Lady Bird Johnson visited Peoria to dedicate courthouse plaza.
She wanted the nation to be "America the Beautiful" and came to Peoria on Sept. 22, 1965, to dedicate the new Peoria County Courthouse and to plant a Japanese cherry tree in its landscaped plaza.
Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, with her Texas accent and gentle manner, told 700 guests at a luncheon which followed in the Hotel Pere Marquette ballroom that Peoria had a group of "can do" citizens.
"I thank you for letting me have a closeup look at the success story you’ve created here."
Speaking between rain showers at the courthouse, she called Peoria "a magic city — filled with magicians who have transformed Downtown Peoria into one of the prettiest cities in America … an example for every other city."
She told the crowd "of course ugliness is unprofitable. Not just in terms of dollars and cents, but in the toll it takes of human pleasure and the quality of our daily life."
A keen advocate for the environment and beautification, she wanted trees and wildflowers to replace the billboards along the nation’s highways.
At the dedication ceremony she used a chrome-plated shovel from Henry Nurseries, which supplied the greenery for the plaza, to place four spadefuls of earth around the young cherry tree.
The First Lady arrived at Greater Peoria Airport that day, where she was met by city and county officials and presented a dozen yellow roses by Les Kenyon, president of Peoria City Beautiful which had led the drive for a landscaped plaza.
At the close of the dedication ceremony, Johnson planned to walk down through the multi-level plaza with its fountains, pools and gardens, but the crush of well-wishers became too great for the petite 5-foot, 4-inch Lady Bird.
She shook hands with dozens of citizens as well as members of the Peoria County Board and Public Building Commission.
Political dignitaries on hand to greet her included Illinois Lt. Gov. Samuel Shapiro, former Peoria Mayor Robert Day, Mrs. Everett Dirksen, Emily Taft Douglas, Peoria County Board Chairman Joe Sprenger, Public Building Commission Chairman Robert Campbell and state Rep. John Parkhurst.