One of the county’s earliest and most generous philanthropists was retired sheep farmer and Scottish immigrant, Jane Strang McAlister (1817-1903).
Photo portrait of Jane Strang McAlister, circa 1890. (LCDM 94.34.260).
If you live in north central or northwest Lake County, the name Strang is probably familiar. The Strangs settled in Millburn in 1838 and built its most prominent buildings.
Jane was born in Perthshire, Scotland to Margaret Clelland and John Strang. She was their sixth child. In 1835, the family immigrated to Canada, where Jane met and married John McAlister.
The Rebellions of 1837, forced Jane's parents and siblings out of Canada. The rebellion was against the British colonial government in 1837-1838 over land rights. Jane and her husband's family remained in Canada, while the Strangs settled in Millburn.
Millburn's original name was Strang's Corner or Strang's Settlement. They quickly became its most prominent family. Several of the brothers went to the California gold mines in 1850 and “struck it rich.” The town's first brick building was constructed by John “Jake” Strang on Millburn Road in 1856-57.
Jane's brother's home, the John Strang home (above) was built in 1856 of Sherwood bricks. Sherwood's Corners was on Route 83 south of today's Lake Villa, and was the site of the Stephen Sherwood brickyard. The clay from the vicinity produced red common brick, which was purchased by locals to build the first brick structures in Millburn and nearby communities. The Strang house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 along with many other Millburn buildings. Photo circa 1979.
By 1842, Jane, her husband and mother-in-law, had settled in the Millburn area. They purchased 160 acres at the northwest corner of Kelly and Hunt Club Roads. They named their property Irving Farm and raised sheep. In addition to sheep farming, John McAlister loaned money to local farmers.
From 1842 to 1882, Jane's life centered around sheepherding and farming. She sheared sheep, carded wool, spun it into yarn and knitted stockings and other garments. She also worked in the fields. In 1882, Jane and John retired and moved to a house on Clayton Street in Waukegan. After John’s death in 1888, Jane sold their Millburn farm to her nephew.
After the sale of her farm, and with her husband's savings from his "bank" loans, Jane began to take on a new role as philanthropist. As a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Waukegan, she donated a house to the church for their minister to live in, bought the church a new pipe organ, and paid the church’s debts. (Postcard view, circa 1910 LCDM 220.127.116.11)
In 1891, a group of civic-minded men and women saw the need for a hospital in the county and formed the Lake County Hospital Association. With meager funds, initially they rented the A.C. Hathorne residence at 720 North Avenue and created a six-bed hospital, supported by physicians who provided their service for free. By 1896, the association purchased the Liebich home at the corner of Franklin Street and North Avenue.
The county's first hospital was located in this (above) modest house at 720 North Avenue, Waukegan from 1891-1896. Image from the "Waukegan's Legacy Our Landmarks" book edited by Sarah Griffin and Chandra Sefton, 1979.
In 1903, Jane McAlister donated $20,000 to the association to build a four-story brick building on the Franklin Street and North Avenue site. It was named the Jane McAlister Hospital. This hospital was the predecessor to Victory Memorial Hospital, built in 1922 on Sheridan Road. Postcard view circa 1908 LCDM 92.27.485.1.
After her death in 1903, Jane willed her money and property to family and charitable organizations. Her personal property was valued at $100,000; calculated for today's inflation, she was worth over $2 million. America turned out to be the proverbial land of milk and honey for Jane Strang McAlister, and in turn her fortune became Lake County's.