts to obtain credits to restore the former Block & Kuhl building it plans to use for its new headquarters. 

Even now, nobody knows exactly what Ollie's secret combo of spices was.
Credit Tim Shelley / WCBU

Farris spends his days fielding questions and compiling items of interest, like a stack of old Lums and Dave and Ernie’s menus donated by a patron. It's just a sampling of many of the treasures brought in by people who didn't know where else to go with them. 

Bookshelves towards the rear of the reference area are lined with old history books, reference guides, and other documents that might prove useful to a budding historian or geneaologist. Farris roughly divides them into a "beginner's" area and a more "advanced" area. 

But some of the more fragile artifacts are kept in a back room not generally open to patrons.

The back room of the Peoria Public Library's Local History Room
Credit Tim Shelley / WCBU

The room is the home to thousands of photos, old newspaper clippings, histories of Peoria complied by amateur historians over the decades, and more. 

One old card catalog contains the answers to "frequently asked" questions about Peoria. One such question asks what is the oldest bar in Peoria. The answer isn't certain, but the card posits it may be the Dome Tap. 

Farris spends a lot of time highlighting Peoria's past, but he hesitates to call himself a historian. He instead prefers the term "student of history," because he's still learning. 

“I’m constantly learning every day. A lot of it just through helping patrons and their research questions. Something I wouldn’t have thought to research myself, but then I get into it, and I learn something," he said. 

The Peoria Life Building under construction in the early 20th century.
Credit Tim Shelley / WCBU

The Peoria Public Library Local History Room is located in lower level one of the library's main branch, 107 NE Monroe, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 

Click here to visit their website or here to visit the Facebook page