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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
July 2004

Alexander Gardener    

Alexander Gardener was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1821. At the age of fourteen, he became an apprentice silversmith, but by the 1850s photography was flourishing in Paisley and this soon gained his attention. He was a socialist and became the editor of the Glasgow Sentinel newspaper which supported Chartism, socialism, and attacks against capitalism. He became interested in the ideas of Robert Owen and was inspired by the concept of the New Harmony Community established in Indiana. Allan Pinkerton was also a Chartist before he came to America.

Gardener began promoting emigration to a colony called Clydesdale, located in Iowa. He planned to join the other colonists, but because an epidemic hit the settlement he never did. (There are some reports that he did go to Iowa and then to New York.) We do know that Matthew Brady brought him to New York in 1856. In Brady’s studios, Gardener was the first to produce “Imperial” photographs. These tinted life-size photographs were eagerly sought by the rich and famous. Gardener thus took portraits of royalty, presidents, military men, governors, millionaires, and famous authors.

In 1858, Gardener moved to the Washington studio and began experimenting with lighting by electricity. He soon made a crude machine that produced artificial light. When the Civil War began, Brady was appointed an official photographer of the Union armies and was attached to General George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac as was Allan Pinkerton. Gardener, in a wagon fitted out as a darkroom, left to record the war. A quiet man who wanted to make his name as a photographer found that all the pictures he took were credited to Brady. In 1863, he and Brady parted and Gardener set up his own company.

After the war and back in Washington, Gardener ran a portrait gallery and was perhaps the first man to compile a ‘rogues gallery’ for the Washington police. Allan Pinkerton was also using the same process about the same time in Chicago. Pinkerton built a large and impressive Rogues’ Gallery which was maintained in his office on Washington Street, but everything was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871.

Five days before he was assassinated, President Abraham Lincoln posed for a last series of studio portraits with Gardener.

Captain Alexander Gardener died in 1882 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery among America’s heroes.

Pictured 1:  Alexander Gardner
Pictured 2:  Gardner's photographic wagon parked at Burnside Bridge, Antietam.
More photographs and information are available on Wikipedia  

Brookfield Zoo

Edith Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, married Harold McCormick, son of Cyrus McCormick, in 1895. As a wedding gift her father gave her 300 acres of land. The land was located on the western edge of Riverside not far from the Scottish Home. In 1919, Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated 83 acres of this land to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County for the sole purpose of developing a zoo. The Forest Preserve added more acreage and, after years of failed economy and delays, the Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934.

Shortly after the turn of the century, when Mr. & Mrs. Harold McCormick decided to built their home in Lake Forest, they consulted Frank Lloyd Wright. They turned from his contemporary-style dwelling and instead chose Charles Adams Platt to build their house. The house was built between 1907 and 1912 and contained 44 rooms. It was set in the midst of 250 lakefront acres of beautifully planned grounds. The drawing room was a masterpiece of that period with “elegant, cool, green marble walls rising to a many-colored coffered ceiling highlighted with gold.” The marble was the finest that could be obtained in Italy. They called it Villa Turicum. The house cost $5,000,000 to build, sold in 1947 for $46,000 and was demolished in 1956. Too bad!

Interesting pictures and history of Villa Turicum can be found here.

Falconer School

falconer_schoolChicago has hundreds of schools and many are named for Scots. Falconer school is named for a pioneer named Laughlin Falconer who came from Scotland to Chicago in the early 1830s. He settled on the Northwest side of the city, and came with only a little money and a musket to protect himself from the Indians.

He bought 80 acres of land from the government, paying $1.25 an acre. First, he built a log cabin and then in 1848 a frame clapboard farmhouse at 4824 Wellington Avenue. His farm was bounded on what is now known as Belmont Avenue on the North, Cicero Avenue on the East, Diversey Boulevard on the South, and Laramie on the west.    

MacMurray College

MacMurray College was founded in 1846 in Jackson, Illinois as a private, career-directed, liberal arts school affiliated with the United Methodist Church. They offer majors in 29 fields. “Scottish traditions and images have long been a part of MacMurray College. From the MacMurray name to its Highlanders athletic teams to traditions of having bagpipes at the commencement and other college ceremonies.”

Because of their connection to Scottish culture, MacMurray is proud to announce the launching of a Scottish Heritage Program. The program director is William F. Muirhead. He is a registered piping judge and an open solo competitor. He served twelve years as the Director of Scottish Heritage at Lyon College.

If interested in this program, you can contact Will Muirhead at 217.479.7074 or willie.muirhead@mac.edu

The Larches and Allan Pinkerton

In 1864, Allan Pinkerton bought 254 acres of land on the outskirts of Onarga, Illinois. The land was purchased from the Illinois Central Railroad for $4,067.52. Onarga is located some 80 miles south of Chicago. In 1873, while recovering from a severe stroke, Pinkerton began to build his villa, “The Larches.” In writing of the estate for the Historic American Buildings Survey, Loren Van Degraft said: “He created on the prairies a replica of a gentleman’s estate he had known when a boy in Scotland. The larch trees were imported from Scotland and were set in orderly rows along the drives of the estate. Along these drives were planted thousands of flowers in beds that were always neat and orderly. Guards were stationed at the gates, and visitors who drove their horses along the drive faster than a walk were fined five dollars for raising dust that would settle on the flowers.”larchesjuly2004

Larch trees could not be purchased in the United States, so Pinkerton had 85,000 saplings sent from Scotland. They arrived in New York in February 1871 and, left uncovered on the dock, they froze. Another 85,000 had to be shipped and the agent responsible was fired. The Larches was constructed like a fortress, with guardhouses at each of its three entrances and contained at least one sound-proofed room. On top the house was a cupola “where riflemen with powerful field-glasses continually scanned the surrounding estate for would be assassins. A wide hall ran the full length of the house lit all night by four huge crystal chandeliers. The estate contained a racetrack, a fish-pond, and a large open campground which was used for religious revivalist meetings.... ”

The Snuggery, basically a wine cellar, was connected to the house by an underground passage. Some have called it an escape route since Pinkerton’s life was constantly being threatened. From Scotland, he brought the artist Paul Loose who was commissioned to paint a series of murals depicting episodes from the Civil War. These paintings included: ‘McClelland and his Staff’, ‘Bull Run’, ‘The Battle of Gettysburg’, ‘Sherman’s March to the Sea’, and best of all, ‘Secret Service Staff of the Army of the Potomac’. “Over each door on the ground floor were oil portraits of men he admired most from that period: Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and, of course, George McClellan.”

“It was a lively place on weekends, recalls old John Nichols. Major Pinkerton would come down from Chicago on Fridays with a group of friends and go back on Monday morning. They would arrive on an Illinois Central train, getting off at a special stop alongside the estate. There were always three cooks on duty and the payroll, I distinctly remember, ran to $1,200 a month. Yes, sir, it was a great place while it lasted, but after Major Pinkerton died in 1884, it gradually declined. And now it is but a mere shadow of what it once was.”

There is controversy about most everything connected to Allan Pinkerton. On the Internet you can find a manuscript written by Russell Palmer when he was 94. It contradicts much of the information about the Villa in Onarga. The manuscript is from a collection of writings concerning Allan Pinkerton and the Larch Farm compiled by Patricia Off, who is now the publisher of the Lone Tree Leader in Onarga.  I do like his description of Pinkerton when he says: “Allan Pinkerton was short and stocky, with a full beard, no mustache, slightly tinged with gray. In size and demeanor he closely resembled Andrew Carnegie. During the latter years of his life, he was lame, suffering from the ill effects of paralysis. Few men were quite so active as he despite the limp. He was very reserved. I never knew him to associate with or even be friendly with any resident of Onarga. He was a man of great dignity, personal charm, and had a keen sense of humor. In his later years when he walked with a slight limp and was forced to carry a cane, he still had the bearing of the truly great man that he was.”

Old Illinois Houses by John Drury
Allan Pinkerton, The First Private Eye by James Mackay
The Carnegie Library in Onarga, IL
Patricia Goff, LoneTreeLeader@msn.com

From the Editor

On July 4, we drove to Onarga, Illinois, to see the home built by Allan Pinkerton. It’s an easy drive down I-57 and the entire trip was a little more than 200 miles. Onarga, named for an Indian Princess, was celebrating its 150th Anniversary, so there was a lot of activity in town. Our first stop was at the Carnegie Library built in 1907. The library was closed, but it was interesting to see another of the libraries built in Illinois. A resident walking by the library gave us directions to The Larches. We found the house, surrounded by the Bork Nursery of Onarga.

The house is in terrible shape. The Snuggery and the barns are gone, and the verandas which once surrounded the house on all four sides are also demolished. The cupola is still recognizable, but given the condition of the house one wonders how long it will remain. We were most surprised that all the larch trees are gone. Apparently, not a single one of the 85,000 trees has survived. Many were just cut down. Most disappointing is the fact that no one saved any of the pictures or paintings. They were perhaps last seen rolled together and stored in a barrel. What a shame that we take so little interest in our past!

After visiting the house, we returned to the main street and while waiting for a train to pass, decided to park and look at some of the old pictures displayed in store windows. It was at this point that we luckily met Patricia Off, who is the publisher of the Lone Tree Leader, a weekly publication carrying local news and pictures. When Patricia Goff was 17 years old, she wrote a paper for her American history class. She was a student at Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois and her teacher was Mr. Barnes. Her subject was “Allan Pinkerton and the Larch Farm.” She has spent her life gathering information about Pinkerton, the Larch Farm and Tim Webster. We enjoyed our conversation with her and promised to stay in touch.

There are enough Pinkerton stories to occupy a lifetime and we will write about some of them in the future, including that of Timothy Webster. In the meantime, I recommend Allan Pinkerton, The First Private Eye by James Mackay, published in 1996.

This is my last issue as President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. By September, Gus Noble will be in place and functioning as our new President. The History Newsletter will continue, but we do need to be financially viable, so please send your donation if you have not already done so. My e-mail will be wrethford@comcast.net and you can reach me by phone at (630) 629-4516. I have several assigned duties which include the Museum, historical research and publication of this newsletter.

It has been the experience of a lifetime to have served the Scottish Home and the Illinois Saint Andrew Society for the past 18 years. 

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