While James McGregor may not be the most famous member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, he was definitely the most outspoken in the wake of the Johnstown Flood. A biography of Mr. McGregor is quite incomplete and it may be possible that there was more than one James McGregor of note in the Pittsburgh area in the 19th century.
Mr. McGregor was a lawyer by trade in Pittsburgh. He enlisted in the Civil War as a lieutenant on April 24, 1861, and eventually was promoted to Major. General Grant appointed him pension agent in Pittsburgh. Along with fellow South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club member John Caldwell, Jr., he served as director of the Allegheny National Bank. He married Margaret Mackley and the McGregor's had one daughter, Lyda 'Lide' McGregor. In the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Blue Book of 1895, however, Margaret and 'Lide' are listed as living in Pittsburgh's East End, but James is not recorded, meaning that he was either dead or the McGregor's had divorced.
Here is where it gets tricky: In an 1880 listing, a James McGregor appears as living in a boardinghouse on Penn Avenue, as a self employed lawyer. In the 1890s, a James McGregor was listed as a member of the Crescent Mining Company, in Utah. This could be the club member as earlier a James McGregor was listed as the superintendent of the Loyalhanna Mine of the Loyalhanna Coal and Coke Co., in western Pennsylvania. To further complicate matters, in 1870, there was a J.M. McGregor of the U.S. Pensions Office in Pittsburgh, listed at age 35, married to Eliza, with two children Frances and Margaret. In 1880, however, James McGregor was listed at age 49, and employed as a lawyer.
No matter if there was more than one James McGregor, the club member made perhaps one of the most infamous statements about the Johnstown Flood disaster, as explained by David McCullough:
"Another member, James McGregor, who gave his name without any hesitation, said he refused to believe that there had been any trouble at South Fork. He was certain the whole thing was a mistake. 'I am going up there to fish the latter part of this month,' he said. 'I am a member of the South Fork Fishing Club and I believe it is standing the same as it ever was.'
As for the idea of the dam ever being condemned, it is nonsense. We have been putting in from twenty thousand to fifteen thousand dollars a year at South Fork. We have all been shaking hands with ourselves for some years on being pretty clever businessmen, and we should not be likely to drop that much money in a place that we thought unsafe. No sir, the dam is just as safe as it ever was, and any other reports are simply wild notions.'"
Last updated: February 19, 2021