Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George A. Frederick (1842-1924)
MSA SC 3520-13813

Extended Biography:

George Frederick was born on December 16, 1842, to German immigrants from Bavaria that settled in Baltimore.  As a child his parents called him Volishis Georg, but before entering his apprenticeship he Americanized his name to George Aloysius, remaining George A. Frederick for the rest of his life.  His father was employed as a clerk and supported seven children: George, Mary, Alphonse Joseph, Wilhemena, Anna, Catherine, and Cecelia.  Alphonse would become a Sulpician priest at St. Charles College in Catonsville, taking the name Reverend Joseph A. Frederick.  The German Catholic roots nurtured in George's youth would influence the work he accepted throughout his career.  He was educated at the Christian Brothers School in Baltimore until 1858 when he was accepted as an apprentice in Lind & Murdoch's architecture firm of Baltimore.  Without formal architectural schools, apprenticeship was the most common way to enter the building profession.  For the next four years he worked under this firm and had some experience also with Niernsee & Neilson of Baltimore.

The young architect left his apprenticeship around 1863 with a masterful command of architecture and set up his own practice.  At that time, Baltimore architects and builders looked to the City Council's arrangements for a new City Hall, with a budget estimated at $1,000,000, as the most enticing public project.  The first competition to plan City Hall was in 1860, but the winner, William T. Marshall, fled from Baltimore during the Civil War.  The second City Hall competition failed to elicit any entrants as the chaos of army movement to and from Gettysburg overwhelmed the city.  Finally, a July 1, 1864, deadline was set for the third and final competition. At the age of twenty-one, Frederick submitted a design and beat out the more experienced bidders for the commission.  Mayor Chapman and City Council summoned Frederick on September 18, 1865, to explain his plans and make any corrections.  After doing so Frederick was commissioned as architect for City Hall on a two percent commission, paid monthly as work progressed.  His plan was in the French Renaissance style of the Second Empire, capped by a cupola; the latter is thought to be inspired by the by the construction of the United States Capital building dome begun in 1856.  It was constructed with Baltimore County marble (also referred to as Beaver Dam Marble) and Falls Road bluestone.  Baltimore carpenter J.M. Sudsberg designed and carved the doors bearing the seal of Baltimore and Battle Monument.  Remarkably, the building was designed to be fireproof, the first municipal building so built in the nation.  The Building Committee appointed him consulting architect in 1867 and as with many of his other projects, Frederick remained involved throughout the construction of his plans.  On October 18th of that year the cornerstone was laid.  Though an address by Hon. J.H.B. Latrobe and  Masonic rituals provided a spectacle to draw the crowds to the cornerstone laying ceremony, The Sun believed that the small crowd of onlookers represented the populace's view that a new City Hall at $1,000,000 was an unnecessary expenditure when economic strains from the war still crippled the city.  In the summer of 1868 The Sun's fears were realized.  The entirety of the Building Committee was forced to resign after charges of fraud revealed that they did not choose the lowest bidding contractors for marble, brick, lumber, and cement.  Frederick was partly to blame for the brick contract.  He used the term "common red" brick on his list of materials needed for the structure, when in fact no red bricks were used.  Not knowing this, the Building Committee paid $8,188 for unneeded red bricks.  Construction went on despite this setback.  The new Building Committee included three mechanics to provide expertise and prevent a similar mistake.  The building was finished in 1875, and to the surprise of the municipality, cost only $2,271,135.64 out of a total appropriation of $2,500,000 (the budget was expanded as construction progressed).  The Building Committee and Frederick were seen as heroes for leaving $228,864.36 as a surplus to the city.  A grand ceremony handing over the new City Hall from the Building Committee to Latrobe, representing the people of Baltimore, took place on October 26, 1875.  Governor James Black Groome headed the procession, followed by the two regiments from Fort McHenry, civic and trade groups of the city, and the Baltimore Fire Department.

Governor Groome recognized the talent of an architect that could take on such a large undertaking and stay under budget.  As a member of the state Board of Public Works, he quickly hired Frederick even before the completion of City Hall.  Unfortunately for Groome, Frederick's notoriety in state projects came from grossly exceeding appropriations rather than finishing with a surplus.  He was commissioned as architect for the House of Correction in Jessup, Anne Arundel County, in 1875.  Though not related to Frederick's actions, the Board of Public Works came under scrutiny in their management of this project. On July 17, 1875 the individual members of the Board of Public Works—Governor James Black Groome, Treasurer Barnes Compton, and Comptroller Levin Woolford—filed  suits of libel against Charles C. and Albert K. Fulton, proprietors of the Baltimore American, claiming $20,000 each in damages. The conflict originated in a letter to the editor and follow-up article published in the American on June 26 and June 28, 1875.  Both charged the overseers of the new House of Correction in Jessup with mismanagement at best, political corruption at worst.

The June 26th letter to the editor, signed Anti-Monopoly, criticized the poor choice of land without clay or lumber—both were needed to construct the new buildings—but revealed a more questionable action by the Democratic Board of Public Works.  Instead of directly buying the land for the House of Correction from the owner, the government allowed it to first pass to a "prominent Republican from Anne Arundel County" for $12,000; only then did the Trustees charged with buying the land for the state purchase the site from this Republican for $13,000.  What, asked Anti-Monopoly, happened to that $1000?  The purchase became even more disturbing as land records revealed that these two purchases—from Martin P. Scott to George T. Warfield, then from Warfield to Trustees George William Brown, George S. Brown and Robert T. Baldwin—both occurred on December 3, 1874.  This made the passage through a middleman, one who had also held political office, seem planned rather than coincidental.  The follow-up piece by the Baltimore American on June 28th could not answer any of Anti-Monopoly's queries, but divulged an additional misstep of the Board.  Mr. Henry E. Loane, Democratic delegate from Baltimore City in 1874 and 1876, received the contract for building the House of Correction.  The American affirmed that another person offered to do the work for several thousand less, but was rejected.  Perhaps, the newspaper wondered, rumors were true and the lower bidder took instead the superintendent's position at $2500.  Either way, some type of party favoritism seemed suspect. "In these days of 'rings' and 'ringmasters,'" concluded the article, "a coincidence like this is certain to provoke comment."

Besides Frederick as architect, two other firms worked on the House of Correction.  Codling & Loane, the builders, received at least $53,548 in payment for work done and materials furnished for the project. An E.E. Anderson also appears in the Paying Warrants and received $3000 for his work done on the House of Correction grounds.  None of these persons was identified as the supervisor at Jessup.

Forming yet another strange twist in this case, Trustee George William Brown intended to put in a proposal for the building contract, but on May 13, 1875, the Board rejected Brown & Co. because it had failed to present the names of all in the firm and had not substantiated a bond with the bid.  Two other companies, J.H. Horton & Co. and Thomas Binyion & Co., also failed in this requirement, leaving Codling & Loane with the contract.  Perhaps one of these was the lower bidders mentioned in the American that instead was employed as superintendent.

After the officials filed their suits against the Fultons, the case was settled in open court on February 17, 1876.  The Hagerstown Mail chastised the Board for failing to be open to public criticism, a requirement of American officeholders.  A day after the court agreement, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Board of Public Works was expected to petition for an extra $200,000 over the $250,000 appropriation in order to complete the House of Correction as planned.   Though optimistic at staying on budget in 1876, Comptroller Woolford’s 1877 Annual Report recognized that nearly the whole of the budget had been spent and “a considerable sum will be necessary to furnish the building and provide heat, water and light, so as to fit the institution for the reception of prisoners.”  That considerable sum was expected to total $25,000 in 1878 and another $86,000 in 1879.

Not deterred by the overspending, or at least not blaming it on Frederick, the Board hired him again in 1877 to design the repairs to the State House in Annapolis.  Frederick was likely an apprentice to Lind & Murdoch when they worked on the octagonal library in the State Housein 1858.  In 1876 Governor Groome signed into law an act appropriating $32,000 for the repairs.  After a year of delays, Frederick was finally instructed to contract with various builders in April 1877.  Once work began, Frederick and the Board quickly realized that the building was in much worse condition than imagined.  The cellar was too small to hold a heater, the floors had settled unevenly and were unsafe, and the roof was covered with tin which leaked and rotted the wood underneath.  In fact, the American Architect and Building News reported that as Frederick worked on the repairs he discovered that the roof had been renewed three times, but each time the old shingles had been left underneath.  The architect later commented "that under such conditions the State House had not resolved itself into a holocaust was a surprise to the architects when employed and of necessity made familiar with such surroundings." Once the building was stripped to address these repairs and install heating, it needed to be plastered and painted.  Though the original intention had been to preserve the Senate Chamber and other historic rooms in their original Revolutionary appearance, as Groome testified on behalf of the Board of Public Works, having redone the entire building it would seem awkward to simply put back the old furniture.  “We could have finished in a plain, simple and Quaker-like way,” he said, “But…if we did the work slovenly and in a plain manner, we did not think we would be justified in exceeding the appropriation.”

And they certainly exceeded the appropriation.  The budget of $32,000 more than tripled to $111,388.29.  In 1878 the House of Delegates appointed a Select Committee to Investigate the Repairs upon the State House.  They heard testimony from the Board of Public Works, Frederick, and all contractors involved in the repairs.  After concluding that it was not the 1876 Legislatures fault for appropriating so little money—they had no way of knowing the extent of the building's damage—and pardoning the Board of Public Works for simply insuring the safety of elected officials, the Select Committee placed blame squarely on the architect, George Frederick.  While the government officials were not to blame for failing to realize the magnitude of the repairs until the building was torn apart, Frederick should not have put in such a low bid.  The Committee questioned both the Board and Frederick on the 5% commission for the project, implying that he added costs in order to raise his compensation.  Frederick later claimed that he worked harder on the State House project than any other in his life.  As with the House of Correction, Frederick made sure his contractors were paid in full for their time and materials.  The architect himself, held by a verbal agreement rather than written contract as was common in his profession, never received payment for working on the State House.

Rightfully dissatisfied with these experiences, Frederick did not work again with the state government.  He had married Mary E. Everist in 1865 and their first and only child, Katherine, was born in 1876.  Privately funded  projects closer to their home in Baltimore formed the bulk of his employment over the next twenty years.  His previous projects in Baltimore included Hollins Market; Gottschalk, Donnell and German Correspondent buildings; Baltimore City College; Baltimore City Hall; the Edgar Allen Poe Monument; and the Abell Building.  The Abell Building warehouses were known for their remarkable combination of materials (Baltimore brick, bluestone, white marble, and terra-cotta trim) and styles (Neo-Grec and Italianate).  He planned the Rennert Hotel on Fayette Street in 1885.   The U.S. Marine Hospital in Baltimore was also a work of Frederick.

Two notable residences designed by Frederick were the Bauernschmidt House and Cylburn.  The former, located at Broadway and North Avenue, was the home of a Baltimore German American beer baron John Bauernschmidt.  Frederick designed Cylburn in 1863, his first year out of apprenticeship, but the Civil War interrupted its construction.  Industrialist Jesse Tyson originally planned the summer home for his mother as a retreat from the heat of the inner city, but the delay meant that the home was instead used to welcome his new bride.  Cylburn was not completed until 1889, the year Jesse, in his sixties, married nineteen year old debutante Edyth Johns.  The couple decorated their lavish Italianate and Second Empire style home with imported European furniture, no doubt to impress high society summer visitors from Baltimore.

In contrast to these commercial buildings and private homes, Frederick also maintained a relationship with the roots of his family: German Catholics.  Greisenheim, a home for aged Germans, Baltimore's German Orphan Asylum and the German Correspondent (German language newspaper) building reflected ties to his parents' homeland.  He designed a number of buildings for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  His churches include St. Pius, St. James and St. John's Church , St. James the Lesser, and Fourteen Holy Martyrs.   St. James and St. John's, a Redemptorist church, catered to the neighborhood German Catholics.  Whiteford Hall, a school at St. Joseph's Monastery, was completed in 1890.  St. Joseph's Hospital, now relocated as Towson Medical Center, was also a Catholic enterprise finished in 1871.  In 1890 he entered a competition to plan Catholic University in Washington, D.C., but was beat by fellow Baltimore architects Baldwin & Pennington.

Despite his aversion to state commissions, Frederick continued to work for Baltimore City as the Architect for the Baltimore Park Commission, a position he held from 1863-1895.  He worked on projects in Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park and Federal Hill Park.  It is thought that the fanciful, Oriental pavilions and greenhouse in Druid Hill Park are his design.  He represented Maryland in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia by designing a building to represent the state.  In 1893 he planned the Maryland Exposition Building at the Chicago World's Fair.

Given Frederick's history of involvement in projects under investigation, it would seem that the rest of his career would display similar discrepencies.  On the contrary, the only Baltimore City Court Case involving Frederick as defendent was a simple equity case in which he had not paid a carpenter, Joseph M. Sudsburg, $170.00 for cabinets.

Frederick retired around 1903.  He had been a charter member of the Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects since 1868, and was given a Fellowship in 1877.  Later in his career he sat on the Board of Directors.  In 1913 he recorded his Recollections of Baltimore architects from the mid- to late nineteenth century for the A.I.A.  On February 24, 1923, he lost his wife of fifty-eight years to a brain hemorrhage.  A year later, on August 17th, he died of the same cause and was interred in New Cathedral Cemetery.  He was survived by his daughter Katherine, brother Rev. Joseph Frederick, and sister Miss Philomena Frederick.  Though he witnessed the Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroy many of his creations, one obituary proclaimed that “Mr. George A. Frederick in his long life of eighty-one years never had to complain of lack of employment or lack of appreciation."
 
 

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