Renaissance man: North Las Vegas namesake had his hand in many pots across the state


Even by today's standards, Las Vegas pioneer Henry M. Lillis had a resume that would be tough to beat.

Born in 1856 and most noted for his accomplishments during Las Vegas' early 1900s beginnings, Lillis had careers as a teacher, military serviceman, businessman, attorney, justice of the peace, coroner and lawmaker.

"Lillis was a prominent local name during the time," said Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the Clark County museum system.

His name lives on by a namesake street in North Las Vegas. In the time Lillis lived in Southern Nevada, his namesake roadway was just a patch of dusty desert, Hall-Patton said.

It is unknown when Lillis Avenue was dedicated or by whom.

Henry Michael Lillis was born Feb. 14, 1856, in Lansing, Mich. His family was of Irish descent, and his older brother, Simon Clare Lillis, was born in Ireland, according to the Las Vegas Age newspaper.

The clan moved from Michigan to St. Croix Falls, Wis., when Lillis was young. He attended public schools and graduated high school at 14.

He received a teacher's certificate from State Normal School in River Falls, Wis., and returned to his birth state to teach school in Osceola County, Mich. and South Farmington, Mich.

Lillis was also a teacher in San Antonio, Texas, and Tacoma, Wash.

He studied law with a local attorney and passed the Washington state bar exam in 1885. He served on the state constitutional convention and was first lieutenant of Troop B of the Washington National Guard for three years.

He switched fields around that time and was a sales agent for a lumber trading company. He was sent to South Africa by his company and received Washington lumber for miners in the region for five years.

Back stateside, Lillis lived in California before moving to Tonopah to deal in the building and contracting business.

He relocated to Las Vegas and continued to develop business space and homes around 1905, when the city of Las Vegas was founded.

The population of the time was fewerthan 1,000 residents, according to city of Las Vegas records.

Voters elected Lillis justice of the peace, and he answered to Judge Henry M. Lillis from then on out, Hall-Patton said.

Lillis shuttled around Nevada as a coroner, too, according to the Las Vegas Age.

In 1908, Lillis served as president of the County Division Committee, which sought to divide Lincoln County at the Third Standard Parallel and establish what is now Clark County.

The Nevada Legislature created Clark County on July 1, 1909.

Lillis was city attorney during the following decade, and one of his signature issues was the condition of the water reservoir, according to "Water: A History of Las Vegas" by Florence Lee Jones and John F. Cahlan.

Lillis went on record saying, "The said reservoir is reported to be in a filthy and unclean condition, containing matter that tends to breed germs and disease ..." and cited frogs and animal carcasses passing through paltry filters. He requested the water company take immediate steps to change the pipes and water mains. His influence led to new screen filters.

Lillis was a founding member of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Nevada social and fraternal organization. He was master head of the lodge in 1914 and 1920. Other masters included Las Vegas pioneers and fellow namesakes Edmund C. Griffith, Charles P. Squires and Artemus W. Ham.

Lillis was president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce from 1919-22 and was a registered Republican.

It is unknown if he was married, had descendants or when he died.

Lillis' brother, Simon Clare Lillis, also made a name for himself. He was regarded as one of the three largest landowners in California at the time of his death in 1917, according to the Las Vegas Age.

 

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