The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
Thomas G. Nicholson
Thomas Nicholson was a builder in Chicago for at
least fifty years. He is important in the history of the
Saint Andrew Society because of his role in building the
Scottish Home. Mr. Nicholson was a member of the
Building Committee, and a picture of all the men on the
Building Committee is in the Scottish American Museum.
He was born on December 14, 1847, on the estate of
Sir Robert Sinclair at Thurso, Scotland. When he was
older he began an apprenticeship as a stone cutter and
when finished he emigrated to Portland, Maine, where he
worked as a journeyman. He came to Chicago in 1869 and
started his own construction business in 1873.
It is said that he built many of the principal
buildings in Chicago and also in New Orleans. His
specialty was building foundations and he was the first
to complete caisson foundations in Chicago. His company
was incorporated under the name of T. Nicholson & Sons
Company, general contracting. Their capital stock was
$150,000.00 and the other names mentioned in the
Chicago Tribune are James S. Nicholson and Thomas G.
Nicholson, who were probably his sons.
1901, T. Nicholson & Sons was demolishing the Central
Music Hall located at Randolph and State streets.
The Central Music Hall had been a very popular place and
many Scottish events had been held in the building. The
sidewalk had been barricaded but May 22 was a rainy day
and the workmen had lined up inside the barricaded area
to receive their pay checks. The sidewalk gave way and
Joseph Findlay, who was 32 years old and working in the
basement, was killed. Four others were injured but all
taken home by police ambulances after being examined by
The newspaper on April 17, 1903, reports that a
contract has been let to T. Nicholson & Sons to
construct the Standard office building at the northwest
corner of Jackson and Michigan. The building is to be
seventeen stories high, and will be known as the Railway
Exchange, and will cost $2,000,000. They were unable to
complete the building because of wages demanded by
organized labor. Unable to fulfill their contract, the
company has gone into bankruptcy. Does anyone know if
that building still exists?
A tribute to Mr. Nicholson stated he possessed many
of the good characteristics of his race and performed
all duties with credit. After his company was dissolved,
he became Supervisor of Construction for the estate of
Marshall Field. In 1914, he became the superintendent of
construction for the Trustees of the new Field Museum of
He died April 1, 1920 at his residence, 3104
Southport Avenue. The cause of death was pneumonia. At
the time of his death he was survived by his widow, a
son, Thomas G. Nicholson, and three daughters who are
not named in his death announcement. His funeral was
held in the chapel at Oakwoods Cemetery on the south
side of Chicago. We have yet to visit his grave. Our
Society has now lost all contact with his descendants.
Pictured: Central Music Hall, pictured c. 1879,
More Wedding Stories
our history and museum meeting in June, we looked at
three weddings where at least one member was of Scottish
descent. The couples were: Philip D. Armour, Jr. and
Mary Lester; C.K.G. Billings and Blanche MacLeish; and
Thomas J. Chalmers and Joan Pinkerton. It was difficult
to keep the number to just three, because there were so
many other prominent couples who married. Here is
The date is July 23, 1891, and the Leland Hotel was
the scene of a romantic marriage the day before. A few
days before the ceremony Miss Jane Dalrymple,
accompanied by her lifelong friend, Miss Rummy, had
arrived from Scotland. Shortly thereafter, Alexander F.
Hunter arrived from Una, Wyoming, where he was the
manager of a large ranch and the wedding was arranged.
The love story started when they were both children
in the town of Whithorn, Scotland. Alexander had
emigrated to American to seek his fortune and Jane had
remained faithful to the young Scot during all the years
he had labored for her in the far West. After the
ceremony the hotel clerk was asked to register off the
individual names and then placed on the legend, Mr.
Alexander Hunter and Mrs. Hunter. This story was
reported in the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 23, 1891. Wouldn't
you like to know the rest of the story?
Pictured: Blanche MacLeish
The Lord Justice-Clerk of Braxfield was a man of few
words and somewhat strong willed. In courting his second
wife, his character is clearly shown. He said to Lizzie,
"I'm looking for a wife, and I thought you just might be
the person that would suit me. Let me have an answer,
off or on, the morn, and nae mair about it." The next
day Lizzie said yes and the wedding was held.
One day the butler tended his resignation because
Mrs. Braxfield was always scolding him. The Judge
exclaimed, "Lord, mon, ye've little to complain o'; ye
may be thankful ye're nae married to her."
Not sure what the moral of this story is, but it was
in the Chicago Tribune on March 30, 1861.
Horse racing, what we now call harness racing, was
once very big in Chicago. There was a large racetrack,
on the south side near Washington Park, and it was the
social center of Chicago during the racing season. It
reminds one of the present day Kentucky Derby with
beautiful horses and elegant couples dressed in their
finest. Parasols and hats were all the fashion. Mr.
Billings once bought his wife Joan (Pinkerton) a purple
parasol from Paris and since she had no outfit to match,
an entire new one was ordered for the weekend race.
Ashland Avenue was apparently one of the routes taken
and the newspaper described all the carriages much the
way we might describe automobiles today.
Washington Park Racetrack was located at 61st and Cottage
Grove Avenue and was dismantled in 1906. The property
was then divided into lots and sold.
C. K. G. Billings not only owned race horses but drove
the sulkies which were called wagons. He actually set a
world's record: Driving Uhlan, a trotter, he set a
world's record for wagon racing doing the mile in 1.58.
By 1911, his horses had broken 41 world amateur records
in harness racing. One of his horses,
Omar Khayyam, won the Kentucky Derby in 1917. The
horse was not a favorite to win with the odds being 18
to1. After the derby win, with no more worlds to
conquer, he sold all of his horses.
Annette Inzinga was kind enough to send some
information about another race horse named
Bonnie Scotland. Annette recently visited the
Belle Meade Plantation in Tennessee and came across
the story of this horse. She reports that paintings of
Bonnie Scotland adorn the walls of the entry hall, which
is further embellished with an elegant cantilevered
staircase to the second floor. When gambling was
outlawed in the State of Tennessee, the Kentucky Derby
was born. When gambling was outlawed in Illinois, the
Washington Park Racetrack was destroyed.
There is considerable information about Bonnie
Scotland on the Internet and one of the more interesting
items is an Illinois connection. In June of 1869, the
horse was sold at auction for $1,000 to the Glen Flora
Farm of R. H. and C. C. Parks in Waukegan, Illinois. The
horse died on February 1, 1880, at the age of 27. The
skeleton was given to Vanderbilt University. This
continues an odd tradition for descendants of a great
horse named Queen Mary. Bonnie Scotland's half sister,
Blink Bonny, is in the York City Museum in England and
his half-brother Blinkhoolie, is at the National Stud in
France. Nice story Annette. Thanks.
Scottish Home Gardens
The grounds of the Scottish Home have always been
very important to the residents and members of the
Society. We have written several times about the fruit
trees and the vegetable gardens, which not only supplied
food, but gave the residents something to occupy their
time. During those earlier years, all the residents were
ambulatory and there was no health care except on a
A story appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune
in 1921 about the grounds of the Scottish Old People's
Home in Riverside. It said: Summertime strollers who
pass the grounds...are moved to comment on the wonderful
beauty of the gardens therein. In that year the beauty
comes from long years of experience in the gardens of
English and Scottish nobility...
John Reid, a resident of the Home, was once the
gardener for the Duke of Argyle and the Duke of
Buccleuch. He had come to America in 1890 and was
now 92 years of age. He came from a long line of
gardeners to nobility, dating almost back to the
medieval period. Once when Queen Victoria was young, she
had a poodle dog that ran away. John Reid found the dog
and the queen gave him a shilling.
John Bell, another resident of the Home, was 87 years
old and was a former manager of the estate of the
Duchess of Athol. He once had tea with the duchess and
Queen Victoria. King Edward was just a little boy then ,
he said. Mr. Bell was born in Dumfries, Scotland and for
35 years was a gardener at wealthy homes in Lake Forest.
He had been a resident for two years and was the manager
of the vegetable garden.
They re both good workers and real Scotchmen, said
Mrs. Cora J. Cummings, superintendent of the home, as
the reporter vainly tried to make them break their canny
John Rauba is presently the gardener who continues
the tradition of our beautiful grounds at the Scottish
Pictured: John Bell (at left) and John Reid.
The Illinois Saint Andrew Society is pleased to have
on its property a museum housed in a beautiful room. The display cabinets were made in Green Bay, WI. and are
of the finest quality. Among our collection is a
book, "Recollections of a Busy Life" written by James B. Forgan, which was given to the museum and is displayed
James B. Forgan was president of our Society in 1916.
He was a world-renowned banker and very prominent in the
city of Chicago. He and his wife were dedicated
supporters of the Scottish Home and its residents. Mr.
Forgan established the endowment fund and was the first
president to invite women to attend the St. Andrew's Day
Banquet. Mr. Forgan wrote his autobiography in 1924. He
assigned and transferred all the rights, title, interest
and royalties to the Scottish Old People's Home.
Mary Ellen Forgan Farnham, a granddaughter, gave us a
copy of his book in 1991. This book has recently been on
loan to a distant relative and has now been returned to
the museum. We are pleased to have this copy of Mr.
Forgan's book. It is unclear how many books were sold,
but the actual contract is in possession of the museum.
From the Editor
Thomas Carlyle said that "History is the essence of
innumerable biographies." We are now in our 12th year of
publishing this newsletter and the purpose has always
been to keep alive the stories of our Scottish people.
Some of our stories have been about the wealthy members
of our Society, but others have been about the ordinary
Scottish workers of Chicago. In Forest Home cemetery,
along the Des Plaines river which often floods the area,
is a marker that just says Mary Scott, born in Scotland,
died in 1901. I often think about Mary Scott and who she
might have been, and where she lived. There is no death
notice or obituary in any of our local papers. But, each
time I visit Forest Home, I also visit Mary Scott who
wanted the world to always know the place of her birth.
Gus Noble, president of the Society, and I often
visit cemeteries to find the graves of our leaders, and
to somehow express appreciation for their work and
contributions. It seems to mean something to both of us
that is uplifting and important. On July 15, we have a
tour planned for Graceland cemetery. An application and
additional information is on page 3. As of this writing
we have about 35 people who have signed up for the
trip. We will visit the grave of the great, great
grandson of Robert Burns who died of cholera in Chicago
at the age of 5 months. To those of you who love the
writings of Robert Burns, it should prove to be an
emotional moment. We will lay a wreath and have a piper.
You are invited to join us in Highland dress.
On June 15, my wife Mary and I drove to Lake Geneva
and had lunch with Peter and Fran Georgeson, Robert
Ploog and Nancy Black. It was nice to renew old
friendships. Bob Ploog, a life member, was
kind enough to give the museum the book "Lake Geneva,
Newport of the West 1870-1920." So many Scots lived
around the Lake that it is a treasure of information.
Peter Georgeson donated one of the original Scot Forge
tartan jackets. Many of you will remember that Peter
often wore this jacket to Home Committee meetings and
Board meetings. At one time, he owned 31 different
tartan jackets. It was his and the companies
trademark. It will also be a treasured gift to the
museum. The statue of "Uncle Pete" at the Scottish Home
was a gift from
Scot Forge now located in Spring Grove,