Baker, Robert Hall

From the Racine Walking Tour Guide published 1994.

ROBERT HALL BAKER (1839 - 1882)

Robert Hall Baker purchased a one-quarter interest in the J. I. Case Company in January of 1863. Thereafter, he was known as one of the "Big Four," along with J. I. Case, M. B. Erskine, and Stephen Bull.

Robert and his wife, Emily Carswell (1839-1894), were socially prominent people whose names frequently appeared in the society columns. Their tenth wedding anniversary celebration in December of 1869 found them surrounded by "a merrier crowd than was ever assembled in Racine who showered them with gifts of tin." Considered newsworthy as well were such items as the construction of a $15,000 summer home at Lake Geneva, a brick addition to their residence at Sixth and Main Streets (now the site of the downtown post office), and the selection of a $6,000 monument for their family burial plot. Emily and her daughter gave the bells, cast by the Meneelys’ foundry in Troy, New York, and a Seth Thomas tower clock to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1887. The $6,000 donation was in memory of their son and brother, George C. Baker, who died of pleurisy in Milan, Italy, at the age of 21. The Bakers contributed $400 to the Racine Soldier’s Monument Association in 1881, also in the name of their son.

Robert served the city as school commissioner, alderman, and mayor. He was elected state senator but was defeated as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. In honor of his civic and philanthropic contributions, a locomotive was named for him.

In death, as in life, Robert was considered noteworthy. A newspaper account of his burial, entitled "The Long Sleep," described how over 5,000 people filed through the Baker mansion, past a black-draped coffin trimmed in silver. There were floral tributes shaped as pillows, broken columns, roses and crowns and gates ajar. Forty-three roses tied with satin ribbon signified the age of the deceased. The Rev. Dr. Eli Corwin, of the Presbyterian Church, eulogized Baker, in "The Lesson of His Life," by saying: "The lesson of such a life is that we may succeed in that to which we set our whole heart, for which we gird all our energies. The lesson of such a death, when one had hardly passed the meridian of life, is written in the words of one far wiser than we, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest."


Submitted by Deborah Crowell