Molly Crusen Bishop: From where her hopes spring eternal

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My memories of neighbors on the West Bluff are vast and still can bring forth sweet emotions from the days of yesteryear. The first distinct one takes place early in the mornings on weekends with Mr. Van Norman playing his bagpipes and pacing from one end of his large front porch to the other. His handlebar mustache blended nicely with the echoing sounds of his unusual instrument. Years later I would take Irish dancing lessons with his daughter Erin, forever tying this Irish man and the sound of bagpipes together for me.

The Van Normans moved just before my kindergarten year at Whittier and an even more interesting family moved into the large brick home next door to my home on Barker. The Maynard family arrived around 1976 and brought excitement and education to my little self that left a permanent impression on me.

David and Jane Maynard and their children spiced up the West Bluff in many good ways. David was the minister at the Universalist Unitarian Church. He and his wife were kind and thoughtful people who opened my eyes to the world outside of my own. Their views were often different than that of my parents, but there was never an attitude of judgment from anyone. They had a tire-swing and a huge backyard where the Maynard kids, neighborhood children, and I would play for hours.

I loved riding in the Maynard’s green VW van to special events at their beautiful church. (The UU church was ultimately demolished and turned into a part of Methodist Hospital years later. Les Kenyon, who saved the GAR Hall and founded the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation, fought valiantly to save this amazing piece of architecture, to no avail.)

The Maynards would often take us to visit some of their friends a little further down the West Bluff, at the always-exciting Traynor family house! The fun green VW van filled with kids would travel down Barker, Moss Avenue, and then down Union Hill and head slightly left to what was then 701 West Seventh Avenue, now 701 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, to one of Peoria’s most historic homes and also an ancient secret in their back yard, Peoria Mineral Springs.

We would rush out of the van and head to the house to say our expected greetings, then proceed like banshees into the woods.

I loved the cobblestone road and the two story brick home that told a story all on its own. There was a large rock with a metal hoop to tie up horses and the frames on the windows were distinct. The architect of the original structure was Revolutionary War hero Capt. Zeally Moss. It was built between 1843-1845 in a Federal style, or post-Colonial style, with many additions over the next several decades. It ending up being shaped like a T, with wings to the west and to the east. The additions were done well and the house is beautiful.

I recollect running back up the hill to trees behind the home and viewing the amazing brick arched structure. We were told about the ancient mineral spring water flowing continuously under the structure.

The brick “vault” in the hillside was mysterious and a million thoughts and pictures of what was inside ran through my child mind. The Traynor family salvaged the mineral spring when they purchased the home, literally digging dirt out of the cavern. They would often find Native American artifacts and their energy and love for the mineral spring and the history made all of the children visiting excited.

We all became a part of the story of the Peoria Mineral Springs.

The glacial ice that covered this part of America more than 14,500 years ago is the source of the water that is flowing continuously today. This spring was the source of water for the original settlers on the West Bluff. Wooden pipes once funneled the pristine water that came from three different mineral springs into one source and then carried it more than two miles away to Hancock Street. When Peoria’s population became too large, Illinois River water was  used as the main source for the city’s residents.

However, the mineral springs were used for decades for different bottling companies, including some owned by Ransom Hickey and later Preston Clark.

The Maynards moved away in the early 1980s but the Traynor family remains on Peoria’s historic West Bluff and with Peoria Mineral Springs to this day. The Traynor family had the house, structure, and land listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They have been fantastic caretakers of this special and ancient piece of Peoria history.

Tobias Traynor is the current owner and his father Charles Traynor is one of several caretakers. Charles recently let me see copies of some very special papers. There is a deed signed by Lydia Moss Bradley, who was willed the land. The deed states that she conveyed and warranted the land, spring, and house to Mr. Preston Clark on Nov. 4,, 1892, at 3:40 o’clock P.M.

It also states that Lydia Moss Bradley had her own special pipes bring in water up from the spring to to her house on Moss Avenue.

“The spring situated on line of her residence, Lots no. 2 & 3 Moss, addition comprising reservoirs, walls, pipes, and supports, now in the ground and easements forever of the underground flow or stream discharging, into said reservoirs, and the further right to make and maintain forever lines of pipe at a convenient depth in the ground, from said spring in a direct line, along a lot line to Seventh Street together with right of entry, at all times, to said spring along the said line of pipes, the Grantor, Lydia Bradley, reserves the right to attach a pipe, and take water for domestic uses from spring.”

This deed was signed by Lydia Moss Bradley and notarized by her attorney, W.W. Hammond, Notary Public.

The Traynor family has been working diligently tuck pointing the brick structure. It is interested in making the Peoria Mineral Springs water come to the surface and turning the many acres of wooded hillside into a wildlife area, as well as continuing to upgrade the brick vault and historic house. The family is in the process of acquiring the funds to ensure longevity and keep the historic landmark in wonderful condition.

They will need support from the community to be able to do this massive undertaking, but it’s a cause that is worth preserving in Peoria.

The ancient Peoria Mineral Springs is a mystical, beautiful place. The water is pure and flowing and must be used. You can find out more about one of Peoria’s historic treasures on their Facebook page, Peoria Mineral Springs, and ask for a tour so that you too can share in the story that makes up part of the historic West Bluff. 

About the Author
Molly is a life-long Peorian and an author, speaker, and storyteller. She is married to Doug Bishop and has five children and one grandchild. Molly loves history and Peoria and loves to share her passions with anyone she can get to listen to her. She loves to research, interview, and write or speak about history. The youngest and ninth child of Don and Joani Crusen, she grew up on the West Bluff in the house her great grandparents built in the 1880s. She writes a historical column in Woman’s View magazine, and will be writing a column called The Peorian Perspective in The Peorian.