Meet the McAlpines: Unidentified Cabinet Card Photographs from Cumberland, Maryland


In addition to the unidentified house and the portrait of Emily and David McAlpine, the group of  Allegany County, Maryland cabinet card photographs I recently acquired includes five other unidentified portraits.

Card mount styles, props and backgrounds suggest they were taken during the 1880s-1890s. Some of the subjects might be a few of David’s five brothers and their wives: Robert, John, James, Walter, and George, sons of John McAlpine (b. abt. 1821) and Barbara (Bell) McAlpine. All, I believe, were born in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

All except one were taken at the studio of Thomas L. Darnell, Cumberland, who, according to Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900, operated in Cumberland ca. 1870-1900. One mount bears the date 1889.

  • John McAlpine(1845-1914) m. Elizabeth Fleming 1869 in Allegany Co., Md.
  • James McAlpine(1847-1932) m. 1) Jane Fleming; 2) 1892 Elizabeth M. Nichols
  • Robert McAlpine (b. abt. 1849)
  • Walter McAlpine (b. abt. 1854) m. Christina
  • George (b. abt. 1867; may have remained in Scotland)

There was also a sister, Agnes (b. abt. 1863, Lanarkshire, Scotland), who only appears in the 1880 census in Lonaconing. She may have married or died.

Like many others from Scotland, the McAlpines came to Allegany County to work in the coal mines. Many stayed put, but two sons of James and Elizabeth (Nichols) McAlpineStephen and Walter— migrated to Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Other surnames in the tree I’ve constructed include Duckworth, Hardegen, Boughton, Barclay, Butts, Peel, Hausrath and Somerville; Ohio branch surnames include Zoll, Swift, Wyter and Covell.

Recognize any of the folks in these photos? Would love to hear from you.
Gratitude to findagrave.com member Sally Atkinson for her excellent research on James and John McAlpine and their wives and children.

McAlpine Mystery House, Lonaconing?

Along with David McAlpine’s Cumberland, Maryland portrait (see prior post), there were, in this rescued collection, five other portraits of family members, all unidentified, and this cabinet card photograph of a house.

There are two houses directly linked to the Lonaconing McAlpines, and they are on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties: The James McAlpine House, Knapp’s Meadow, and the McAlpine House on George’s Creek Road.

I’ve looked at photographs of the James McAlpine house from the documentation for its historic status, and this house just doesn’t seem to be a match.

The McAlpine house on George’s Run Road doesn’t look like this house, either.

So, is this house in the Lonaconing area? If so, where is it? Was it ever owned by a McAlpine? And who are the people in the picture?

David McAlpine, Lonaconing Coal Miner

This cabinet card portrait by Thomas L. Darnell (1825-1908) of Cumberland, Maryland, was one of a small group of photographs I recently rescued from an internet auction site. Unfortunately, despite resemblances among the sitters, this is the only one with an identification.

To complicate matters, there were several David McAlpines in Lonaconing. Because of the sitters’ clothing and the style of photograph, I ruled out the younger ones, and tentatively identified David McAlpine as born in Scotland, about 1856. I believe he was one of a family of Scots immigrant coal miners who settled in Lonaconing, Maryland in the late 1860s-early 1870s.

John McAlpine (b. abt. 1821, Scotland) came to Lonaconing with his seven  children, John Jr. (1845-1914), James, David, Walter, Agnes, Robert and George.

According to an obituary and notes on a memorial for David’s brother James McAlpine (1847-1932) their mother was Barbara Bell, and they were related through their mother to Alexander Graham Bell of telephone fame.

If this was David McAlpine’s wedding or engagement portrait, ca. 1885, then his companion would be Emily B. McAlpine (1860-1941).  Emily’s left hand rests against her white dress so as to show off several rings, a common pose in nuptial photographs.

David McAlpine died on 22 March 1899, and is buried in Old Coney Cemetery, Knapp’s Meadow, near Lonaconing. His death and life just prior are a mystery in themselves. According to the Genealogical Society of Allegany County’s “Allegany County Maryland Rural Cemeteries,” his grave marker in Old Coney Cemetery says “Co. B 1st Md. Inf. Span. Am. War.”

The roster of the 1st Maryland Infantry lists him as a private in Company D, but the grave marker reader may easily have mistaken a “D” for a “B.” The troops moved several times between mustering at Belair Md. in May 1898 and disbanding at Camp Mackenzie near Augusta Georgia in February 1899. So David McAlpine died less than a month after returning home to Lonaconing.

His death notice in the Cumberland, Md. Evening Times, obtained through Frostburg State University, makes no mention of his time in the army, saying only that he “had suffered from nervous prostration for the past four years.”

His death notice also mentions that he had served as janitor at the Allegany County Courthouse. This is the sort of political patronage job given to constituents who might have been unable to continue working because of disability.

Was his shattered mental health the result of a trauma such as a mining accident? The investigation continues.

Regardless of how and why he died, David McAlpine left his wife with five young children: Elsie Bell (McAlpine) Carpenter, Alice B. (McAlpine) Hardegen, Allan, Mable Edith (McAlpine) Duckworth, and Hila Madaris (McAlpine) Zimmerman Collett, all born between 1887 and 1895.

Thomas Ludwick Darnell was born near Poolesville in Montgomery County, Maryland, to Fielder Darnell (1798-1858) and Elizabeth  (Young) Darnell. Darnell, or Darnall, was an old, slave-holding Maryland family.According to Hartzler’s Marylanders in the Confederacy, Thomas served  as a private in Company B of the 2nd Maryland Cavalry during the Civil War.

Sometime between 1860, when he was working as a clerk in Washington, DC, and 1870, he settled in Cumberland as a professional photographer; his studio was for many years on Baltimore Street.  Assisted by his daughter Bertie and his son, William, Darnell produced untold numbers of cartes de visite and cabinet cards, as well as stereoviews of the developing coal regions of the Cumberland area.

He retired to Raleigh, North Carolina, several years before his death there in 1908. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, North Carolina, along with his wife, Adeline (Bartruff) Darnell, and four of his daughters.

Next up: “McAlpine Mystery House?”

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Ferdinand J. S. Gorgas, MD, DDS

Some of the lots of cabinet card portraits of dentists I’ve recently obtained have included unidentified men. Working off the theory that these individuals may also have been dentists, I started looking through digitized histories of the University of Maryland Dental Department and the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.

Jackpot. I was able to match this unidentified gentleman to portraits of the founding Dean of the Dental Department of the University of Maryland, Dr. Ferdinand James Samuel Gorgas (1834-1914).

Compare this image to one on page 400 of  University of Maryland 1807-1907: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, volume one, by Eugene Fauntleroy Cordell.

By its subject’s dress, my portrait appears to be of earlier date than the published and widely reprinted portrait of the venerated doctor.

Photographer James S. Cummins’ studio is known to have been located at 5 N. Charles Street ca. 1886-1887 (Kelbaugh, Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900). Given that a number of the portraits of dentists I’ve acquired relate to the University of Maryland Dental Department’s graduating class of 1888, it again seems plausible that Gorgas had his portrait taken around that time.

Dr. Gorgas’ biography and ancestry are well and widely known, so there is little need to belabor it here. He was born on 27 July 1835 in Winchester, Virginia to Mary Ann Smith and prosperous tinner and stove dealer John DeLancy Gorgas (b. abt. 1819, Md.); grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and attended Dickinson College here; graduated from the pioneering Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1855; was appointed Demonstrator there in 1857 and became a full professor in 1860.

Gorgas earned an MD from the University of Maryland in 1863 and served the Union as an assistant surgeon during the Civil War. In 1865, he returned to the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery as Dean, departing in 1882 to become founding Dean of the University of Maryland Dental Department (now the School of Dentistry), a post he held until 1911.

He wrote extensively on dentistry, revising seminal works by pioneer dentist Dr. Chapin Harris many times, and was one of the editors of the American Journal of Dental Science, one of the first professional academic journals on dentistry.

He and his wife, Anna (Swormstedt) Gorgas (1835-1909), had four children, of whom I have identified three: Ellen, Dr. Lawrence D. Gorgas, MD (1861-1924) and Herbert F. Gorgas, DDS (1857-1958). Only their two sons survived to adulthood. Anna, who married Dr. Gorgas in Jefferson County, Indiana in 1855,  was the daughter of Jefferson County, Indiana merchant Lorenzo Dow Swormstedt.

Dr. Gorgas belonged to the Oriental Grand Lodge of Masons, a lavish 1866 Second Empire-style edifice that is now part of the Tremont Plaza Hotel, on St. Paul Place. The building, designed by Peabody Institute architect Edmund G. Lind and expanded by Joseph Evans Sperry in 1909, was rescued from demolition and lavishly restored as meeting and event space in the late 1990s.

For many years the family lived on fashionable North Eutaw, and they may have attended Mt. Vernon Place Methodist Episcopal Church, Mount Vernon Place and Charles Street; the minister of that church presided over his funeral service. Ferdinand and Anna Gorgas are buried in Green Mount Cemetery; their two sons rest in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis

Based on records where his name appears, he preferred to be known as L. Wilson Davis (1862-1947), but Leonidas was his full first name.

Thanks to the thorough work of family historian and cemetery researcher Glenn Wallace, I was able to find Dr. Leonidas Wilson Davis’ grave in Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md., and from there, his family history unfolded.

Dr. Davis was the son of Frederick County, Maryland farmer Isaac Howard Davis (1818-1901) and Catherine (Miles) Davis (1822-1897).

L. Wilson Davis was a member of the University of Maryland Dental Department class of 1888, along with Frank Ryland Steel. He set up practice in Baltimore, and married Mary Harrison Griffith, daughter of merchant and Civil War veteran Francis Moore Griffith (1831-1908) and Elizabeth (Dickerson) Griffith of Beallsville, Montgomery County, Md.

Dr. Davis was interested in what became known as orthodontia, as well as the care of teeth as a public health concern. In 1900, he was part of a committee that authored a proposal for a pilot project for the examination of children’s teeth in Maryland schools, and for the education of children in dental hygiene.

Dr. Davis’ brother, Isaac Howard Davis Jr. (1859-1918), also became a dentist as well as an MD. Isaac Davis was part of the University of Maryland Department of Dentistry’s first graduating class in 1884, and was a professor of dentistry at the University of Maryland at the same time as Dr. John C. Uhler and Dr. James H. Harris, succeeding Dr. Harris as professor of Operative and Clinical Dentistry, a position he still held at the time of his death.

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers 1839-1900, Richard Walzl’s studios, where Dr. L. Wilson Harris had his portrait taken, were located at the addresses indicated on the bottom of the cabinet card ca. 1887-1893. This photograph of young Dr. Davis may well have been taken on the occasion of his graduation from dental school in 1888.

Dentists I Have Not Known: “I am yours very truly” James Howell Harris, MD, DDS

This cabinet card portrait of Dr. James Howell Harris, MD, DDS, is dated 2 March 1888, the date of the 1888 commencement ceremony for the Dental Department of the University of Maryland, where Dr. Harris was a founding faculty member.

Harris’ life and career are fairly well-documented in the history University of Maryland, 1807-1907.

Harris was born on 31 October 1834 in Albemarle County, Virginia, to blacksmith Alanson Harris (1811-1866) and Sophia Ann Harris (1815-1893).  In 1861, James Harris earned the newly-emerging credential of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the prestigious Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. He obtained a medical degree from the Baltimore College of Physicians and Surgeons.

After the Civil War, he taught at his dental alma mater, then in 1882  left to help organize the newly-formed Dental Department at the University of Maryland.

There he held a professorship of Operative and Clinical Dentistry until his death in Baltimore on 12 December 1910. He was a colleague of Dr. John Uhler, about whom I wrote in a recent post.

Fellow Virginian Dr. Charles Lowndes Steel, Sr. (1860-1904; DDS Baltimore College of Dental Surgery 1881), brother of  Dr. Frank Ryland Steel DDS (University of Maryland Dental Dept. Class of 1888) boarded in the Harris home  on North Eutaw, and married Dr. Harris’ daughter Ella Harris (1868-1924).

His brother, Franklin Lewis Harris (1848-1911; DDS 1870, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery) and two of his sons, Charles C. Harris and James Edwin Harris (DDS, 1884, University of Maryland Dental Dept.), followed him into the dental profession.

Several obituaries mention that Dr. Harris served in the Confederate Medical Corps (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910; Baltimore Sun 13 Dec 1910). I found a passing reference to his service in Company I of the 4th Virginia Cavalry (Marylanders in the Confederacy, Daniel Hartzler, 1986).

Harris is portrayed as a beloved  and devoted teacher who avoided public life.

Dr. Harris was, according to his biographer, “of a genial disposition and strong domestic habits” and an “active, enthusiastic and beloved teacher of successive classes of dental graduates.” 

One of his eulogists described him thus: “His students at the university were so deeply attached to him and he to them that they spent many of their evenings at his home” (Baltimore American 13 Dec 1910).

During his funeral, said the Sun, the senior class of the Dental Department gathered in front of his residence and marched “in a body” to Emmanuel Episcopal Church at Read and Cathedral streets “to pay their last respects” (Baltimore Sun 14 Dec 1910).

He is buried in Woodbine Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia, along with his second wife, Elizabeth Ann (Hardesty)  Harris (1841-1918).

According to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers, the studio of James S. Cummins‘ (1841-1895) was located at 5 N. Charles Street ca. 1886-1887, which fits nicely with my speculation that Dr. Harris gave this portrait as a token of affection to an unknown dental graduate in March 1888.

Dentists I Have Not Known: Dr. Frank Ryland Steel

Baltimore photographer William Ashman (1863-1902) took this cabinet card portrait identified in period ink on the reverse as Frank Ryland Steel (b. abt. 1867, Virginia), DDS. Steel may have sat for this photograph upon the occasion of his graduation from the Dental Department of the University of Maryland in March 1888.

After completing his studies, Frank followed his father,  George B. Steel (1835-1916), and his half-brother Charles Lowndes Steel (1860-1904) into the family dental practice in Richmond, Virginia. Charles had also studied in Baltimore–earning his DDS from the  Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1881.

Frank got his middle name from his mother, Martha “Mattie” Ryland Fleet (1839-1871). His father married three times in all, so the Steel household was a large one. All told, there were 12 siblings and half-siblings.

Frank Ryland Steel married a much younger woman, Dora Robertson,  in 1924; it appears they had no children, and by 1930 he was a widower, living alone in the small tidewater town of Urbanna, Virginia.

I have not been able to trace the Steels back beyond the census of 1860. Frank’s father George B. Steel was active in Richmond politics, and a 1911 campaign advertisement says only that George B. Steel’s father was “George Steel, a former merchant of this city” (Richmond Times Dispatch, 16 September 1911).

However ordinary his life appears, someone cared enough about Frank Ryland Steel to keep his portrait in their collection of dentists all these years.