Highland News Leader

Highland has been having drinks courtesy of former mayor for more than half a century

L.G. "Gerry" Beaird
L.G. "Gerry" Beaird

L.G. "Gerry" Beaird was a salesman. For years, he sold combines, tractors and automobiles at his 4-5-6 Co. on Broadway in Highland. But the best deal he ever struck was not for machinery. It was for water.

Beaird went Western Illinois State College and taught school for a time before going to work International Harvester in Peoria. He and his wife, Betty, actually both worked for I-H.

When World War II broke out, Beaird was with the Army Corps of Engineers in the St. Louis area. It was the war that first shepherded him to Highland. His duties with the Corps of Engineers brought him to here to inspect work being done by the C.J. Hug Co.

In 1944, Beaird's old boss in Peoria, now transferred to St. Louis, told him that the International Harvester franchise in Highland was for sale its owners, Bert Gruenenfelder and Jinx Buchmiller.

By late December of '44, Beaird purchased the business, and his 4-5-6 Co. was in operation in 1945, selling International Harvester farm equipment and Buick automobiles.

(In 1947, Beaird built a new building 401 Broadway, where Windows on Broadway is today. The old 4-5-6 Co. building at 816B Broadway was then put to use by Western Auto. Today, it's Nails Pro. The car dealership, now McGinley Chrysler, is located at 7 Shamrock Blvd., off of W. U.S. 40 in Highland. The dealership is run by Beaird's daughter and son-in-law, Bonnie and Tim McGinley.)

Beaird was not born in Highland, but he was a great believer in Highland.

Beaird was elected mayor of Highland in 1953. At time, Highland had was in the middle of a water crisis. With the water supply from the old city reservoir dwindling, the city was forced to haul water from the Edwardsville area to help meet demand.

Highland needed a better solution. Highland needed Silver Lake.

But in order to build a lake, the city needed land. And the farmers who owned the necessary ground were against giving it up for the lake.

This put Beaird in a tough spot. Those same farmers were his customers at 4-5-6 Co.

But Beaird also knew Highland needed water, so he took the risk.

Illinois state Rep. Milton "Mink" Mueller, who later also served in the Illinois Senate, lived just south of Highland on Old Trenton Road. Mueller also knew that Highland needed water. He and Beaird made many trips to the Capitol in Springfield to talk to legislators about raising Illinois 143 and making the dam for Silver Lake.

If the politicians were willing to listen about Silver Lake, Beaird was always ready to go to Springfield to talk with them.

"It took many many trips to Springfield on my part," Beaird told Kathy Oriez, former feature writer for the Highland News Leader, who did an article on Beird in 1984.

If Mueller wasn’t available, Beaird would always want someone from Highland to go with him. He would often call me (Roland), as I was a volunteer and president of the Highland Chamber of Commerce in 1955. I knew that my Roland Harris Furniture Store and Harris Funeral Chapel, at 906 Broadway, might lose business if we were to alienate the local farmers over the lake issue, but I also knew that Highland needed Silver Lake

Another volunteer was Willis Draper, who is now 103 years old and living at the Highland Home. Draper owned a True Value Hardware Store at 1017 Broadway (today Sam’s Pizza & Pub). He also did a lot business with the local farmers and knew his business could be suffer. But Draper, vice president of the chamber of commerce in 1955 and president in 1956, also knew that Highland needed Silver Lake, and he was always ready to help.

Beaird and Mueller also spent much time getting the old Hammer Bridge and Road closed and the road rerouted so the old bridge over Silver Creek could be replaced with a new one just south of Grantfork. (We drive over this area today and don’t realize how much effort Beaird and Mueller put in to get this accomplished. The brainstorming of ideas that Beaird and Mueller put forth can’t be duplicated. They were the right people for the job.)

Beaird served one term as mayor, 1953-1957. It was in 1955 that a $400,000 bond issue was passed for construction of the lake. The city was also assured funding from the state, because Illinois 143 would be going over the dam.

Beaird, along with the local businessmen and a great contingent of Highland volunteers, took a risk backing the Silver Lake plan, but they made it happen.

Beaird considered Silver Lake his greatest accomplishment. And it was. The 550-acre lake, finally constructed in 1962, has been a reliable water source ever since. When it was built, Silver Lake had a capacity of more than 3.4 billion gallons. Though that number has been reduced by over 20 percent today due to erosion, the lake's capacity has allowed the town grow into the wonderful place it has become to live, work and raise a family. And it still serves a growing community well.

My “Tip of the Hat” goes to two deserving gentlemen — the the late Gerry Beaird, who was the driving force of getting Illinois 143 raised about 18 feet higher and the new dam made, and the late sate Senator Milton "Mink" Mueller, whose efforts also helped make Silver Lake a reality.

Silver Lake was truly needed, and every time we drive out to Silver Lake Park, I feel so blessed to have this wonderful lake and water supply, and at the same time, be driving on land that was owned from 1830-1853 by third generation great grandfather, James G. Reynolds.

Thanks to former News Leader editor Russ Hoffman, Katherine Oriez and Bonnie Beaird McGinley for the their information used in this column.