Great Scots

Scottish Name List



Visit our Blog




The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 2005

Robert Mills, the Architect

Robert Mills was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1781 to a well-established Scottish family that had settled there in 1770. He was one of six children and was probably influenced toward architecture by his uncle, Thomas Mills of Dundee, Scotland. Mills is believed to be the first native-born American architect trained for the profession. Mills began his formal training as a draftsman working on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. under the direction of James Hoban.

In 1803, Mills was invited to assist Thomas Jefferson in the design of Monticello. He stayed for two years and developed a close friendship with Jefferson. Mills and Jefferson studied Palladian architecture and Mills observed how Jefferson designed and built the first American neoclassical dome over Monticello. He would later marry and live in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charleston before finally settling in Washington, D.C.

Robert Mills was only 30 years old when he was commissioned to draw plans for the Monumental Church in Richmond, Virginia. The structure was to be both a monument and a house of worship. The site chosen was that of the disastrous Richmond Theater fire of December 26, 1811. Seventy-two of the most prominent citizens of Richmond died in the fire including the city’s mayor and the governor of the Commonwealth. Mills was married to the daughter of former Governor John Smith who died in the fire. “Their collective ashes were gathered into a common brick crypt constructed over the former theater site. Today, the church is empty and unused, but the brick crypt remains undisturbed in the basement. The church is owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation and is slowly being restored. A restored church “would be a fitting tribute to Robert Mills, the young, resourceful architect, who found a way - despite wartime attitudes and chronic under-financing - to build this unique monument almost two centuries ago.”

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson appointed Mills as the Federal Architect and Engineer, a role he kept for the next 16 years. More than fifty important works were of his design and a large number survive to the present. During his time in Washington, he directed the design and construction of the U.S. Treasury Building, the U.S. Patent Office and the Old Post Office. Although he designed churches, prisons, and houses, he is most remembered for his monuments. His most renowned project was the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. “The vast obelisk in Washington, long the highest of human structures, was his conception in which the simplicity and grandeur of the forms are matched with the character of the subject.”

The Washington Monument today draws more than two million visitors a year and took nearly a century of planning, building and controversy. Work on the monument started in 1848 but because of political squabbling and a shortage of money the monument was not completed until 1884 and not opened to the public until 1888. The tapered shaft, faced with white marble rises 555 ft. from walls that are 15 ft. thick at the base. It is believed to be the largest masonry structure in the world. Robert Mills died in 1855 and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

More information about Robert Mills can be found at Vintage Designs

The June Steele Museum Collection

 In February 12, 2005, the recently purchased June Steele Collection will be shown for the very first time. The meeting will begin at 10:30 a.m. in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home. Light refreshments will be served and voluntary donations will be accepted.

The collection centers around some of the personal papers of Major George Mason. George Mason was a member of the Illinois St. Andrew Society and volunteered for service in the 12th Illinois Infantry where he served with his uncle, General John McArthur. The General was president of our Society from 1869-1871. Mason participated in battles and skirmishes at Donnelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Second Battle of Corinth, Pulaski, Richland Creek and the Atlanta Campaign. He was often cited for “gallant and meritorious conduct during the war.”

The most valuable part of the collection consists of his officer’s sword which he carried at the Battle of Shiloh. In this battle his horse was killed and Mason suffered injuries as a result of the fall. In addition to the sword, there are newspaper articles, pictures and numerous letters written back and forth between Scotland and America in the 1840's. One interesting story involves Mason’s graduation from the University of Michigan seventy-two years after the Civil War began.

As a child, George Mason was acquainted with the last surviving member of the Boston Tea Party, David Kennison. You will hear this story as given by George Mason to Robert Collyer Fergus in 1921 and you will be surprised where David Kennison is buried. All of the materials will be displayed and part of the program will be a PowerPoint presentation. Everyone is invited to attend this special event and express appreciation to June Steele for her purchase of this valuable collection. If you are a new member of the Society and have yet to visit the Scottish Home this would be a good opportunity. Reservations will be accepted by calling the Society office at 708.447.5092 x357. Those reserving in advance will receive a notebook with copies of some of the material.

Pictured first:  George Mason
Pictured second:  David Kennison

More information can be found at Northwestern University, Hidden Truths

James Millikin And His University

James Drury in his book Old Illinois Houses, writes about James Millikin and his house in Decatur, Illinois. “He was born of Scotch Presbyterian parents at Clarkstown (now Ten Miles), Pennsylvania, on August 2, 1817. His father was a farmer.” When he was a young man James and a neighbor boy drove a herd of steers to New York City and down Broadway. He graduated from Washington College in Washington, PA. In 1849, Millikin and his father drove a flock of sheep to Indiana and the next year, young Millikin drove another flock west, this time to Danville, Illinois. He stayed in Danville and continued in the livestock business. At the Illinois State Fair in 1857, he won six medals and has been called the “first cattle king of the Prairie State.” At one time, he had 10,000 sheep grazing over a radius of 20 miles.

James Millikin came to Decatur in 1856 after selling his land and his livestock holdings. The town of Bement, Illinois stands on land once owned by Millikin. On January 1, 1857, he married Anna Bernice Aston, daughter of Samuel M. Aston who was pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Mount Zion, Illinois. In 1860, he entered the banking business and was then one of the wealthiest men in Decatur. Sixteen years later, he and Anna built their residence at Main and Pine Streets. The house is two and a half stories high and built of red brick. Millikin died in his home in 1909 and his widow occupied the residence until her own death July 29, 1913. “In her will she provided for use of the mansion as a museum of art.” The Millikin’s were very private people and few were ever allowed inside their home. “Faculty parties and teas were held at the home, but always outside on the lawn. If it began to rain, everyone would go home.”

When James Millikin was twenty years old, he decided that if he ever became wealthy, he would build an institution of learning where all classes of young people could secure an education, regardless of what occupation they might choose. He followed his dream and offered the City of Decatur a large tract of land know as Oakland Park and $200,000 for a school. Millikin was then approached by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member, to affiliate the school with the church. He agreed to do so if the school would not be “narrowly sectarian.”

On June 4, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the dedicatory address of the new James Millikin University and on September 15, 1903, classes began with 562 students. The present enrollment is approximately 2,400 students “of all classes, creed, or sect living the dream of its founder, James Millikin.”

Pictured first:  James Millikin
Pictured second: James Millikin Homestead, Decatur, IL


 Elgin, Illinois

james_giffordjan05James Talcott Gifford founded Elgin, Illinois in 1835 naming it after his favorite Scottish hymn, Elgin. Elgin is actually pronounced with a hard ‘g’ sound - El-gin. The Scots were early settlers in Elgin and the surrounding area. Driven by the need to secure jobs as automation had taken their looming jobs away in Scotland, the great immigration to American began about 1838. Here are a few of their stories. 

Jane Crichton Archibald, oldest daughter of the 13 children of the John Crichton family, survived a six-week-long, horrible trip on the sailboat Harmonia in 1848. She and her second husband, Abram Archibald (her first husband was killed in a coal mining accident in Scotland) purchased a 160-acre farm near the Fox River. Later they purchased 113 more acres. In the old directories, Jane Archibald is the only woman listed as a farmer. 

Elgin’s oldest Scottish bard (poet) T. Park Brown was born in Strichen, Scotland, He was schooled in watch making and clock repair, working in some of the old castles in Scotland. After marrying Jessie Strachan in 1882, they sailed for America. Mr. Brown found employment at the Elgin National Watch Factory. Two of his books of poetry are entitled “Fox River Valley and Other Verse” and “Illinois Incidents and Other Verse.” In both, he speaks of the lovely valley, parks, rivers and creeks of the area. Mr. Brown was curator of the Audubon Museum in Lord’s Park and constructed the first rock gardens in Elgin. He engraved the poetry of Robert Burns on some of the rocks.

Anna McNeil Todd was a born merchandiser, urging her husband, James Todd, to  turn his interests from farming to selling. In 1858 along with the McNeil brothers, they erected a frame store building on the Southwest corner of Chicago Street, which is currently known as Grove Avenue. This grocery store was a huge success and later was moved to Chicago as the wholesale grocer firm of McNeil and Higgins. One of Anna’s visions was her insistence upon the need for trained buyers and trained sales staff, which was a new approach. Mr. Marshall Field liked her work so well that, when she came to Chicago by train, he would pick her up in his carriage or send his groom to fetch her and bring her to his store, then known as Field and Leiter.” 

David Barclay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and immigrated to America in 1842, settling first in Waukegan, Illinois, but moving to Elgin in 1851. Mr. Barclay became the first foreign-born mayor of Elgin and served a total of four terms. Among his numerous notable achievements were the following: he served as the City Fire Chief, President of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Asylum for ten years, President of the First National Bank of Elgin for six years, and he saved the City of Elgin from failure after the ‘Panic of 1873.’ He was also the inventor of the first milk can designed to ship milk to Chicago.” 

The Elgin Burns Caledonian Club celebrated the birthday of Robert Burns with an annual dinner dance. In 1904 it was re-established as the Elgin Scottish Society, which continues the dinner dances in honor of Robert Burns. 

The above material was written by Candice K. Meyer who is a member of the Elgin Scottish Society and the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. 

Pictured first:  James T. Gifford
Pictured second:  James T. Gifford Home about 1870

A Prayer for the Scottish Home

God and Father of us all, we thank Thee that Thou hath chosen us to carry on the worthy purposes of our Saint Andrew Society. We are grateful for all those who through the years preserved the spirit of Saint Andrew in their ever-deepened concern for the elderly through the building and maintenance of our Home. Grant us vision beyond the range of worldly prudence, and by Thy wisdom make us wise, lest all our planning be futile and we should then fail both Thee and these children of Thine. May we always have the courage to undertake and do what must be done. Hush all spirit of contention and make us ever mindful of one another and of Thee. We would remember with love all those who have found peace and comfort in their sunset years in the Scottish Home. May their song of faith never die in our hearts. This is our prayer in the name of the Christ, our Lord. 

Prayer by Dr. James Currie McLeod
Past President of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society

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