Monday, May 2, 2016

"Patapsco" - the home not the river - and the 1868 flood

Edward Gray built the home and mill complex, and lived there with his two daughters and his son-in-law John Pendleton Kennedy.  Kennedy (1795-1870) was a lawyer, novelist, politician, Secretary of the Navy and kept a journal which gives fascinating accounts of his education, fighting to protect Baltimore in 1814 and his homes in Baltimore and "Patapsco" near Ellicott City.  After Edward Gray died in 1856, the Kennedys continued to live between the two homes until the flood of 1868 - described below.

Kennedy married his second wife, Elizabeth Gray (1808-1889) in 1829.  Her father, Edward Gray (1776-1856) arrived to make his fortune in Philadelphia from Ireland, (his interesting early life will be described in a future post).  Grey and a small group purchased a paper mill in 1813 changed it to a textile factory named Patapsco Manufacturing Company, restructured and renamed it the Gray Manufacturing Company in 1844.  The mill complex had seven buildings in 1854 including his country home "Patapsco" built around 1820. 

From the source:  The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy, 1871-

"In this charming suburban retreat Mr. Kennedy passed some of his happiest days; there he read and wrote undisturbed; every picturesque haunt in the vicinity was familiar to him; the windows of his library commanded a lovely view of the woods and hills; and the whole scene was endeared by the memory of select companionship and genial seclusion. Here, too, his most intimate political friends resorted from Washington to pass a few days of tranquil leisure. "Our friend Irving has come here," writes Mr. Kennedy, "as to a Castle of Indolence, to get rid of work and to seduce me into a mountain foray into Virginia."

House and grounds described -

"This pleasant but unpretending country-house rises from the river bank, about a mile below Ellicott’s Mills, with a bridge across the Patapsco; on the opposite shore the Baltimore and Ohio railroad winds along in the shadow of the hills; these picturesque heights rise gracefully around; they are at the lowest declivity of the Maryland Highlands, called Elk Ridge.

Encompassed by lofty and wooded hills, the long glen thus formed, with its range of mills and beautiful stream, reminds one of some of those old half-feudal looking localities in the old world, where little towns nestle amid the fastnesses of nature and romantic scenery lends a charm to isolated life.

His [Gray then Kennedy] house was then surrounded with fine trees and rare shrubbery, its architecture and material were composite ; originally built in the old post frame style, parts were added of granite ; it was embosomed, in summer, in foliage; nothing can exceed the radiant beauty of the autumn~tinted woods which clothe the adjacent hill~sides at that season ; and even in winter, when the verdure of the evergreens contrasts with the snow-clad landscape.

Its sheltered position, however, made it an undesirable abode at midsummer, and as the weather grew sultry, the family made a trip to the mountains of Virginia or the watering places [spas] of the North.

With a taste for horticulture and a love of books and cultivated-society, the intervals of Mr. Gray’s work, while superintending the mills, were here spent delightfully in fostering rare plants, reading favorite authors or making excursions with his guests about the adjacent country."

Washington Irving (see more HERE ) "I envy K. the job of building that tower if he has half the relish for castle-building that I have..."

1868 Flood -
"In the summer of 1868 a terrible freshet, unequalled in its sudden irruption and devasting course, burst over the valley, swept away massive stone walls, bridges and dwellings, and changed the whole aspect of the scene. In consequence of a bend in the river Mr. Gray's mill escaped destruction, as far as the edifice was concerned, but its machinery and surroundings were submerged and ruined, and more than half of the dwelling-houses and all the choice trees were carried off, leaving a debris of stones and slime where once the garden bloomed. A more striking and painful contrast cannot be imagined than that presented by photographs of the scenery before and after the flood.

Mr. Kennedy thus alludes, in his journal, to his first visit there after their return from Europe:
"Baltimore, Nov. 4th, 1868.—I propose a visit to the mills—the day is fine and E. consents. We take the horsecars at eleven, reach Catonsville at twelve,—where I delivered my vote for Grant and Colfax,—and then walk to my brother Anthony's at Ellerslie—a mile and a half off. We spend an hour with the family and they send us in their carriage to our house. 

Here we witness the terrible desolation of the great flood of last July. Every tree and shrub, the conservatory, the fences, the out-buildings are all swept away. A great part of the dwelling-house is in ruins, a deposit of three or four feet of white sand spread over the grass-plots; quantities of stone brought down the river from the mills destroyed above, strewed over this deposit; the porches carried away; my library entirely taken off, leaving no vestige of books, prints, busts and other articles with which it was furnished; 

the Factory shockingly injured, requiring some fifty thousand dollars of repairs;[$847,000 in 2015 dollars] Mr. Bone's (the manager) house lifted up from its foundation and borne bodily away upon the floods! The devastation has so completely altered the aspect of the place that I should not know it. After an hour here we drive up to the village;— the same kind of ruin is visible all the way. It has been an overwhelming affliction to many families here. The loss of life extended to forty-two persons. It was very sad to us to see our old home and all that rural scene of content and happy abodes which the valley presented when we left it, to make our visit across the Atlantic, so disastrously changed."

The associations became too painful for the survivors of that happy household to resume their abode in the changed and, to their hearts, desolate home; the mill was repaired at great expense and the remaining section of the house renovated; it is now [1871, Kennedy died in 1870] occupied by their agent." 

The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy by Henry T. Tuckerman.  NY: 1871
House photo from 1936, but now gone.

Images from:  First house and Kennedy from the 1871 bio; next two pictures of house with tower are from Images of America: Howard County by HC Historical Society; last 3 photos (flood) from Images of America: Ellicott City by Marsha Wight Wise.
More on "Patapsco" HERE

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
Noteworthy women and historic homes of Ellicott City and Howard County, Md. HOME

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