1942–1945: WWII Comes to Peoria

World War Two sharpened the cultural divide in Peoria. Madams, tavern owners and casino operators were eager to profit from the soldiers who came to Peoria on leave and with money to spend in their pocket. But many middle-class Peorians recoiled against the Sin City their town had become. When soldiers who came to Peoria started contracting venereal disease there, these reformers teamed with the military to scrub their city clean.

1945 was a hinge moment when the balance of power shifted in the city: in that year’s mayoral primaries, Peoria’s reformers struck a powerful blow by decisively defeating the incumbent mayor Ed Woodruff, the longtime face of “Roarin’ Peoria.”

The Pryor Family in Wartime

The Pryor family was affected in multiple ways by the advent of World War II. LeRoy Pryor, Richard’s father, was drafted by the Army—and formalized his union with Richard’s mother Gertrude just before being sent off to the front. The spirit of the Army didn’t appear to agree with him: he spent only seven months in the service, receiving a Section 8 discharge, and shortly after his return to Peoria, was allegedly involved in the mugging of a black soldier.

On another level, the Pryor family found its commercial stride on the home front, benefiting from the new soldierly foot traffic in the red light district. By the end of the war, the family operated not only two brothels on North Washington Street but also the tavern-nightclub The Famous Door on North Adams Street — a more reputable enterprise on a more reputable street.

A wartime worker at Peoria's Caterpillar plant