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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 2008

Alexander Kirkland

Alexander Kirkland was president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1879-1881. He is not mentioned very often in our history because he apparently did not arrive in Chicago until after the Great Fire in 1871. Eight years later, he was president. Mr. Kirkland was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, on September 24, 1834. His father was a retired army captain and had been wounded at Waterloo. Alexander graduated from Glasgow University with a degree in architecture and engineering and for the next 20 years practiced his craft in Scotland. He is credited with building St. Vincent, Crescent and Napier Place. It is unclear if these are houses or buildings used for other purposes. He also built “the public monument to Alexander Theater Royal.” Not sure what this is, unless it is the Royal Theater in Glasgow.

In 1861, Mr. Kirkland moved to London and then to New York City and finally to Chicago. In 1879, he was appointed Commissioner of public buildings. In addition to inspecting public buildings, he became the superintending architect of the new City Hall built in 1881. Carter H. Harrison, the Mayor, said: “Alexander Kirkland was a capable, honest, and genial man. He was more of an architect and builder than an administrative officer. During his administration of the office of Superintendent of the Building Department all permits for buildings in the city passed through his hands. He conducted the office in an entirely satisfactory manner throughout.”

In 1880, when the Kirkland’s celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, they lived at 2027 Indiana Avenue. They had not planned a formal reception because their sons were both out of town and because they had just opened their home to the members of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. The custom was that on New Year’s day, the president of the Society would receive members and that “Old Baille” would be on the dining room table. However, the members took up a “subscription” and purchased some valuable gifts for the occasion. Mr. Kirkland was given a “massive” gold watch and chain. Mrs. Kirkland was presented with “a cluster diamond ring, a pair of richly chased heavy gold bracelets, and a pair of silver and Bohemian glass vases in commemoration of the anniversary.” After the speeches, “drinks were served and songs sung.” Among those present were Mr. and Mrs. James Steele, descendants of our first president. Don’t you wonder what happened to all the gifts?

Since we are in the midst of a presidential election, I thought this might be of interest. It appears to be written by the Editor and was printed in a section of the paper called “Notes.” (Please don’t write me about the use of the word Scotch as referring to people. This is a direct quotation from August 3, 1884. I understand that today, we drink scotch.) The headlines read “Kirkland does not own the Scotch.” The story follows: “Some of the bonny Scots of Chicago, particularly members of Saint Andrew’s Society, are very hot over the insinuation that their votes are in the breeches pocket of Mr. Alexander Kirkland, Superintendent of Public Buildings. They say a man will have to hunt with a microscope to find over half a dozen Democrats in Saint Andrew’s Society and it is questioned if that many members will support Harrison. It is confidently stated that nine-tenths of the Scotch vote in Chicago will go to Blaine and Logan. Scotchmen, who are nearly all radicals in their home politics, look with much questioning one who turns Democrat here, thereby upholding the principles which his countrymen at home are unitedly opposing. Blaine was not the first choice of some of the leading Scots in Chicago, but there is no kicking now and there will be none in November.” Blaine and Logan were Republicans and lost the presidential election of 1884.

Mr. Kirkland’s first wife, Jane Hewittson died in 1847. He then married his second cousin, Eliza Maria Kirkland in 1855. Two sons were born of the first marriage: R. B. Kirkland and James K. Kirkland. A daughter was born of the second marriage who became the wife of William Edgar. Alexander Kirkland died August 31, 1892 in Jefferson, Wisconsin, and was buried there in Greenwood Cemetery. The pallbearers were John Alston, D. R. Cameron, General John McArthur, Duncan Cameron, Hugh Ritchie, Alexander Watson, James Steele, and William Gardner. Four of those men were past-presidents of our Society. In 1901, he was re-interred at Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, with other members of his family, including his mother.

In our file of “Letters before 1900", we have a memo from the Department of Buildings written by Alexander Kirkland, dated November 30, 1883.

Pictured first:  The Crescent, Glasgow, one of the only structures designed by Alexander Kirkland still standing.
Pictured second:  Old Balle, a ram's head presented to the Society by George Anderson

Weymouth Kirkland

Weymouth is the grandson of Alexander Kirkland. He was born June 4, 1877 in Fort Gratiot, Michigan and was the son of James and Annie Weymouth Kirkland. His father, James, was the superintendent of the shops of the Grand Trunk Railroad at Port Huron. On his mothers side, he was descended from Gov. William Bradford and John Alden, both of whom sailed on the Mayflower. At the age of fifteen, he came to Chicago. After he graduated from public school, he attended Kent College of Law graduating in 1901. He was a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.

Weymouth Kirkland died at the age of 87 and was recognized as “one of the nation’s best-known lawyers.” He was a senior member of the law firm of Kirkland, Ellis, Hodson, Chaffetz and Masters. Some of his best work dealt with freedom of the press. The City of Chicago once sued the Tribune Company for libel because they said Mayor William Hale Thompson’s financial policies had bankrupt the city. They lost. Henry Ford once sued the Tribune Company for a million dollars for libel. Ford was finally awarded six cents in damages and costs of six cents. The money was never paid. The life of Mr. Kirkland is really quite amazing and if anyone is interested in more information, please let us know. Three paragraphs are hardly enough to cover this man’s life.

Mr. Kirkland was a member of the Fourth Presbyterian Church and his funeral was held there on February 5, 1965. He left a widow, Annie Louise; a son, Weymouth Stone Kirkland: a daughter, Mrs. Eleanor Kirkland Brogan, and seven grandchildren, Linda S. Kemper, James S. Kemper III, Weymouth S. Kirkland Jr., Virginia Lee Kirkland, Guy R. Kirkland, Christopher Kirkland, and Tracy Brogan. It was interesting to see the name of James Kemper III of the famous insurance family included in the family list. I am not sure how the family fits together, but perhaps time will tell.

There appears to be an active law firm by the name of Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago which may go back to Weymouth Kirkland. Perhaps some of our readers will have more information.

Pictured:  Weymouth Kirkland

The McEwen Family

John McEwen was born in Perthsire, Scotland in 1823. He came to Chicago in 1849 and died in 1909. It is unclear where he is buried. John McEwen was a well- known contractor in the early days of Chicago and his most famous building may well have been the Wigwam where Lincoln was nominated for president in 1863. A wigwam is an Indian word meaning “temporary shelter” and this was a large building made entirely of wood and lighted with gas. It would hold 10,000-12,000 people with fire being a constant danger. The building was located at the corner of Lake Street and Wacker Drive. There is a historical marker at the site. (It is believed by some historians that the Wigwam burned in the Great Fire of 1871.)

According to the Chicago Press and Tribune, dated April 17, 1860, the Wigwam will be “strong, compact and weatherproof.” Only the platform was to contain seats. The floor and galleries were “to be a series of broad stairs or platform on an incline which will allow short men every advantage.” The cost was $5,000. It was built and paid for by the “voluntary subscriptions of our Republicans.” On one side of the building was a large eagle and shield supporting a flagstaff. A banner was to fly with the statement: “Irrepressible and Undivided.”

The building not only held the Republican Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for President, it was also the place where Senator Stephen A. Douglas, made his last speech. He said, “I express it as my conviction before God, that it is the duty of every American citizen to rally around the flag of his country.” Thirty days later he was dead. The Illinois Senator of Scottish ancestry is buried in Chicago, in Illinois’ smallest State Park on 35th Street.

In 1882, a wooden planning-mill owned by John McEwen, was partially burned. Under the new fire ordinance, a wooden building could not be rebuilt if more than 50% of the structure was destroyed. Police were stationed to prevent any repairs, but this canny Scot, would work while the police were on their lunch break and soon had repaired enough to pass inspection. Appraisers, appointed by the Board of Public Works, came to inspect. They were: George B. Davis, John McKinlay and A. Campbell. With at least two of the three being Scots, the results were predictable. Despite a public outcry, McEwen appeared to be the winner since his building passed inspection.

Trying to rebuild a person’s life one hundred years later is often difficult and sometimes incorrect. Here is an attempt with John McEwen, Sr. He died in 1909 at his residence, 512 LaSalle Ave. The newspaper notice says: “He was born in Scotland eighty-six years ago. Mr. McEwen was well known as an early day builder and contractor.” His wife, Elizabeth B. McEwen died July 4, 1901 at her residence 512 LaSalle Avenue.

The Chicago Daily Tribune of May 24, 1943, identifies one of John McEwen’s son as Walter McEwen, the artist. Walter left home to study art in Munich and Paris and by 20, he had won a medal at Munich. Fifteen years later Walter would return to Chicago “as a distinguished visitor with a professional commission. He painted many mural decorations for buildings of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and was accepted as an equal among the famous architects, sculptors, and painters who camped on the fairgrounds during the construction of the White City. St. Gaudens spoke of them as the greatest gathering of artists since the 15th century.”

Not only did Walter McEwen work on the Columbian Exposition, he also painted “nine large panels and a number of small ones for the Hall of Heroes in the Library of Congress.” Three of his panels are in the reading room at the Library. “So it seems that the Chicago carpenter’s son who wanted to study art had the right idea.” Walter died in 1943 at the age of 85 after a brief illness. The announcement of his death, March 21, 1943, says: “The Munich Academy of Fine Arts honored him with its highest award, the small silver medal, when he was 20. He was born in Chicago.”

Another son was John McEwen II. He died at his home, 808 Hill Rd., Winnetka, Illinois, August 25, 1933. His obituary, lists his brothers and sisters living at the time. They were: Walter McEwen of Paris, France: Paul, Alfred, Mrs. Augusta Brosscau, and Mary McEwen of New York. These would all be children of Walter and Elizabeth McEwen. John McEwen II, married Emma Kirk, March 4, 1902 and thus united descendants of two Scottish-American families.

She was the granddaughter of the founder of James S. Kirk & Co., a soap and perfume manufacturer. James S. Kirk, founder of the company, was born in Scotland. Emma died August 12, 1936. Four children survived and two of them lived in Winnetka: Mrs. Earl McCarthy and Mrs. Robert T. McDevitt. Perhaps some of the descendants will one day read this article on the Internet and make contact, or perhaps some of our readers may know of Mrs. Earl McCarthy or Mrs. Robert T. McDevitt, or their descendants.

Pictured first:  The Wigwam
Pictured second:  Stephen Arnold Douglas

Read the June 16, 1930 Time Magazine article on the purchase of James S. Kirk & Co. by Proctor and Gamble.

John Scott Neil

Mr. Neil died January 21, 1933 after being a resident of the Scottish Home for eighteen years. He was born in Glasgow in 1837 and had lived in the United States for over forty years. Funeral services were conducted by the Rev. Alfred F. Waldo of the Riverside Presbyterian Church. Rev. Waldo said the following during the service: “It is a far cry, back to the Crimean War; the war of 1854-1856 between Russia on the one hand and Turkey with her allies, England, France and Sardinia on the other. Yet this man, John Scott Neil, whose obsequies we respectfully observe this morning, was in that war, a bugler boy with the 49th Highlanders which regiment he joined when a lad of about 16. Such service and such longevity combine to constitute a true distinction. So it is a distinguished man in the presence of whose mortal remains we this morning perform the last rites and perform them with respect, with reverence and with love.”

According to his own testimony, Neil fought at Sebastopol. He was wounded twice in the Crimean war and twice more in the Indian rebellion that followed. He told residents at the Home that he was nursed by Florence Nightingale in a field hospital near Sebastopol. He came to Chicago in 1893 and had been confined to bed for eight years after he suffered a broken hip. Interment was in the Saint Andrew’s grounds in Rosehill Cemetery, and as a last tribute to the man whom he had long called “Grandad”, Hugh Jamieson in Highland dress played most fittingly on the bag pipes the soldier’s farewell, “Flowers of the Forest.”

From the Editor

We begin another year of publication for our History Club Newsletter. This will complete 13 years and literally hundreds of stories. We measure our support by your contributions to the cost of printing and mailing. If you find this effort worthwhile, please send $10 to the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. Mark your check clearly so it will be credited to the proper account.

We will also continue the History Club meetings on the first Saturday of each month, (except July, August and December), in Heritage Hall at the Scottish Home. There is no charge and everyone is welcome. January will be about Robert Burns, of course, and February, will be about Abraham Lincoln. There is a wonderful statue of Lincoln in Edinburgh, Scotland, and that will be the story for February. You can check the events page for future programs. The museum opens at 9 a.m. and the program begins at 10 a.m. and will usually last less than an hour.

We continue to receive items of historical value for the museum. If you have items to donate, please let us know. We are now interested in family pictures and stories that have Scottish connections for our new book. If you need more information, e-mail me.


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