Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Soap in the Midst of Diamonds

When Potter Palmer and other millionaires began building their magnificent mansions on Lakeshore drive they had a major problem with a nearby soap factory. Thomas Dougall had purchased his property on Cedar Street when it was a wilderness. Now it was valuable, but a major problem.

The millionaires appointed a committee to visit Mr. Dougall and seek to buy him out and “get rid of this soap factory because it was an objectionable feature in the locality of their palaces.”  During the visit Mr. Dougall said “...Gentlemen, I didn’t ask you to come up here and build your residences near my soap factory, and being here when you came it will have to remain...” And remain it did. Soap in the middle and diamonds all around.

Thomas Dougall was born in West Calder, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 16, 1811. As a teenager he worked in a local soap factory but when he reached “his majority” he emigrated to Canada and remained in MontrĂ©al for a short time before moving to New York City. In 1848 he came to Chicago when it was scarcely more than a village. He bought his property on Cedar Street (lots 39 to 45) where it grew in value over the years. Mr. Dougall was involved in the manufacture of soap from 1837 to 1890 when he retired.

Miss Elizabeth Cameron, from Forres, Scotland, married Thomas Dougall in October 1837, near Salem, New York. She died in Chicago on January 21, 1878 leaving 11 children: Naomi, the wife of David Wiley of Chicago; Mallion, Jane, Elizabeth, Margaret, Alan, John, William, James, Robert, and Mabel. A son named David died in Chicago on June 30, 1884. 

Three different times his business was destroyed by fire. Before the Great Fire of 1871, he occupied a three-story frame building. After the fire he erected another frame structure 66 x 75' in size. “His losses have been very heavy, but he has always been able to pay every dollar of his indebtedness.”

Mr. Dougall was an active member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and the Caledonian Society. He was a member of the Fourth Presbyterian Church and the funeral was conducted by the Rev. William Robson Notman. “A delegation from the Saint Andrew’s Society was present to honor the memory of their departed member.”  He was survived by four daughters and three sons.

Thomas Dougall was the great-great grandfather of Robert James Black, president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society in 1998-1999. Mr. Black died of a massive heart attack at a Home Committee meeting in the new Georgeson wing before the facility admitted its first resident. His picture is in the museum. He was justly proud of his heritage and told the story of Thomas Dougall whenever he could. Bob was a patent attorney with offices in Park Ridge. I had the privilege of conducting his funeral service. Some members of the Black family are buried in section 12 at Rosehill cemetery.

Thomas Dougall, his wife and 22 member of his family are buried in Section 101 at Rosehill. This includes all of his children and 7 grandchildren. The last burial was in 1963.

(Much of the above information was taken from his obituary as printed in The Soap Gazette and Perfumer, May, 1903 and The History of Chicago, vol. 3.)

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

Saturday, March 1 - Bill Currie, a retired journalist, has traveled for decades throughout Scotland, writing about its culture and its people. In the 1980s, he produced and managed the Highland Games, helping to revive the events in Chicago and Milwaukee. Before retiring in 2003, he lived on the Isle of Skye, where he was deputy editor at the West Island Free Press. Last year, after 45 years of playing the Great Highland Bagpipes, he laid them down to concentrate on woodworking. Why? "Because there are no 9-fingered pipers." He will bring family artifacts and tell you about the Currie Seed Co. The museum opens at 9:00 a.m. and the presentation begins at 10:00.

Saturday, April 5 - Our special speaker is James Cornelius, Curator of the Lincoln Collection in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential library. Please note the time change! THE MEETING WILL START AT 2 P.M. (museum will open at 1 p.m.)

Personal Note: My thanks to everyone who has send cards, emails or called our family after the death of Mary Ellen on January 13th. Over 200 cards and letters have been received and many of you sent memorials to the Lombard Nazarene Church in Lombard, IL. Many of you came to the memorial service in spite of snow and icy roads. Gus Noble, our President, and the Board of Governors for the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, have been most kind and have offered much personal support. Thanks for supplying the piper and the beautiful floral arrangement for Mary’s memorial service.