From Saloon to Ice Cream Shop

From Saloon to Ice Cream Shop

A 19th century building, home to Emack & Bolio’s, is considered the oldest commercial building in downtown Peoria.
PEORIA – Emack & Bolio’s is only in its second season in its historic building on Water Street, but this is the second century of the building’s existence.
 
Rewind back 162 years to 1852.

The building was home to John Schwab Grocery and Beer Saloon on Washington Street.

 
“It was right on the riverfront. They could unload groceries and supplies through the back door from the steamboats, and then haul it to sell it in the front of the store and the street,” Linda Aylward, an assistant at the Special Collections Center, said.
 
John Schwab owned the shop, and now he has his own spooky tale.
 
“He was going from his establishment on the first floor to his living quarters upstairs and fell down the stairs to his death,” Aylward said.
 
Aylward said Schwab stuck around and is known to haunt the building, but Emack & Bolio’s co-owner Jim Maxwell is not so sure.
 
“Have not seen any ghosts yet. Haven’t heard anything yet. Haven’t seen anything yet, but you never know, I guess,” Maxwell said.
 
 After the Schwab era, the building had one owner after the next, but each time it stayed a saloon, which fit perfectly with Peoria’s reputation as the distilling capital of the world.
 
But once Prohibition hit, the building became a toy shop, then a church, a tires outlet store and Powell Printing Press.
 
“It’s just nice to have a tie that goes that far back in the history of our city,” Aylward said.
 
In 1997, the 310 ton building was moved from Washington Street to its current location on Water Street. That’s when it became the Riverfront Visitors Center.
 
And today, the ice cream shop’s owner says customers love the history. “They read the stories about the building, and they want to look around and some, a lot of people want to go upstairs and look around,” Maxwell said.
 
Maxwell and his co-owner display some of the history throughout the shop with pictures inside.
 
For more information on any piece of its history, Alyward recommends stopping by the Special Collections Center at Bradley University to do some further research.
 
All historical photographs courtesy of the Peoria Historical Society Collection in the Bradley University Library.
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