McClure - Stuart - Hart Family
The McClure-Stuart-Hart family has played
such a pivotal role in Lake Forest’s
history that it’s difficult to imagine their arrival in town may have hinged on
the outcome of a single baseball game. James Gore King McClure was a standout
baseball player in the early days of the sport; he played on a team called the
Nationals in his hometown of Albany,
and for the team at Yale that defeated Harvard 23-22 in 1867. When the
Presbyterian elders were considering dozens of possibilities to fill First Church’s
pastor vacancy in 1881, one name stood out to Charles Holt, because of that
famous baseball game.
In 1881, the former baseball player
and now Reverend Dr. James McClure and his new wife Annie Dixon had just
returned from a year-long wedding journey. The young family seemed solidly
established in the East, where their ancestry traced back to the Mayflower and
their families were leading lights of Albany and
So when the young Dr. McClure traveled to the “West” to give four candidate
sermons for a Lake Forest congregation that then had a reputation in Presbyterian
circles as – let’s just say as “contentious” – it may have seemed an unlikely
Here his baseball experience wasn’t as much help. He later remarked that
it was one thing to stare down a pitcher at home plate, but still another to
face a congregation from the pulpit. However, when one of his trial sermons
came on the heels of the assassination attempt on U.S. President James Garfield,
Dr. McClure rose to the occasion, managing to give voice to the feelings and
touch the hearts of the congregation.
After he became the 4th pastor of First Presbyterian that
autumn, it soon became clear that one of the major obstacles he faced was the building.
The small, 1862 Gothic-style church was held off the ground only by posts and
often grew very cold. Dr. McClure later reminisced that the carpet, which flew
up and down when the wind blew through holes in the floor, was known as an
“undulating surface.” Most of the men – especially the Scottish ones – would
bring lap shawls to church. Up at the pulpit, Dr. McClure wasn’t so lucky - he
had to remove his overcoat when he stood up to preach, so he would gesture not
just for emphasis, but for warmth.
With Dr. McClure’s elbow grease and
ability to inspire philanthropy amongst his congregation, by 1887 the church
had a beautiful new building, wherein the carpets stayed flat on the floor and
such enthusiastic gesturing was no longer essential to keep from shivering.
Also built in 1887 was a new manse
on Walnut, which had ample yard space for tennis matches.. When Dr. McClure
left First Presbyterian in 1905, this house was gifted to his family by the
Dr. and Mrs. McClure and their
growing family quickly became integrated in the daily life of Lake Forest. By the end of his pastorate, Dr.
McClure had logged over 19,211 calls at the homes of his parishioners, making
many dear friends in the process. Among them was Marvin Hughitt, president of
the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, who lent
the McClures and Holts his private car for a vacation up in Wisconsin.
Dr. McClure established himself as
an indispensible pillar of the community in Lake Forest. Twice he was asked to assume the
presidency of Lake Forest
University, once in 1892
on an interim basis, and again officially in 1897. While still serving his
congregation, his untiring efforts balanced the college’s books and prompted
the construction of nearly a dozen new buildings.
The McCormick family noted the vision and accomplishments of Dr. McClure,
and in 1905 urged him to become president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he could
influence a new generation of pastors. He followed his 23 years in Lake Forest with a 22-year
presidency of McCormick Seminary, finally retiring in 1927.
The McClures maintained their ties
to Lake Forest,
spending a good portion of the year at the home on Walnut. Their oldest child
Annie, who always took an especial interest in her father’s work and often was
his secretary, was married here in 1911.
The McClures’ younger daughter,
Harriet, was always involved in some event or project. Her popularity was such
that the Chicago Tribune forecasted
that “Miss McClure would have the most brilliant reception of the season and
her floral offerings would exceed those of any of debutante.” However this
report about her debut was a little premature. Harriet was part of a strict
Scotch-Presbyterian clan that valued thrift over social ritual and fancy
clothes. The paper had to run a retraction and admit that Harriet “has no
special day set apart for her debut” as of yet, after all.
In 1913, Harriet married Robert
Douglas Stuart, whose ancestors also hailed from Scotland,
by way of Canada.
Milling oatmeal was a family tradition, and the Douglas-Stuart firm was part of
a merger that became Quaker Oats by the turn of the century. Robert Stuart
started his career at Quaker Oats as a young man in one of the company’s Ontario mills, where he
earned 17 cents an hour sweeping floors and loading sacks. He ascended through
the ranks, becoming a director in 1925 and president in 1942.
Shortly after the birth of his son
Robert Jr., Robert Stuart Sr. went overseas as a major in the Red Cross in
World War I. When he returned two years later, young Bobby was so excited that he
welcomed his father home by tumbling down the stairs and splitting his head
The young Stuarts grew up in a
close-knit family home on Mayflower in Lake
Forest. Margaret Stuart Hart remembers an illicit
visit to Alice Home Hospital
with her sister Anne to see their mother after their youngest sister Harriet
was born. Dr. Parmenter kindly pretended he didn’t see the two little girls
hiding under their mother’s bed when he came to check on his patient.
The Stuart breakfast table
featured, naturally, Quaker Oats products. During one period when Quaker was
trying a new milling process, Robert Sr. called on his children to help with
quality control: they earned a nickel for every speck (or oat hull) they found
in the oatmeal. Of course this also encouraged them to clean their bowls!
Scotch-Presbyterian values remained
strong in the family, including hard work, thrift, and, especially on the
McClure side, temperance. Bob Stuart recalls a youthful turn as the Prohibition
police: his father asked him to fetch a present they’d received from a Canadian
friend to show his mother. When the present turned out to be a bottle of
Canadian whiskey, the horrified young Bobby smashed it on the stone walk in a
fit of righteousness to prevent it from leading his family astray.
A love of the great outdoors also
ran through the family, who would visit the family farm near Milburn on
weekends for hunting and riding, and their ranch in Wyoming during the summers.
World War II was a pivotal time in
the Stuart family. After Pearl Harbor, Bob and his new brother-in-law Gus Hart
both served overseas in Europe, Gus with the
famous 82nd Airbourne and Bob as an aide to General Eisenhower’s
chief of staff. Bob had introduced his sister Margaret to Gus, a classmate at
Princeton, on a visit to the Wyoming
ranch. From there, fate took over: over Labor Day weekend, an early snowstorm
trapped Gus and Margaret in a car up on the mountaintop – a romantic event even
in spite of the presence of their cowboy chaperone in the car with them. They
were married in 1942, with Margaret wearing her Grandmother McClure’s wedding
dress and Grandmother Stuart’s lace veil.
Margaret and Bob’s sister Anne was married in even more dramatic fashion during
the war, to a battalion commander she met while driving Red Cross trucks in France. Her
wedding in Luxembourg
featured dresses made from the silk of German parachutes.
After serving as treasurer of the
Republican National Committee for four years, Robert Stuart Sr. was named
ambassador to Canada
by President Eisenhower in 1953. This was an especially appropriate post given
the Stuart family’s Canadian roots. Robert Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps,
rising to become president of Quaker Oats and being nominated by President
Reagan as ambassador to Norway.
He learned a lesson in the etiquette of European royalty a few years before
that, however, when in 1978 he had the opportunity to escort Princess Diana on
a tour through a new Fisher-Price plant. He made the mistake of putting his
hand on her shoulder to introduce her around when suddenly one of her
bodyguards yanked him back, sternly admonishing: “Sir, we do not put our hands
Although the family’s concerns were
international in scope, they always maintained their connection to Lake Forest. After the
war, Bob Stuart had begun work at Quaker Oats in California before returning here. His
growing family lived briefly in his parents’ home on Mayflower while his father
was in Canada,
before purchasing Topsfield Farm.
Margaret and Gus Hart also
established a home in Lake Forest,
on Green Bay Road.
Gus worked alongside his brother-in-law at Quaker, building and managing the
company’s international division. His children and grandchildren could not
travel anywhere in the world without him recommending some old friend “Fred” or
another to look up.
This photograph, taken in 2009,
embodies the family’s commitment to the community that Dr. McClure began
inspiring to higher things in 1881. They have truly made a difference in their
devotion to the town’s institutions, from those like Lake
Forest College and
First Presbyterian Church that have seen centennials themselves to others that
are more recent, like Lake Forest Open Lands, Gorton Community
Center, and Conway Farms Golf Club.