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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Jane Strang McAlister, Millburn

Jane Strang McAlister (1817-1903), 1903. Photo taken at Godfrey's in Waukegan. 94.34.260, Dunn Museum Collections.

One of the county’s earliest and most generous philanthropists was Jane Strang McAlister (1817-1903) of Millburn, a retired sheep farmer and Scottish immigrant. 

If you live in north central or northwest Lake County, the name Strang is likely familiar. The Strangs settled in Millburn in 1838 and built its most prominent buildings. Jane Strang McAlister was born in Perthshire, Scotland to Margaret Clelland (1782-1841) and John Strang (1779-1866). Jane was their sixth child. 

In 1835, the family immigrated to Canada, where Jane met and married John McAlister (1802-1888). The Rebellions of 1837, forced the John Strang family out of Canada. The Rebellion was against the British colonial government and frustration over land rights. The McAlisters, including Jane and her husband, remained in Canada. 

The Strangs settled in Millburn, and the area became known as Strang's Corner or Strang's Settlement. They quickly became its most prominent residents. 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 Jane's brother, John “Jake” Strang (1828-1895) in 1856, east of today's Route 45 on Millburn Road.

The John "Jake" Strange home built in 1856 on Millburn Road in Old Mill Creek, using locally made bricks. Photo circa 1979.  Dunn Museum. 

The bricks for the John "Jake" Strang home (above) were 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. 

An 1861 map of the Millburn area showing the John and Jane McAlister property and their house (circled in red). The house was located at the northwest corner of today's Kelly Road (east-west road) and Hunt Club (north-south road).  The McAlisters lived at this location from 1842-1882. The Strang family properties are also shown. 1861 Lake County map by L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lithographers, St. Louis, MO. 

By 1842, Jane, her husband John, and mother-in-law Elizabeth Brash McAlister, had settled near Millburn. They purchased 160 acres at the northwest corner of Kelly and Hunt Club Roads. (see map above) They named their property Irving Farm and raised sheep. In addition to sheep farming, John McAlister loaned money to local farmers. After the Panic of 1837, an economic crisis gripped the U.S. into the 1840s. With the widespread fear of losing bank deposits, many farmers turned to other sources for monetary loans, such as those made by sheep farmer, John McAlister. 

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 McAlister retired from farming and moved to a house on Clayton Street in Waukegan. After John’s death in 1888, Jane sold their Millburn farm to her nephew. With the sale of her farm and her husband's savings from his "bank" loans, Jane began to take on a new role as a benefactress. 
Color postcard of Presbyterian Church in Waukegan, circa 1910. Dunn Museum

As a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Waukegan, McAlister made a series of donations to support the congregation. She purchased a manse for the pastor, bought the church a new pipe organ, and paid the church’s debts. 

In 1891, a group of civic-minded men and women saw the need for a hospital in Lake County and formed the Lake County Hospital Association. With meager funds, initially the group 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. 

The county's first hospital was located in the A.C. Hathorne residence at 720 North Avenue in Waukegan from 1891-1896. Image from "Waukegan's Legacy Our Landmarks," edited by Sarah Griffin and Chandra Sefton, 1979

By 1896, the Lake County Hospital Association purchased the Liebich home at the corner of Franklin Street and North Avenue in Waukegan. 

In 1903, Jane McAlister donated $20,000 (approx. $585,000 in today's market) 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 became the predecessor to Victory Memorial Hospital (today's Vista East) built in 1922 on Sheridan Road. 

Postcard of the Jane McAlister Hospital, circa 1908. Dunn Museum, 92.27.485.1

According to the Bureau County Tribune in Princeton, Illinois, the cornerstone for the new hospital was "laid without consulting [McAlister] and when she heard of it she said it was the disappointment of her life." She fell ill two weeks later and died on October 29, 1903. 

"Without living to see finished the magnificent work she started," wrote the Waukegan News-Sun on October 29, "she has passed away, leaving behind her what will be a monument of her great goodness and generosity." 

Waukegan News-Sun headline announcing Jane McAlister's death on October 29, 1903. 

McAlister's personal property was valued at $100,000. With inflation, today that would be nearly $3,000,000. In her will, she left money and property to family and charitable organizations.  

Drawing from a photograph of Jane Strang McAlister taken in 1903. Bureau County Tribune, Princeton, Illinois, November 13, 1903.

At the time of her passing, the Waukegan News-Sun noted: "She was a cheerful old Scotch woman, and the greatest Benefactress or Benefactor Lake County has ever had." 

1 comment:

Tango said...

The old hospital at North and Franklin would be converted into 28 individual apartments, and would eventually serve as the dormitory for Shimer College during its time in Waukegan (1979-2006)