Friday, February 24, 2017

Harry Goldsborough’s Bloodlines Ran Maryland Rye

The scion of a distinguished American family but orphaned and on his own in his mid-teens, Henry P. “Harry” Goldsborough seemingly found his manhood in Texas but made his fortune in Baltimore producing and selling Maryland rye whiskey.

Shown left, Harry was born in Maryland in 1859, the fourth in the line of children of William S. and Sarah R. (Pascault) Goldsborough, his father a prosperous farmer in Queen Ann County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  The Goldsboroughs were descended from an English Catholic family of eleven generations in America, an ancestry that claimed a background of European nobility and produced six governors of Maryland.  As he grew up Harry might have imagined a bright future for himself.

In 1867 when Harry was only ten, however, his father died at the age of 48, leaving his minor children solely in the care of his widow, Sarah, who remained with her family on the Eastern Shore.  Four years later she was dead and Harry at 14 years was orphaned and thrown on his own resources.  He soon moved to Baltimore and found work.

After several years in Baltimore, the young man grew restless.  Perhaps lured by the adventure stories of the West that were a staple of the dime novels boys read, Goldsborough fixed on Texas as his land of opportunity, one thousand miles away.  He chose to settle at Ennis, a small town in Ellis County in the northeast part of the state.   The railroad had reached Ennis in 1872 and the locale was registering something of a population boom, growing from 300 in 1874 to 3,000 in 1890.  The map below shows the town as it looked about the time Harry arrived.

Energetic and intelligent, Goldsborough took advantage of the opportunities offered by the frontier atmosphere, working initially as a field hand and as he accumulated resources moving into other occupations, including running a business that moved houses from place to place using rollers and horses.

Meanwhile, Harry was continuing to be in touch with a childhood sweetheart.  She was Helena Elizabeth McManus, the eleventh child of Dr. Felix R. McManus, Maryland’s first homeopathic physician.  In 1879, Harry returned to Maryland to marry Helena.  He was 23, she was 25.  Of her it was said “And never was more vitality, love of life, and love of family contained in one human being than in this young bride, whose head did not reach to her husband’s tall shoulders.”

When Goldsborough’s business interests drew him back to Texas, Helena was by his side as the people of Ellis gathered at the small railroad station to serenade the newlyweds with a brass band when they arrived.  Her letters back home indicate the Wild West environment that still prevailed in Ennis County where her husband more than once, she reported, was required to fight for his rights.

After the birth of their first child, Agnes, in 1879 the thrill of their Texas adventure began to pall.  Agnes was a fussy baby and it was concluded that the climate did not agree with her.  Helena also may have yearned to be closer to her family and the gentility and culture of Maryland.  Goldsborough liquidated his Texas enterprises and the family returned to Baltimore.  There he looked around to invest his profits.

Meanwhile a Baltimorean named George J. Records with a partner had established a liquor house at 116 Light Street, advertising as “rectifiers, distillers and wholesalers.”  Goldsborough invested in the company and within a few months had bought out the partner, the firm about 1885 becoming Records & Goldsborough.  About the same time, reputedly at Harry’s instigation, the company introduced its “Melrose” brand, the label that made the company a national reputation.  The name was derived from Melrose Road, on which sat an ancestral English mansion of the Goldsboroughs.
Melrose Rye was an unabashedly “rectified” product, that is, a mix of as many as five different whiskeys and a special unspecified “blending agent” said to consolidate the aromas, flavors, body and taste of the five into the distinctive characteristics Records & Goldsborough desired. Like some other Maryland ryes, Melrose was a deep red color.  The partners packaged their whiskey in quart bottles and flasks, originally with paper labels and embossed on the glass with the house name and other information.

Like many rectifiers Records & Goldsborough may have had problems obtaining raw whiskey for blending.  Although Maryland boasted a number of distilleries, competition by wholesalers for their output could be fierce and drive up prices.  The partners were keen to own a plant themselves.  The opportunity presented itself in 1897 when Edwin Walters, another well known Baltimore whiskey man, [See my post October 2014]  died from injuries in a buggy accident and his survivors put his Canton Distillery up for sale.

This facility was located in a neighborhood along Baltimore’s outer harbor in the southeastern section of the city about two miles from downtown.  In 1785, an Irish merchant named John O'Donnell had settled in Baltimore and began trading with merchants in the Chinese port of Guangzou, then called Canton.  Eventually a number of waterfront industries developed there, including Walter’s distillery.   Records & Goldsborough joined a syndicate of two other Baltimore liquor houses to buy the plant, changing the name from Orient Distilleries to Canton Distilleries.  Shown here is an illustration of the complex as it looked about the time of the sale.

With an more assured source of whiskey for blending, the partners were able to expand the number of proprietary brands beyond Melrose offered to the public.  Among them them were “Happy Days Rye,”  “Mountain Hill,” “Gold Medal,” “Kentucky Crown,” “Maryland Golden Age,” “Maryland Pride,” “Old Record Rye,” and “R and G.”  Those brands generally were sold in glass bottles; Happy Days was given an attractive ceramic jug with an elaborate underglaze illustration of “scholars” drinking and smoking.  To advertise Melrose Rye the partners issued fancy etched shot glasses to prime customers, such as saloons and restaurants stocking their whiskey.

Meanwhile Harry was having an active personal life.  The diminutive Helen bore him eleven children, all of whom lived to maturity.  Shown here, the family lived in a large town house on St. Paul Avenue, a scene described by a relative:  “…The dining room resembled that of a hotel rather than a private home, when all members of the family were seated at the table…And parties—the Goldsborough home was open house on Christmas and New Years, with all friends welcome to drop in….”  We can assume that Melrose Rye was served on such occasions.


In February 1904, Records & Goldsborough suffered a setback when the Great Baltimore Fire ravaged a large section of downtown Baltimore destroying parts of Light Street, including their building.  By the following year, however, the partners had rebuilt, their new address becoming 36 Light Street, their location for remaining years.  From there, for the first time, they trademarked two brands, Melrose in 1906 and Happy Days in 1907.

In April 1909, George Records died at the age of 59, the cause given in the press was “hemorrhages.”  Because Records and his wife were childless, ownership of the liquor house devolved to Goldsborough as a sole proprietor.  Harry, by contrast, had plenty of children and as his sons matured he brought them into the firm.  Two of them, Felix Vincent and William Yerbury Goldsborough showed particular affinity for the liquor trade.  Under their father’s watchful eye, they learned the business “from the ground up,” including hauling barrels, labeling bottles and keeping the books.  William, from the beginning is said to have demonstrated an exception ability at the rectifying process.   His older brother Felix exhibited skills attuned to management.  Later a third brother, George J., was added to the young Goldsboroughs working for their father.

World War I interrupted this family affair.  William, George and a third brother, Leroy, enlisted.  William and Leroy joined the Army;  George became an instructor in the Air Corps.  As a result of their service, William suffered a permanent eye injury and Leroy was killed.  Felix, married with children and in 1915 named the president of the company, stayed home to run the liquor business.

As he aged, Harry Goldsborough’s health deteriorated and he died in 1917 at only 58 years.  He was buried in Baltimore’s Cathedral Cemetery, Section MM, while his widow, children and grandchildren mourned at his burial site.  His gravestone is shown here.  Helena would join him in the plot four years later.

With the end of World War One, William and George came home to help Felix in operating Records & Goldsborough, then reported to have been “in the full bloom of its success.”  With the coming of National Prohibition, however, the company was forced to shut its doors in 1919.  The last transaction listed for the Canton Distillery was 1920.  

The Goldsborough brothers turned to other pursuits.  The 1930 census listed both Felix and William as salesmen.  With Repeal, the brothers join forces once again and revived  Melrose Rye.  They succeeded in overcoming the challenges posed by the Great Depression and World War II to achieve substantial sales for this Maryland rye.  In 1945, however,  the brand name was sold to Schenley Industries and disappeared.

Note:  Much of the information for this post comes from a 95-page book entitled “Melrose, Honey of Roses,” by Stirling Graham who was married to a descendant of the Goldsborough family.  The book, published in 1941, tells the story of Harry Goldsborough and his sons, dwelling on the making and use of Melrose Rye and containing Melrose drink recipes. The portrait of Harry and the drawings of the Light Street building and Canton Distillery also are from that volume.






































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