Bernard Bailey (1812-1903), Pekin’s first mayor

This is a revised version of one of our “From the Local History Room” columns that first appeared in March 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Bernard Bailey, Pekin’s first mayor

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Last time we 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, who later would serve a term as Pekin’s mayor in 1858-1859).

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. Since Mayor Bailey’s election in 1849, a total of 48 men and one woman (Laurie Barra, 2011-2015) have held the office of Mayor of Pekin. There have been three mayors in Pekin’s history who have served more than one term: Charles Diusdieker (1895-1996, 1911-1915), J. Norman Shade (1939-1954, 1959-1966), and David Tebben (1995-2003, 2007-2008).

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.

#abram-woolston, #bernard-bailey, #charles-duisdieker, #david-tebben, #dr-william-s-maus, #illinois-bicentennial, #laurie-barra, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #pekin-history, #pekins-first-mayor, #peter-weyhrich

A prank on a plank bridge

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

A prank on a plank bridge

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In the past century and a half, several bridges have spanned the Illinois River at Pekin. Today’s “Pekin bridge,” the John T. McNaughton Bridge, was dedicated in 1982. Prior to that, Pekin’s bridge was a lift bridge that was built in the late 1920s and was dedicated on June 2, 1930.

Before that, however, Pekin not only had long had a railroad bridge, but non-rail traffic was able to cross the river over a plank bridge at the foot of Court Street .

This 1927 photograph shows the old plank bridge that used to span the Illinois River at Pekin. This photo, which was printed in the Pekin Daily Times in 1984, was the possession of Ernest Edwards of rural Pekin. His sister Irene is shown leaning on the bridge at the right.

That first “Pekin bridge” is probably not well remembered today, but in the lore of Pekin’s past a humorous anecdote about its construction and dedication has been handed down. The story is recorded in the 1949 Pekin Centenary, pp.39, 41, which tells of events during the time of Pekin Mayor John L. Smith (1885-1886). Before it had appeared in the Centenary, however, the story was told in the pages of the Pekin Daily Times on Jan. 16, 1930, and reprinted in the special bridge dedication edition of the Daily Times on June 2, 1930.

The Pekin Centenary says it was during Smith’s term that “the first plank bridge was built across the river here at a cost of $17,500,” the city council having taken a pass on a proposal to build a pontoon bridge for $14,500.

Around the same time, Pekin got its first electric street lights, contracting for a mere $5,000 a year to install and maintain them. The city decided to have a grand public celebration to inaugurate the new bridge and the new lights – but the bridge workers decided to celebrate in a way that wasn’t on the official program of events.

According to the 1930 Daily Times article, there had been some kind of falling out between the city’s bridge committee members and Earnest Kidd, the assistant foreman, and Kidd decided to get even by pulling a fast one on the city council with the help of the foreman, Jack Jennings.

As the Centenary relates, “Mayor Smith, himself, rode the first rig across the new bridge, in impressive ceremonies, but his triumphant opening was somewhat marred by the fact that much of the populace knew and the rest soon learned that Charles Holland had actually been first to cross the new bridge, thanks to a conspiracy with the workmen. The last of the planking was not to be completed until just before the mayor was to cross, but workmen labored through the night to lay the planking so that Holland could drive a carriage over the bridge at the crack of dawn, and then they hastily took up the planking again to be relaid for the mayor.”

The Centenary does not say what Mayor Smith thought about the prank, but the Daily Times story says that he and the aldermen were very upset and even sent Police Chief Tim Sheehan to have Holland arrested. Jennings and Kidd, however, were tall and imposing men, and Jennings told Sheehan that if he arrested Holland he would have to arrest him too, so Holland was left unmolested.

The story, of course, does not end there. On pages 67 and 69, the Centenary tells of the construction and dedication of Pekin’s new lift bridge 45 years later, and mentions that Holland, by then a well known and respected insurance man, was there too:

“The stock market had fallen apart in 1929, and the Great Depression was underway in 1930, and yet the record shows that in this year the new half-million dollar Pekin bridge was completed . . . Completion of that bridge marked one of the biggest celebrations in Pekin history. Rep. Martin B. Lohmann (now Senator) who led the fight for state funds, drove the first car across. It was Fred Moenkemoeller’s car, and this time they forestalled any double-shuffle such as had taken place at the opening of the old bridge by having Charles Holland, now getting along in years, ride across with the others in the first car. It was Holland, the reader will remember, who had driven over Pekin’s old bridge ahead of the mayor to be the first to cross, and make a joke of the opening ceremony.”

Jump ahead another 50 years or so, and Pekin celebrated the opening of the new John T. McNaughton Bridge. Holland had died long before, of course, but one of the leader dignitaries at the 1930 festivities, Martin Lohmann, was there for the bridge dedication in 1982.

Lohmann’s name is attached to another bridge across the Illinois River: the Shade-Lohmann Bridge at Creve Coeur, named in joint honor of Lohmann and former Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade.

#charles-holland, #earnest-kidd, #fred-moenkemoeller, #jack-jennings, #john-t-mcnaughton-bridge, #martin-b-lohmann, #mayor-j-norman-shade, #mayor-john-j-smith, #old-plank-bridge, #pekin-bridges, #pekin-police-chief-tim-sheehan, #plank-bridge-prank, #shade-lohmann-bridge