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Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s York County Connection

Pennsylvania portion of Latrobe map (Maryland Historical Society)

U.S. Capitol
White House interiors, furniture
Dickinson College Main Hall
Bank of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia)
Philadelphia Water Works
St. Johns, Lafayette Square, D.C.
Baltimore Cathedral
Ringgold Mansion, St. James, Md.
State Petitionary, Richmond, Va.
Exchange and Custom House, Baltimore
Nassau Hall, Princeton (redid)

What do the buildings above have in common? They are just some of the projects wholly designed or worked on by famed early 19th century architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

As I related in my previous blog post and York Sunday News column on Latrobe, his prime connection with York County wasn’t a building, but his 1801 channel clearing and mapping of the lower Susquehanna, specifically the stretch from Columbia to the Mason-Dixon Line.

Before he was an architect, he was trained as a hydraulic engineer in Europe, so he was well equipped to take on the Susquehanna project. Besides the resulting map, 17 feet long, Latrobe also left behind copious drawings, journals and letters, many of which are now at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

Through these documents we get to know Latrobe as a person who was as passionate about his family as he was his work. One letter, quoted in Talbot Hamlin’s 1955 biography of Latrobe, was written from Burkhalter’s Tavern on the York County shore on November 10, 1801 to his wife Mary Hazelhurst Latrobe in Philadelphia. It clearly shows how much he misses her:

“If I could bring myself to anyone but you, I could furnish a letter entertaining enough… . the very reception we have met with has been so various that I could fill a letter with descriptions of character & manners, that would often make you laugh… . But after writing the first words of my letter, after calling you, my dearest Mary, my beloved wife, the whole world vanishes from my imagination, and I see none but you. I seem to stretch my arms from the rocky walls of the Susquehannah in vain towards you, all my spirits, and strength exhaust themselves in the exertion, and I scarcely am capable of guiding my pen, just to give a bare dry narrative of our daily labors….
When I think of you, my dearest love, my heart melts with tenderness, such as I never before knew; but it soon rests itself firmly on that superiority of mind, that soundness of reasoning, and that command of your feelings that I know you to possess, and then I take my level on my shoulders and march forth as strong as a lion to push forward to the end of my labor, when your arms and your kisses, if I dare to think of them shall reward all my fatigues. Oh my love! What virtue can deserve such a woman as you are! Were I but half worthy of you, how superior to all I should be, and how just would be my pride… .
I pray God you may have been well. Love to the children and to our father and mother and to the boys [the Hazlehursts],
Your most tenderly affectionate husband.”

If you would like to learn more about Latrobe and his lower Susquehanna map, I will be doing a PowerPoint presentation twice this month on the subject: Sunday, October 7 for the South Central Pennsylvania Genealogy Society at York County Heritage Trust, 250 East Market Street, York (business meeting at 2:15 p.m., the program will begin around 2:30) and also on Thursday, October 25 for the Red Lion Area Historical Society at St. John’s UCC Church, 161 N. Main Street, Red Lion at 7:30 p.m. Both programs are free and open to the public.