Norman MacLeish - His Family History

"Craigie Lea" (Excerpt from Old Illinois Houses by John Drury, Illinois State Historical Society, 1948, pp 147-149)

AMONG old mansions in the extreme northeast corner of the state, one of the most venerable and best-known is the MacLeish home at Glencoe. The mansion is nearly hidden from view in a grove of white oaks and pines and its landscaped grounds front on an expanse of Lake Michigan. It is a dwelling that dates almost from the beginning of North Shore settlement.

Of greater interest, however, is the fact that it is the country seat of three generations of a family that has played-and is still playing-an important role in the literary and artistic, as well as the commercial and educational development of Illinois. It is of interest, too, for its architecture, representing as it does a style much in vogue during the grandiose days of the late Victorian era.

It was here that Archibald MacLeish, nationally known poet and former librarian of the Library of Congress, was born and reared, as was his brother, Norman H., a well-known Illinois artist. A generation ago the father and mother of these two brothers, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew MacLeish, were leaders in business, cultural, and religious activities of Chicago and the state at large.

Named in honor of the memory of a deceased member of this family, who also was reared in the Glencoe home, is a fast, modern destroyer of the United States Navy, the U. S. S. MacLeish, which was on patrol duty in the Atlantic during World War 11. It was named after another son of the MacLeishes, Kenneth, who, as a lieutenant in the United States naval aviation forces, was killed in action during World War 1. An officer on this destroyer during the later conflict was young Hugh MacLeish, kin of the man after whom the vessel is named.

An attractive, privately-printed little volume, Life of Andrew MacLeish, tells that the house in Glencoe was completed in 1891. It was named "Craigie Lea" after Mr. MacLeish's favorite Scottish song, "Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigie Lea," by Robert Tannahill. In his book the elder MacLeish wrote: "In 1889 we secured beautiful property fronting on the lake at Glencoe, Illinois, and, after a few years of summer residence upon it, finally decided to make it our permanent home. We have never regretted this step."

At the time he built his suburban residence Andrew MacLeish was widely known as a successful Chicago merchant and one of the prominent figures of State Street. This position he was to maintain for the rest of his long and useful life. As a member of a pioneer wholesale dry goods firm founded by Samuel Carson and John T. Pirie, it was Andrew MacLeish who, in 1867, established that firm's retail department store, now known as Carson Pirie Scott & Co. He remained its head until his death in 1928 at the age of eighty-nine.

A native of Scotland, Andrew MacLeish came to Chicago in 1856 and worked as a clerk in a dry goods store on Lake Street, then the main shopping street of the town. Later he set up a store of his own at Kewanee. His health failing, he went to live on a farm near Golconda, Illinois. When his health was restored he taught school at Golconda. Then, in 1859, he returned to Chicago and once more entered the dry goods business.

After Craigie Lea was completed Andrew MacLeish brought with him into the new dwelling his son by a previous marriage, Bruce, whose mother had died a year after his birth. This son, upon reaching maturity, joined his father's firm and today, as vice-president of Carson Pirie Scott & Co., occupies almost as high a position in the mercantile world as had his father.

Well known as a merchant when Craigie Lea was erected, Andrew MacLeish was equally well known as a leader in education and as one of the founders of the University of Chicago. His wife also occupied a high position in the educational world. Before her marriage to the State Street merchant Martha Hilliard had served as president of Rockford College. Both she and her husband were early advocates of the progressive movement in education fostered by John Dewey, and Dewey was a frequent visitor at Craigie Lea.

Others who came to Craigie Lea in its early years were Dr. William Rainey Harper, Thomas W. Goodspeed, and Colonel Francis Parker, all noted educators; well-known social workers like Jane Addams, Mary McDowell, Ellen Gates, and Julia Lathrop; and on one occasion there came Sir George Adam Smith, one of the foremost of Scottish scholars and divines. In recent years, Craigie Lea has welcomed many writers and artists, including Carl Sandburg, Margaret Bourke-White, Eunice Tietjens, Lorado Taft, Francis Chapin, Aaron Bohrod, and Gertrude Abercrombie.

The original MacLeish estate consisted of seventeen acres and cost $10,000. The house, a great three-story residence of brick and frame construction with conical towers, dormers, high-pitched gables, and other characteristics of the French chateau style popular in the 1890's, cost $25,000 to build and was designed by William Carbys Zimmerman and John F. Flanders, two well-known Chicago architects. The estate today consists of ten acres.

The interior of the house, with more than thirty large, well-lighted rooms, is tastefully furnished and reflects the personalities of quiet, cultivated people who place high value on artistic and intellectual pursuits. Paneled in golden oak, cherry wood, and mahogany, and warmed by hospitable fireplaces of ornamental tile, the rooms contain shelves of books, portraits in oil of the elder MacLeishes, many paintings of the Illinois countryside by Norman MacLeish, a handsome grand piano, antique furniture, sculptural pieces, and various family heirlooms.

During the many years she reigned as chatelaine of Craigie Lea, the late Mrs. MacLeish engaged in religious and cultural activities that made her one of the most esteemed women of Chicago and the North Shore. She was at one time president of the Chicago Woman's Club. It was through her efforts that the Women's American Foreign Mission Baptist Society was formed. And each year, on the lawn of Craigie Lea, she presided at a garden fete that was one of the outstanding annual events of social life on the North Shore.

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