Everything About Peoria, Illinois

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History

Peoria was first settled in 1680 by French explorers and fur trappers. The area was originally named “Pimiteoui” after the Peoria tribe that inhabited the region. In 1813 Fort Clark was built and Peoria became an important trading post. By 1835 the town of Peoria was officially incorporated.

During the Civil War, Peoria contributed greatly to the Union war effort. Steamboat companies based in Peoria shipped supplies downriver to Union troops. Local distilleries converted their operations to provide alcohol for medical supplies. The first African American regiment in the state was recruited in Peoria as well.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Peoria grew rapidly as a manufacturing and distilling center. Companies like Hiram Walker Distillery, Keystone Steel & Wire, and Caterpillar Inc were founded and became major employers. Many immigrants settled in Peoria to work at these factories.

Peoria continued expanding through the 1950s and 60s but declined thereafter due to industrial restructuring. However, healthcare and education are strong economic sectors that have helped revitalize Peoria in recent decades.

Major local companies include OSF Healthcare and Bradley University. Peoria remains an important economic hub for Central Illinois.


Geography

Peoria is located in Central Illinois along the Illinois River. It sits about 165 miles southwest of Chicago. The city covers 50 square miles of land and has around 120,000 residents.

Peoria has a humid continental climate with hot, humid summers and cold winters. The average high temperature in July is 84°F and the average low temperature in January is 18°F. Spring and fall bring pleasant weather but also the chance of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The Illinois River bisects Peoria north to south. The river helped Peoria develop into a trading and manufacturing center, providing water transportation and hydropower. The Peoria Lock and Dam located downtown allows barges and other riverboats to transit the river.

Peoria has diverse geography beyond the Illinois River valley. The northwest features bluffs and rolling hills while the southern end includes flat plains. The Rock River flows into the Illinois River north of the city.

Large wooded areas like Jubilee State Park and Wildlife Prairie Park offer plenty of trails, camping, and nature preserves.


Geology

Peoria sits atop sedimentary bedrock formed from an ancient inland sea 300-500 million years ago. Limestone and dolomite are common, having formed from calcite deposits and fossilized sea life. These sedimentary rocks produce rich fertile soil.

During the last ice age 12,000 years ago, glaciers advanced and retreated across the Peoria region several times. This helped shape the land, creating ridges, valleys, and deposits of gravel, sand, and clay. Meltwater from the glaciers also helped form the Illinois River valley.

Peoria has little seismic activity, but occasional minor earthquakes do occur. The closest fault lines are the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone about 100 miles away in Indiana and the New Madrid Seismic Zone 150 miles away in Missouri.

The last major earthquake near Peoria was a 5.4 magnitude in 1968 with the epicenter located 50 miles north.

While Peoria has few natural hazards, the city does see some environmental threats. Downtown sits in the Illinois River floodplain. Major floods have damaged the riverfront, most recently in 2013 when flood levels reached 24 feet. The city has erected floodwalls and levees to mitigate damage.


Neighborhoods

Peoria is divided into several distinct neighborhoods, each with its own character:

  • Downtown – This area along the Illinois River is the business, government, and entertainment hub of Peoria. Major landmarks include the Civic Center, Courthouse Square, and Riverfront Museum.
  • Warehouse District – Just south of downtown, old warehouses and factories have been transformed into restaurants, bars, and apartments while preserving the area’s industrial heritage.
  • West Bluff – An upscale neighborhood featuring stately historic homes and mansions along winding, tree-lined streets. Glen Oak Park and Bradley University are located here.
  • Southtown – A diverse working-class neighborhood known for ethnic eateries and pubs. Saint Francis Medical Center is a major employer.
  • North Valley – Home to several manufacturing plants and industrial corridors along the river. But revitalization efforts are bringing new development.
  • East Bluff – Overlooking downtown, East Bluff has beautiful Victorian homes mixed with middle-class suburbia. This area features some of Peoria’s best schools.


Climate

Peoria has a humid continental climate with hot summers and cold winters. The Köppen climate classification is Dfa.

Summer highs average in the mid-80s Fahrenheit while winter lows average in the upper teens. July is typically the hottest month and January the coldest. Spring and fall bring pleasant weather but also severe storms.

Peoria receives around 36 inches of rainfall annually. Precipitation is fairly constant year-round with the wettest periods in spring and summer. Snowfall averages 22 inches per year, with measurable snow possible from November through April.

Humidity can be high during summer, sometimes exceeding 90%. The dewpoint ranges from around 10°F in winter to 70°F in July. This humidity contributes to hot muggy summers and a prolonged spring severe weather season.

Sunshine is abundant in Peoria, averaging over 200 sunny days per year. But winters tend to be rather cloudy with less than 40% possible sunshine in December and January. The area lies in Tornado Alley so spring and summer often bring volatile weather patterns.


Demographics

Peoria has a population of around 115,000 within the city limits and over 400,000 in the metropolitan area. It is the largest city in Central Illinois.

Peoria’s population peaked in 1960 at over 130,000 residents. But jobs moving overseas led to urban decline, cutting the population to just over 110,000 by 2010. Recent years have seen slow but steady population growth again.

Around 60% of Peoria’s residents are white. 25% are African American, 1.5% Native American, 2% Asian, and 8% two or more races. Peoria also has a large Hispanic/Latino minority, comprising over 5% of the city’s population.

The median age is 34, with over 20% of residents under 18 and 13% over age 65. Peoria has many young professionals but faces an aging population as retirees increasingly relocate to the area.

Household income is below national averages, with a median around $45,000 annually compared to $65,000 for the U.S. as a whole. But cost of living is low, with housing and goods about 25% less than major metro areas.


Economy

Healthcare is the backbone of Peoria’s economy, comprising the largest employment sector. Major providers OSF Healthcare and UnityPoint Health have multiple major facilities in the city.

Caterpillar Inc. is also headquartered in Peoria, employing over 10,000 in the area. Distilleries and breweries remain important, led by Hiram Walker and Anheuser-Busch.

The downtown and riverfront area have seen much revitalization in recent years with new hotels, shops, restaurants, and high-rise apartments. Peoria’s economy and population are growing thanks to the expanded medical sector and urban renewal.

Manufacturing is still crucial to Peoria. Industrial areas produce heavy equipment, steel, wire, medical supplies, and food products. But warehousing and logistics are the new growth areas, situated near major road and rail routes across the Midwest.

Peoria has a diverse mix of major employers. In addition to healthcare and manufacturing, education is a top employer via Bradley University and major K-12 school districts. Finance and insurance also contribute many white-collar jobs.

The unemployment rate is below 5%, on par with state and national levels. Job growth is steady in healthcare, technology, renewable energy, logistics, and skilled trades. A central location, affordable cost of living, and educated workforce help attract new businesses.


Culture

Peoria has a long history of innovation and social reform movements thanks to its diverse blue-collar heritage. Major contributions have emerged from the arts, recreation, industry, and civil rights spheres.

In the late 1800s, Peoria hosted the first person of color to play Major League Baseball and was an early incubator of ragtime music. It was the first city with a recreational park district, establishing playgrounds and nature preserves.

Peoria has a vibrant arts scene led by the Peoria Civic Center, one of the largest theaters in the nation. The city’s museums and galleries showcase local history, arts, and science. A lively schedule of fairs and festivals takes place year-round.

The Peoria Speech in 1896 led to the formation of the 4-H Clubs to teach practical skills to rural youth. This embodied the Midwestern spirit of self-reliance and community service. In the 1960s, Peoria hosted the first Shot and a Beer tavern that served both black and white patrons together.

Peoria possesses a dynamic blend of cultures and identities, from Caterpillar engineers to corn farmers at the city’s edge. Residents young and old find connection through this shared heritage as the Heart of Illinois.


Colleges and universities

Peoria is home to several institutions of higher education:

  • Bradley University – This private university was founded in 1897 and has an enrollment of around 5,000 students. Bradley offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in liberal arts, business, engineering, education, and more.
  • University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria – Part of the U of I system, this medical school focuses on physician education and medical research. It partners with major hospitals and clinics in Peoria.
  • Illinois Central College – The ICC Peoria campus provides transfer degrees, career programs, adult education and high school equivalency. ICC is the fifth-largest community college in Illinois.
  • Midstate College – This career-focused college offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in business, legal studies, IT, healthcare, and more. Midstate has a main campus in Peoria with additional sites in Normal and Pekin.
  • OSF St. Francis College of Nursing – Affiliated with OSF Healthcare, St. Francis provides undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees along with medical lab technician training.
  • Bradley University and University of Illinois College of Medicine residency programs – These residencies at local hospitals give graduates specialized clinical experience. Specialties range from family medicine to neurosurgery.


Media

As a major metro area, Peoria has numerous media outlets:

The Peoria Journal Star is the region’s newspaper of record, published daily and covering the city since 1837. Radio stations include news/talk WMBD, NPR broadcaster WCBU, and popular music stations like WXCL.

Peoria’s television stations include WHOI ABC, WMBD CBS, WEEK NBC, and Fox WTVP. Public broadcaster WTVP also operates radio station WGBU. Nexstar and Sinclair Broadcasting operate most commercial stations.

Online, the PeoriaMagazines website features news, culture, and lifestyle content about the city. The Peoria Daily Record focuses on legal and business news. Social media groups like Enjoy Peoria promote local events.

Peoria has a growing podcast community with shows like The Artistic Type, Heartland Mamas, Rewriting Peoria History, One Shot Distillery, and Bradley Braves sports podcasts. Podcasts provide localized discussion and storytelling.

For moviegoers, the Willow Knolls 14 theatre is Peoria’s largest cinema. The downtown Landmark Theatre shows independent and classic films. Peoria also has several drive-in movie theaters just outside the city limits.


Roadways

Peoria’s transportation network includes highways, railroads, waterways, and airports:

Interstate 74 is the major highway running east/west through Peoria, continuing towards Bloomington and Chicago. I-474 forms a southern bypass of Peoria, while Route 6 bypasses Peoria to the north. Route 29 passes through downtown.

The Peoria International Airport offers direct flights on Allegiant, American, Delta, and United Airlines. General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport handles over 600,000 passengers annually.

Two national rail lines serve Peoria. Amtrak provides passenger service on the Lincoln Service route between Chicago and St. Louis. Freight railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern move cargo. The Peoria Riverfront Museum occupies the historic Rock Island station.

On the Illinois River, the Port of Peoria handles 2.5 million tons of goods annually via barge traffic. Companies like Caterpillar use the waterways to import and export materials. Passenger boats and sightseeing cruises also operate on the river.

Peoria’s road network suffers from congestion and deferred maintenance. But upcoming projects like the I-74 bridge replacement, Western Bypass, and Allen Road expansion aim to improve connectivity.


Major Landmarks

As one of the oldest cities in Illinois, Peoria is home to many historic and cultural landmarks:

  • Spirit of Peoria Riverboat – This paddlewheel riverboat offers sightseeing cruises and dinner tours on the Illinois River. The Spirit of Peoria departs from downtown.
  • Peoria Civic Center – This convention center hosts concerts, Broadway shows, family events, and more in its arena, theater, ballrooms and exhibit halls.
  • Peoria Zoo – Located in Glen Oak Park, the zoo houses over 100 animal species. It features big cat, penguin, tortoise, and Australian exhibits.
  • Peoria Riverfront Museum – Exhibits on art, science, history, achievement, and innovation are on display at this unique riverfront museum. A full-size replica steamboat sits outside.
  • Grand View Drive – Along the bluffs overlooking Peoria, this scenic road offers panoramic views of the river valley and skyline.
  • Dozer Field – Home to the Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball team, this downtown stadium hosts games from April through September.
  • Jim Jordan Boathouse – Named for Olympian Jim Jordan, this rowing center on the river provides training facilities for Bradley University Crew.
  • Mount Hawley – Located on the west edge of Peoria, Mount Hawley is one of the highest points in the region at over 1,200 feet above sea level. A lookout tower on top provides scenic vistas.
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Directions

  • Head east on E Orchard Ave toward S Powerline Rd. The destination will be on your right just past S Elder St. Look for the green house with white trim. If you reach the intersection with S Fern St, you’ve gone too far. The total drive is approximately 0.2 miles from S Powerline Rd.
  • From downtown Nampa, take 3rd St S heading south. Turn right onto E Roosevelt Ave and continue for 1.8 miles. Turn left onto S Elder St and drive 0.1 miles until you reach E Orchard Ave. Take a right onto E Orchard Ave. The green house with white trim will be on your right just after turning.
  • Take I-84 W towards Nampa. Take exit 38 for Franklin Blvd toward Nampa/Caldwell. Turn right onto Franklin Blvd and drive 3.2 miles. Turn left onto E Orchard Ave and continue for 0.9 miles. The destination is the green house with white trim on the right just past S Elder St. The total drive from I-84 is approximately 4.5 miles.