The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
John Williamson was born in Dundee, Scotland,
September 2, 1852. His father was a captain in the
English army. On January 1, 1874, he married Miss
Margaret Munro, also of Dundee, Scotland, and in 1880 he
brought his wife and three children to New York City. He
found employment as a foreman for the Fulton Municipal
Gas Company and while living in Brooklyn, he studied
engineering by attending night school.
In 1886, John Williamson moved his family to Chicago and
became employed by the People?s Light Gas & Coke
Company. He remained with the company for 33 years. His
first position was that of foreman, but he gradually
rose to vice president (1914), and finally became a
director of the company. Mr. Williamson retired in 1920
but retained his position as director.
He died at his home, 2305 Commonwealth Avenue, after a
lingering illness of more than a year. He left a widow
and five children: Margaret M. Williamson, Mrs. George
H. Musselman, John A. Williamson, and Mrs. E. A. Baackes.
Two children were deceased, Jermina (Mrs. Herbert F.
Brisley) and Georgiana. The entire family is buried in
Section 110, lot 137, of Rosehill Cemetery.
On April 1, 1922, the Board of Governors passed a
resolution on the death of John Williamson. It said in
part? ?RESOLVED, that we feel keenly the great loss
which this Board and the Scottish Old People?s Home have
sustained by the death of John Williamson. As a member
of The Illinois Saint Andrew Society for 35 years and of
this Board since 1909, Mr. Williamson has been the
leader in all the charitable work of the Society and
especially of that connected with the Scottish Old
?Through his initiative and leadership, the Home at
Riverside was built in 1910. When fire destroyed the
building in 1917, Mr. Williamson was the one primarily
responsible for its rebuilding as a fireproof structure
at more than double the cost of the original. His
devotion to the interests of the Home, his kindness to
and consideration for the old people in it, and their
loving regard for him were outstanding features of his
exemplary and successful life. These traits of his
character, along with his urbanity and good fellowship,
made him the cherished companion of each and all of us,
and it is as our true friend that we mourn his loss.?
The fence around the property was placed there by the
family as a memorial to their father. The family also
paid the salary of the first nurse who worked at the
Home and in 1931, his son, John A. Williamson, was
elected president of the Society. For more than 25
years, the Williamson family would cook and serve
Thanksgiving dinner for all the residents. In our museum
is a trophy presented to John Williamson by the Scottish
community in 1910. He was indeed a man greatly loved by
the Scottish people of Chicago.
Sad to say, the Society has lost all contact with the
Williamson family or any of their descendants.
The John Greenlee Story
John Greenlee was born August 16, 1791 at Machrieg,
Parish of Southend, Argyleshire, Scotland. In 1820, he
married Helen Brown. John then leased a farm in
Scotland, but a series of crop failures made it
impossible for him to pay his rent in full. The agent
sold his stock and farm implements at auction, and
although the sale was sufficient to pay the balance of
the rent, it did not cover the upkeep of the buildings
and fences which the agent claimed was John?s
The Armours, who were nephews of Mr. Greenlee, had a
claim in Winnebago County, Illinois. They sent word for
him to come to America and they also provided for the
journey. When the Greenlee?s arrived at the boat to
start their trip, they were met by the land steward who
took Mr. Greenlee back to be imprisoned. He told his
family to go to America, knowing that friends and
relatives would take care of them. His wife at the time
was 33 and they had six children, the youngest being two
and the oldest fifteen.
John was able to escape from his guards, found a sailing
vessel bound for America and was waiting on the pier to
greet his family when they arrived in New York. In the
spring of 1837, John Greenlee and his family came to the
Armour claim and were the first Scotch settlers in
Argyle, Illinois (Argyle is a few miles north of
Rockford, IL.) In the summer of 1837 he took up a claim
for himself on the west side of the Armour claim. During
the winter, his family lived in Ottawa, Illinois, and he
worked as a stone-mason on the Illinois and Michigan
Their early years in America were not easy ?threatened
as they were, by packs of wild wolves and troubled by a
lack of food.? Gradually, though, they were joined by
more and more Scots so that by 1844 there were more than
fifty-one charter members of the Willow Creek
Presbyterian Church. A bust of John Greenlee is located
in the present church, which was built in 1878.
John Greenlee was a founder and charter member of the
Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. John Greenlee and
Helen Brown had eight children, the first six of whom
were born in Scotland.
The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties,
Who Came Before 1841
Katherine e. Rowland, C.G.
Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, 1990
Many years ago, the Scottish Home had some very
strict rules and residents who consistently violated the
rules were often dismissed. Residents were not to have
visitors in their rooms, except under approved
conditions by the superintendent. All visits were to
take place in the reception areas. Residents of the
opposite sex were never allowed to visit in the rooms.
In fact, one couple was dismissed from the Home because
they ?fell in love.? The couple married and moved to
Residents were not permitted to frequent saloons or
places where intoxicating liquors were sold, or to visit
places where games of chance were indulged in. ?Any
infraction of this rule shall be visited with dismissal
from the home.? Residents were also requested ?not to
address minor employees.? We are not sure of the exact
meaning of this rule, but any request for supplies or
services were directed to the Superintendent.
?Residents shall at all times be required to show proper
respect to the superintendent and to the members of the
Board of Governors, and to obey all rules and
regulations. In their intercourse with each other, they
shall be expected to maintain friendly relations and to
cultivate a spirit of kindly consideration. The use of
improper or violent language is strictly prohibited.?
The following letter was written in November, 1920,
by James B. Forgan. It was a fund raising letter on
behalf of the Scottish Old People?s Home. As of this
date, we have been unable to identify ?Mother Burns? in
the records. We believe the name is an alias, however,
we have every reason to believe the story is true.
I know a frail, white-haired widow who struggled for
years against odds by keeping a boarding house for
students. She has been a mother to many a homesick
boy?had cheered him up when he was blue and waited for
his board and rent money when he was broke. Her deep
interest in the growth and activities of the university
and her work among its boys and girls entitled her to a
??Mother burns? was a familiar figure on the campus. She
knew every member of the faculty by name. She really
belonged there herself as she was a charter member in
the community when Doctor Harper started the University.
She attended the religious services at Mandel Hall
regularly. She had never missed a convocation or
?As years passed by, the widow?s strength waned and she
became less able to serve the boys. When I met her she
was having a hard time to keep a six-room flat rented
although it was located within two blocks of the
University. And yet she was cheerful and hopeful?at
least to the world. She complained occasionally of
headaches?I noticed those aches were most acute when her
rent was due. In order to meet that she had to exist for
days and days on a diet of tea and bread.?
?For years, Mother Burns had tried to gain admission
into an Old People?s Home, but since she lacked money,
friends and influence she got no encouragement. After
many a weary mile of walking and a great deal of talking
she finally did succeed in getting one or two persons
interested in her behalf with the result that her case
was taken up. She eventually was admitted to a Home.?
?At present there are thirty-six lovable old people
being taken care of there. It has been costing over $40
a month for each person and it will probably be more
hereafter. You have money?you have friends?you have
influence. Will you not please put some of your money,
friends and influence to work for our old people??
?Register your money, friends and influence with
Alexander Robertson, Treasurer, The Continental
Commercial National Bank of Chicago, 208 South LaSalle
Street, Telephone Wabash 7000.?
John A. McGill, James B. Forgan, John Williamson,
Alexander Robertson, Robert Stuart, Robert Somerville
and A. W. Fulton.
Pictured: James Berwick Forgan
Reading some old files recently, I came across the
list of contributors for the original construction of
the Scottish Home in 1910. The list contains some 250
names and the total contributions were about $26,000.
Only 70 of those listed were members of the Society.
Their goal was to raise $50,000. The largest
contribution was $2500 from Dr. McGill and the smallest
was one dollar from a number of people.
There are some very interesting names on the list. For
instance, Gen. Frederick D. Grant, son of the President
was a contributors. The meat packing Swift Family gave
$500 and John Williamson gave one of the largest
contributions at $2,000.
Those of you who live in Chicago may recognize the name
of Samuel Insull who gave $100. He would later become
the utility and traction magnate of Chicago. His
electric business became our Commonwealth Edison Company
and his traction company was responsible for
constructing the ?L?, which designated the Loop in
Insull?s company also built the Civic Opera Building on
Wacker Drive. This is the same building where the Board
of Governors of the Illinois St. Andrew Society meets
monthly to transact business.
There is no indication that Insull was a Scot, but in
1881, he did become the private secretary to Thomas A.
Edison. He lost his entire fortune in the Great
Depression and died a broken old man on a Paris subway
in 1938. The large collection of Samuel Insull Papers
are housed in the archives of Loyola University of
The numbers indicate that they were far short of
reaching their fund-raising goal, but what they did not
know at the time was that Thomas Murdock, a wealthy
member of the Society, would soon die and leave $30,000
to the Scottish Old People?s Home. Another example of
how God has watched over this work for 100 years and has
supplied every need.
Pictured: Dr. John A. McGill
From the Editor
We have dedicated another issue to the Scottish Home
since our facility is celebrating its 100th birthday.
I must confess that we don?t know the exact date at this
time, but it seems appropriate to begin our celebrations
this year. There is some evidence that the rented house
was obtained in 1900, but the first residents may not
have been admitted until the next year. The original
records were destroyed in the fire of 1917 and we have
yet to find any other documentation. Some day in the
near future, we hope to spend the day at the Chicago
Historical Society and perhaps the old newspaper files
will give us more information.
We are certain about the role this Home has played in
the life of our organization. It has given the Society a
reason for being and a way to fulfill its mission to
"relieve the distressed.? We are grateful for every
resident who has found a place of peace and safety at
the Scottish Old People?s Home.
In looking back over our history, I am always amazed at
the generosity of our Scottish people. It is not correct
to label Scottish people as being stingy with their
resources. Our people are, and have always been,
extremely generous. Lastly, we must not forget our
dedicated staff who work so hard to see that every need