Men of Mark in Maryland
- Bernard C. Steiner, PhD, 1907
Benjamin Franklin NEWCOMER - Baltimore's commercial prominence has been gained by the concentration of energy upon a few industries, in which all rival cities have been outdistanced, rather than through any endeavor to compete with other centers for general trade in all commodities and products. Among the architects of the city's importance as a grain center were the Newcomers including, among other members of the family, the late B. F. NEWCOMER who acquired, through his commercial enterprises, a fortune which enabled him in later years to become one of the most influential capitalists of the South. Benjamin Franklin NEWCOMER was born at Beaver Creek, Washington county, on April 28, 1827, the son of John and Catherine (NEWCOMER) NEWCOMER. His parents were first cousins, being grandchildren of Wolfgang NEWCOMER, who came from Switzerland to Philadelphia about 1720. John NEWCOMER was an influential man in Washington county, owning large estates and conducting a flour mill near his home at Beaver Creek. He founded the flour and grain commission firm of Newcomer & Stonebraker in Baltimore. Washington county chose him as its sheriff, county commissioner, state senator, and a member of the convention which framed the State Constitution of 1851.
B. F. NEWCOMER, who was known to his friends as 'Frank', spent a life which has been characterized as valuable as an example to every young man "in its very simplicity and unwavering devotion to its one ideal of duty, crowned as it was with richly deserved success". His mother was a woman of a "beautiful Christian character, combined with a gentle firmness and strong, practical, common sense", and to her training, example, and love, Mr. Newcomer attributed much of the development of his own character and those qualities which fitted him for his success in life. The Newcomers lived in Hagerstown from 1829 to 1834 and then resumed their residence at Beaver Creek where the son was educated at the county school. He early acquired the habit of hard work and displayed a firm determination to excell. After school hours he labored on the farm or looked after the mill. When his father was sheriff, he frequently traveled over the county summoning juries or witnesses. He was sworn in as a deputy sheriff, at the early age of ten years. In 1837, the family again removed to Hagerstown; and in 1840, young Newcomer entered the Hagerstown Academy where he remained for a year, intending to be a civl engineer. In March 1841 however, when the family returned to Beaver Creek for a second time, the son chose to go out on the farm rather than to remain at the academy. A few months afterward, John NEWCOMER wished to send someone to Baltimore to spend a few months looking after his business interests there and accepted the son's offer of his services. This step fixed B. F. NEWCOMER's residence in Baltimore and gave him much coveted mercantile opportunities. He took hold of the flour and grain business with great energy, and in a few years built up so large a business that the house of Newcomer & Stonebraker did about one-tenth of the flour business of the city. He purchased his father's interest in the firm, giving notes for the value of that interest and agreeing to pay, in addition, the sum of one thousand dollars a year for the use of his name, until he reached the age of twenty-one.
On November 14, 1848, Mr. Newcomer married Amelia Louisa EHLEN, daughter of John H. EHLEN of Baltimore, by whom he had three daughters and one son, Waldo NEWCOMNER. Mrs. Newcomer died on October 20, 1881. On February 9, 1887, Mr. Newcomer married Mrs. Sidonia KEMP, widow of Morris J. KEMP and daughter of Charles AYRES. The second Mrs. Newcomer died on February 7, 1898.
Realizing, while still a young man, that his education was incomplete, Mr. Newcomer joined the Mercantile Library, and became a regular reader there, attending its course of lectures upon natural philosophy, astronomy, and chemistry. Later he became a director of the library. In 1854, at the age of twenty-seven, he was elected a director of the Union Bank - afterwards known as the National Union Bank of Maryland - being the youngest member of the Board.
The firm of Newcomer & Stonebraker was dissolved in 1862 and Mr. Newcomer continued the business alone, trading as Newcomer & Company. The flour business was discontinued in 1896, but the firm continued in existence, junior partners having been admitted from time to time and the firm keeping Mr. Newcomer's accounts and funds for financiering his railroad interests. In 1853, Mr. Newcomer became a member of the first Board of Directors of the Corn and Flour Exchange; and in 1879, he was a member of a committee which recommended the purchase of the present site and the erection of the building destroyed in the great fire of 1904.
For many years Mr. Newcomer was in close touch with the interests of the Pennsylvania Railroad System, though never an official of that road. In 1861, he was elected director of the Northern Central Railway Company and was made chairman of its finance committee, which position he held continuously - except for a period of voluntary retirement from the Board during the four years from 1874 to 1878 - until his death. He conducted the negotiations for most of the real estate purchased by that company in Baltimore during the period of his directorship. He was also a director of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, and a member of its finance committee from 1882 until his death; and for many years a director of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Company. In 1895, he succeeded to the presidency of the latter company. Mr. Newcomer was president of the Union Railroad Company from 1882 until his death and, in this capacity, persistently declined to accept any salary; but, had an annual dinner given to the stockholders and other friends at the expense of the road in lieu of a salary to himself. The resolutions, adopted by these companies in memory of him, asserted that "His sound judgment, ripe experience and quick perception rendered him a most valuable and trusted counsellor". "Mr. Newcomer added to his well known financial acumen, combined with broad, fair minded, judicial temperment, a most charming personality that impressed all with whom he was brought into business relationship".
Mr. Newcomer's great railroad achievement, however, was connected with the building up of the Atlantic Coast Line System. After the close of the Civil War, when Southern Railroad property was in a deplorable condition, a meeting of a number of Baltimoreans was held, on September 14, 1868, to consider the possibility of rehabilitating the Wilmington and Weldon and the Wilmington and Manchester Railroads. It was resolved to form a syndicate to purchase these railroads, on condition that Mr. Newcomer would act as trustee and conduct the negotiations. Mr. William T. WALTERS became co-trustee. The work was taken up and, on April 26, 1870, a meeting of the syndicate authorized the re-organization of the railroads under new charters and the Southern Railway Security Company was formed. The fruits of the enterprise were not realized as had been hoped and, in 1878, it was necessary to wind up the company's affairs and pay its debts.
Not discouraged by the syndicate's lack of success, Messrs. Newcomer and Walters formed another syndicate and, by close personal attention and hard work, were able to commence the regular payment of dividends in 1882. To simplify the complicated relations existing among the various railroad properties, a proprietary company to own and hold the securities of these companies was planned and, in April, 1891, the American Improvement and Construction Company was organized under the authority of a resolution of the General Assembly of Connecticut. This company's name was afterwards changed to the Atlantic Coast Line Company. In July 1898, the railroads of the Atlantic Coast Line in the state of South Carolina were consolidated under the name of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of South Carolina and, in November 1898, those in Virginia were consolidated as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company of Virginia. In May 1900, the consolidation of all the properties was completed, under the name of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company; its main lines extending from Richmond and Norfolk to Charleston. Mr. Newcomer was president of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Company from December 1888 to February 12, 1890, vice-president and treasurer of the Atlantic Coast Line Company, and director of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and subsidiary companies. Mr. Newcomer was also a director of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company and of the Plant Investment Company for many years. His relations with William T. WALTERS have already been referenced. They were personal friends, served together as City Finance Commissioners from 1867 to 1869, and were closely associated in railroad projects in the South and other enterprises until Mr. Walters' death in 1894. Through this friendship for Mr. Walters, Mr. Newcomer became a personal friend of William H. RHINEHART, the sculptor, and after his death, Messrs. Newcomer and Walters were the executors of Rhinehart's estate.
In 1864, Mr. Newcomer became one of the incorporators of the Safe Deposit Company of Baltimore. Later it appeared that there was a field for an incorporated company which should act as trustee or executor and an amendment to the company's charter permitting it to accept trusts of estates was granted by the General Assembly in 1868. In July of that year, Mr. Newcomer was elected president of the company and, under his direction, the trust department became so importatnt that, in 1876, the name of the corporation was changed to the Safe Deposit and Trust Company of Baltimore. Mr. Newcomer was president of this company for thirty-three years. He did not hold a controlling interest in the stock and received no salary for the first eleven years of his presidency. After his death, his fellow members of the Board of Directors said that "it was as President of this company that he was most appreciated in this community, and its history is the record of the most active part of his long, useful and busy life; its growth and its standing is the most enduring monument to his wisdom and intelligence, to his integrity and industry, and to the loyalty with which he guarded every interest confided to his care." Although he avoided directorates as far as possible, he served on numerous boards, but never allowed his name to be connected with anything to which he could not give his attention. Among such positions were a directorship in the Savings Bank of Baltimore and a trusteeship of the Johns Hopkins University, in which latter position he served from April 2, 1894, until his death. His associates in the Board put on record their belief that "he will be remembered as a man devoted to business, who found the time and showed the dispositon to advance the education and the charities of the community by his gifts, by his sympathies, by his suggestions and by his influence."
Mr. Newcomer's natural sympathy for those who were afflicted was made stronger in the case of the blind by the fact that he had a brother and a sister without sight, and he gave hearty encouragement to Mr. David LOUGHERY, a blind man, who proposed that a school for the blind be established in Baltimore. Together they worked to arouse popular interest and, as a result of their efforts, the General Assembly incorporated the Maryland School for the Blind in 1853. Mr. Newcomer was secretary of the Board at its organization, became its treasurer in 1864, and its president in 1881. He continued in the latter position until his death, when he had been a member of the Board for forty-eight years. In 1894, he gave $20,000 towards the erection of an additional building for the school and he was always keenly interested in its welfare. He was a generaous man, who discriminated closely in his charity and regarded his wealth as a most important trust, which it was his duty to administer as wisely as possible. To the Hospital for Consumptives he gave $20,000 and to the Washington County Home for Orphans and Friendless Children he gave $10,000; but his greatest gift was one of $50,000 to build a library in Hagerstown for the benefit of all portions of his native county, which library, with characteristic modesty, he insisted should not be named after him. It was incorporated as the Washington County Free Library in 1900 and has been rendering a most useful service to the poeple of the county since its opening in 1901. Mr. Newcomer was an earnest Christian, and was a member of the Christian or Campbellite Church, though he usually attended the Lutheran church of which his first wife was a member. In politics he was a Democrat.
Mr. Newcomer possessed a vigorous constitution, and his regular and temperate manner of life kept him free from illness and enabled him to accomplish a great amount of work. Toward the close of his life, his eyesight failed him in great measure, but his general health continued good until March 29, 1901, when he was suddenly stricken with paralysis. He died the following day in his seventy-fourth year.
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