It was in February of 1853 when the firm that eventually was to evolve into the Central Illinois Light Co., was granted its charter to sell gas lighting for city streets in Peoria. This was the Peoria Gas Light and Coke Co., whose charter was granted the same date as that of Quincy, making it the second or third utility in Illinois after Chicago.
The Company erected a gas manufacturing plant at the foot of Persimmon St., and on November 10, 1855, the gas lights were turned on, illuminating Peoria’s principal streets for the first time.
The lamps were kept burning from twilight until dawn. But gas lighting was dim and inefficient, and Peoria’s first electric company and second utility was formed by the Jenney Electric Light and Power Co. on September 20, 1883. Jenney obtained a contract from the city for electrical street lighting in November, 1885, which marked the end of gas lights in the city. CILCO was organized in 1913.
The company’s 1924 report indicated the bulk of its power came from the East Peoria Plant, with the Liberty Station operating continuously throughout the heating season. More transmission lines were built that year, more gas lines laid and the plant was improved.
In 1932, CILCO contracted to buy natural gas from Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company and CILCO discontinued its manufacture of gas. On May 1, 1933, the properties of the Illinois Power Co. were acquired by CILCO, which made the East Peoria generating station, plus the gas, electric and heating properties plus the heating facilities in DeKalb part of the firm.
From 1933 on, CILCO continued to grow. By 1940 the firm had 1,087 employees. R. S. Wallace resigned as chairman of the board in 1947 and the East Peoria Plant was named in his honor.
The company moved its headquarters into the new general office building at 300 Liberty in May, 1959. In April of 1967, operations began at the company’s new facility in Pioneer Park.
By 1971, the company’s revenues topped the $100 million mark for the first time. It was that same year the Liberty Street Station was dismantled after having served the area for 81 years. The following year, construction started on CILCO’s Duck Creek site near Canton.
CILCO really began at Liberty Street Station, located at the site of the old Fort Clark. From here, electricity illuminated Peoria homes for generations, steam-heated many dwellings and businesses and even provided heat to cook food at the old Palace Cafeteria. The company’s roots remain in the heart of old Peoria.
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