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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Middleton Chambers

Middleton Chambers

     Born into the most inauspicious of circumstances, his life thereafter was one of great promise. His talent led him to the sunny uplands of the realization of his artistic ambitions. He came so close.
     This is the story of my cousin, Middleton Chambers. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Middleton was born 30 April 1888 in Lynchburg, Virginia. His mother was Mary Josephine "Jo" Williams, the oldest surviving daughter of James Tompkins Williams and Martha Row Williams. His father was William Archer Chambers, a well known Lynchburg tobacconist and merchandise broker. William was also an 1881 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
     But Middleton's birth was a complicated one, and things did not go well for Jo Chambers, who died on 30 May 1888. Her father wrote of this tragic turn of events just two weeks later, on 16 June, in a letter to his one time sister in law (James T. Williams's first wife Martha had died in 1885), Nan Row of Spotsylvania:

In regard to the death of Jo...it was a great shock to us. Altho she had been in a dangerous condition we were hopeful of her recovery until the day on which she died. Her child was very large and its birth was the cause of her death. She had the best of Doctors and Mary (my wife) nursed her just like her own mother would have done if she had been alive...Next to the death of your sister her death was the hardest blow I ever had and at first I felt like I could not stand it. She had been so much to me and was one of the sweetest best women that ever lived...

     Three years after Jo's death William Archer Chambers married Rosa Hughes and in 1893 they had their own son, William Jr.
     The following year, in July 1894, James T. Williams and his wife, the former Mary Hanvey Martin, petitioned the court in order to adopt six year old Middleton. W.A. Chambers readily agreed to the adoption. What the circumstances may have been that would have led to this change of custody, I do not know. But it was certainly a lucky break for Middleton; his grandfather was one of the richest and most influential men in Lynchburg. Every opportunity that wealth could provide was now available for Middleton. It would prove to be money well spent.
     By the time James T. Williams died in 1900, Middleton Chambers was living in Burlington, New Jersey in the home of his teacher, William F. Overman, principal of Moorestown Academy.  After returning to Virginia, Middleton enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute, from which he graduated in 1908. His portrait at the top of today's post, and this humorous profile typical of the cadets are from the 1908 edition of VMI's The Bomb:






     While a student in Lexington, Middleton was already showing what he could do as an artist, and in the years that followed he successfully hitched his ability to his ambition. This entry from the St. Louis Art Catalog of 1915 reveals the extensive education he received in the years leading up to World War I:





     From 1911 to 1914 Middleton lived, studied and painted in Europe. At one point he met artist Waldo David Frank and they bicycled from Paris to the Bavarian Alps. In his book,  Memoirs of Waldo Frank, University of Massachusetts Press (1973), the author described Middleton as having "a dry wit and a high sense of the ridiculous...whose sole passion was painting." In one amusing episode, Waldo and Middleton stayed in a village in Bavaria, where they taught the locals how to dance the Charleston. For this good deed they were arrested by the constable for teaching "lewd and obscene dances." Their confinement was very brief, due in no small part to their popularity among the villagers.
     When war broke out in August 1914, Middleton made his way to Le Havre by November and returned to the United States. Due to the unexpectedly rapid escalation of the conflict, Middleton was obliged to leave all his artwork in Europe.
     For the next few years Middleton lived in New York and continued to work as a painter. When America entered the war in 1917, Middleton enlisted in the army and trained as a pilot, although for reasons not stated he never flew in combat (Ancestry):





     At the end of the war, Middleton laid plans to return to Europe. On 24 February 1919 he applied for a new passport. His stated intention was to resume his studies and retrieve his paintings. This brooding portrait is from his passport application (Ancestry):





     He never made the voyage back to Europe.
     By now the influenza epidemic was sweeping through New York. And Middleton was swept up with it. On 8 March 1919, just two weeks after applying for his passport, Middleton Chambers died of pneumonia.
     His body was brought home to Lynchburg, and Middleton was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery near his mother.


    

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Benjamin Bowering Rediscovered

Benjamin Bowering letter to Lizzie Houston Row, 10 June 1884


     The roster of names of Fredericksburg's leading citizens, who strode across history's stage during the last half of the nineteenth century, is long and distinguished. Sadly, their stories are often only half-remembered, the patina of their accomplishments obscured by the fine dust of time. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Today I hope to remedy that obscurity for one such man, Benjamin Bowering.
     For reasons which will become evident at the end of today's post, I have for the last week or so been combing through the historical record to learn all I can about this able man who helped transform Fredericksburg and whose handiwork was utilized throughout the region.
     Benjamin's story, and that of his accomplished son Andrew, is one of compelling interest and the many contributions he made to his adopted country and city are worth remembering.
     Benjamin Bowering was born in Trowbridge, England in November 1819. Named for his father, a carpenter born in 1795, young Benjamin accompanied his family on their voyage to America and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. In that city the junior Bowering met Lucinda Voorhees (born in August 1822), whom he married in September 1841.
     About Benjamin's life in New Jersey I know very little, save for the fact that his only child, Andrew Benjamin Bowering, was born there on 6 August 1842.
     In 1849 Bowering and his family moved to Fredericksburg, where for the next fifty four years he would make the highest use of the talents he brought with him.
     Located at the intersection of Princess Anne and Charlotte Streets, Hope Foundry was owned in the late 1840s by a partnership of three men: John H. Roberts, John Francis Scott and John H. Herndon. In 1849 they made the smartest business decision of their lives when they hired Benjamin Bowering as the foundry's manager.
     By May 1851 Mr. Roberts sold his interest to the remaining two partners, who published this advertisement in the 2 May 1851 edition of the Fredericksburg News:



     


     The partnership of Scott & Herndon operated Hope Foundry until 1857, when John F. Scott bought out Mr. Herndon's interest. Scott would operate the business as its sole proprietor until the end of the Civil War. Wisely, he retained the services of his master machinist and superintendent, Benjamin Bowering.
     The advertisement shown below, published on the eve of Virginia's secession and the onset of war, announced - with misplaced optimism - the variety of machines manufactured at the foundry which were available for purchase by the public. Soon enough, however, the foundry's sole customer would be the Confederate army.

Fredericksburg News 29 January 1861

     As early as June 1861 John F. Scott was manufacturing and repairing artillery equipment for the Confederate army, and this would account for most of his business for the next three and a half years. In the National Archives can be found dozens of invoices for Scott's work. A few examples are shown here:




     Scott's efforts on behalf of the rebellion were interrupted twice during the war. In August 1862 he was among about nineteen male citizens of Fredericksburg who were arrested by Federal troops occupying the town at the time and were taken to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. They were seized as hostages to guarantee the safety of several Unionists who had been arrested by the Confederates and imprisoned in Richmond. After an exchange of letters and the plaintive pleas of those incarcerated in Washington, a solution was found and John F. Scott and the others were released.
     Scott was arrested a second time when Federal forces occupied Fredericksburg on 2 May 1863. The record shows that the reason given for his arrest was due to the fact that he was "disloyal." He was released on 20 May 1863.
     Understandably, Scott made himself scarce in May 1864 when the Union army again took control of the town during the battle of the Wilderness. This time he avoided capture.
     Since he did not own the foundry at the time, Benjamin Bowering's name does not appear on any of these Confederate invoices, but he doubtless continued to manage production for Scott during the war. Evidence of this is found in the record of his parole, given at Salisbury, North Carolina after the surrender of General Joseph Johnston on 26 April 1865. He is shown as enlisted in the Virginia Reserves and "detailed at the artillery shops." There was a munitions foundry located at Salisbury, so I assume Benjamin was working there during the latter part of the war.

Parole of Benjamin Bowering

     Meanwhile, Benjamin Bowering's son Andrew was having his own unique experience during the Civil War. Prior to Virginia's secession, Andrew was a music teacher in Fredericksburg. When hostilities began, Andrew was mustered into the 30th Virginia Infantry, where he led the regimental band. At the funeral of Stonewall Jackson in Richmond in May 1863 Andrew conducted the band in playing music he composed for the occasion, as well as Handel's Dead March from "Saul."
     Andrew Bowering served in the 30th Virginia until Lee's surrender at Appomattox. At that place Andrew blew the final recall of the Army of Northern Virginia. He placed his trumpet on the limb of a tree and walked home to Fredericksburg.
     When he arrived there he discovered that his father was in Salisbury. And so he made his way to North Carolina. The Bowerings returned home soon thereafter.
     After the war Andrew continued to teach music and conducted open air concerts in Fredericksburg. He served as president of the city school board and for almost fifty years was commissioner of revenue. He died in 1923.
     Reunited once again, John F. Scott and Benjamin Bowering laid plans to reopen Hope Foundry as a commercial enterprise open to the public. This time Benjamin would at long last be a partner in the business.

Fredericksburg Ledger 1  December 1865

     And they remained partners until 6 February 1871, when John Francis Scott died. The index to the historic court records of Fredericksburg indicate that Scott's estate was settled in 1876, and that is when it appears Benjamin acquired sole ownership of Hope Foundry.
     For the remainder of his active life, Benjamin was connected to Hope Foundry and its successors. Among the many projects for which he deserves to be remembered:

- the manufacture of the court house vault door
- the design of the gates of the Confederate cemetery
- the manufacture and installation of the vane atop the Baptist Church
- the manufacture and installation of the bell of the Presbyterian Church

Fredericksburg Ledger 13 September 1870

- the manufacture of all the equipment used in the Germania Mills
- the manufacture of the machinery used in the Washington Woolen Mills, of which he was a director
- the manufacture of the machinery for the City Electric Light Works.
- the manufacture of the steam heating system for the Hotel Dannehl

     Benjamin was also active in the civic life of Fredericksburg and served for years on the city council.

     Benjamin sold Hope Foundry to Charles Tyler of Baltimore in January 1891. The foundry was then renamed the Progress Engine and Machine Works. Benjamin stayed on for a year as manager.
     Progress was later named Southern Foundry and at the age of seventy eight Benjamin went back to work for them for a time in 1897.
     Benjamin Bowering died at the home of his son on 13 July 1903. He is buried at the Fredericksburg Cemetery.


     Over the years I have taken a personal interest in Bowering because my great grandfather had bought from him the steam saw mill and boiler that he used in his lumber business in Spotsylvania. After his untimely death in 1883, his widow wound down his business as the adminstratrix of his estate. In the letter written by Bowering to my great grandmother in May 1884, which appears at the top of today's post, he pledges to help her find a buyer for the mill machinery. The invoice below is among the business papers of Lizzie Houston Row:

Bowering invoice to Lizzie Row 10 June 1884


So what has prompted my renewed interest in Benjamin lately?

     Recently an artifact of Benjamin Bowering - a virtual time capsule - was discovered in a tributary of Chopawamsic Creek on the Marine base at Quantico. This was brought to my attention by the base's forester, Ron Moyer, who came across previous mentions of Bowering on Spotsylvania Memory while conducting research. Quantico intends to restore this equipment and display it on the base. The link to Quantico's press release:

http://www.quantico.marines.mil/News/NewsArticleDisplay/tabid/10834/Article/166771/1800s-steam-engine-has-tie-to-fredericksburg.aspx

     Mr. Moyer asked for my assistance in gathering as much information as possible regarding Bowering's work, a task I undertook with great pleasure. Ron Moyer shared with me several photographs of Benjamin Bowering's handiwork and with his permission they appear  here today: