Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Swann (1809-1883)
MSA SC 3520-1464

Source:  Wilbur F. Coyle, The Mayors of Baltimore
(Reprinted from The Baltimore Municipal Journal, 1919), 93-98.
 
Thomas Swann, Mayor of Baltimore, was inaugurated November 10th, 1856, and November 15th, 1868, serving until November 12th, 1860 (two terms).

During these administrations the Baltimore City Fire Department was organized, the "volunteer" system being abandoned and the "half-paid" system instituted.  The police and fire alarm telegraph was installed and other fire department apparatus was purchased.  The first steam fire engine for Baltimore arrived May 18th, 1858.  Druid Hill Park was acquired and opened October, 1860; the Jones Falls waterworks were begun and nearly completed and the construction of the Lake Roland Reservoir was started.  The first street railway in Baltimore was constructed and the first street cars were run in 1859.  A Park Tax was authorized.  (The plan of Mayor Swann concerning Park Tax is in effect today.  The revenue derived from a tax on the gross receipts of the railways is used for park purposes.)  Various public improvements which had been previously authorized were consummated during this period, including the construction of a new Western Female High School, Fayette near Paca street, (now used as the Fourth Maryland Regiment Armory) and a new market house at Lexington Market, while a floating school was added to the school system.  The harbor was dredged to a depth of twenty feet from Light street to Locust Point.  A pier at the foot of Broadway was leased to private parties for a ferry landing.

Ordinances passed authorized the reorganization of the *Police and Water Departments, also the establishment of a general system of grades of streets, alleys, etc.  The offices of Superintendents of Lamps were created and authority to appoint lamplighters was granted.  Street lighting, formerly under the care of the night watch was thus transferred to the Superintendents of Lamps, but these offices were still at that time under the control of the Police Board.  Provision for erecting a Male Central High School (now City College) and three other schoolhouses, also a Canton market house and a fish shed at Hollins Market was made.  Legislation for opening Republican Street (Carrollton Avenue), from Lexington to Franklin Streets; Carey and Calhoun Streets, from Lexington Street to the City limits; Townsend Street (now Lafayette Avenue), from Myrtle Avenue to the western City limits, was passed. The acceptance of the deed to Harford Turnpike, between Ensor Street and the City limits, was authorized.  The offices of Comptroller and Park Commissioners were created.  Laws originating a commission to report on a system of underground drainage (storm water sewers) were approved. 

The population of Baltimore in 1860 was 212,418.

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Thomas Swann was born in Alexandria, Virginia, February 3rd, 1809.  He died July 24th, 1883, at his estate "Morven Park" near Leesburg, Loudon County, Virginia.  His body rests in Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore.

He was the son of Thomas Swann, of Alexandria, Va., United States District Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Jane Byrd Page.  He married first, Elizabeth Gilmor Sherlock, May 20th, 1834.  She died April 26th, 1876.  June 20th, 1878, he married Mrs. John R. Thompson, of Trenton, N. J.

Mr. Swann was a leading lawyer and financier, and his career was marked by great activity.  Coming to Baltimore from Virginia, he became financially and otherwise interested in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, in 1847 becoming president of that system.  It was during his administration that the construction of the road over the Allegheny mountains was carried out.

In 1853 he resigned and became president of the North Western Virginia Railroad, and later president of the First National Bank of Baltimore, and a director of the Merchants Bank.  Mr. Swann had a most varied, and at times exciting political career, which was not unusual in those days, since politics was generally at fever heat and issues and political creeds changed rapidly.  It was not surprising, therefore, that a man of Mr. Swann's forceful characteristics should find himself classified with various political schools.  He was, at different periods, a member of the American, the Union, the Republican and the Democratic parties, being the standard bearer of each at different times. 

The first public office he held was Secretary of the United States Commission at Naples; and in 1837 was presidential elector from Maryland.

In 1856 he was elected Mayor of Baltimore for two years by the American Party and was re elected in 1858. Mr. Swann was elected Governor of Maryland in 1864 on the Union (or Republican) ticket, and in 1865 he renounced his allegiance to the Republican and joined the Democratic Party which (by the Legislature) chose him United States Senator in 1867, but he declined the office.

**It is claimed that a plan of Governor Swann's political enemies was to elect him United States Senator (after he had resigned as Governor) then manipulate matters so that he would not be seated.  This alleged scheme to get Governor Swann out of both offices was not consummated.  He scented the plot, it is said, and refused to resign, and thus, as one explains, "let the State go to the Republicans."  In November, 1868, he was Congressman and was re-elected four times on the Democratic ticket.

*Refers to changing from night watch to patrol system, etc.  In 1860 the control of the Police Department was taken from the City and placed under the State Government.  A Board of three Commissioners is now appointed by the Governor, and the municipality has no part in the management of the force, despite the fact that the Department is financed entirely by the taxpayers of Baltimore.

**Kentís The Story of Maryland Politics.

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