Historical Society of Harford County » Special Collections » The Booth Research Center » Tour of Booth Family Historic Sites, I
Researched and Written by Dinah Faber March 2002
Part of the mission of the Booth Room Committee is the encouragement of the preservation those sites important to the history of the Booth family, especially those places in Maryland. Thus, this page is devoted to providing accurate information on some of those sites.
Location: Bel Air Post Office; Postal Clerks' Lobby; 202 Blum Court; Bel Air, Maryland, 21014
Hours: Monday thru Friday 8:00 A. M. to 6:00 P.M.; Saturday 8:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.; Sunday Closed
Description: The inscription which is included in this painting reads, "19th c. actor EDWIN BOOTH in performance before a local audience at Bel Air Courthouse." According to Stanley Kimmel's book Mad Booths of Maryland (pg. 75), this performance took place on 2 August 1850 when Edwin was 16 years old. Edwin's close friend and future brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke, also participated in the performance. and went on to a successful career in the theatre.
This 5 x 10 foot mural was painted in 1937 by William H. Calfee of Washington, DC. Calfee said of the mural, "Historians comment that not only were recitations of Shakespeare given but also Southern songs were sung to the accompaniment of the banjo and 'bones.' I have therefore depicted the audience as not being completely overwhelmed."
John Wilkes Booth is thought to be one of the audience members depicted in the painting, and indeed a young man with dark hair and a mustache appears in the mural. However, this young man looks as much like Edgar Alan Poe as he does John Wilkes Booth. It should also be noted that when Edwin Booth and John Sleeper Clarke made their appearance in the Bel Air Courthouse in August 1850, John Wilkes Booth was 12 years old.
The mural was commissioned by the Section of Fine Arts of the Works Progress Administration, which was created by the federal government in 1935 to provide employment to those who were out of work due to the Great Depression. The mural was originally located over the doorway to the Post Master's Office in the Old Post Office (built in 1937) at 143 N. Main Street in Bel Air (now headquarters for the Historical Society of Harford County). When a new post office was built in 1989, the mural was moved to the new building and rededicated.
Location: In front of Harford County Courthouse, 100 block S. Main Street, (Between Courtland and Office Streets), Bel Air, Maryland 21014
Hours: The marker is located in a public area in front of the courthouse and is available for viewing 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Description: The complete text of the marker reads:
BEL AIR; COUNTY SEAT OF HARFORD COUNTY; ESTABLISHED 1783; COURT HOUSE ERECTED 1791. BURNED AND RE-ERECTED 1858. ENLARGED 1904. PORTRAITS OF NOTABLE MEN BORN IN HARFORD COUNTY ADORN COURT ROOM, INCLUDING EDWIN BOOTH, WHO GAVE HIS FIRST THEATRICAL PERFORMANCE THERE. ERECTED BY BEL AIR ROTARY CLUB THROUGH THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF HARFORD COUNTY, 1930
Comments: According to Eleanor Ruggles in Prince of Players (pg. 41), Edwin Booth often said he made his debut on 10 September 1849 in Boston. According to Stanley Kimmel's Mad Booths of Maryland (pg. 75), Edwin's performance at the Bel Air Courthouse took place on 2 August 1850. Therefore, it could not have been "his first theatrical performance" as the historical marker in front of the Bel Air Courthouse claims. The original courthouse in which Edwin Booth appeared burned in 1858 and a new courthouse was built soon after. In 1904, the second courthouse was enlarged and transformed to its present appearance. More recent additions have further expanded the courthouse.
Location:In front of
Harford County Courthouse;
100 Block S. Main Street;
Between Courtland and Office Streets;
Bel Air, Maryland 21014
Hours: The fountain is located in a public area in front of the courthouse, and is available for viewing 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Description: On 25 November 1904, the Bel Air Times observed, "The new drinking fountain . . . has just been erected in front of the Court House to the memory of the late Edwin Booth . . . While it is to be regretted that the Circulating Library, to which Mr. Booth first left the money, has gone out of existence, the managers could not have appropriated the money for the purchase of a more lasting as well as useful memorial to that distinguished son of Harford, than a public fountain, and we heartily favor the suggestion that some appropriate action be taken when it is turned over to the public."
After the fountain sustained serious damage in Hurricane Hazel in 1954, it was replaced in the early 1980s with a similar but not identical fountain manufactures by Robinson Iron of Alexander City, Alabama. Robinson Iron is still in business and continues to manufacture cast iron objects very similar in appearance to the Edwin Booth Memorial Fountain. Link to Robinson Iron
Courtroom of Harford County Circuit Court;
Harford County Courthouse;
100 Block S. Main Street;
(Between Courtland and Office Streets);
Bel Air, Maryland 21014
Hours: Visitors are allowed access to the courtroom whenever court is not in session.
Description: An impressive oil portrait of Edwin Booth hangs with over 50 distinguished Harford County residents in the Harford County Circuit Courtroom at the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air. On 14 November 1890 the Aegis and Intelligencer proudly announced:
A short time ago we mentioned the fact that Mr. Edward M. Allen was engaged in an effort to secure portraits in oil of some of the most distinguished citizens of Harford and place them on the walls of our Court House, in order to perpetuate their memories and serve as a stimulus to the youth of Harford for generations to come to emulate their virtues and their fame. Among the portraits promised to Mr. Allen was one of Mr. Edwin Booth, who was born in Harford County, near Bel Air.
"Mr. Allen has received the following letter from Mr. Booth:
'MOUNT VERNON HOTEL
Baltimore, Nov. 6, 1890.
E. M. Allen, Esq:
DEAR SIR: The portrait of myself which, at your request I have had painted for the 'Harford Court House,' is nearly finished. Will you kindly inform me by what address it must be sent?
The portrait . . . painted by Mr. Louis P. Dieterich, and presented by Booth to the people of Harford county, is said to be an admirable likeness of the great tragedian. To Booth's 'wonderful eyes'--those windows of a soul charged with powerful and ever-changing emotions--no representation could do justice; but the artist has been happy in catching one of the great actor's best expressions. The portrait is a life size bust. It will be on exhibition on Baltimore street for two or three days, after which it will be hung in the Court House at Bel Air.
Louis P. Dieterich was born in Germany 6 April 1842. He later lived in Baltimore, Maryland, and was a member of the Charcoal Club, an organization for artists founded in Baltimore in 1883. In 1926 (when he was 83-84 years old), Dieterich apparently still had a studio or residence at 347 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. From the information available at this time, it appears he may have died the following year.
Bel Air Academy;
24 E. Pennsylvania Avenue;
Bel Air, Maryland 21014.
Currently occupied by law offices and a hair stylist's shop.
Description: According to Stanley Kimmel's The Mad Booths of Maryland (pg. 70), John Wilkes Booth "and his younger brother Joseph attended the Belair [sic] Academy for about five years. It was directed by Dr. Edwin Arnold, who described the older boy as very handsome 'in face and figure although slightly bowlegged.' He thought him not deficient in intelligence, but disinclined to take advantage of the educational opportunities offered him. Each day he rode back and forth from farm to school, taking more interest in what happened along the way than in reaching his classes on time. Joseph, who boarded at the Academy, was much more studious." Kimmel goes on to describe some of the pranks in which John Wilkes Booth was involved while a student at the academy.
Originally incorporated as the Harford County Academy by an Act of Legislature in 1811, the stone building housing the academy was built in 1814 with sturdy walls that are two feet thick. In Our Harford Heritage, C. Milton Wright said, "The Bel Air Academy served as a preparatory school and began immediately to attract students who desired to pursue a classical course which would fit them for the ministry, law, and other professions." Wright then goes on to list many of the prominent Harford County men who received their early education at the academy.
St. Ignatius Church;
533 East Jarrettsville Road; Forest Hill, MD 21050
Description: Ella Mahoney lived at Tudor Hall (former home of the Booth family) from 1878 until her death in 1948. Mrs. Mahoney's fondness and respect for the Booth family were reflected in the collection of Booth items she proudly displayed at Tudor Hall and in a small book she wrote entitled Sketches of the Booth Family and Tudor Hall.
The graves of Mrs. Mahoney and her second husband John F. Mahoney are located quite near the azalea bushes that surround the historical marker and large ash trees located in front of St. Ignatius Church at the intersection of the Conowingo and Jarrettsville Roads.
The inscription on the headstone reads:
JOHN F. MAHONEY
FEB 25 1852 JULY 5 1916
HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP
ELLA V. MAHONEY
NOV. 22, 1858 SEPT. 7, 1948
St. Ignatius Church is quite interesting in itself. The historical marker reads: "Oldest Roman Catholic Church in continuous use in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Completed in 1792 by Sylverster Boarman, S. J., while in charge of the nearby Jesuit Mission of St. Joseph at Priest's Ford. Early pastors of the church served Charles Carroll of Carrolton and his neighbors in the chapel at Doughregan Manor, Howard County. Ignatius is the mother church of six others in Baltimore, Cecil, and Harford counties." We thank Reverand James M. Barker for his cooperation.
Rocks State Park;
3318 Rocks Chrome Hill Road;
Jarrettsville, Maryland 21084.
Link to Rocks State Park
Description: On 8 August 1854, John Wilkes Booth wrote to his friend T. William O'Laughlen, "I paid another visit to the Rocks at Deer Creek the other day. it looks just the same." On 18 June 1855, John Wilkes Booth wrote to O'Laughlen, "Then comes the grand affair. A Pick nick party to be held on the rocks of Deer crick. Thirty-seven coupples to attend." On 28 June 1855, Asia Booth wrote to her friend Jean Anderson, "John is going on a picnic to the Rocks tomorrow. Oh, those great rocks-to be there with you!" Source: John Wilkes Booth, 'Right or Wrong, God Judge Me,' ed. John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), pp, 38-39 and 41-42.
The King and Queen Seat at Rocks State Park is a Harford County landmark. Sitting high above the Deer Creek Valley, this magnificent "pile" of rocks presents a panoramic view of the surrounding wooded hills and distant farmland. A visit to Harford County is not complete without a visit to the King and Queen Seat.
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