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ROBERT LOUDON is widely known throughout this section as one of the solid men of McLean County, and as a gentleman who is intimately identified with the industrial interests of Bloomington. During the years of a busy life he has accumulated a competency and is still engaged with his active duties, being proprietor of the Eagle Machine Works, located on North Main street, which occupy forty-four feet front, and run through to Center street.
These works include blacksmith shops with all the other accessories of a factory, and an extensive yard for storage. The business was established in March, 1870, and the products of the shops are shipped to all parts of this and adjoining States.
The family record of our subject extends back to some of the earlier members of the family who were of Scotch ancestry, possessing all the admirable traits of that nationality. His grandparents on his father's side were Hugh and Margaret (Houston) Loudon, and on his mother's side, Robert and Margaret (French) Kennedy.
Hugh Loudon was a shoemaker by trade and worked in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, where he married and became the father of five sons and four daughters. Of these the father of our subject was the third son.
All learned the shoemaker's trade except him, and he was apprenticed to learn the machinist's trade with Bailey Morton, of Kilmarnock, who was famed all over Scotland for making telescopes. He had an observatory of his own, mounted with a fine telescope, and people came from all parts of Scotland to view the stars through it.
While working here Allan Loudon became very proficient, and assisted in the manufacture of telescopes, one of which was made for Sir John Ross, and formed a part of his outfit when he went in search of the North Pole. Another is still in use in the observatory of Dumfries, which stands beside the monument erected to the memory of the poet Burns.
He also made a small locomotive about 1834, which could be enclosed in a space of six inches square, and was a great curiosity. He often amused visitors by raising steam in it and making it run around the kitchen floor. This was before the days of railroads, but the little locomotive is still in good running order, being in possession of our subject's father. Previous to this he constructed an eight-day clock, which was then set running and has been kept in motion since that time, being as correct as ever in its indication of time.
Allan Loudon became master machinist in the celebrated woolen-mills of Blackwood Bros., at Kilmarnock. In 1839 he moved to Dalry, in Ayrshire, to take charge of Bridge End Mills, which position he held for about forty years, and was noted for his fidelity to duty and being reliable in his vocation.
He also invented an engine governor, which was a great improvement over the old ball governor, and the lap machine for wool, the first which ever worked successfully, and which is running to-day; the doubling for twisting woolen yarn, and a carding-machine which involved a saving of about twenty per cent. These inventions were of comparatively little benefit to Allan Loudon, but assisted the proprietors of the mill to a fortune.
The great-grandfather of our subject, whose name was French, was a fine violinist and musical composer, and was known all over the west of Scotland. He and Neal Dow often played together at the fancy balls of the Lords and Dukes of that region, and one of his pieces of sacred music, which bears the name of French, is still sung by many congregations.
Robert Loudon states that he has heard his grandmother relate that when her father died Neal Dow appropriated all of his music and published it as his own productions, reaping all the honors and profit that should have been her father's. Dow lived in Old Cumnock, near Dumfries.
The parents of our subject, Allan Loudon and Jeanette Kennedy, were married in Kilmarnock, Scotland, and lived there until 1839. The mother was born in Old Cumnock, where her ancestors had lived. They became the parents of three sons and five daughters.
Our subject was born in Kilmarnock, March 18, 1833, and removed with his parents to Dalry in 1839. He commenced attending school when four years old and continued until twelve, when he was considered old enough to do something for himself. He was accordingly apprenticed to learn silk weaving by hand loom, and served an apprenticeship of three years. The business, however, did not suit him, for, having inherited the talents of his father, he desired to become a machinist and was bound to learn this trade, the agreement being that he should serve five years.
At the expiration of that time, on the 8th of April, 1857, he was united in marriage with Miss Jeanette Johnston, and soon afterward, with his wife, concluded to try his fortune in the New World. Taking with them their only child, a babe six months old, they secured passage on the steamship Edinburgh, which sailed from Glasgow to New York. After landing, they at once set out for the West, first coming to Alton, Ill., where the brother of Mrs. L. had previously located.
Our subject engaged to work for the Terre Haute & Alton Railroad Company, and continued with them until after the removal of their shops to Litchfield, Ill. In the fall of 1859 Mr. L., in company with two others, started a machine-shop at Jacksonville, Ill., beginning business under the firm name of Ellis, Shields & Loudon. This proved an unfortunate venture, as times were hard, and the following year being no better Mr. L. sold out and returned to the railroad shops in Litchfield, where he worked until 1863.
He then went to Cairo as a Government employee, and had charge of a gang of men who were engaged in repairing the dispatch boats which ran between Cairo and Vicksburg [ed., Battle for Vicksburg] and up the Yazoo River. In December, 1863, he was solicited to come to Bloomington and take charge of the C. & A. R. R. machine-shops. He arrived there the first week in January, 1864, being delayed on account of the snow blockade.
From here he engaged with the J. M. Ollis foundry and machine shops, but this move proving unsuccessful, he concluded to begin business for himself, which he did in 1870, having for his partner Mr. N. Diedrich. After one year they dissolved partnership, and then Mr. L. established his present business, which he has operated alone since that time, and in which he has been remarkably successful.
Of the six children of Mr. and Mrs. Loudon the record is as follows: Allan K. married Miss Carrie, daughter of William Gillespie, of Bloomington; David J. is at home; Robert W. married Miss Minnie, daughter of Shelby Hodge, now deceased; Emma J., a graduate of Normal University, is a teacher in the ward schools; Jeanette M. and Agnes G. are at home with their parents.
The handsome and substantial family residence is located at No. 812 North Prairie street, and all its appointments indicate the presence of cultivated tastes and ample means.
Mr. L. politically affiliates with the Republican party. He is a member in good standing of the Masonic fraternity, and belongs to the Improved Order of Red Men. Both he and his wife are members of the Christian Church, of which our subject is a Deacon, and has contributed liberally and cheerfully to its support. He is a stockholder in the Bloomington Chair Factory, and generally a leading man in every enterprise which is calculated to advance the welfare and prosperity of his city and county. We present in this volume, as a representative business man, the portrait of Mr. Loudon.
[SOURCE: Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887). Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards.]
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