Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously this column reviewed the story of how Pekin became an incorporated city in 1849. When the residents of Pekin formally adopted a city charter on Aug. 20, 1849, Pekin opted for a mayor/alderman form of government.

The earliest published history of Pekin is found in the Sellers & Bates 1870 Pekin City Directory. On page 28 of that volume, we read, “The election for city officers occurred on the 24th of September, 1849, and resulted in the election of the following named officers: Mayor – Bernard Bailey. First Ward – John Atkinson. Second Ward – David P. Kenyon. Third Ward – Wm. S. Maus. Fourth Ward – Jacob Riblet.”

The Bailey name is an old one in Pekin – part of Pekin is known as Bailey Addition, and Lake Arlann (Meyers Lake) formerly was called Bailey’s Lake. However, Bernard Bailey does not appear to have been a member of that Bailey family. The 1880 “History of Peoria County” says he was born in Maryland on March 26, 1812, the son of Vincent and Susanna (Bernard) Bailey. He first came to Tazewell County, Illinois, around 1830, where he worked as a school teacher and worked at his father’s ox mill. Settling in Pekin, he went into the grocery business and did some wagon making, saving enough money to become a lawyer.

Shown are the federal letters patent signed by President Andrew Jackson confirming the purchase of land in Tazewell County on April 15, 1833, by Bernard Bailey of Pekin, who later was elected Pekin’s first mayor on Sept. 24, 1849. IMAGE FROM U.S. GENERAL LAND OFFICE ARCHIVES VIA ANCESTRY.COM

Bailey then left Pekin, moving to Mercer County, Illinois, and then south to Louisiana, the native state of his wife Arabella Gilmore. In East Baton Rouge Parish, he tried his hand at sugar and cotton planting, until in 1848 he returned to Pekin, being elected mayor the following year.

Originally Pekin’s mayor and aldermen were elected to serve one-year terms, with elections taking place in the spring. Because the first mayor and city council were elected in the autumn, however, they could only serve about seven months before the next election. The 1870 City Directory says the second city election was on April 15, 1850, and Mayor Bailey and three of the four aldermen were reelected (Atkinson losing his reelection bid to Peter Weyhrich).

Before Pekin could vote to incorporate as a city, a hasty enumeration of the town’s inhabitants had to be conducted to verify that Pekin had at least 1,500 residents. However, immigration and prosperity was fueling a population boom during Mayor Bailey’s two terms. The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Only a year later, Pekin’s population had increased by more than 20% to 1,840, many of the new arrivals being German immigrants. Bailey was re-elected Mayor (the terms then being one year) and all seemed to be going well.”

“That did not last long, however,” the Sesquicentennial continues.

It was at this point that the fledgling city government experienced its first “hiccup.” The 1887 Pekin City Directory, page 30, briefly explains:

“On the 9th of October, 1850, it was resolved by the Council that the Mayor be requested to resign his office, that the city may elect a Mayor who will attend to the duties of his office. On the 25th of October, Mayor Bailey sent in his written resignation which, on motion, was accepted.”

It should be noted that the 1870 City Directory mistakenly switched the calendar dates of the council resolution and Bailey’s resignation. That error was corrected in the 1887 edition, but the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial repeats the 1870 City Directory’s mistake.

The standard reference works on Pekin’s early history do not tell us why Mayor Bailey was not “attending to the duties of his office,” but Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 723, includes a brief reference to Bernard Bailey that may or may not shed some light on that question:

“In the month of October, 1848, the Tazewell Mirror was purchased from John S. Lawrence by John Smith, now of Princeton, Ill. In 1850 Smith sold to Bernard Bailey, but repurchased the Mirror in 1851 in company with Adam Henderson.”

Could Mayor Bailey have been distracted from his civic duties in 1850 by his struggle to operate a newspaper? Whatever the answer to that question, after Bailey’s resignation, a special election was held on Nov. 25, 1850, and Abram Woolston (mistakenly called Woolstein in the 1879 “History of Tazewell County”) was elected to serve the remainder of Bailey’s term.

After owning the Mirror for six months, Bailey sold out and moved to Peoria. There he bought an interest in the Peoria Republican newspaper, later going into the boot and shoe business. In 1856 he was elected Justice of the Peace. He and his wife had 11 children. Pekin’s first mayor lived to the age of 91, dying at Peoria Hospital on Aug. 22, 1903. He was buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria.

#baileys-lake, #bernard-bailey, #city-of-pekin, #pekin-becomes-a-city, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-mayor, #preblog-columns

Another visit to Lake Arlann

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last July this column asked the question, “What do you call that lake?” as we reviewed the history of the large body of water in southern Pekin that has been known successively as Bailey’s Lake, Lake Arlann, and now Meyers Lake. This week we revisit that question, presenting one or two pertinent facts that have come to my attention.

The lake first came to be known as Bailey’s Lake around the mid-1800s because Cincinnati Township pioneer settler Samuel P. Bailey (or Baily), a Pekin attorney, owned a couple parcels of land along the east and west shores toward the north end of the lake.

This photograph of Bailey’s Lake, a copy of which is preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, was probably taken circa 1890, perhaps by Henry Hobart Cole.

Coal mining and ice harvesting were big business at Bailey’s Lake until the middle of the 20th century. Afterwards, real estate development at the lake in the 1950s brought the new designation “Lake Arlann,” after the developer, named Arlann, who added some new subdivisions at the lake.

Finally, a few years ago Tazewell County plat books and online maps of Pekin began to show the lake’s name as “Meyers Lake” instead of “Lake Arlann.” It’s still not clear how or why that name-change came about – but recently I chanced upon a bit of information that shed a little more light on the “Meyers Lake” designation . . . but also makes things a bit more complicated.

This information is found on page 97 of John Drury’s 1954 volume, “This is Tazewell County, Illinois,” where we find this description of the community of Schaeferville (emphasis added):

“Another hamlet in Elm Grove Township is Shaferville. It is located just south of Pekin city and near it is Meyer’s Lake. A highway, State 9, runs through the community.”

As an aside, “Shaferville” is properly known as “Schaeferville,” which is the subdivision’s legal name and the way online maps spell the name – but the latest Tazewell County plat book has “Shaferville” just as Drury showed in 1954. The family for which it is named spelled their name “Schaefer,” however.

But as for the lake’s name, according to Drury’s old book on Tazewell County, Lake Arlann apparently was called “Meyer’s Lake” for a while in the 1950s. Furthermore, the 1967 Tazewell County plat book also called it “Meyer’s Lake.”

And now, according to the official Tazewell County plat books, and according to Internet maps of Pekin, it’s again called “Meyers Lake” (seemingly having misplaced its apostrophe in the intervening decades while the lake was known as Lake Arlann).

But the question remains: Why “Meyers” Lake?

#baileys-lake, #lake-arlann, #meyers-lake, #samuel-p-bailey, #schaeferville

What do you call that lake?

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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 ( 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.)

This photograph of Bailey's Lake, a copy of which is preserved in the Pekin Public Library's Local History Room collection, was probably taken circa 1900.

This photograph of Bailey’s Lake, a copy of which is preserved in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection, was probably taken circa 1900.

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.

Bailey's Lake and the land of Pekin attorney Samuel P. Bailey is shown in this detail from M. H. Thompson's 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County. The lake was renamed Lake Arlann in the 1950s, and about four years ago was again renamed Meyers Lake.

Bailey’s Lake and the land of Pekin attorney Samuel P. Bailey is shown in this detail from M. H. Thompson’s 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County. The lake was renamed Lake Arlann in the 1950s, and about four years ago was again renamed Meyers Lake.

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?

#baileys-lake, #lake-arlann, #lake-arlann-homeowners-association, #meyers-lake, #pekin-history, #pekin-ice-houses, #samuel-p-bailey