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The Scottish American History Club Newsletter
April 2011

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The McGilvray Family

This story begins with the birth of John Duff McGilvray in October, 1847, in the Parish of Inverarity, Scotland. He married Marion Beaton on the April 8, 1870. They would have 12 children, five being born in Chicago, Illinois.

The McGilvray Clan, including the mother, Jessie Duff McGilvray, emigrated to America in 1870 finally going to Chicago. (The mother had been widowed in 1861.) Two of the boys, John Duff (23) and William B. (18), worked as stone cutters. There is some difference of opinion as to when the family arrived in Chicago. One source says they came in 1873 after the fire. Another source says they were here to view the Great Fire.

Regardless of when they arrived, there was plenty of work after the Great Chicago Fire. Both John and William worked on the new Customs House which was located at the south-west corner of Dearborn and Monroe. The government sued the contractors for payroll padding and charging for supplies not used in the construction. Both John and William were called to testify. I could not find out how the trial ended, but we all know such things
never happen in Chicago.

John also became an attaché of the Illinois legislature for two sessions, helping draft a law to protect coal miners that became a model for several other states. This is interesting in view of our July history tour to Coal City and Braidwood.

After living in Chicago for seven years, the family moved west to Denver, Colorado. They settled in three households. In one house-hold was John Duff McGilvray with Marion Beaton, his wife, and five children. Their son William B. and his wife, Margaret Wilson, was in an another household and daughter Margaret and husband, Henry Sturrock, in the third.

John Duff became a stone contractor in Denver and organized his company as “John D. McGilvray and Company.” His partners were his brother, James Scott, and a friend, Robert W. Findlay. Their company built the Denver City Hall, the upper story of the Denver Court House, the old Post office, the Windsor Hotel, the Barth block, St. Leo’s church and North High school and “other big office structures.” In 1893, John D. built a castle-like home at 10
th Avenue and Corona Street. In 1880, John D. was elected alderman from the 11th ward. He also served on the Board of Supervisors and through his efforts helped in the purchase of City Park. He was a member of the Caledonian society and was “largely responsible for the erection of the Robert Burns statue in City Park.”

Sometime in 1892, John Duff McGilvray, his wife Marion and now eight children moved to California. (Their oldest son William, born in Chicago, would die in San Francisco at the age of 22 on October 15, 1894.) John D. then purchased the McLennan Granite Company and formed a new company. It was located east of San Francisco in Raymond, California. John was not only a builder but an innovator of architectural standards. Two of his  buildings,  the  Emporium and
the Flood building, survived the great earthquake in 1906 with very little damage. Having built one monument to Robert Burns in Denver, he set about to raise money for another in San Francisco. It was dedicated in 1908.

In 1898, he was hired by Mrs. Stanford to build a new University. The family moved to the campus and lived in the Escondite Cottage. He built the Memorial Church, the Outer Quad and many other buildings on the campus. He died March 24, 1916 in Palo Alto, California and his wife, Marion Beaton, died May 10,1935 also in Palo Alto. It had been a long but profitable journey from Scotland to California.

All of the sons were involved in the company and upon the death of his father, John Duff McGilvray, Jr. became the President of the firm. This company built some of San Francisco’s best known buildings, including: the City Hall, the Civic Auditorium, the Public Library, the State Building, the St. Francis Hotel, the Emporium, and the Flood Building.

John D. McGilvray, Jr. married Dottie Mira Sewell in 1895. They lived in a house designed by John known as the Sea Cliff house. The house was “far ahead of its time with open floor plans, sweeping vistas, a three-car garage and amenities in every room.” He died at home, June 16, 1955. His wife, Dottie Mira Sewell died June 21, 1946.” The house still exists.

Early in his career John Duff, Jr., “became a Master Mason and member of both the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and of the Knights Templar. He became an honored 33
rd degree Mason and Knight of the Red Cross of Constantine. He was potentate of Islam Temple of the Shrine in 1917-19.”

The mark of a man’s greatness is his ability to have compassion for those less fortunate.” He felt it his duty to provide protection and medical care for handicapped children. John, (Uncle Jack) Duff McGilvray II was on the original board of governors of Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children. Under his leadership, the San Francisco Shriners Hospital became one of the best. He toured the country, consulting experts on the very latest in equipment and hospital techniques.

He was a building consultant for all 17 Shriner Hospitals. They are located in Shreveport, Twin Cities, Honolulu, San Francisco, Portland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Spokane, Salt Lake City, Montreal, Springfield, Chicago, Winnipeg, Lexington, Greenville, Mexico City and Los Angeles. He provided the cornerstones and attended the ground-breaking ceremonies for each of the 17 hospitals.

The Shriners Children’s Hospital at Oak Park and Belden avenues in Chicago was dedicated September 26, 1926. “Only those whose parents cannot pay for treatment will be accepted.” A photograph in the
Chicago Daily Tribune shows Chicago-born John D. McGilvray Jr., speaking at the dedication.

am sure there is much more, but what an amazing story of one Scottish family.

Pictured above:
John Duff McGilvray and Marion Beaton, Denver Post, March 25, 1916
2.  Robert Burns Statue, Denver, Colorado
3.  Sea Cliff, San Francisco, California
4.  Shriner's Children's Hospital, Chicago, Illinois

Cline Gift to the Scottish-American Heritage Museum

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Cline attended the April meeting of the History Club. They live in Naperville and Mr. Cline is an attorney. They brought with them two historical gifts to the museum.

Kay Cline’s father, John Kennedy, was born in 1908 in Dundonald, near Kilmarnock. In 1926, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 17 and he came alone. He settled in Gary, Indiana, where he worked for U.S. Steel. In 1933, John Kennedy married Elizabeth Wardrop. Her parents were born in Scotland. They lived in Gary
for the rest of their lives.

There were many soccer teams in Gary of different nationalities in the 1930s and her dad played on the Scottish team. He was the goalie. He was also involved with Clan McNeil and twice was elected Clan Chief. Her mother was active in the Daughters of Scotia, Lady McNeil lodge and once served as the Chief Daughter.

Kay Cline donated to the museum the Rampant Lion flag that belonged to Clan McNeil. She remembers seeing the flag many times growing up because she was a Highland dancer and often danced at their meetings accompanied by Pipe Major Robert Sims. The flag attached to its pole with stand and finial has been placed in the north-east corner of Heritage Hall.

The second item is the framed charter of Clan McNeil. It measures 16x24 and is in a very unusual sheet metal frame. The charter was issued by the Order of Scottish Clans and is dated December 18, 1909. Twenty names are listed on the charter who may have been the charter members. It is signed by John Buchanan, Loyal Deputy, and Peter Kerr, Royal Secretary. It is a beautiful and unusual document which we are pleased to have in Heritage Hall.

The Cline’s gift reminds us all of the importance of the Scottish saying,
"Cuimhnich air na daoine o'n d'thainig thu" - Remember the men from whom you have come.

First Presbyterian Church Kirkin’ Painting

On February 12, 2011, my family was invited to the “Kirkin’ O’ the Tartans Supper Club” at the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois.  A large group was treated to a dinner menu of roast beef with potatoes and vegetables, carrot cake, coffee and imported Scottish teas.  The Master of Ceremonies was Tom Boynton and our escort for the evening was Mr. & Mrs. Greg Drinan.  The Pastor, Rev. Paul J. Kirbas gave the blessing and Jim McCallum was the piper for the evening.   Peter Wilkie recited some Scottish songs and poetry. I gave a short talk about the influence of the Scottish Presbyterians in forming our country. Greg Drinan gave a talk about “Watts Hymnal, the Black Regiment and the American Revolution.” After dinner, the group was entertained by the Thistle and Heather Highland Dancers, led by Nancy Strolle.

On the cover of the program was a picture of a piper drawn by Anita Brechtel, a member of the church and also a well-know artist in the Western suburbs. Two weeks later, Mary and I were invited back to the church to receive this beautiful color painting of the program picture. I will have the painting at the next meeting of the History Club on May 14.

Pictured above:

1.  Mr. and Mrs. Greg Drinan, Wayne and Mary Ellen Rethford and Anita Brechtel, Artist.

May and June History Meetings

In spite of a change of date and the cold weather a good group attended the May meeting. The program consisted of a PowerPoint presentation covering the years 1855 - 1865. Seven different men served in the role of president during those ten years. One man served three terms. One of them lived at 622 Dearborn and was shot by a burglar. Another had his wife committed and George Anderson testified at the trial. Having spent his fortune, this ex-president of the Society seems to have disappeared. One of them died suddenly, leaving a large estate and no will. Three served honorably in the Civil War and one was a general. The Illinois Saint Andrew Society made several important decisions during these years and those were discussed as well. The program began at 10 a.m. as usual and after the presentation everyone enjoyed a birthday cake.

The meeting in June will be held on June 4, 2011. Our speaker is Michele Micetich who is the Curator of the Coal City Museum. She is an expert on the Scots who lived in Coal City and the surrounding area, She will help explain why so many Scottish coal miners came to the area, who they were and what they accomplished. If you plan to take the History Tour in July, this presentation will be very important.  Please visit our web site at www.chicagoscots.net for additional information or changes as they may occur.

July History Tour

The annual history tour this year is scheduled for July 16.  We plan to leave from the Scottish Home and drive to Coal City. There we will enjoy a box lunch in the park and tour the Coal City Museum.  It is in a one-room school house, filled with items, records and picture of a time gone by. After this, we will drive to Braidwood, Illinois, tour the town and visit the cemetery. If time permits, we will drive past the Braidwood Nuclear Facility. It is not unlike the one in Japan that is currently in the news. Also, if time permits, we will drive through the Abraham Lincoln Military Cemetery. 

The exact schedule and costs will be announced later. Watch the History Club web site at www.chicagoscots.net.


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