Friday, December 7, 2012

Something in Common

The Latin School of Chicago and McClurg Court have something in common

Alexander McClurg’s grandfather came to America from Northern Ireland in 1798. The family probably came from Scotland but I have been unable to trace them. He was an Ulster-Scot which we Americans often, erroneously, refer to as Scots-Irish. His father was Alexander and his mother, Sarah Trevor, was born near Chester, England. His family settled in Pittsburgh and the father built the first iron foundry. Our subject, Alexander C. McClurg was born in Philadelphia, 1832.

Alexander spent most of his early life in Pittsburgh where he attended the public schools. He attended college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and then began a study of the law under the Honorable Walter H. Lowrie, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. Unable to complete his training because of health reasons, he came to Chicago in 1859 and became a clerk in the book store of S. C. Griggs and Co.

When the Civil War began, he enlisted, but his unit was not called to active service immediately. He used the time to study military tactics and to help raise a unit called the “Crosby Guards.” The Chicago Tribune reported that on April 29, 1862, at the home of Mrs. Franklin on Washington street, Capt. McClurg was presented with a “splendid sword, sash, belt, revolver and uniform. A cotillion followed after with a hop, which reached far into the small hours.” (Not sure about the definition of “a hop.”) I wonder what happened to the sword, belt and gun?

The Guard was made part of the 88th Illinois infantry and McClurg was advanced to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He later became the Acting Assistant Adjutant General and Chief of Staff of the Fourteenth Army Corps. “He acquired a reputation for fearlessness to the point of rashness.” He had an extensive military record including Sherman’s march to the sea and became a brevet Brigadier General before he was discharged on September 19, 1865. Returning to Chicago, he became involved in the book business.

The McClurg book store was cursed by fires. It burned in the Great Fire of 1871 and the second store burned in 1899. The new store was built on Wabash near Adams. They sold stationary, books, office supplies and fishing tackle. The General even took time to publish The Dial a literary magazine of note. (Most issue can now be be read on the Internet). The company also published Tarzan and Zane Grey. Business records can be found at The Newberry Library.

In 1870, General McClurg married Eleanor Wheeler.  Her mother was a sister of William B. Ogden, the mayor, and she was from New York City. One son, Ogden Trevor, was born to the union. In the 1890s they built their residence of 25 rooms at 1444 Lake Shore Drive. It was designed by Francis Whitehouse, and modeled after a French chateau. Their son occupied the house for several years and in 1935, it was occupied by the Polish consulate. The beautiful old home was demolished in 1954 and replaced by a condominium.

McClurg Court in Chicago is named for the General.

In politics the General was independent. He was a member of St. James Episcopal Church and died without a will. Don Campbell, or members of the Cameron family, may know about the Ogden Trevor McClurg Memorial Trophy at the Chicago Yacht Club. “It was presented to the club in 1940 by his widow. Mr. McClurg was a book publisher and racing yachtsman.” The trophy is somehow connected to the Race to Mackinac.

There are descendants still living somewhere. In 2006, an article appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business about the sale of McClurg Court Center for $127 million. Only the complex was sold. The land was leased for 62 years from the descendants of Alexander C. McClurg - no names given. The son, Ogden died in 1926.

I spent some time reading about (and trying to make her Scottish) a lady named Mabel Slade Vicker. I failed to discover her heritage but in the process came across the names of General and Mrs. Alexander C. McClurg. Miss Vicker was brought to Chicago by a group of parents who were interested in the “educational principles of Francis W. Parker.” For the first two years, she taught 12 boys in the home of Eliphalet W. Blatchford. After which the school was moved to the home of General and Mrs. McClurg, located at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Scott St. Their son was also a student and later attended Yale.

In 1899, the school was incorporated and named the Latin School of Chicago. The school presently has some 1,000 students. Notable alumni include: Roe Conn, Lisa Madigan, Brooks McCormick, Nancy Reagan, Adlai Stevenson III, Bill Wirtz and William Wrigley, Jr. II.

General McClurg died from Bright’s disease in Florida, April 15, 1901, and is buried at Graceland cemetery in Chicago. Click here for a picture of his Celtic Cross designed by Tiffany (bottom row, third from left.)

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

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