Born Sept. 5, 1830, in Sackett’s Harbor, New York, George Harlow studied architectural design and drafting in his early 20s and moved to Illinois in the hopes of building a career. 1
He settled in Pekin, where he found little demand for his trade, and he worked as a carpenter and a store clerk before becoming a grain buyer and commission merchant. Harlow also had a consuming passion for politics, and he served one term as Pekin mayor before winning election as Tazewell County Circuit Clerk in 1860. While in office, he founded the Union League of America, a secret society devoted to espousing the Union cause at home. He later became Grand Secretary of the organization and moved to Springfield. 2
Harlow served as private secretary to Governor Richard Oglesby in his first term, as well as Inspector General on the Governor’s staff. He then had charge of Illinois troops at muster-out at the end of the Civil War. Appointed Assistant Secretary of State in 1869, he won election to the Secretary’s office in 1872 and established himself as a dedicated keeper of records. He reclassified and indexed all books and documents in the State Library and is remembered even today for his work in preserving and organizing the records of the state. When the current State Archives was completed in 1938, a room was named in his honor. 3
During Harlow’s two terms as Secretary of State, the Capitol became a popular location for meetings of political parties, lodges, and other community groups, who used the building for rallies, conventions, and even parties. Harlow believed in the public’s rights to their building. From 1869 to 1877, Harlow and his family rented the former home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield and owned one of the first private telephones in the area. When the Lincoln Tomb was dedicated in 1874, a gala parade stretching two miles in length passed the Lincoln Home, which Harlow had adorned with flags, wreaths, and a portrait of the fallen President. 4
Harlow also served as correspondent for several newspapers while in Springfield, but he left for Chicago upon the expiration of his terms as Secretary of State, where he became active in real estate. He died on May 16, 1900, and is buried in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. 5
- Howlett 85.
- Howlett 83, 86; Moses II-717.
- Biennial Report 1880, 94-95; Howlett 87.
- Howlett 87.