By Jared Olar
Just a few blocks south of Pekin Community High School’s Memorial Stadium is the north end of a natural, spring-fed lake used for boating and fishing by homeowners who live along its shores.
If one were to ask a Pekin resident the name of the lake, most Pekinites would probably say, “Lake Arlann.”
And until 2012, they’d have been right.
However, around that time the lake was officially renamed “Meyers Lake.” The 2012 Tazewell County plat book is the last one in which “Lake Arlann” appears. Since then, the plat books have said “Meyers Lake.”
The reason for the name change is unclear, nor have I yet determined who filed and approved the new name, nor why “Meyers” was chosen as its name. Presumably it’s related to the expansion of real estate development in the area along the lake’s southern and western shores in recent years.
The timing of the name change is remarkable, given the fact that the Lake Arlann Homeowners’ Association – which has not changed its name – only launched its website (www.lakearlannhomeownersassociation.com) in 2014. Nevertheless, a survey of the association’s website shows no mention of the new name. The website does explain, though, that the LAHA, which represents 10 subdivisions (including subdivisions named “Lake Arlann”), “was formed in the 1950’s to deal with environmental, municipal and other issues affecting the lake and its members, and to present a united voice. It was founded for the PEOPLE, for the common good…to find ways to contribute to the health, pleasure, comfort and security of those living here.”
No doubt it will take a few years for Pekinites accustomed to the name “Lake Arlann” to get used to saying “Meyers Lake” – just as older residents had to train their tongues to say “Lake Arlann” instead of “Bailey’s Lake” or “Bailey Lake,” which is what its name was prior to the 1950s. (It’s unknown what the local Potawatomi and Kickapoo and other native tribes of Illinois called the lake before the arrival of white settlers.)
The map of Pekin in the 1949 Pekin Centenary volume give the lake’s name as “Bailey Lake,” but the oldest Tazewell County maps and atlases call it “Bailey’s Lake.” Before Lake Arlann became a place for recreational boating and fishing, Bailey’s Lake was the location of the Grant Brothers ice houses during the first half of the 20th century.
Grant Brothers used to have a switch track that carried harvested ice from the lake during the winter up to the New York Central Railroad, which carried Pekin ice across the country for use in families’ ice boxes in the days before electric refrigeration. There were also coal mines dug into the bluffs and hills near the lake. But with the end of ice harvesting and the decline of coal mining in Tazewell County, the land around the lake was redeveloped in the mid-20th century as prime real estate for people desiring a lakeside home. With that redevelopment came a new name – though, again, I’ve not determined why “Arlann” was chosen as its name. The LAHA website sheds no light on that question.
We do know, however, why the lake was long known as “Bailey’s Lake.” One of Cincinnati Township’s pioneer settlers was an attorney and landowner named Samuel P. Bailey (or Baily), who owned a couple parcels of land along the east and west shores toward the north end of the lake. M. H. Thompson’s 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County shows Bailey’s property in what was then Cincinnati Township. Later the township boundaries were adjusted so that this land is now within Pekin Township, but, regardless of the township boundaries, even in 1864 the western portion of Bailey’s property was already within the Pekin city limits.
Samuel P. Bailey is mentioned several times in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County.” On pages 707-709 is a biography of Bailey’s son-in-law George Henry Harlow, who was then serving as Illinois Secretary of State. On page 709, Chapman’s history says Harlow “was married Oct 1st, 1856, to Miss Susan M. Baily, daughter of Hon. Samuel P. Baily, of Tazewell Co. . . . Her father was a native of Penn. He married Mary Dorsey, of Elk Ridge landing, Maryland, and shortly after moved to St. Louis, Missouri. From here he returned to Pekin, where he was for thirty years engaged in the practice of law, and occupied many positions of honor and trust.”
Chapman’s history also mentions that Samuel P. Bailey was one of the first members of Tazewell County’s new Board of Supervisors, representing Cincinnati Township on the county board from 1850 to 1852. On page 371, Chapman lists “Baily, S. P.” as a recruit for Company F of the 108th Illinois Infantry, enlisting Sept. 27, 1864, and mustering out on Aug. 5, 1865 – but it’s not clear if that’s Samuel P. Bailey. Also included in Chapman’s history, on page 388, are a few lines about Bailey’s career at law which all but disregard the ancient rule De mortuis nihil nisi bonum – “Of the dead (speak) nothing but good” –
“Samuel P. Bailey settled in Pekin about 1830 and practiced law up to the time of his death in 1869. Mr. Bailey was an omnivorous reader, and was probably the most widely read lawyer at the Bar, but he lacked practical application and could in no way utilize the immense stores of his knowledge; and the learning which would have given him the highest place as an advocate, was rendered valueless because it availed him but little in the practical discharge of the duties of his profession.”
In other words, Bailey knew a great deal, but wasn’t a very good lawyer.
As much as we know about Bailey, can we discover as much about Arlann and Meyer?