As we celebrate 175 years of nourishing Scottish identity in Chicago, join us as we look back on some of our biggest milestones.
On November 30th, 1845, a group of Scots living in Chicago gathered at the Lake House to celebrate home, Scottish culture and Scottish identity on Saint Andrew’s Day. They decided to form a Saint Andrew Society similar to the ones on the East Coast.
The first meeting was held on January 25th to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns. Businessman George Steele is appointed to be the first President. Our purpose is defined as making sure that “no deserving Scot in need ever go hungry, or homeless, or without medical care or be buried in a Potter’s Field”.
We purchased our first property in 1858. It was a large plot of land in Rosehill Cemetery dedicated for the burial of “poor and friendless Scots”. Over the years we have given dignified burials to hundreds of people as part of our mission.
In 1870 the Society had great plans for the future including building a home for older adults and a hospital. Founding Member George Anderson travelled home to Scotland and brought back a moveable humidor ram’s head for the Society as a symbol of the pride he felt for our confident spirit.
Great Fire of Chicago
On October 8th the Great Chicago Fire began. Almost 90% of members suffered a complete loss of their homes and belongings. All of our records, papers and photographs were destroyed in our downtown office. The Society put our plans for growth on hold and instead lived out our mission helping hundreds of people get back on their feet again.
First Scottish Old People’s Home
The Society’s dream to create a home for aging men and women came to fruition in 1901 when they rented a two-story brownstone at 547 Bryant Avenue (now 35th Street). The Scottish Old People’s Home, as they called it, housed several older adults they were already supporting.
The Society joined with all of the other Scottish organizations in Chicago to build a statue honoring Robert Burns in Chicago’s Garfield Park. The effort was led by Elizabeth Ballantine. Designed by W. Grant Stevenson, it was to stand in Garfield Park among the trees and flowers that Burns loved.
A Gift of 5 Acres
By 1909, The Scottish Old People’s Home was at full capacity. Dr. John McGill (left) donated 5 acres of land and the Board, led by John Williamson, began raising money to build a new home of our own. They raised the money in one year and William Bryce Mundie (right) was hired to design a stately, Scottish, country home.
The Scottish Home
The groundbreaking took place on March, 23 1910 and by October the residents from Bryant Street had moved in. On November 5th the building was dedicated. It became the pride of Society members.
The Scottish Home Fire
On March 15, 1917 a fire started in the Scottish Home basement that destroyed the community. Tragically, four residents died along with one of the community’s two dogs who helped alert the Administrator and residents. Cora Cummings along with the dogs and her staff saved thirty four lives that night. The day after the fire Society President John Williamson stood over the dying embers and said “The Scottish Home must not die in its own ashes.” So began the plan to rebuild.
New Scottish Home
Within 2 weeks of the fire, despite World War I, the funds were raised to rebuild the Scottish Home and within 6 months William Bryce Mundie had redesigned a fireproof version of the building to look just like the original!
Scottish Day at the Centennial
On September 8, 1933, the Society enjoyed the celebration of Chicago’s Centennial. The Chicago Stockyard Kilty band opened the ceremonies and 40,000 Scots attended. Queen for a Day was Margaraet Baikie whose parents were Scottish immigrants. Margaret went on to teach Highland Dance at The Scottish Home to generations of children and eventually became a resident
Retired Marshall Fields President, Hughston McBain brought new energy and enthusiasm to the organization. Under his leadership, a health care wing was constructed. It was named for the primary contributor James G MacMillan, president of Wander Corporation who made Ovaltine.
First Scottish Festival & Highland Games
In 1986, the first Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Chicagoland was hosted. Then called “Chicago Highland Games & Scottish Fair” the event was held at Grant Park, downtown Chicago. The annual event is still going strong and now includes the largest pipe band competition in North America.
In the late 1990s, the Scottish Home was further expanded with a new Skilled Nursing wing. Named after the incredible supporter Peter Georgeson whose family came from the Shetland Islands, the addition also included Heritage Hall – a large space for Chicago Scots’ meetings, events for residents and members, and a Scottish American museum.
In 2016 it was time to grow our community again – this time adding a new, innovative model of Memory Care. Named after Barry and Mary Anne MacLean, the MacLean House is a non-institutional, residential setting that provides person-centered care in a family environment.