Highland News Leader

A Thought to Remember: Former Highland Mayor Gerry Beaird deserves much of the credit for Silver Lake

Gerry Beaird served as mayor of Highland from 1953-1957.
Gerry Beaird served as mayor of Highland from 1953-1957.

Highland’s Silver Lake is one of Highland’s greatest assets and a big thank you goes to former Mayor Gerry Beaird, who served from 1953-1957, for its creation.

Beaird owned the 4-5-6 Co., Case-International and Buick dealership on Broadway (today, Windows on Broadway). He had so much to lose in his business, as a majority of his business was with farmers, and farm land was needed to build the lake. But he knew that the only good answer to Highland’s water problems was to build Silver Lake.

The lake was not finished during his administration. It was completed in 1961, as Mayor Adolph Vonland’s term was about to expire. However, Beaird laid the ground work.

“Gerry Beaird had been elected Mayor of Highland in 1953, defeating Morris Schott and Adolph Vonland. The summer of 1953 was a drought, and it was even worse in 1954. The city was hauling 100,000 gallons of water per day, by the Stahley Cartage Trucks, to our Highland Water Works.” (The above two quotes from the sesquicentennial book.)

The following quotes are from the 175th Jubilee booklet of September 2012. Gerry’s daughter, Bonnie Beaird McGinle,y gave the information for an article written by Peggy Bellm Carnley.

“According to the history books and newspaper articles of the time, a dry period began in Highland and continued through 1954. Records show there was one nine-month period, where there was no measurable rainfall. By August 1954, the old City Reservoir, which supposedly held 10 million gallons of water when full, went dry.

“Highland was out of water! Farmers were buying water from the Highland Country Club. The city had dug a canal from Highland Sportsman’s Lake to the City Lake; water was taken from Silver Creek and Bargetzi’s Pond or Lake, as the city tried everything in (its) power to supply water to its citizens. They began drilling wells, but in the meantime, they trucked water in from Edwardsville. The city even considered running water lines to the American Bottoms and to the Kaskaskia River.

“City officials began talks of building a new lake. The proposal was controversial… One study by Wally M. Backus and Associates, dated December 1954, that survives is the ‘Preliminary Report on Silver Lake.’ It considered all options for long-term water supply… (Silver Lake was the best.) Many others thought the plan was ill conceived and the lake unnecessary…

“By the fall of 1954, plans had been drawn up for damming Silver Creek, to make Silver Lake, based on the acquisition of farm land along the creek for the new Silver Lake.

“In April 1955, after many heated discussions before civic groups, it was decided to put the proposition of Silver Lake to a vote of the citizens, and the voters approved the $400,000.bond issue. At this point, Mayor Gerry Beaird, along with Illinois state Sen. Milton ‘Mink’ Mueller (also of Highland), with Illinois Gov. William Stratton at the helm, the state of Illinois agreed to chip in $250,000 to raise Illinois Route 143, so that a dam and spillway could be built.”

McGinley said: “Now the value of the land needed for the acquisition of the land for the lake became the problem.”

What was value for the land that was needed? It turned into condemnation of the land was required. Court actions took time. It wasn’t until the end of 1959 before all of the land was acquired and work could be started.

“Once the dam was built, the new spillway installed and the Silver Creek bottom cleared of trees and debris, Silver Lake only took about 90 days for the lake to fill up. It was a very gratifying day at the Beaird household, to watch ‘Beaird’s Folly’ turn into a reality of providing water, not only to Highland, but the surrounding communities. Silver Lake provides the much needed-water to the area residents, businesses, plus boating and fishing. Silver Lake has assured Highland’s continued prosperity.”

(My thanks to Bonnie McGinley and my Tip-of-the-Hat award to her father, the late Mayor Gerry Beaird, for his great leadership, foresight, with the City Council’s help, in getting Silver Lake started for Highland and the area. Also to Mayor Adolph Vonland and the City Council who followed for finishing the much-need Highland Silver Lake. Quotes from the Highland centennial and sesquicentennial books and the 175th Jubilee booklet. Also, thanks to Mike Buss of the Highland Water Department who provided the photos I have used in my column over the last few weeks.)