Great Scots

Scottish Name List



Visit our Blog




The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
January 2009

History Newsletter to Change!

This is the last issue of the History Club Newsletter that will be mailed to our membership. In this time of financial stress, the Society needs to make every effort to reduce costs. The plans are to have the newsletter sent by email and posted on this web site. This will also depend on available staff, since reductions are being made in that area as well. If you would like to receive the newsletter by e-mail and have not heard from us, please send us your email address and we will add you to the history newsletter list.

As this is being written, it is unclear if the newsletter will survive or end after 15 years of publication. Past issue are presently posted on this web site. It is possible that those of you who will send in the cost of mailings may continue to receive a mailed copy, but that is unclear at the moment. My sincere thanks to all of you who have enjoyed the stories over the years. Of course, it would have been impossible without Elaine’s help and interest.

At the Leadership Conference this year, I met Connie Kurrelmeier and she volunteered to take this issue and rewrite what became a very complicated story. She did a great job and I appreciate her work. If the newsletter continues in some form, Connie will continue to help. She is presently writing her first novel.

You may continue to reach me by e-mail. My telephone number is 630.629.4516.

The Crerar Library and its Scottish Connections

“I desire the books and periodicals selected with a view to create and sustain a healthy moral and Christian sentiment in the community, and that all nastiness and immorality be excluded. I do not mean by this that there shall not be anything but hymn books and sermons, but I mean that dirty French novels and all skeptical trash and works of questionable moral tone shall never be found in this library.”

A free public library was but one of the legacies Chicagoan John Crerar provided for in his last will and testament. Born in New York City of “Scotch parents” and attending the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Crerar moved to Chicago in 1862 and worked in the railroad supply business where he made his millions following the Civil War. An avid reader, a deeply religious parishioner of the Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, he was known for being more than a bachelor industrialist. He was also a philanthropist. And upon his death in 1889, Crerar continued his reputation of charitable giving in a manner that represented all he held important.

*  $2.5 million for a “free public library”
*  $100,000 for a “colossal statue of Abraham Lincoln”
*  $10,000 for the Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Pictured:  John Crerar (1827-1889)

The Crerar Library

The history of libraries in Scotland dates back to the 16th century when private and subscription libraries were available to those who could afford the fees. Throughout the 17th century, the common person had greater access to books through newly founded parish libraries; and like John Crerar’s request, the collections were limited to books of acceptable religious and moral content- an easier preference to fulfill in the 17th century than in the 19th century when industrialization was rapidly changing the framework of the United States. Nevertheless, in the forward looking wisdom of the founding Crerar Library directors, the collections of the Library would be limited to volumes relating to the sciences.

And so it was that on the 6th floor of the Marshall Field building at 87 Wabash Avenue, the Crerar Library was founded. By its popularity, the collection soon outgrew its space. A new location was chosen which required the approval by State Legislature and ultimately by State ballot. In 1904, Illinois voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new site with 50,960 in favor and only 9,329 opposed. Familiar to most current day Chicagoans, the land at issue was located between the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and Michigan Avenue, between Monroe and Madison - Grant Park. Why then is there no “turn of the 20th century” library at Grant Park? Unfortunately a law suit soon followed the near unanimous ballot, and the Illinois Supreme Court overruled the vote. What then became of the Crerar Library? The Library expanded its collections into the medical sciences as well as into other locations.

1920 - the Library moved to a newly constructed building at Michigan Avenue. and Randolph, across from the present day Chicago Cultural Center. The 11-story building was designed by Holabird and Roche and opened in 1920. Eventually, the Library again needed more space and the building was sold to the George F. Harding Museum who later sold it to a New York development firm. This Holabird and Roche designed building was demolished in 1981 so that a 41-story office building could be constructed. Its unusual “sharply shaped summit” is recognizable to most Chicagoans, especially at Christmas.

1962 - the Library moved into another new building on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The new building was designed by architect Walter Netsch, well known for his design of the chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The Crerar Library was a 92,000 square foot facility “with a pleasing modern aesthetic inspired by Miles van der Rohe.” Interestingly, Mr. Netsch was married to our present life member and Distinguished Citizen, Dawn Clark Netsch. Another interesting connection is that IIT’s predecessor was the Armour Institute of Technology founded in 1890 with a gift of one million dollars from Philip Danforth Armour. Mr. Armour was a member of the Illinois St. Andrew’s Society and was said to have been its most liberal donor.

1984 - The Crerar library moved to its current distinguished home on the campus of the University of Chicago, not far from the Midway of the World’s Fair in 1893. John Crerar’s legacy created a collection of texts ranging from the classics of Galileo and Newton, to rare works by researchers in the fields of medicine, science, and technology. Now combined under one roof with the extensive sciences collections of the University of Chicago, the John Crerar Library lives on. . . absent any “dirty French novels.”

A $10,000 Bequeath to the Illinois Saint Andrew Societyiety

Even today, a gift of $10,000 to the Illinois St. Andrews Society could be used for great purpose. If a current day member wished a challenge, however, to match John Crerar’s 1886 bequeath to the ISAS it would require a donation today of approximately $230,000. What is more, the entire 1886 bequeath was distributed to the poor.

John Crerar never forgot his childhood roots and also bequeathed $25,000 to the Scotch Presbyterian Church he attended in New York. Having never married, he returned to rest aside his parents in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Though in birth and death his name is written in New York, John Crerar’s legacy lives strong in Chicago.

The Colossal Statue of Abraham Lincoln

That the John Crerar Library would never have a home in Grant Park may have to the 1904 voters been a slap in the face. They could not have envisioned that Grant Park would some day be a venue for huge concerts and cultural fairs, and never would they have imagined that the first African American President Elect would celebrate his victory in front of thousands of people, modern day residents that must have stood on the ground that the Crerar Library would have shared.

Nor, I suspect, would John Crerar have ever expected when he left $100,000 for the sculpting of a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the president that ended slavery in the United States, that his statue would bear stoic witness to great historical moments.

The bronze edifice is the last work of sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens who died in 1907. The first four years of the life of the Lincoln Statue was spent in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The statue was then displayed in different cities of the United States while “the South Park board fought over the right to place it in Grant Park.” It was finally brought to Chicago in 1916 and for the next 10 years was “stored in a shed in Washington Park.”

Two sets of trustees died unable to erect the Statue. The third group, led by William Louderback, was successful in obtaining approval to place the monument in Grant Park. Stanford White, a noted architect, designed the architectural setting for the monument. White was a member of the firm McKim, Mead & White, all of whom were Scottish Americans and we have written about them often.

Finally, on May 31, 1926, forty years after John Crerar’s bequeath, the “Sitting” Lincoln Statue was unveiled in Grant Park just east of Van Buren street.

“In the center of the semicircular seat, 153 feet in diameter, which forms the setting for the statue, rises a monolithic pedestal of granite supporting the bronze figure of Lincoln, which faces the south. The pedestal rests on a raised platform with granite steps leading to it.”

Serious, with open arms, the statue well represents a time of great change and two great men - Abraham Lincoln and John Crerar. (In Lincoln Park one can find the “Standing” Lincoln statue, also sculpted by St. Gaudens.)

Related Information

That John Crerar passed unwed and childless would often be deemed an unfortunate situation. Whether he, by affection, adopted the loyalty of equally well-regarded individuals or they adopted him, there appeared no lack of ongoing devotion to Mr. Crerar after his death.

One such example is Norman Williams, the first president of the Crerar Library. (I believe that Mr. Williams was of Scottish descent but that could not be determined as fact.) A graduate of Yale University in 1896 and referred to as one of "Chicago's best known Capitalists," detailed information is not exactly easily found on Mr. Williams and the Tribune did not even publish an obituary.

What is available is the newspaper reported detail of personal events of his life that led up to the final unveiling of the "sitting" Lincoln  Statue in Grant Park.

The date was July 3, 1902. The headlines in the Chicago Tribune read, "Two come Home Engaged." The article announces "Miss Joan Chalmers and Norman Williams, Jr. to wed," and further explains that Miss Joan Chalmers had been traveling in Europe with her mother for several months and somewhere they were joined by Norman Williams, Jr. The three returned to this country on the steamship Pennsylvania where they were met by Joan's father.

Shortly "thereafter came the statement of the betrothal, which has been expected for some time by the more intimate friends of the young people." To be continued...

All quotes reference Chicago Tribune.

From the Editor

Some time ago, Don Campbell and I met “Tink” Campbell for breakfast at his club, the Racquet Club of Chicago. Calvin Arthur Campbell, Jr., better known as “Tink,” is a great Scot and a fine host. He is retired and presently serves on our Board of Governors and was the Society’s Distinguished Citizen in 1996.

His father, Calvin Arthur Campbell, was also called “Tink.” Both Father and Son knew that anyone who called them “Calvin” was most certainly a stranger. Calvin Arthur Campbell was General Counsel and a Director of Dow Chemical Company. He and the president of the company, Dr. Willard H. Dow, were close personal friends. The two men had attended together and graduated in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan.

On March 31, 1949, Dr. Dow, Martha his wife, Tink Campbell, and Alta his wife, boarded the “two motored company plane” for a flight to Boston. The foursome was traveling to attend an address by Winston Churchill at MIT. Near London, Ontario, Canada, the plane was “struck by lashing rain” and attempted to make an emergency landing in a field where it crashed on impact. The only survivor was Calvin A. Campbell, our “Tink’s” father. His mother Alta Campbell, Mr. & Mrs. Dow, and the two pilots; A. J. Bowie and Fred Clements were all killed. “Tink” was 14 years of age.

After breakfast, Tink and I walked across the street to visit the church he and his wife often attend during the Summer months. The Chrysostom Church (located at 1424 N. Dearborn) is now more than 100 years old and has a lot of Scottish history. Our Scottish families living on the “Gold Coast” have often attended this church and many had their funeral services there.

Tink pointed out to me the beautiful stained glass window that in 1927 was donated by Mrs. William J. (Pinkerton) Chalmers. Joan Pinkerton Chalmers was the daughter of Alan Pinkerton, the great detective. (We told the story of Joan Pinkerton and William J. Chalmers in our Spring 2007, issue of the History Club Newsletter.)

The colorful glass was donated in memorial of Mrs. Chalmers’ two children. The daughter, Mrs. Joan Chalmers Williams and the son, Major Thomas Stuart Chalmers died within eight days of each other in 1923.

After visiting Chrysostom Church, we walked over to the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel and looked at all the pictures of celebrities who had visited this famous room in the past.

The Scottish connections abound throughout Chicago and we can all find experiences, whether tragic or happy, to bind us in common. The Campbells, the Chalmers, the Pinkertons, the Williams and as you read on, John Crerar, are intertwined in a web of great Scottish Chicagoans.

The Racquet Club of Chicago is located at 1365 N. Dearborn St. It was built in the early 1920's and is a well-maintained, beautiful building with much history.

Pictured first:  Alta Koch Campbell
Pictured second:  Stained glass window donated by Joan Pinkerton Chalmers


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