article by J. William Hunt
Son of Andrew Bruce Who Helped Survey And Lay Out Cumberland Platted the Town Of Frostburg - Famous Bruce House Stood More Than A Century - New Home On Site Owned By Theodore Thoerig - Land Grant Came From Lord Baltimore In 1769
It is a historical coincidence that Frostburg was surveyed and laid out as a town by a son of the man who helped lay out Cumberland.
In 1766 Andrew Bruce and three others were named by the Maryland General Assembly as a commissison to lay out the town that, one year later, became Cumberland.
In 1834 Andrew Bruce Jr. was authorized by the Legislature, along with William Ridgeley, to lay out Frostburg. Their work was completed and the plat recorded May 26, 1837 showing 43 lots, all on the National Pike or Cumberland Road.
The grave of Andrew Bruce Jr. is on the old Bruce estate, now owned by Theodore Thoerig, a mile or so above Mt. Savage. It is believed Bruce's parents are also buried there, but the only headstone with a decipherable inscription denotes the burial place of the younger Andrew who died in 1838, four years after completing the survey plat of Frostburg.
The original Bruce House was built by Andrew Sr., a brother of Nomand Bruce, of Frederick, whose wife was a sister of Francis Scott Key's father. Dr. Charles Key Bruce, their son, and first cousin of the author of "The Star Spangled Banner", also came here to reside.
(Courtesy of Barry Thoerig)
In fact it was to Normand that the land was originally patented in 1769 by Lord Baltimore's colonial government. Title was transferred to Andrew when he came to this section to reside at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He was one of the petitioners who pointed out the long distance and inconvenience involved ingoing to Hagerstown to vote in 1776. As a result the Maryland convention that had taken over the colonial government's functions designated Oldtown as a voting place for inhabitants of Washington County west of Sideling Hill. Andrew Bruce was one of the three election commissioners for this far western voting district.
"Mount Pleasant" seems to have been an extremely popular name at that time. The fort here at Wills Creek was once called "Mount Pleasant"; that was also the early name of Frostburg, and it was also the name bestowed on the original Bruce Estate near Mt. Savage.
In 1794, the year that President George Washington came to Cumberland to review the troops assembled to put down the so-called "Whiskey Rebellion", Andrew Bruce had his Mt. Savage land holdings re-surveyed to include six military lots. These "military" lots were a sort of bonus given to Revolutionary War soldiers after the United States was established as a government.
A fairly spacious log house was first erected by the Bruce family at Mt. Savage, but this was replaced early in the nineteenth century by the handsome stone house that was so familiar to Allegany Countians until its destruction by fire in 1939.
L. B. Gordon, an official of the Kelly Springfield Tire Co., and his family resided in Bruce House at the time of the fire, and it was Gordon who had the modern home built, now owned by the Thoerigs. An apartment over the dairy barn was fitted up as living quarters while the new home was under construction. It was completed in 1940.
The new house
(Courtesy of Barry Thoerig)
Between Andrew Bruce's first occupancy of the three story, four chimnied stone mansion and its fiery end 17 years ago, famous people and historic events marked its 130 year existence.
The Dairy Barn on Bruce Farm
(Courtesy of Barry Thoerig)
Beginning in 1844 when the railroad was completed from Cumberland to Mt. Savage (only two years after the Baltimore and Ohio reached Cumberland and years before it go to the Ohio River) an industrial boom made the moutain village a beehive of activity. The Cumberland-Mt. Savage line was the first branch railroad built in this county. The road was continued to Frostburg in 1852. In the meantime the rail line fromhere to Eckhart was completed in 1848. Another line pushed up from the B&O at Piedmont to Lonaconing. Then in 1857 the gap between Lonaconing and Frostburg was closed giving Cumberland and Piedmont a rail connection through the Georges Creek region as well as by B&O mainline.
English and New York business interests were attracted early to the Cumberland-Mt. Savage area. The Mt. Savage Iron Co. bought Bruce House in the 1840s as a residence for its company managers. In 1854 title was transferred to the Union Mining Co.
The Delano family lived in the house for many years, and then the youthful Franklin Delano Roosevelt, afterwards President of the United States, spent part of several summer vacations.
Andrew Bruce's will, which was probated here April 1, 1815, left his estate in trust to his daughter Helen and his sons George, Charles and Andrew Jr. It is the latter's gravestone that may still be seen on the hillside above the present-day Thoerig home. It was Andrew Jr., a bachelor, who finally succeeded his father as owner of Bruce House. He was elected Allegany County sheriff in 1822, and in 1834 helped "lay out" Frostburg. At his death in 1838 the property went to his brothers George and Normand, his sisters, nieces and nephews. Soon afterwards Bruce House was sold to the Mt. Savage Iron Company.
George Bruce, brother of Andrew Jr., married Rachel Tomlinson whose father built the famous stone house and tavern three miles this side of Grantsville. One of their sons was Dr. John Jesse Bruce who engaged extensively in the lumber business here. A grandson is Robert MacDonald Bruce a member of the Allegany County Bar whose most prized possession is a copy of the will of Charles Key Bruce.
Sunday Times, Cumberland, Allegany Co., MD;
about 1956 (no date given, presumed from facts in article stating 17 yrs ago the house burned, in 1939~Genie)
(Courtesy of Barry Thoerig)
J. William Hunt ACROSS THE DESK
LOCAL CONNECTIONS of Francis Scott Key Assembled From Previous Installments of "Across the Desk" Are Collected Into One Column for Information of Anyone Interested-Scores of Related Sidelights Link Him With This Part of Western Maryland.
"Francis Scott Key, composer of the "Star Spangled Banner," is so closely linked with Cumberland and Allegany County that it seems appropriate, this September 152 years after he wrote the stirring words of the U.S. National Anthem, to assemble into one column some facts relating to his local connections. Several installments 15 to 20 years ago of "Across the Desk" included information of this nature, but many current readers never saw them or have forgotten them.
Normand Bruce was married to the sister of Francis Scott Key's father in Frederick and their son, Dr. Charles Key Bruce, a first cousin of the composer of our National Anthem, came to Cumberland to reside. Normand Bruce's brother Andrew was one of the four named by the Maryland General Assembly in 1786 to survey and make a plat of the proposed town of Cumberland. A half century later (1834), a son of the man who helped to survey Cumberland was authorized by the legislature to "lay out" Frostburg. This Bruce (Andrew, Jr.) is buried on the hillside above the home now owned Theodore Thoerig, Mt. Savage. The Thoerig home is on the site of the historic Bruce House destroyed by fire in 1939.
The closeness of the Key and Bruce families is indicated in the will of Cumberland's Charles Key Bruce, a certified copy of which is among the Bruce family documents now in the possession of Robert MacDonald Bruce, a member of the Allegany County Bar. This will probated here in 1826 includes the following bequest:
"To my cousin Francis Scott Key, of Washington City, the sum of one thousand pounds (approximately $5,000), and to each of his two unmarried daughters, the sum of 500 pounds sterling ($2,500)."
Before continuing with the Francis Scott Key relationship, it is appropriate to recall that the mother of Emily Post, most famous of the authorities on good manners and social form, was a daughter of Upton Bruce, another first cousin of the author of the "Star Spangled Banner." She was Marian Bruce who was married here to William Price on May 14, 1842. Emily Post's great uncle Robert was father of the girl who became the wife of Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley, noted Union commander of Civil War days. Emily (Price) Post's father, whose first name was Bruce, was one of the foremost architects of his time. In addition to designing the first "planned" town (Tuxedo Park and Junction) and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, he drew the plans for the First National Bank, Baltimore and Liberty streets, and Emmanuel Episcopal parish house.
Andrew Bruce's son, George married Rachel Tomlinson, daughter of Jesse Tomlinson who built the historic Stone House three miles this side of Grantsville at the intersection of U.S. 40 and U.S. 218. Another Bruce married Walter Gwynn and their daughter married a Vanderbilt.
Francis Scott Key was born in Frederick County August 1, 1779, a son of John Ross and Anne Charlton Key. The Key estate adjoined the lands of Normand Bruce. After graduation from St. John College, Annapolis, young Key began the study of law with his uncle, Philip Barton Key. Also "reading law" at this time in Annapolis was Roger Brooks Taney. In 1806, Taney married Key's sister, Anne Phoebe Charlton Key. This is the same Taney who became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and author of the Dred Scott decision which contributed to the outbreak of the War Between the States.
In 1802 Key was married to Miss Mary Tayloe Lloyd, of the Wye House Lloyds, related to the Lowndes family of this city.
It is an illuminated phase of American history that the War of 1812 was regarded in much the same way, by a segment of U.S. opinion, as is the Vietnam War. Francis Scott Key had reservations about the necessity for the so-called Second War for Independence. He expressed doubt about the ultimate success of the war. But Key was intensely patriotic and when the Capitol and the White House
at Washington were burned by the British he was fired by an emotional fervor that gave expression to the
Star Spangled Banner.
Ten years before the Western Marylander wrote the song that became the National Anthem, he used words and rhythms almost identical to express his jubilation over Stephen Decatur's victory in the harbor of Tripoli. Any one reading the following by Key will be struck by the resemblance to his later song written during the bombardment of Fort McHenry:
"In the conflict resistless, each
Toil they endured,
Til their foes fled dismayed
From the war's desolation; And pale gleamed the crescent, Its splendor obscured
By the light of the Star Spangled
Flag of our nation. "
It is too well known to require repetition here the story of Key's visit with a companion to the British fleet seeking the release of a friend, Dr. Beanes; Admiral Cochrane's detention of the Americans until after the bombardment of Baltimore, and the all-night vigil to see if "our flag was still there."
On the morning of September 14, 1814 came the answer to anxious questioning of Dr. Beanes. Through the dawn's early light Francis Scott Key saw the Stars and Stripes still flying over Fort McHenry, and his exultation resulted in the most stirring of our national songs.
"Tis the Star Spangled Banner, Oh, long may it wave
0'er the land of the free
And the home of the brave. "
Western Marylanders have reason for special pride in their kinship with the patriot who wrote the National Anthem of the United States of America."
The Sunday Times, Cumberland, Md., Sunday Morning, September 25, 1966
(Courtesy of Barry Thoerig)
Posted June 7, 2013