Pieces from the Past

Super-sleuth Nancy Drew, Creative problem solver Angus MacGyver, Hero Librarian Nancy Pearl—just a few of the real and fictional characters that I, as a museum curator, frequently try to emulate.  Recently while knee-deep in a complete inventory of the object collections of Heritage Frederick, I came face-to-face with 7 boxes that I have been trying to avoid for months.  They contained the findings from an archaeological excavation that took place on the Heritage Frederick property at 24 East Church Street in 2000.

With the exception of those marked metal, glass and miscellaneous, the majority of the boxes are labeled stoneware, redware and ceramic sherds.  While confident that I knew what a shard was, I at first assumed the word was misspelled on the boxes. A quick online search cleared things up, revealing that while a shard is a broken fragment of something, usually glass which typically has sharp edges, a sherd is a broken piece of pottery that was once part of a vessel or container.  There are 604 of these individually catalogued items, many smaller than a dime and a few that are fully intact glass bottles.  Through the process of inventory, photography and then research, I have come to really appreciate what a unique and marvelous window these items have been able to reveal about Heritage Frederick’s personal history as the fifth occupant of this beautiful home.

Glazes, decorations and forms are all traceable clues that can be used to identify pottery fragments.  Even small pieces of a transferware or spatterware saucer reveal information about the time period in which it was made and the people who would have owned such things.  This story is about a fragment of white ironstone that was anxious to reveal its secrets.

At first glance the piece shows itself to be the fragment of something that once had a handle.  The base is intact and octagonal in shape with crisp lines and a smooth white finish.  The underside is stamped with a diamond-shaped English registry mark, a symbol that any good ceramics researcher will immediately recognize.  This mark was used by the English patent office from 1842-1883 to identify pieces of English pottery or porcelain and once you know how to read it, it will tell you the exact day, month and year that the design for the item was registered.  Letters and numbers appearing in the four corners of the diamond allow you to decode the information.  The diamond mark on our piece was used from 1842-1867 (Mark A) while a slightly different mark was used from 1868-1883 (Mark B).  By consulting a table showing the codes for type of material, year and month, our mark can be deciphered as follows: “IV” in the circle at the top of the diamond tells us that the piece is ceramic, rather than wood, metal or cloth; “I” in the top point of the diamond stands for 1846; “B” in the left point of the diamond stands for October; “26” in the right point is for the day of the month and the “5” at the bottom of the diamond tells us that this was part of parcel number 5.  So we know that the design for the English ceramic piece found in our garden was registered with the English patent office on October 26, 1846.

We are also very fortunate that the maker’s mark is also intact on this piece and appears below the patent mark.  While it is very difficult to read, it says “Registered October 26, 1846 by James Edwards.

James Edwards was born in 1805 in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire England.  James was the son of a potter in an area of England which continues to this day to be known for its many potteries. He was working with pottery from a young age and at 14 became an apprenticed thrower under a man named Spencer Rogers at Dalehall pottery in Burslem.  Burslem is one of six towns that form the city of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England.  In the years to come James Edwards worked in several regional potteries as a manager and then in partnership with other potters running his own company.  In 1842, he purchased the Dalehall pottery where he had once apprenticed and over the next 18 years worked to enlarge and extend the potteryworks, installing all the latest machinery until the company’s output was more than 6 times what it had been when he purchased the property.

James Edwards was a pioneer of white ironstone china which he made almost exclusively for export to markets in the US and Canada. In 1851, James brought his son Richard into the operation as a partner and for the next 10 years they ran the pottery together.  James retired in 1861, leaving Richard to manage the company alone.  In 1882, Richard sold the pottery to Knapper & Blackhurst.

Our fragment of James Edwards white ironstone also has a number which reads “37864.”  As luck would have it, James Edwards’ design catalog still exists today and we can see what our small fragment would once have looked like.  Design 37864 is for a Full Panel Gothic shape cream jug.

What can this little cream jug tell us and how is it important here in Frederick, Maryland, more than 3,500 miles away from the town where it was made?  The date of the pitcher tells us that it most likely belonged to the original owner of our property and the builder of our house, Dr. John Baltzell.  Dr. Baltzell bought the property here on the corner of East Church Street and Maxwell Alley in 1823 and we believe, the house was built by 1825.  He and his wife Ruth, lived in the home, where at least the 8 youngest of their 10 children were born.  It is believed that Dr. Baltzell may have seen his patients from an office in basement which would have originally had its own private entrance from the alley.  The family lived in the house until John’s death in 1854 when the house was sold. 

Dr. Baltzell was a prominent citizen of Frederick and a much respected doctor, a tea service or table settings imported by an English manufacturer would have been the height of luxury at the time and would have found an appropriate home among the Baltzell’s belongings.  Aside from reproductions of portraits of John and Ruth Baltzell, Heritage Frederick has never before had an object that we knew to have belonged to them.  While an inventory of Dr. Baltzell’s property remains, we are left to speculate which objects on the list might be related to our 8” English cream jug.  When and how was it broken and when was it tossed into a garbage midden on the property?

The fragment of Dr. and Mrs. Baltzell’s full panel Gothic cream jug will be on view, along with several additional artifacts uncovered during the 2000 excavations, in a new installation of the house’s history due to open in 2024.

September 1, 2023 by Amy Hunt, Heritage Frederick Curator

Returning to our Roots

Earlier this summer, Heritage Frederick’s staff and volunteers received a kind invitation to tour the historic Steiner House, the headquarters of the Frederick Women’s Civic Club. The oldest portion of the house, now forming the rear ell wing, dates from 1807, while the front section was built in 1817 and is an exceptional example of Federal architecture. The Civic Club has been the steward of this beautiful property since 1962.

Heritage Frederick, formerly known as the Historical Society of Frederick County, has a special connection to the Steiner House. From 1944 until 1960, the society was headquartered at the Steiner House which contained our first museum and research library. The Historical Society acquired the Steiner House in 1944 from Mary Ellenora Lipps, the third generation of the Lipps family who lived on the property for almost one hundred years. Mary’s grandfather purchased the Steiner House in 1848.

The creation of our first museum was inspired by the significant donation of the Tyler-Belt Collection in 1943. The donor, Mary Cecelia Belt of Omaha, Nebraska, made the gift in memory of her husband, William Bradley Tyler Belt, who grew up in Frederick. He was a grandson of prominent Frederick physician and civic leader Dr. William Bradley Tyler. Prior to the reception of the Tyler-Belt Collection, the small archives of the Historical Society were housed in the C. Burr Artz Library and in space provided by Federated Charities. 

Marshall Lingan Etchison, President of the Historical Society of Frederick County from 1944 to 1946, chaired the committee that reviewed potential properties and ultimately selected the Steiner House. In his account of the acquisition of the house, Etchison wrote “not only did we like it, we were enthusiastic, and eager to proclaim our find and escort our committee through the premises.” After sending a description of the property to Mary Cecelia Belt, complete with Etchison’s drawing of the front entry with its elaborate fanlight, she agreed to donate $12,000.00 to cover the cost of purchasing the house. The Society restored the Steiner House and a committee, led by Frederick artist Helen L. Smith, organized and moved the collections into the new headquarters. The Steiner House was dedicated and opened to the public on September 3, 1945 during Frederick’s bicentennial year.

Senator George L.P. Radcliffe (second from left) with Historical Society President Marshall Etchison at the dedication of the Steiner House.
The large crowd assembled on the side yard of the Steiner House for the Historical Society dedication ceremony on September 3, 1945.

Visitors to the Historical Society’s first museum in the Steiner House were able to view the extensive Tyler-Belt Collection of antique furniture, silver, and artwork in addition to local Frederick artifacts collected by Marshall Etchison (many of which were later donated to the Historical Society in 1960). The library on the second floor contained a set of the published papers of the Archives of Maryland, correspondence and genealogical research materials from local families, and handwritten copies of papers presented to the Historical Society on various topics of Frederick County history.

The parlor of the Steiner House furnished with items from the Tyler-Belt 
Collection in 1945.

Stephen Steiner [1767-1829] built the residence and is the architect to whom its elegant Federal design is attributed. Steiner is also credited with designing the steeple of Trinity Chapel (the old German Reformed Church) which is the oldest of Frederick’s famed “Clustered Spires.” The Steiner House features finely-carved neoclassical mantel pieces and moldings, a dramatic staircase which ascends from the first floor to the attic, and the celebrated front door with sidelights and a fanlight constructed with intricate tracery and applied decorative motifs of leaves and pineapples.

In describing the Steiner House, Marshall Etchison wrote “through the magnificent generosity of Mrs. Belt, we now own one of the finest houses in the city. Its front door, with leaded side and fan lights, is without equal in our community. With spacious hall and rooms, fine woodwork and beautiful winding stairway, it is not only a joy to all who see it now, but we hope and trust will be a lasting pleasure to the people of Frederick for generations to come.” Etchison’s sentiment has become reality, owing to the dedication of the Frederick Women’s Civic Club, who extend a gracious welcome to visitors to explore the history and architecture of this Frederick landmark. 

The staff at Heritage Frederick wish to express our gratitude to the Frederick Women’s Civic Club for their hospitality in welcoming us to the Steiner House and giving us the opportunity to revisit a significant chapter in our institution’s story.

August 1, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist

Mary White Worthington’s Encounter with the Titanic Disaster

With the story of the RMS Titanic back in the public eye, many are continuing to reflect on this historic event over 110 years later. The global impact of the sinking of the Titanic is captured in the travel journal kept by one Frederick Countian and now preserved in the archives of Heritage Frederick. 

Mary White Worthington’s 1912 Travel Diary

Mary White Worthington was born on February 22, 1880, in Ijamsville to Nicholas and Alice Worthington. She lived in Adamstown for many years and spent the last years of her life in downtown Frederick before her death in 1972. In April 1912, Mary embarked on a nine-month tour of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, crossing the Atlantic at the same time as the Titanic disaster. Her journal recorded in real time her own perspective and emotions as well as those of others who were traveling abroad (and by ship!) in the days after the tragic sinking of the famous ocean liner.

Mary and her traveling companions departed from Boston on April 6, 1912 aboard the liner SS Cretic. After arriving in Gibraltar two days after the sinking of the Titanic, she wrote about the voyage in her diary and described the anxiety felt by other passengers on board: “At one time we sighted icebergs and felt the effect of them. We supposed we were in the neighborhood of the Titanic accident which happened while we were crossing.” Having experienced similar luxuries on the Cretic as passengers had enjoyed on the Titanic, Mary and her fellow passengers considered the thought of a similar fate befalling their voyage.

On board a train traveling to Naples, Mary met two Catholic priests from Pennsylvania. She played cards and conversed with the two men who shared their experience of being passengers aboard the RMS Carpathia the night of the sinking of the Titanic. One month after the disaster, Mary wrote “had luncheon on the train and met two Pennsylvania men, Mr. Burke and Mr. McCarthy. They had crossed on Carpathia, which rescued the Titanic survivors. We were interested to hear all the details.”

Rev. Henry P. Burke and Rev. Daniel McCarthy were aboard the Carpathia on a visit to Rome and the Holy Land. The Scranton Times reported that both men comforted traumatized survivors, even giving up their shared first-class state room to Titanic passengers. Burke and McCarthy slept on the floor of the Carpathia’s saloon while the ship returned to New York with the survivors. 

Mary’s travel journal goes on to describe her visits to Italy – where she saw works of art from the Renaissance – ancient cities in Egypt, Greece, and Israel, pre-revolution Russia, the Olympic Games in Stockholm, and the metropolitan cities of London and Paris. Her trip concluded with a visit with her brothers, Nicholas, Arthur, and Charles, who lived in South Africa where they owned an ice factory. Mary’s travel diary preserves the unique perspective of one Frederick County resident as she experienced one of the most famous historical events of the twentieth century. 

July 10, 2023 by Kayleigh Trischman, Heritage Frederick Intern

Celebrating Flag Day in Frederick

Flag Day is an annual observance marking the anniversary of the adoption of the first resolution creating a standard design for the flag of the United States of America, which the Continental Congress adopted on June 14, 1777. Communities across the United States held public observances of Flag Day as early as the Civil War. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge each made proclamations celebrating Flag Day in 1916 and 1927, respectively. Pennsylvania became the first state to make Flag Day an official holiday in 1937, and the United States Congress passed legislation in 1949 to make Flag Day an annual national observance. 

Before state and national recognition of Flag Day, social and fraternal organizations throughout the United States marked the annual observance. In 1907, the Grand Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks adopted a policy requiring its members to mark Flag Day with an annual ceremony. Initially, the Frederick Elks Lodge held observances in its headquarters on West Second Street. But, in 1924, the Elks expanded the event to a public ceremony with speakers, music, and a presentation of the history of the flag. The first of these enhanced Flag Day services occurred in the auditorium at the Braddock Heights amusement park.

By the early-1930s, the Frederick Elks moved their Flag Day service to Baker Park where hundreds gathered each June to celebrate the birthday of the American flag. The 1935 Flag Day service was the first event held in the newly-completed bandshell and amphitheater in Baker Park. On Sunday, June 16, 1935, Elks Lodge members formed a parade at their headquarters and marched to Baker Park where a crowd awaited in the new 1,000 seat amphitheater.

The News, June 6, 1935

This photograph shows members of the Frederick Elks Lodge on the stage with invited guests and musicians. Major General Milton Reckord delivered the keynote address; Reckord was a Maryland native who commanded the National Guard and authored the 1933 legislation that made the guard a component of the United States Army. The lodge displayed nine flags at the front of the stage, representing the official flags that have flown over North America beginning with English colonization in the early-seventeenth century. 

The traditional Flag Day ceremony continues to be observed each June by Frederick Elks. Frederick City replaced the original Baker Park bandshell seen in this photograph with the present structure in 1990. 

June 1, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist

A Creagerstown Bedstead

A beautiful, dark, stained, cherry bedstead from the mid-19th century recently went on view in Heritage Frederick’s second floor “Frederick County Coverlets” exhibit, and while the coverlets garner all the attention in the exhibition, this early Frederick County rope bed deserves a closer look.

The bed belonged to William Jasper Groshon and his wife, Amy, and it came out of their stone house, still standing today, on Eaton Road in Creagerstown. The Groshon family (originally Grosjean) were immigrants from France who arrived in America in 1751. William’s great grandfather John, born in Edenton, North Carolina, settled his branch of the family in Creagerstown in the first decade of the 19th century.

John Creager laid out the town between 1760 and 1770, and Isaac Kolb built the first house in Creagerstown in 1775. The town experienced many years of steady growth and was home to a tannery and brewery in its early years. By 1858, Creagerstown had a doctor’s office, two stores, a hotel, and a school as well as a church and parsonage.

William Jasper Groshon was born in Creagerstown in 1843. He fought in the Civil War, serving as a private in Company D of the 6th Maryland Infantry. Following the war he married Amy Weddle and worked as a stone mason. Family lore suggests that all nine of the couple’s children were born in this bed and that, tragically, their mother died from the measles in the bed in 1888 at the age of 39. Her obituary indicated that five of the nine children, ranging in age from 20 years to 17 months old, also were suffering with the measles at the time of their mother’s death. 

Creagerstown in 1858 (Isaac Bond Map, Library of Congress)
William and Amy Groshon’s House at Creagerstown

The stone house on Eaton Road served as a meeting place for the Groshon family to gather throughout the years. A widowed daughter-in-law who lived in Philadelphia with her seven children would bring her clan back to Creagerstown to spend summers at the home visiting with their grandfather and cousins, sleeping outside, and enjoying large family dinners in the yard. Margaret, an unmarried daughter of William who kept house for him, is reported to have joked that she had to sleep on a nail when the Philadelphia cousins came to town. She was a small lady, so this may have been true.

Rope beds were invented in the 16th century and fell out of fashion quickly after the invention of the coil spring mattress in 1865. This example is a ¾ size, which would have been standard for the time, and was made in or near Creagerstown around the mid-nineteenth century.  A rope bed features pegs along the head and foot boards as well as the side rails.  Rope is wound around the pegs, stretching from head to foot and then side to side. The ropes would be tightened regularly with a wooden tool called a bed key, after which a stuffed mattress would be placed on top. The bedtime directive to “sleep tight” comes from this practice. Regardless of how tight the ropes were pulled, rope beds sagged causing anything on the bed to roll toward the center. As a result, they’re most comfortable for just one person to sleep in.

The bed was handed down in the family and was donated to Heritage Frederick in 2003 by George D. Basford, the great grandson of William and Amy Groshon.

May 1, 2023 by Amy Hunt, Heritage Frederick Curator