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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
October 2004

Creation of the Scottish Home

The need for a home in which elderly men and women of Scottish ancestry could spend their last years in comfort and dignity was recognized long before steps could be taken to make the dream a reality. The uncertainty following the world’s fair in 1893, which slowed the Burns Monument, also had a dramatic effect on the construction of the Scottish Old People’s Home.

The notion of having a home for needy Scots occurred quite early in the history of the Society, although no actual date can be discovered from the records. We do know that by 1870 the idea was well on its way to completion. The Society most certainly would have been aware of the Old Peoples Home of the City of Chicago, which was founded in 1861 by various Protestant congregations. This home, located on the south side of the city, was the first institution in Chicago to provide quality health care for elderly women. It is now known as The Admiral and is located at 909 West Foster Avenue in Chicago.

The Solicitation Committee had started to do its work and it was expected that by May 1871 a proposal would be presented to the Society for ratification. A site had already been selected at the corner of Washington and Desplaines Streets since the committee felt that a central location was very important.  The site was apparently owned by a Scot, and, hence, it was felt that a favorable price could be negotiated.  Just in case this option was not available, however, the committee also researched the area near Lake and Van Buren Streets and between the Chicago River and Halsted Street. 

Two things were to interrupt the project:

-- members were unable to secure the desired location at a favorable cost, and
-- the Great Fire would ravage the city. 

At the anniversary dinner in 1870, a model of the proposed home had been on display and plans had been drawn.  Unfortunately, both the model and the plans were destroyed in the Great Fire on October 8, 1871.

After the fire, so much energy was consumed in rebuilding lives that little thought was given to establishing a place of charity. Indeed, the idea of creating a Scottish Charitable Home would not surface for another thirty years. Instead, funds of the Society were loaned without interest and directed toward the rebuilding of homes and factories. In the years ahead members would return the money through gifts and contributions. These gifts would then become the foundation of the present Endowment Fund, so important to the Society.

Paintings Restored

painting1oct04Some of the painting in the Scottish Home have been cleaned and restored by Barry Bauman of River Forest. Mr. Bauman, who is now a life member of the Society, has spent his life in the field of conservation. We only recently met Barry and was surprised to discovered his Scottish connection. Many years ago his father went to Scotland to study medicine and in the process met and married a Scottish lass. Barry now donates his time to charitable organizations like the Scottish Home and has just completed three restorations.painting2oct04

After being cleaned it was discovered that the “Castle of St. Andrew’s” which for many years hung above the fireplace was painted by William Mundie. We have at least two paintings done by Mundie and both have now been cleaned and restored. In 1910, Mundie, also a life member of the Society, was hired as the architect for the Scottish Home. Mundie charged $1,013.72 for his services and after receiving the check gave the money back to the Society. By the time you read this newsletter, the two large portraits in the dining room will be in Barry Bauman’s workshop being cleaned and restored. There is no way to thank Barry for his donation of time and knowledge, for without him the paintings would have never been cleaned and restored. The cost would just be prohibitive.

Our heartfelt thanks to Barry Bauman. You can observe his work at his website.

Recent Gifts  

Mr. & Mrs. John Roche of Wilmette recently donated a wooden carving of the Selkirk Grace by Robert Burns. He wrote: “Some hae meat and cannae eat, Some would eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.” The carving is now installed above the entrance doors to the main dining room. It belonged originally to George Buik, the father of Mrs. Roche and Don Buik, both life members of the Society.

The history of the carving is unknown, but is believed to be more than 100 years old. It was displayed for many years in the home of their father, George Buik, who took an avid interest in Robert Burns and all things Scottish. George Buik was president of the Society in 1948 and 1949. We have a number of things that belonged to Mr. Buik including his kilt and jacket which has real silver buttons and is now displayed in our museum.

Not long ago, a lady brought a box to the Scottish Home and left it as a gift. The box was dropped off on a weekend and sadly no name or address was obtained. The lady apparently lives in Wisconsin and was cleaning out a house and giving away various items.

Inside the box was a book with the name John F. Holmes on the front cover. All we know is that John Holmes was the secretary of the Society for many years. Inside the book were copies of the Annual Reports for 1889, 1900, 1901 and 1902. It also contained a copy of the constitution and by-laws and a list of members. Interestingly, in those years, the society is called “Illinois St. Andrew’s Society of the City of Chicago.” The materials were printed in Chicago from the press of Cameron, Amberg & Co. The financial reports show that the Society was renting a “Society room” for $150 a quarter at 81 Clark Street. This is new information and we are not quite sure what it means. Did it serve as an office and meeting room for the board and perhaps the quarterly meetings? What building was it in and what is at 81 Clark Street today?

If the person who donated the items reads this newsletter, please call. We are grateful to have the book in our museum.

Alison Templeton Binnie

binnieoct04The Internet has certainly made the world smaller. Our web site receives thousands of visitors each year. Since January almost 750,000 people have visited from all parts of the world. Many of those people are working on family histories and seeking information in Chicago. Recently, Mr. Bob Rankin wrote from the United Kingdom seeking information about his great grandfather, William Hector Rankin, who joined the Society in 1921.One of those persons whom the web site and the Internet brought us into contact was Barb Norbie whose great-great-great grandmother was Alison Templeton Binnie. She was born in Airdrie, Scotland in 1776 and married John Binnie in 1803. Together they had ten children. One son, David came to America in 1847 and settled in Kane County, Illinois. He then persuaded three of his brothers to join him in America.    

Mrs. Binnie’s husband John had died at the age of 100 and so she decided to join her sons in American at the age of 74. In 1850, she sailed with her other three sons on the ship Khatadin for Dundee, Illinois. The Aberdeen North American Investment and Loan Co. had bought up large tracts of land in Illinois and Scottish banks in Chicago and Milwaukee helped finance the immigrants. Using these loans, her son Alexander was able to acquire land on the west side of the river along Sleepy Hollow road between Higgins and Huntley Roads.

She says, “It was not an easy life in the beginning. We tried to time our arrival in the spring so there would be time to plant and harvest before the first winter. For once winter arrived, it was more difficult to hunt and fish. We could bring only the bare necessities with us from home. A few cooking utensils, an axe, a saw and kindred tools, a Bible, a few pictures, a plow if there was room and most important a rifle. We brought as much money as we could. Some of the women brought cuttings from shrubs and plants and seeds. The provisions we brought were just enough to keep us from starving.”

They made their own candles and soap. The women would hold quilting bees and the men would seine for fish. The fish were dragged in by the bushels and were divided and salted. The men would also hold turkey shoots for food. “Sharing with others was the spirit of the frontier.” “Her son Robert and his family took up farming and raised sheep. Robert would travel from farm to farm shearing sheep sometimes as many as 40 a day and he would be paid 10 cents a head. Great flocks of sheep would be taken to the river to be washed at shearing time...The life of a farmer is not an easy one, but I truly believe that if you work for ‘Mother Nature’, ye get paid by ‘Father Time.’” ”

Mrs. Binnie died September 23, 1866 at the age of 90. She is buried in Dundee, Illinois.

We Get Letters

  • Bryan Adams sent materials to the newsletter from Williamsburg, VA, concerning Robert Burns. The Heather and Thistle Society of Houston, TX has presented a bust of Robert Burns to the City of Houston to mark the 50th anniversary of their founding. From the picture it appears to be a rather large bust with a plaque below. The location in Houston is not given..
  • Sandra Smith has written from Cisco, Illinois, looking for information about Charles Laing who was a stonecutter in the 1920s. Records indicate that he had a workshop at 7055 South Chicago in 1928. Robert Allerton commissioned him for works of art on his estate near Champagne, Illinois. Allerton later gave his estate to the University of Illinois in 1964 for a public garden. Charles Laing was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and may have been a member of the Saint Andrew Society. If anyone has additional information about Charles Laing, please email me and I will forward the information to Sandra Smith.
Tartan TV can now be seen in Chicago on WYCC every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.  The program is a fast-paced magazine format that takes viewers on a half-hour journey through the rolling hills, scenic glens, medieval castles and famous links courses of Scotland celebrating Scottish celebrities, movies, music and culture.

Fiona Kennedy, who has often visited Chicago and is a friend to many of us is the presenter of Tartan TV. She is a multi-talented entertainer and has appeared in a number of television dramas including Mauro the Gypsy which won the Gold Medal at the Moscow Film Festival. Fiona was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, LLD (Hon), by the University of Aberdeen in July 2002 in recognition of her achievement in entertainment and her recognized work for charity.

The 132nd Anniversary Dinner

The 132nd Anniversary Dinner was held on December 3, 1977 at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. The invitational letter says that few organizations can claim such an unbroken record.  

“We have been extremely fortunate to obtain as our speaker, the distinguished Senator from Illinois, and a fellow Scot, Charles W. Percy. The Master of Ceremonies was Bill Mason, a Chicago radio and television personality and a member of the Society. This festive occasion which we enjoy every year has a high and noble purpose, to raise money for our  Scottish Home.” The Home was recently updated and added new kitchen facilities, a fully air-conditioned infirmary, and new physical rehabilitation facilities.” The ticket price was $23.

The president of the Society in 1977 was Robert Lewis William Graham, who was the father of Robert Bruce Graham. Bob is actively involved and is a member of the Board of Governors and the Home Committee. Following his father’s example, Robert Bruce Graham was president of the Society in 1984 and 1985.

The 159th Anniversary Dinner Benefit to celebrate Saint Andrew’s Day and support the Scottish Home will be held November 20, 2004 in the grand ballroom at Navy Pier.


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