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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 1996

Heather Preston

At the age of five, Heather Preston was the “Haggis Child” at the Anniversary Dinner of the St. Andrew Society. The year was 1937 and Heather was a dancing student of Mr. Dewar who she remembers as having a wooden leg. The Chicago Herald and Examiner described the event: “Amid the shrilling of bagpipes and the beating of drums the traditional Scottish dish of haggis was served to 1,500 members of the Illinois St. Andrews Society last night in the Stevens Hotel...tartans and plaids of all the Scottish clans were displayed at the banquet tables. Many of the guests wore Highland colors. Sprigs of heather, received during the week from Loch Lomond, were in every buttonhole.”

In 1951, when Heather Preston was chosen as the Heather Queen, she was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. She remembers that the publicity photos were taken at the Art Institute and that she was interviewed on a daytime television show. Her crown was made entirely of heather. She wore a dress of white tulle that was decorated with white feathers. The dress was made by her mother, who referred to herself as “The Queen Mother.” (Her mother now enjoys good health, living in a retirement complex in Dayton, Ohio.) Prior to the Dinner, Heather had been entertained in the Conrad Hilton penthouse. “All very posh,” she remembers. At the Dinner she was crowned by Mr. Joseph M. Jardine.

Her father, James Robertson Preston, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was a graduate of the Harriet Watts College at the University of Edinburgh. As a naval architect, he was brought to the United States to “spur on the ship building industry” as the world prepared for World War I. Heather describes her father as a “poet, thinker, musician, good man, Mason, composer, proud, careful, storyteller (aren’t all Scots).” For many years he was the organist at the Methodist Church in Glencoe, Illinois. He was a Life Member of the Society and also served as the Society’s Bard. We often use his writings in the program book of the Anniversary Dinner.

After graduating from the Art Institute with “honors and special distinction” Heather studied and traveled in Europe. Returning to Chicago, she taught drawing and painting and was represented by a leading Chicago gallery. She was exhibited widely and was named one of the outstanding artists of Chicago before moving to San Francisco and becoming an award-winning illustrator.

The list of her awards are too numerous to mention but a list of her clients include: Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, U.S. Dept. Of Forestry (1986 Smokey Bear poster), Pacific Bell, Bon Appetit, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill, Wadsworth, Addison Wesley and Scott Foresman. Her published works include: Rod McKuen’s Book of Days, Remember the Secret, Light Style, A Leaf from French Eddy, Laughing Down Lonely Canyons, Kinship With All Life.

Heather Preston now lives north of San Francisco in an attractive, hillside home, with studio. Mary and I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Heather several years ago and found her to be a warm and talented lady. She has fond memories of Chicago and her Scottish connections. During the month of October at the Scottish Home, we will display pictures, paintings, and newspaper articles about Heather Preston.

John Johnston
Someone You Should Know

John Johnston was born in Scotland and emigrated to America in 1821. Making his way to the Geneva, New York area he became a farmer. The next year his wife arrived with two small children, a nanny, and two cousins.

He borrowed $1,200 for the purchase of his first farm which consisted of 320 poorly drained acres. In the barn he discovered a windfall of manure, which he spread on the land, 25 loads to the acre. The first year he planted barley and the crop failed. The next year he planted wheat with better results.

His grandfather in Scotland had told him many times “Verily, all the airth needs draining.” In Scotland, the farmers used tiled-lined trenches to drain the water-logged ground. Sheep provided the dung.

No one in America had heard of drain tiles, so Johnston sent a desperate message to friends in Scotland. In answer to his urgent request, two drain tiles arrived in New York on December 16, 1835. Mr. Johnston showed them to his friend Benjamin F. Whartenby who lived in Waterloo and manufactured milk jugs , crocks and flowerpots. At Johnston’s request, Whartenby began producing hundreds of drain tiles. Like every great innovator, John Johnston soon became an object of ridicule.

In a short time, his fields contained 72 miles of drain tiling and were producing twice as many bushels of wheat per acre as his neighbors. The tiles were round and horseshoe shaped, about 15 inches long. They were laid end to end and often buried two feet in the ground. As the water rose from below it entered the tiles and was carried to a nearby creek. Today plastic piping is used to accomplish the same results.

Mike Weaver is 82 years old and lives in Geneva, New York. He has passionately preserved the memory of John Johnston and what his drain tiling has meant to American agriculture. He has opened a museum called the Mike Weaver Drain Tile Museum which keeps alive the memory of John Johnston, the father of tile drainage in America. Included in the collection is one of the original tiles sent from Scotland in 1835. The second one was given to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan several years ago and they have apparently lost it.

“Mr. Johnston wasn’t the sort of man to mince words. The secret of his success as a farmer, he always said, was ‘D, C and D,’ by which he meant dung, credit and drainage.” He learned about two of those things in his native Scotland. Credit he discovered in America.1

More information is available at the Geneva Historical Society

Bourbon Whiskey

The Scots spell whiskey with just a “y” at the end. The Americans spell the word with an “ey” at the end. A curiosity of language. Bourbon is the only truly American drink. It uses corn as the basic ingredient whereas other liquors use rye, malt and wheat.

“History credits the Rev. Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, with being the first in 1789 to make bourbon.” He was a Scotsman. Kentucky is the place for bourbon because of the limestone which makes the water almost iron-free. “The first bourbon recognized by brand outside of Kentucky probably was produced by Dr. James Crow...a Scotsman who settled near the Rev. Craig’s place.” He was known by the locals as Jim Crow.

The Chicago Tribune reported that one of the “world’s finest bourbons” is available in Chicago at Berghoffs restaurant which holds Chicago liquor license No. 1. In 1980, they had only 14 barrels left of their private stock. At that time, only enough to last until the turn of the century.2

Plan New Home for Aged Scots

“Plans are now under way to provide a permanent home for the old Scotch people of Illinois. John Williamson, engineer of the Peoples Gas Company and President of the St. Andrew’s Society is at the head of the movement, which includes purchase of a site near Chicago and a home to cost not less than $50,000. The present home with its fourteen inmates is located in a leased building at 43 Bryant Avenue, which is wholly inadequate for the purpose.

It is proposed first to have a series of entertainments, the proceeds from which will make the nucleus of the fund, after which bonds will be issued for the remainder if not secured by contributions. The first of these entertainments will be held at Library Hall, Austin, Tuesday, April 20, and is expected to attract the Scotch people of Oak Park, Austin and the far west side. Chief Bailiff Thomse M. Hunter of the Municipal court will act as Chairman.”

The above newspaper article was sent to us by Miss Dorothy B. Stewart of Chicago who found it in her Mother’s old Bible circa 1908-09.


Twinkies were invented by Scotsman James A. Dewar in 1930. Today, every minute of every day, 951 Twinkies are eaten — the largest Twinkie-eating city being Chicago, Illinois.

James Dewar, a two-Twinkie-a-day man, who died at age 88, once defended Twinkies by saying he fed them to his four children who, in turn, fed them to his 15 grandchildren.

More information is available at The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest.

McGregor, Iowa

Alexander MacGregor was born to Scottish parents on May 23, 1804. He moved to Chicago in 1832 and then to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1835. In 1845, he purchased land along the Mississippi river which included a ferry. The ferry was called the Rob Roy and was powered by four mules that walked on a circular wheel in the middle of the boat. A year later, he platted a six-block area which he named MacGregor’s Landing. In 1850, he built the first brick school which was 12 x 16 feet. The town was incorporated in 1857 and at that time Alexander gave permission to drop the ‘a’ in the town’s spelling.

Overlooking the south edge of town is Point Anne. Named for MacGregor's wife, Point Anne is thought to be the second oldest rock formation in Iowa and “doubtless the oldest ‘Anne’ in the world.” One of the town’s biggest claims to fame is the famous Ringling Brothers who got their start in the circus business while the family lived in McGregor during the 1870s. This past summer the circus returned to McGregor for a special celebration.5

Mary Todd Lincoln

Robert Smith Todd had two daughters, one named Mary and a younger sister named Elizabeth. He had been a captain in the War of 1812, served in both houses of the Kentucky legislature, and was president of the Bank of Kentucky in Lexington.

“The Todds traced back to Scottish Covenanters who fought the king.” In Mary Todd “ran their vital and stubborn blood.” Elizabeth would become the wife of Ninian Edwards, governor of Illinois. Mary would become the wife of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.3

The Clearances

Don Gillies, a Life Member of the Illinois St. Andrew Society, has recently donated a book to our library that deals with the Clearances in Scotland. Those of you acquainted with Scottish history know about these evictions. The people were driven from their homes to basically make room for sheep. I was struck by this descriptive observation given by Sir Archibald Geikie, a distinguished geologist.

“On gaining the top of one of the hills on the south side of the valley, I could see a long and motley procession winding along the road that led north from Suishnish. It halted at the point of the road opposite Kilbride, and the lamentation became long and loud.

“As I drew nearer, I could see that the minister with his wife and daughters had come out to meet the people and bid them all farewell. It was a miscellaneous gathering of at least three generations of crofters. There were old men and women, too feeble to walk, who were placed in carts; the younger members of the community on foot were carrying their bundles of clothes and household effects, while the children, with looks of alarm, walked alongside. There was a pause in the notes of woe as the last words were exchanged with the family of Kilbride. Everyone was in tears; each wished to clasp the hands that had so often befriended them, and it seemed as if they could not tear themselves away. “

“When they set forth once more, a cry of grief went up to heaven, the long plaintive wail, like a funeral coronach, was resumed, and after the last of the emigrants had disappeared behind the hill, the sound seemed to re-echo through the whole wide valley of Strath in one prolonged note of desolation. The people were on their way to be shipped to Canada.”4

(For a description of the journey by sea read the July issue of our Newsletter).

More information on McGregor, Iowa, is available on Wikipedia.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The son of a superintendent of police, Mackintosh was born in Glasgow in 1868. His talent appeared early and he was apprenticed to an architect and began taking classes at the Glasgow School of Art. Five years later he joined Honeyman & Keppie, the architectural firm with which he was associated for the rest of his working life in Scotland.

He designed many famous Glasgow architectural landmarks, their furniture and artifacts, from schools to private houses, as well as Glasgow School of Art, and the Willow Tea Rooms. His finest example is the Hill House, Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh, which he completed in 1904.

His originality influenced Frank Lloyd Wright and the Vienna Secession. His work has become extremely valuable. A Mackintosh washstand recently sold for $365,000, and a desk for $1.2 million. This was a new record for a piece of twentieth-century furniture.

An exhibition of his work is soon to be seen in America. More than 300 objects including plans, furniture, sketchbooks, watercolors and scale models will be on display. The exhibition will be held at the Art Institute of Chicago, March 29 to June 22, 1997. The Society has had preliminary discussions about a private viewing for members and friends.

More information is available at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh website.


1. The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1995. Thanks to Dr. John Nettles! (Copies of the full article are available.)

2. Chicago Tribune, January 14, 1980, Section 6, page 3. Very interesting article. Copies are available to interested readers.

3. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years, Volume I, pages 255 & 259

4. Eric Richards, A History of the Highland Clearances. Agrarian Transformation and the Evictions 1746-1886.

5. Lucy Rodenberg, Echoes of Macgregor’s Past

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546