Our Saint Andrew Society has had two presidents with the identical name of Robert Black. One I knew quite well and one I never met. The subject of this blog is the Robert Black I never met. He was born in the small village of Bladnoch, Scotland, April 9, 1881. He was a building contractor and lived at 112 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, IL with his wife Effie Barr and their two children, Robert and Agnes.
Robert Black attended public schools in Scotland and afterwards was apprenticed to the building trade rising to the level of a journeyman. When he emigrated to the United States in 1909 he brought with him a recommendation from Peter Gibson who was a “joiner, contractor and saw miller” in Kirkcowan, Scotland. “This is to certify that the above Robert Black has been in my employ for the last 4 ½ years having commenced as an apprentice and has been with me all the time. I have every confidence in recommending him and am satisfied he will give every satisfaction to his employer. He is a very steady, honest and upright young man.” (The actual letter is in our museum.)
His first Scottish connection in Chicago was with Clan MacDuff, #16, O.S.C. “which afterwards became one of the most successful and largest of the Scottish clans in the United States.” After serving two years as Chief, he directed his energy to the United Scottish Societies of Illinois and became president. At about this same time he became active in the Illinois Saint Andrew Society. He is first recorded as attending a meeting called by J. J. Badenoch in 1918. In 1925 he was elected vice president and the following year became president and was reelected to the office for three consecutive terms.
He was a general contractor with offices on Michigan ave. “His success as a contractor speaks eloquently for his genius as a builder, his knowledge of architecture and an unusual capacity for making friends. Many of the finest residences along the North Shore of Chicago from Evanston to Great Lakes were constructed by Mr. Black.” (I wish we had a list of the houses he built but at this time we have maybe two or three.)
Mr. Black was an avid golfer. He was a member of the Bartlett Hills Country club located in Bartlett Illinois. In fact, he once served as the president of the club. He also built the clubhouse at Edgewater Valley and buildings at Shoreacres. Golf was not his only interest, because as a young man he played soccer in England and South America. He was a charter member of the Midwest Athletic Club and held certificate #856. In 1930, he joined the Midwest Athletic Club.
There is no question but what Robert Black was a leader. He belonged to many organizations and always rose to the top position of leadership. He served on the Illinois Saint Andrew Society board for more than thirty years and was a member of the home committee of the Scottish Old Peoples Home for twenty-five. He was first elected president of the Society in 1926 and was reelected in 1927 and 1928. Seventeen years later in 1945, he was again elected president and led the society in celebrating its 100th anniversary. At the height of the great depression, he was chairman of the St. Andrew’s Day Diner which had a record attendance of fifteen hundred. He truly was a leader among men.
Robert black was the general chairman of Scotland Day at the 1933 world’s fair. It was estimated that 30,000 people joined in the tribute to Scotland and her people. A choir of 250 people, trained and led by Capt. George Calder sang Scottish songs. Several pipe bands were there including the Stock Yard’s Kiltie Band, led by pipe-major, Robert Sim. The Museum has a number of pictures of Scotland Day at the world’s fair.
Robert Black died on May 26, 1970. His wife, Agnes Barr died September 28, 1960. The daughter who was engaged to Lt. V.S. Courtney, died March 20, 1943. Three family members are buried in lot 38, section 28, Forest Home cemetery. The son, Robert B. Black died in 1985 but I do not know where he is buried. Early in my career at the Scottish Home, I met Helen Targe Black the wife of Robert B. Black. He may have just died but I don’t remember now. She gave me a box of documents that had belonged to her father-in-law Robert Black. As part of our museum, we have his passports, social security card, drivers license and many newspaper articles that have formed the basis of this blog. We also have a large collection of his various badges and ribbons. I will try and post some pictures on my Facebook site. I don’t know if there are family members still in the Chicago area. There was one sister, but I don’t have her married name. If there are family members, we would appreciate a contact.
Robert Black certainly left his mark on our Saint Andrew Society and the Scottish community of Chicago. We honor his legacy with this article.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
The next meeting of the Scottish American History Club will occur on September 6, 2014. More information to follow.