Reminiscences of Baltimore in 1824

REMINISCENCES OF BALTIMORE IN 1824.
In a chapter of reminiscenses, it is well to fix a date around
which to gather them, and perhaps there can be none better than
the visit of Lafayette in 1824. Adopting this, it is proposed to
say a few words of Baltimore at that time—of Baltimore as
Lafayette might have seen it, had the affectionate attentions of
those who surrounded "the nation's guest"—permitted him to
examine it in its length and breadth.


The coming of Lafayette to America aroused all its people;
nor was Baltimore behindhand in the enthusiasm of his reception.

A large deputation of its citizens along with the Major General
of the military division with his staff went to Frenchtown to
meet him, and although all that took place on the occasion has
been again and again described, and is to be found at length in
the Chronicles of Baltimore, yet the narrative, even now, hardly
palls as it is read by persons who were present at the time.
Those who enter the harbor of Baltimore to-day between the
Lighthouse on the Lazaretto Point and the fort, find themselves
surrounded at once by all the incidents of a great seaport town.

Every inch of ground is occupied, every foot of water front has
been made available. The characteristic of the scene is its intense
vitality. Foreign steamers, coastwise steamers, domestic
steamers, are fastened to the wharves, are in motion, or at anchor.

Tugs are flashing about in all directions or towing sailing vessels
of all sizes in or out of port. The rattling of the coal chutes as
they fill the holds of ships and canal barges, the roll of railroad
trains, the shrieks of steam whistles on land and water, the
unceasing drone, the compound of the ten thousand noises of a
great city which pervades the air—the elevators, domes, towers
and steeples which pierce and dominate the haze that hangs over
it, formed no part of the landscape that greeted the eye of
Lafayette as he stood on the bow of the United States steamboat
which headed the procession of steamboats that had gone out to
meet him when he came from Frenchtown to Baltimore on the
24th day of August, 1824. On the left, from the fort to Federal
Hill, the only building was the town powder house. On the right
beyond the Lazaretto it was no better. Away off, in that direction,
were some houses where the Philadelphia Turnpike crossed
Loudenslager's Hill. What is Canton now, was then little better
than old fields as far as the marts of the shipping which hid the
houses of Fell's Point from the approaching visitor. Nor beyond
the fort, where the General landed, within the harbor proper, was
there anything to admire. There were no Bay steamers then to
line as now the west side of the basin. The wheat, oyster and
wood pungtes reigned supreme in the cul-de-sac of the port. Nor
was the comparison as regards the water approach to the city
more striking than that which was afforded upon land. That
Lafayette might see the length of Baltimore in what might be
called its solidity, the head, or right of the line of the military
part of his reception was at Cook's corner, being the northeast
corner of Baltimore and Eutaw Streets. Beyond this to the west
was a vacant square, a playground for the boys of the neighborhood,
and opposite, to the south, was a range of warehouses, that
often wanted tenants in consequence, it was said, of being too far
out of town. The first large building to the west was on the
corner of Paca Street, the General Wayne Inn, which still remains
an ancient land mark. There was a scant sprinkling of insignificant
houses on either side of Baltimore Street westward. Dr.
Robinson's dwelling near Pine Street on the south side was of
some pretension in those days. Beyond that, on the same side
after crossing what was then known as Cove, now Fremont Street,
was the M'Henry Mansion, afterwards converted into the palatial
residence of Mr. Thomas Winans. This faced extensive commons,
beyond which again to the west, were the M'Henry woods,
on the north side of a road which had not then acquired the dignity
of a street.

Opposite to the woods was a broad meadow
which extended to Willow Brook, the country residence of Mr.
John Donnell, which was opposite Maryland Square where Dr.
Steuart lived, " far from the madding crowd." I describe this
locality the more particularly, as it is now a thickly built portion
of the city around Franklin and Union Squares.


But to return to Cook's comer. Here Lafayette commanded
a view of Baltimore Street to the Bridge over the Falls, the houses
on either side being not unaptly compared to country militia on a
field day—-ranked without regard to size, clothing or bearing. All
that was deficient in this respect, however, was made up by the
teu thousand troops that lined the street for the entire distance on
the north side and by still greater numbers of our people who filled
the pavements and the windows, and shouted their welcome and
waved hats and kerchiefs as the brave and kind old man passed
in his carriage down the line.

Lafayette, as you all know, was quartered at the Fountain lun,
on Light Street, and occupied the very confined, uncomfortable
rooms that Washington had occupied before him. The leading
hotel of that day, however, was the Indian Queen, at the corner
of Hanover Street, which announced its name by a huge sign
swinging from an iron framing.

Leaving Lafayette at his quarters in the Fountain Inn to be
handshaken, and speechified and feasted affectionately and, be it
added, reverentially by the multitudes who did him honor, let us
see what, as already said, he might have seen.

The court end of the City was then in the middle of it, on
Gay Street, south of Baltimore. Bobert Oliver lived here in the
house now occupied by the First National Bank; next to him on
the north was the residence of Roswell L. Colt, his son-in-law. To
the south William Gilmor lived, and further south at the corner
of Second Street was the noble mansion of Colonel Tenant.
Judge Purviance lived opposite Mr. Oliver, General Harper opposite
to the centre of the Exchange. Opposite its south end, on
Water Street, was the very handsome residence of Robert Gilmor,
filled with works of art. Opposite Mr. Gilmor, but further to the
west, were the noble mansions of Mr. Dugau and Mr. Hollins.
Beyond them, on the same side of what is now Exchange Place,
were the houses of John Donnell and Robert Gilmor, Senior ; and
then, getting into South Street, William Patterson lived, while
north of Baltimore Street on the east side of Gay Street resided
John Ridgely of Hampton. These names are all the names of
men, socially, commercially or professionally, leaders in our City.
Gay Street and its immediate neighborhood was thus the Court
end of Baltimore. Here and there, men of equal position were to
be found elsewhere. Christopher Deshon, an old merchant, had
built the finest house in Baltimore in Old Town, opposite Claggett's
brewery, occupied at the time of Lafayette's visit by Charles Carroll
of Carrollton. The two McKims, Isaac and William, had handsome
houses on Baltimore Street east of the Bridge. Smith and
Buchanan had built the two dwellings on the west side of Monument
Square. Some handsome houses were to be found on the
east side of the Square, and on the east side of Calvert north of
Lexington. Alexander Brown and Dr. Birckhead had mansions
on Fayette Street, now forming part of Barnum's Hotel; and
George Brown and the Wilsons and John McKim had fixed themselves
on Holliday Street near the Theatre. Still, notwithstanding
this sporadic distribution. Gay Street near Second Street was
properly regarded as the fashionable centre of the town. In those
days the Cathedral was the only building on the summit of its
hill, on the northern slope of which the Unitarian Church intervened
between the Cathedral and the Washington Monument.


This last, surrounded by its scaffolding, was in Howard's woods ;
and a rough embankment of earth, taken from the foundation of the
structure, projected southwardly into the ravine now occupied by
Centre Street and was the beginning of what is now Charles Street.

To the east of the Cathedral the eye ranged over " the meadow,"
dotted here and there with houses and the buildings of White's distillery,
taking in the old castellated jail, the penitentiary, and the
roofs of the houses in Old Town, and resting on the range of hills
on which stood the Maryland Hospital. Improvements at this
time on Charles Street did not extend beyond Mulberry Street, the
southwest comer of the two streets being marked by the residence
of Dr. Hayden, then the leading dentist and the well-known
geologist, whose name is still perpetuated among scientific men as
the discoverer of Haydenite. A stately edifice was this house of
Dr. Hayden, looking down upon its humbler neighbors on the
opposite side of Charles Street.

Next, as regards activity, to the wharves at Fell's Point and
around the Basin and Baltimore Street, the busiest part of the
city at the date of Lafayette's visit was Howard Street, on the
upper part of which and along Franklin Street and Pennsylvania
Avenue, far past St. Mary's College, were gathered the great
Conestoga wagons, the precursors of the railroad in bringing to
Baltimore, at the speed of two and a half miles an hour, their
loads of country produce. The Wheatfield Inn, the Golden Horse,
and the Black Bear Taverns indicated by their names the class of
customers they aimed at securing. To this day Howard Street
flour is the name given to all the flour that comes to Baltimore
from the west at the speed of twenty miles an hour. Not far from
the Golden Horse, at the corner of Franklin and Howard Streets,
a road to the left, well graded and hedged, led through the forest
to the Belvedere Mansion at the head of Calvert Street extended,
and pic-nics and May-day parties were held, and volunteer companies
drilled in the shade of the great oaks. The sights of Baltimore
then, were the Cathedral, the Exchange, and Peale's
Museum on Holliday Street, which last became the City Hall
when the Museum was removed to the comer of Calvert and
Baltimore Streets. Occasionally a traveller was taken to Federal
Hill, that he might look down upon what was then the third city
in the Union. Verily, had Lafayette been curious about Baltimore
his curiosity would not have taken long to gratify. So much
for the locality of Baltimore. A word now about its people.

The people of Baltimore were of many nationalities, to speak
of them generally. The leading merchant, Robert Oliver—a merchant-
prince with his grand physique, noble bearing, generosity
and geniality, was an Irishman, and the firm of Robert and John
Oliver was known throughout the world. William Patterson who
was distinguished in commerce, long before the memoirs of his
daughter brought his name before the public, was a Scotchman.
The Williamses were originally of Welsh descent. Lewis Pascault,
whose suburban residence still exists on Saratoga Street,
between Greene and Pine, in the centre now of a dense population,
was of French extraction, an emigre from Saint Domingo. The
names of Didier, Deshou and D'Arcy suggest their nationality.


Von Kapf, Brune, Mayer and Hoffmann indicate a German origin.
England was represented by those descendants of the early
colonists who made Baltimore their home. These names, taken at
random as they occur to the memory, all familiar even to the
present generation,—are but a tithe of those that might be enumerated
to prove the heterogenous character of the population in
the early part of the present century—these were names of renown.
In the course of an important litigation it was said of a
letter of John Donnell, who ranked with Robert Oliver as a great
merchant, that the directions to his captain on a voyage that
included ports in Europe and Asia during the wars on the continent,
exhibited a varied knowledge and a vigor and breadth of
thought that would have done honor to a statesman.

But it was not to these great merchants alone that Baltimore
owed the strength that has made the city what it is. There was
another class, whose agency was equally if not more important
though not so conspicuous, and who thronged to see Lafayette in
1824, or stood in the ranks of those who witnessed his progress
through the city. They were men like those whose names are to
be found in the list of the corporators and managers of the Maryland
Institute which was founded about this time. Then again,
there were the lawyers. Pinkney had just passed away, or
Lafayette would have been greeted by the minister who had represented
America abroad and who stood without a rival at the
head of the Bar of the country. But Taney still lived, whose
appearance is so familiar to many of us still, that it is almost
unnecessary to describe the tall spare man of stooping form, grave
and quiet bearing and gentle mien, who, careless of the graces of
oratory, appealed to court or jury in language so simple, yet so
clear, that those who listened almost fancied they could do as
well themselves, so great was this grand lawyer's faculty of statement
and argument. There was Wirt too, Taney's contemporary
and competitor; and yet so widely different in appearance,
manner and style of speech. A tall and portly man of stately
bearing ; a handsome man with Roman features, with a pleasant
voice which uttered sentences refined and polished and ready
even for the press; not the lawyer that Taney was, but making
up by untiring diligence in the preparation of his cases any
deficiency; shaming the slipshod efforts of the merely talented in
the profession. Along with them was Robert Goodloe Harper,
lawyer and statesman,—unlike either of the others in manner and
appearance, grave and sententious in speech, clear and logical in
argument, formal and dignified and imperturbable, yet of the
kindliest nature, with all the marks of the old school of gentlemen
in his dress and bearing. Then there was General Winder—all
energy and action, vehement alike before court and jury—with
the temperament that had made a soldier of him, and was indicated
in the light auburn of his hair, his bright blue eyes and
prominent features. Jonathan Meredith, who to the manner of
a man of the world joined the knowledge which placed him high
in the ranks of his profession; remarkable for careful preparation
and studied delivery, few men addressed the Bench who
received more respectful attention. When he had completed the
investigation y! a case, it could fairly be assumed that nothing
more was to be found in the books regarding it. Then, unlike
all the others, a man sui generis, was John Glenn, whose boundless
energy and resistless will and untiring devotion to his clients'
interests placed him from the beginning preeminently before the
public, and whose practical ability secured for him what was
probably the most profitable practice at the Bar in Baltimore.

Too actively engaged in all branches of his profession to prepare
his cases with the painful diligence that characterized others, he
supplied the want of it with a quickness that seemed like intuition.

At the time we speak of he was the readiest, and, perhaps, the
most available lawyer at the Bar. In every particular, he was
essentially a business man, and the business public so appreciated
him. Associated with Mr. Glenn in many of his greatest cases
was Charles Mitchell, than whom there was perhaps no better
lawyer at the Bar. Rarely endowed in many ways, of an excellent
presence, and an emphatic yet calm and deliberate speaker;
he made his mark whenever he addressed himself to the argument
of a cause. Those who best appreciated him were his brethren of
the Bar. Then there was George Richardson, of a date following
those just named, one of the closest reasoners in the profession^
intensely earnest and emphatic—McMahon—whose initials it is
unnecessary to give, for there was but one McMahon—the historian
of Maryland and a profound and able lawyer; searching in
investigation, who discussed no subject that he did not exhaust,
lucid in argument, vehement and eloquent there can be no question,
that, as an orator he was primus inter pares among his brethren.
William Schley, with the courtly manner of the old school
of the profession, a thorough lawyer, ingenious and acute, was
preeminent among the leaders of the Bar. John Nelson, than
whom the profession contained no abler lawyer ; with the rarest
faculty of condensation, saying everything in the best manner
and leaving nothing unsaid that was germain to his cause.
Grafton Dulaney, whose name canuot be omitted when enumerating
the worthy, the able and the trusted. William Gwynn,
editor, epigrammatist, and one of the most reliable of counsellors
of his day—the contemporary of Pinkney, Tauey, Wirt and
Winder and surviving all of them—one of the kindest and most
benevolent of men—loved by all who knew him and fading from
view, as old age found him left behind in more active contests
than those to which he had been accustomed. His portrait looks
down from the walls of the Superior Court Room upon the scene
in which he was at one time an honored actor. The last in this
enumeration of those who figured in the Bar of Baltimore more
than fifty years ago, is one, who surviving his fellows, almost
recently passed away—Reverdy Johnson,—statesman, diplomatist,
and lawyer. Few men have been more preeminently before
the public, in the Senate and at the Bar, and yet, with all his
distinction, natural and unaffected as a child. Of all his contemporaries
not one is more affectionately remembered. All whom I
have named were living men engaged in the active pursuits of
life when Lafayette's visit to Baltimore fixed the date around
which these reminiscences have been concentrated. Are they the
only ones worthy to be recalled to the memory ? Of the living
who were their contemporaries, it will be for some one who comes
after them to speak. To extend the list even of the dead would
exceed the limits proper to be observed. Were the writer a
physician, he would have added to his list more than one distin
guished name and would have done for that honored calling what
he has done for his own profession.

Besides the corporators of the Maryland Institute, there were
others outside the learned professions making up the people of the
city equally entitled to notice ; and it would be a subject by itself
were an attempt made to enumerate in detail persons and places
that have already on more than one occasion been described by
others. Still, notwithstanding all the worth and talent here enumerated
or referred to, Baltimore was in a comparatively drowsy
condition of respectability—honored and esteemed, but not to be
compared to what she became when the competition of other cities
aroused and developed the energies that have made her what she
is to-day. The gas works in those days were at the corner of
Saratoga and Holliday Streets in the meadow, and although Baltimore
has the credit of having been the first to introduce gas into
use in its present shape, there was nothing in the appearance of
the primitive establishment to attract admiration or suggest imitation.
Peale's Museum was in the neighborhood and was a
popular place of evening resort, where crowds collected around
the skeleton of the Mammoth or lounged in the picture gallery
until summoned by the gong to see an exhibition with a magic
lantern or to listen to lectures on chemistry from the proprietor.

Not far off was the Holliday Street Theatre. The attraction here
was the acting—not the scenery or the comfort experienced by the
audience. The prices for admission were one dollar for the boxes,
seventy-five cents for what was then called the pit, and fifty cents
for the gallery. The seats in the former were long uncushioned
benches without backs, and the cry to " sit closer " was common.

As to the scenery, the less said about it the better: it was execrably
bad. But the acting compensated all deficiencies. There
was Warren, the best Falstaff and the best Sir Peter Teazle that
ever trod any stage; Wood, whose Joseph Surface, Young Marlowe,
Captain Absolute, could not be excelled; Duff and his wife,
admirable as tragedians; the elder Booth; Mr. and Mrs. Francis;
Wallack, at the head of what is known as genteel comedy; Jefferson,
the grandfather of Kip Van Winkle, whose Tony Lumpkin
was renowned; Thayer, one of the best light comedians of the
day—these, with Mr. and Mrs. Barnes and others, were the .stock
company which, oscillating between Philadelphia, Baltimore and
Washington, attracted crowds to Old Holliday before the stars of
the theatrical heaven dimmed inferior luminaries.


Literature in those days was represented by the Library which
then had its home next door to the theatre, and to the credit of
the city be it said, its admirable collection of books, now belonging
to the Historical Society, was thoroughly appreciated and in constant
use. Above the Library, and of easy access from what has
been spoken of as the Court end of Baltimore, was the assembly
room.


Perhaps the best way, at the present time, to obtain a good idea
of the beauty for which Baltimore is celebrated, is to join the
crowd which on Tuesday afternoon, when the weather is fine, is
to be met on North Charles Street. Fifty years ago and upwards,
the fashionable promenade was on the banks of " the canal,"
so-called, which was in fact the mill race some twelve feet wide
with a border of the same width that fed the pump-house at the
corner of Saratoga and Calvert Streets, from which the water was
forced to what was then the high service reservoir at the southwest
corner of Franklin and Cathedral Streets. The canal passed
in front of the Waterloo Row, whose name suggests the date of its
erection, to the dam, then known as Keller's dam, under the old
Belvedere Street Bridge. On the west side of the race there was
a steep green bank which, when an execution took place in the
jail yard, was crowded with thousands and formed an amphitheatre
from which the grim spectacle could be viewed. Literally
and truly, the borders of the canal were the only promenade
which the city then possessed.


Thirdly. The society of Baltimore fifty years ago is now to be
spoken of. Of course, the term is one of considerable scope, and
the difficulty is to deal with the subject without going into details.
Perhaps it may, in this connection, be defined as consisting of
those who have already obtmned position more or less exclusive
and of those who are striving to reach it. In this country, wealth,
professional rank and exceptional qualifications outside of wealth
and rank constitute claims to become members of it. As cities
increase in size society divides itself into circles in a country
where there is no hereditary rank to perpetuate a particular and
exclusive class. There was no such division fifty years ago.


Wealth had much less to do with social position then than it has
now. In 1824, a salary of three thousand dollars per annum
gave its possessor the reputation of being a rich man. The cashiers
of great banks got no more. When Mr. Louis McLane was
invited to take the presidency of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Company he was otfered $4,000, which was regarded as a very
great salary, sufficient to tempt him to leave New York, where
he was President of the Morris Canal and Banking Company.
Few professional men made more. If people's means were moderate,
their expenses were in proportion. A lady's silk dress could
be obtained, trimmings and all, for $12. Eight yards of gros de
Naples were all that were required at one dollar per yard. If a
merchant's wife, whose husband was in fair business, gave $100
for an India shawl, if it did not affect his business credit, it was
a matter greatly talked about. There was a club composed of the
leading belles of the city called " The Cotton Cambric Society,"
who rejoiced in not wearing silk at balls and parties; nor have I
ever understood that they perilled the reputation of Baltimore for
beauty on that account. It was necessary to have the reputation
for wealth in those times to justify keeping a carriage. Indeed, in
1824 I think that there were not a dozen private carriages in
Baltimore, not because of the excellence of the hacks, for they
were worse than indifferent, but because the style of living was
plainer and that strife had not yet arisen in which victory consists
in outdoing your neighbor in dress and equipage. And yet in
the Assembly room of this time, when a winter never passed
without three or four subscription assemblies in the apartments
over the City Library, there was a gathering of as
much elegance, beauty, grace, refinement and intelligence as
has ever been brought together since. In a word, society
was on a simpler, easier and more natural footing than it
afterwards became. Mothers aud fathers still accompanied their
children to balls and parties, mature ladies still danced while
daughters looked on. The cotillon ruled the day ; an occasional
whirl in what was called a Spanish dance, was regarded as of
doubtful propriety; and when a couple more audacious than the
rest went to the extreme of a regular waltz, mothers turned their
backs in dismay, and melancholy were the predictions of the
future. The general dinner hour was two o'clock, and merchants
went to their counting rooms afterwards. Tea-parties were common,
ending often with a dance on the carpet to the music of a
piano. At a State dinner all the dishes were set on the table at
the same time, and woe to the guest who had a popular dish
before him. Courses were unheard of. Now, of course, all this
is changed. Much more might be said. The Greek Ball, the
Ball to Lafayette, the Fancy Ball—all great events of the day—
might be described; but these reminiscences have already been
too much extended, and I must stop at the threshold of personal
experiences, and be satisfied with saying, that looking back upon
the society of Baltimore more than half a century ago, it may be
safely said of it, that nothing more honorably characterized it
than its intelligence and refinement

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