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A Biography of

 

~ George Bucher Ayres ~

----------------

 

Born February 12, 1829, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Died About 1906 – Probably Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

     The immigrants Samuel and Margaret Ayres arrived in the Philadelphia area about 1645.  From them issued forth a family line of Ayres that mostly remained in Pennsylvania – especially in earlier times in the general vicinity of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  One of the descendants of this couple was a fellow named William Ayres.

 

     On May 6, 1817, William had married Mary Elizabeth Bucher Swift in Harrisburg – the minister being named Frederick A. Rahauser – of the Salem German Reformed Church.  The fruitage of the union amounted to eight children – five sons and three daughters – of which the fourth son was George, born February 12, 1829 in Harrisburg.  Thus began a life that would take in many interests – vocations and avocations – that included telegraphy, music, singing, orchestral conducting, art, photography, family history, journalism, and authoring textbooks and other publications.  He was the earliest of cadets in a military school envisioned in part by his father, known as Partridge’s.  William’s active life doubtless played a major formative role in his son’s development.  Here is a quick synopsis of William’s life:

 

                                          Born at homestead in Middle Paxtang township, Dauphin Co., PA.

                                          Quit farming for more congenial pursuits.  Became citizen of Harrisburg.

                                          Justice of Peace, Gov. Findlay, 1819.  Again Justice of Peace by Gov.

                                          Hiester, 1824.  Admitted to bar of Dauphin Co., April 7, 1826.  Elected

                                          to PA Legislature for years 1833, 1834, 1835 and was prominent in

                                          political party to which he was attached, and persistent advocate for

                                          establishment of free-school system of PA.  1841, elected a director of

                                          the United States Bank, at Philadelphia.  1850, organized the Harrisburg

                                          gas company, and became its first president.  1853, became President

                                          of Huntingdon and Broad Top railroad.  1854, projected and organized

                                          Harrisburg and Hamburg railroad company, and as president, was

                                          engaged in the field with engineers at the time of his death. 

                                          Burial:  Harrisburg Cemetery, Harrisburg, PA.

 

 

Little is known of George’s childhood, beyond the fact that he had a father who was very active in civic efforts.  A bit is known about his schooling – his attendance at the “North Ward public school –

 

                                                  “In the spring of 1844 I was a boy fifteen years of age attending

                                               the North Ward public school at Harrisburg.

                                                  This was kept in the old "Lancasterian school house," on Walnut

                                               street, between Fourth and Fifth streets.  I had a number of teachers,

                                               previously: Emanuel Guyer, Joseph Allison (now judge in

                                               Philadelphia), Samuel D. Ingram, J. M. Eyster and Charles A. Wyeth.

                                                  I was at the above date, and I think during Mr. Ingram's

                                               administration, that I obtained the names of my schoolmates, and I

                                               give them herewith, copied from their autographs:

 

                                                 Charles Carrol Bombaugh.

                                                 Elisha Boylston Jackson.

                                                 Henry Robeson Harrison.

                                                 Carroll McClean.

                                                 Theodore Klein.

                                                 Charles Edward Fisk, Jr.

                                                 Matthias B. Stees.

                                                 John F. Caslow.

                                                 George Hynicka.

                                                 John J. Maglaughlin.

                                                 George Brenizer.

                                                 William Wigton Wallace.

                                                 John Kearns.

                                                 Henry Markley Stouffer.

                                                 John Mytinger.

                                                 Andrew J. Foster.

                                                 John Q. Adams.

                                                 Henry Stewart Wilson.

                                                 Philip Andrew Keller.

                                                 John Wesley Awl.

                                                 J. W. Piper.

                                                 Henry Fager.

                                                 J. K. Greennwalt.

                                                 Samuel Augustus Holman.

                                                 William Smith.

                                                 Charles Fenn.

                                                 William Simon Holman.

                                                 Augustus Carst.

                                                 Jno. B. C. McAllister.

                                                 Erasmus G. Rehrer.

                                                 A. J. Geiger.

                                                 Solomon Moyer.

                                                 Joseph Henry Bowman.

                                                 A. J. Fager.

                                                 Henry Augustus Sims.

                                                 John P. Keller.

                                                 Henry Colestock.

                                                 Christian K. Keller.

                                                 Michael Tracy.

                                                 Andrew David Elder.

                                                 William McFadden.

                                                 Daniel Schaeffer.

                                                 James Barrons.

                                                 John Andrew Krause.

                                                 T. J. Black.

                                                 Augustus S. Templin.

                                                 A. J. Griffith.

                                                 George Bucher Ayres.

 

                                                 These forty-eight, however, would only represent the school at

                                              the time; because scholars come in, every few months, from the

                                              school below, then taught by Mr. Eyster.  The primary school

                                              always had but one teacher, the venerable William ("Daddy")

                                              Mitchell.

                                                 How many of this roll are still living, where are they, and what

                                              are they doing?  I could answer some of the questions for a number

                                              of them, and yet there are others I had quite forgotten until I came to

                                              transcribe their signatures.  Those who chance to see this list may

                                              thus recall their schoolfellows of April and May, 1844, nearly a half

                                              century ago.

                                                               George B. Ayres.”

 

followed by his attendance at a military school that his father had a part in founding—

 

                                               "As was the case respecting the introduction of water and gas

                                                 into Harrisburg many years in advance of the times, I must

                                                 be pardoned in claiming for my father, William Ayres, the

                                                 leadership of the movement which resulted in establishing

                                                 the "Pennsylvania Literary, Scientific and Military Institute"

who subscribed my name as the first one offered to make

                                                 up its roll.  From his correspondence with Captain Partridge

                                                 and other gentlemen of military proclivities, I glean that the

                                                 matter was first proposed during the winter 1844-5.  Captain

                                                 Alden Partridge, who had been Superintendent of the United 

                                                 States Military Academy at West Point, having resigned,

                                                 conceived the idea of associating military instruction and

                                                 discipline with the usual collegiate education, and had made

                                                 a successful test of this course at Norwich, Vermont,  and

                                                 Middletown, Ct., where his military schools had attained

                                                 great popularity...”

 

     George wrote an article, which describes in detail this school, and provides a list of the first graduates, some of whom later become involved in the Civil War, and which even lists those losing their lives during that tragic event in history.  It should be noted for future reference that George did not list himself among those involved in the conflagration.  Hence, it would appear that the references so freely found of a George B. Ayres in that war would have to apply to another so-named.

 

     Apparently just after his schooling, George began at least occasional, temporary work involving telegraphy for the railroad in the Harrisburg area.  Very soon after that, he begins working in a permanent capacity, as he writes:

 

                                              "In the Winter of 1848-9, I engaged there [Harrisburg telegraph office]

                                              permanently, and in March we received the first Presidential message

                                              (Zachary Taylor's) ever sent to Harrisburg--or perhaps anywhere else--

                                              by telgraph!--I well remember the immense pile of paper required for

                                              this purpose; how often it was run through the machine, and what ado

                                              when it happened to catch or get torn. ..."

 

 

     By the year 1850, GBA (he often used initials to identify himself) was to be found in Montour County, Pennsylvania, and the census for that year places him in Danville Borough, living at the premises of Cornelius Garretson, aged 58, Tavern Keeper.  Fellow boarders  included a teacher, clerks, a printer, a physician, a tailor, and one described as “nothing.”  George was listed as telegrapher. That was not the total of his secular duties, as will be seen by the following information taken from Egle’s Notes & Queries:

 

                                          “THE PASSENGER DEPARTMENT, Pennsylvania Railroad, who

                                          organized it, is given by our friend William B. Wilson, who edits

                                          the "Pennsylvania Railroad Men's News."   Mr. Wilson writes:

                                          "Mr. Lewis L. Haupt and Mr. George B. Ayres, now residing in

                                          Philadelphia, organized the Passenger Department, the former

                                          holding the position of General Ticket Agent, and the latter as

                                          Assistant.  Up to 1852 these gentlemen handled the entire passenger

                                          ticket account without assistance.  In that year the business had

                                          increased to such a point that a third person became necessary. 

                                          They were highly educated, Christian men, standing high in the

                                          communities in which they resided, and worked indefatigably for

                                          the success of  the road.  Mr.  Ayres, in addition to being a

                                          thorough business man, had quiet literary tastes, many musical

                                          accomplishments, and was an artist of more than ordinary merit. 

                                          His brother, Colonel Bucher Ayres, also residing in Philadelphia,

                                          who made a broad reputation as a railroad manager, was the first

                                          person appointed a passenger conductor for the Pennsylvania

                                          Railroad.  The Messrs. Ayres' father was William Ayres, of

                                          Harrisburg, noted in his day as leading in all progressive

                                          movements in his locality." “

 

     Two things ought to be noted here, based on the above paragraphs, and in view of those to come.  Colonel Bucher Ayres, listed here, is Jacob Bucher Ayres, GBA’s brother.  This older brother apparently never used Jacob in addressing himself.  He always went by Bucher alone.  The only times I remember seeing the use of Jacob is in an early census, before Bucher had much to say about the name he preferred to use.  The other item of interest is that it mentions in the above paragraph that Bucher also resided in Philadelphia, thus implying his brother George was residing in Philadelphia, and not in Danville.  It may be that George had more than one residence (as I have suspected from time to time as his occupational affairs dictated), perhaps the primary residence being Philadelphia; likely, though, he had not altogether left his connections with Montour County, as we shall see later.

 

     A fascinating venture in George’s life at this time – while employed as telegrapher – is involvement with the famous Swedish operatic singer, Jenny Lind.  Informed ones will recall that P. T. Barnum, the great showman, had contracted for the singer Jenny Lind to come to the states.  She broke her contract with Mr. Barnum, yet continued to appear before the public in this country.  George Bucher Ayres was apparently asked to get involved in booking her for the city of Harrisburg.  He wrote an article explaining how he accomplished the feat, and since it will both demonstrate his writing style and encase a particularly busy time period in George’s life, thus providing both details and insight, I include the complete article here…

 

Fourth Series Volume I, Notes and Queries - LIV, p 152:

 

WHEN JENNY LIND WAS HERE.

 

                                                 The visit of Mad'lle Jenny Lind, the great singer, was a conspicuous

                                            event in the musical history of the State Capital.

                                                 It will be remembered that she came to America under contract with

                                            Mr. P. T. Barnum, the celebrated manager, who had engaged her for a

                                            stipulated number of concerts, to be given in our principal cities. 

                                            She was not to appear in opera, although her European reputation was

                                            based largely on her success in operatic singing.

                                                 She sailed from Liverpool--I think it was in the old Collins Line

                                            steamer Atlantic, Capt. West--August 21st, 1850, and arrived at New

                                            York September 1st.  She gave a concert on shipboard for the benefit

                                            of the crew.

                                                 No such furore as Barnum created respecting the advent and musical

                                            abilities of this famous songstress has ever been known in this

                                            country; that ovation remains unparalleled in the reception of foreign

                                            notabilities.  All the newspapers seemed as if owned by Barnum, and

                                            were kept filled with Lind-praises, and with unexampled skill and tact

                                            every instrumentality possible in the establishment of public opinion

                                            was enlisted in admiration of "the Swedish Nightingale."  Fortunately,

                                            in this instance, the great showman furnished a genuine attraction,

                                            rare and unequalled.

                                                 Jenny Lind's engagement with Mr. Barnum was designed to cover one

                                            hundred and fifty concerts.  After a most triumphant welcome and

                                            success in New York, she sang in Philadelphia, October 16th, at the

                                            Chestnut Street Theater, and six times thereafter at Musical Fund

                                            Hall during November and December.

                                                 She sang again at the then National Theater, Chestnut street,

                                            adjoining the Museum, June 9th, 1851; but upon learning that the place

                                            had been used for a "horse show" or, as she called it, "a circus"--she

                                            indignantly abrogated her contract with Barnum, and finished the

                                            American tour on her own account.  Right here we have an exhibition of

                                            her innate nobility and independence of character; she could submit to

                                            the pecuniary loss involved, but never (as she doubtless regarded it)

                                            the offense of humiliation to herself or her art.

                                                 According to the adage, however--"it's an ill wind that don't blow

                                            good to somebody"--this unlooked for incident proved a happy

                                            circumstance to the people at large who had not been able to journey to

                                            the cities and pay Barnum's high prices, in order to see the wonderful

                                            Jenny Lind.

                                                 Deviating from the lines of her tour as proposed by Barnum, she

                                            visited many of the smaller cities, and stopped at some towns en route. 

                                            Among the latter was the then Borough of Harrisburg.

                                                 I was at that time engaged with Mr. Samuel H. Brooks, in the

                                            telegraph office, the business of which was comparatively small, and we

                                            had time to spare.  Jenny Lind's advance agent, who bore the famous

                                            name of Samuel Johnson, came along, and enlisted my assistance in

                                            securing a place for holding the proposed concert.

                                                There was really no audience room in the old town musically suitable,

                                            or even fit to receive such a distinguished vocalist.  A dancing hall

                                            in the Shakespeare building, on Locust street; a dingy room in Masonic

                                            Hall, which had been occasionally used for theatrical purposes, negro

                                            minstrels, and tramp shows of various kinds; and the old Court House,

                                            comprised the list to choose from.

                                                 But I deemed them all unsuited and unworthy of the extraordinary

                                            purpose in view, if it was in anywise within the range of possibility

                                            to secure one of our churches.  I had heard Jenny Lind sing in

                                            Baltimore, during the previous April; I knew the quality of the treat

                                            in anticipation, and hence I considered that the very best room in the

                                            whole town was none too good for this rapturous singer and noble woman.

                                                 My application to the various church authorities was not encouraging,

                                            however, for the reason that the Whig National Convention, which

                                            nominated President Wm. Henry Harrison, in 1839, had been held in the

                                            original Lutheran church, on Fourth street, and had abused the room

                                            somewhat; and this created a traditional prejudice against the use of

                                            churches for any secular purpose.

                                                 Still I did not despair, for I had gained a foothold at least with

                                            the Methodists by urging the admitted excellence of Jenny Lind's

                                            character as a woman, her well-known beneficence, and that she was a

                                            devout Lutheran; while at the same time I offered a tempting

                                            compensation for the use of their room.  Rev. Frances Hodgson was

                                            pastor at that time, and the church was a rather small and plain

                                            structure, located on the south side of Locust street, just below

                                            Third.

                                                 I required several interviews before I succeeded, and then only after

                                            wrestling with objections which we would ridicule to-day.  Among other

                                            things they wanted to insist on their old custom of seating the men and

                                            women on opposite sides of the center aisle--and this was indeed the

                                            chief rock of offense--but I somehow managed to get over it.  They

                                            wanted to know, too, whether all the performers would stand on the

                                            pulpit floor; not that they had the least objection to Jenny herself,

                                            but through fear that the rest of the company might be an ungodly set. 

                                            I met this obstacle, however, by agreeing to cover the entire pulpit

                                            out of sight by erecting a platform in front of the desk.  Would

                                            tickets be sold and money taken at the door?  No; that could be

                                            done elsewhere.  Would the audience make any demonstrations of applause

                                            by clapping "in the house of God?"  Well, I could not guarantee

                                            everything, and our negotiations became critical.

                                                But I kept my "best wine" until the last, and so far I had withheld

                                            that which I believed might prove the most effective and practical

                                            argument.  After extolling Jenny Lind, and recapitulating other reasons

                                            for their approval, I reminded them of the gain to accrue to their

                                            church treasury, and that we would bear all expenses in restoring the

                                            room to its proper condition.  "More than that, too, gentlemen, I am

                                            authorized to offer free tickets for yourselves and wives; now's your

                                            chance to hear Jenny Lind!"  The effect was magical, and those saintly

                                            brethren were still human enough to see that they were only hesitating

                                            upon pecadillos, and it was soon fixed that the loveliest voice then

                                            known on earth was to be heard within that old Methodist church.

                                                 Mr. Johnson had with him a draughtsman, whose function it was to take

                                            dimensions of the halls engaged for concert purposes, make diagrams,

                                            and apportion the sittings, which were numbered and priced according to

                                            location.  The seats were rated at two, three and four dollars, and

                                            (I think) were all sold in our telegraph office.  In recognition of

                                            my services Mr. Johnson requested me to help myself to the first

                                            choice.

                                                 Under the experienced supervision of Mr. Johnson, the familiar

                                            church-room was speedily metamorphosed into a concert hall, barring the

                                            pews; the pulpit being completely screened by drapery of white muslin,

                                            the rear of which was made to serve as a sort of "green room" for the

                                            troupe. Of course the church was at best entirely too small for the

                                            sway of such phenomenal voices as Lind and Salvi, while the space was

                                            even further restricted by the necessity of the temporary stage, which

                                            extended to the front pews.

                                                 Jenny Lind arrived in Harrisburg via Pennsylvania railroad from the

                                            West and stopped at Herr's Hotel--now the Lochiel--on Monday, November

                                            7th, 1851, and the concert took place in the evening.

                                                 Her company consisted of Signor Lorenzo Salvi, who came to America by

                                            way of Havana, as leading tenor of the great Marti grand opera troupe--

                                            the best ever heard in this country--and who as a singer ranked with

                                            Mario; Signor E. Belletti, an excellent clarionette soloist, who when

                                            younger had played among the "negro serenader" companies, and

                                            consequently missed the education which might have made him an artist;

                                            and Mr. Otto Goldschmidt, a pianist of no unusual merit, but who was

                                            supposed to be the accepted lover of the fair cantatrice, and who did

                                            subsequently marry her, in Boston, February 5th, 1852.

                                                 In point of musical ability, Harrisburg had never seen such a

                                            combination, although the distinguished singer, Mad. Anna Bishop, had

                                            appeared there only a short while before--like an aurora, preceding the

                                            dawn of her brighter and more illustrious contemporary.

                                                 [It may be noted, in passing, that Mr. Burke had filled the position

                                            of violinist under the previous management of Barnum.  The male vocalist

                                            was Signor Belletti, a graceful baritone, and Mr. Jules Benedict,

                                            an English musician, who served as accompanist and conductor

                                            of the orchestra which Barnum provided.]

                                                 The audience which gathered in that plain old church to welcome the

                                            unrivaled Queen of Song, never had its counterpart on any previous

                                            occasion in Harrisburg; while it also contained delegations from

                                            Carlisle, Chambersburg and other neighboring towns.  The house was

                                            well-filled; the ladies were out in full dress, and did themselves

                                            honor.  The venerable fathers who had been so reluctant in giving me

                                            the use of the room, could not but admit that everything had been done

                                            "decently and in order"--although the scene presented no semblance or

                                            suggestion of the primitive style of gatherings usual in that place.

                                                 The concert opened with a Fantasia by Mr. Burke.  Sig. Salvi followed

                                            with the tenor Romanza "Una Furtiva Lagrima," from Donizetti's opera

                                            L'Elisir d'Amore--and it is needless to add that Salvi made it

                                            affecting[ly] beautiful.

                                                 Now came Jenny Lind!  The easy and tripping graceful entre, as I had

                                            seen it elsewhere, was impossible here for want of stage room; but as

                                            she stood before us, her wining smile, and unaffected sweetness and

                                            simplicity of manner won all hearts.  She seemed the very soul of

                                            girlish modesty, and as she cast her generous glances over the

                                            audience, the impressions of sincerity and pure womanhood were

                                            irresistible.

                                                 She was attired in white satin, embroidered; with double overskirt

                                            of exquisite lace; low neck and short sleeves; and a broad white satin

                                            sash encircled her waist.  She wore a choice bouquet on her breast,

                                            white kid gloves and a number of bracelets and ornaments circled her

                                            wrists.  Her hair was, of course, a la Lind--her own special fashion

                                            which she then popularized and maintained thoroughout her life.

                                                 Her introductory solo was "On Mighty Pens" (Wings), from the

                                            oratorio of The Circation, in which, it will be remembered, Haydn

                                            adapts his music to the flight of the eagle, the song of the merry

                                            lark, the cooing dove, "the nightingale's delightful notes."  No

                                            language can describe the wonderful fitness of Jenny Lind's voice for

                                            the requirements of this solo, nor the delicious ease with which she

                                            seemed to repeat the very warbling of the feathered creatures

                                            themselves.  The effect was one not to be forgotten.

                                                 After Mr. Goldschmidt had given his contribution of a piano solo

                                            Jenny Lind displayed her powers in the sphere of operatic composition

                                            by a rendition of "Casta Diva," from Bellini's Norma.  This adagio

                                            (prayer) of the ill-fated Priestess--which I was delighted to find on

                                            the programme--was given with remarkable pathos and delicacy of

                                            expression; while its closing--allegro--was a glorious display of

                                            brilliancy and vocal power, affording the consummate artist a

                                            sufficient opportunity to reveal her technical ability, as well as the

                                            easy freedom and naturalness which characterized her peculiar style

                                            of delivery.

                                                 Part second opened with a clarionette solo by Signor Belletti, on

                                            themes from Lucrezia Borgia.  Jenny Lind followed with the "Gypsy

                                            Song," from Meyerbeer's opera, Camp of Silesia.  If, as the programme

                                            said, this song, so full of sprightly and rippling music, was "composed

                                            expressly for Mademoiselle Jenny Lind," her singing of it proved the

                                            fact.  It was exquisitely well done--and it lives in my ear to this

                                            day.

                                                 Signor Salvi's solo came next; it was "A Fra Poco," the pathetic

                                            scene and aria of Edgardo, which closes the opera of Lucia di

                                            Lammermoor.  It is not for me to say whether that audience appreciated

                                            the truly and noble artistic interpretation Salvi gave of this number;

                                            but it was superb, and I recall distinctly its effect upon me.  Salvi

                                            was a prince of tenors; we have not seen his compeer, except in Mario.

                                                 The well-known Scotch ballad, "Auld Robin Gray," was our next gift

                                            from Jenny.  [It will be noted that, having first shown her great

                                            capabilities in the higher forms of oratorio and opera, she now takes

                                            up the lesser and plainer style of ballad and song--the music of the

                                            people.]

                                                 From her very heart's core she seemed to feel every line of her song. 

                                            Her mild blue eyes were deeply expressive of grief, and her tones were

                                            sadly sweet.  The varying sentiment of the ballad was intelligently

                                            portrayed as only such a pure hearted singer could and she gave the

                                            concluding lines with marked fervor--

                                                      "So I will do my best a gude wife to be,

                                                      For auld Robin Gray is very kind to me."

                                                But the greatest treat of the evening, to the largest portion of the

                                            audience, was Jenny Lind's singing of "Home, Sweet Home."  In this she

                                            has had many imitators, but no equals; because it requires something

                                            in the singer apart from the song.  Here, then, was a noble woman,

                                            whose good name was "far above rubies," and one whose tender and

                                            sympathetic nature could appreciate the meaning of "Home" while she

                                            sang of it!  As might be expected every heart responded to the

                                            inexpressible feeling with which she emphasized her words in tones

                                            correspondingly "sweet," while her listeners were scarcely able to

                                            suppress until the proper moment the rapturous applause which gave vent

                                            to the emotions she had evoked--

                                                    "Home, home, sweet home,

                                                    There's no place like home."

                                                 Thus she sang it; the audience was greatly moved, and the remembrance

                                            of that song was the theme for unending praise.

                                                 Without retiring from the stage, the inimitable Jenny seated herself

                                            at the piano to give her farewell number, "The Herdsman's Song," her

                                            most popular Swedish melody, commonly known as "The Echo Song."  Her

                                            position at the instrument made a very interesting picture--easy,

                                            graceful, natural.

                                                 This song was peculiarly her own; she never had a rival.  Its

                                            particular merit lay in its echo parts, which no one else ever produced

                                            with such truth and effect.  The composition represents the herdsman

                                            calling in his cattle as "night in her shade creeps darkening on," and

                                            only an adept at musical ventriloquism dare attempt its rendition.  But

                                            this child of nature, Jenny Lind, had heard it a thousand times in her

                                            native land, and she had the imitative ability to reproduce it with

                                            startling effect.

                                                 The echo seemed so true to nature that the audience was astounded at

                                            its apparent reality.  In its conclusion the singer-magician fairly

                                            sported with it; and then turning her  face to the audience her tones

                                            grew fainter and fainter still.  On, on bounded the diminishing echo,

                                            until the enchained listeners seemed breathless.  The singer maintained

                                            her steady gaze on the wrapt audience, whose imagination continued the

                                            dying echo, although it had really ceased!  Jenny Lind's victory was

                                            complete and she gracefully bade us good night and farewell.

                                                 Mr. Johnson was pleased with their visit and success at Harrisburg,

                                            the receipts having reached about three thousand dollars.  He presented

                                            me with Jenny Lind's autograph--a priceless memorial of the interesting

                                            event I have endeavored to describe, as a contribution to the musical

                                            history of my native town.

                                                                     GEORGE B. AYRES.

 

     In the first half of 1859, George Bucher Ayres acquired a newspaper called the Montour American.  The concern had been the possession, heretofore, of Mr. D. H. B. Brower.  In an article written by Mr. Brower, he relates:

 

                                              "In 1859 I sold the American to George B. Ayers, of Harrisburg.

                                              During his ephemeral editorship, he called it Montour Herald.

                                              After a few months he abandoned  it and returned to Harrisburg,

                                              having lost the greater portion of its patronage.  In October

                                              of the same year I repurchased the material, and resumed its

                                              publication."

 

     Hence, it can be seen, that of the many things GBA turned his attention to, newspaper journalism was not to be his “cup of tea.”

 

     I have not yet succeeded in finding a listing in the U.S. Census of 1860 for George.  Thus for the purposes of this biography, we will have to note that it is uncertain just where GBA took up lodgings in the 1850’s to early 1860’s.  Was it in Harrisburg?  Danville?  Philadelphia?  Possibly in Chambersburg (see below)?

 

                                                  “Franklin Repository and Transcript, February 15, 1860, p.7, c. 1

 

                                                                                  The Franklin Railroad.

 

                                       --At length this highway is opened up for the accommodation of the travelling

                                       public. After being cursed for nearly seventeen years with horse cars and a worn

                                       out Railroad, we were not surprised to find that the good people of our native

                                       town, Greencastle, were highly pleased to see the regular passenger train of

                                       cars entering their beautiful, thriving Borough, on last Monday, the 6th day of

                                       February, 1860.

 

                                       On Wednesday, the last day of May, 1843, the last train of cars, propelled by

                                       steam, passed over the old road. On Thursday, June 1st, 1843, the first

                                       horse-car traveled over that old flat-bar, no-rail, rickety concern.

 

                                      A few years since the people in the Southern part of this county, petitioned the

                                      Legislature for, and obtained, the passage of an act authorizing the sale of the

                                      dilapidated old road, the jest and by-work of the whole country, for the purpose

                                      of having it reconstructed. It was sold, but not re-laid. Within a year or two,

                                      in pursuance of further legislation, it was again sold. This time it fell into

                                      the hands of A. J. Jones, Esq., of Harrisburg, and others who have rebuilt it

                                      -substancially. To the indomitable perseverance of Mr. Jones are the people of

                                      this Valley indebted for the present substancial thoroughfare -full blasted,

                                      heavy railed, it is one of the best roads in the United States.

 

                                      The Road is not yet completed to its terminus -Hagerstown, Md. The arrangement,

                                      therefore, for running to Greencastle is not of that permanent and satisfactory

                                      character which will be made as soon as the Road is finished throughout. There

                                      is but one train per day, leaving Chambersburg at 11.25 A.M., and, returning,

                                      leaves Greencastle at 1.40 P.M., remaining an hour and a half at the latter

                                      place.

 

                                     Col. Lull, the polite superintendent of the Cumberland Valley Road, desirous of

                                     affording facilities for the transportation of freight, and for passengers to

                                     travel with comfort to and from Greencastle, made the above described

                                     arrangement -the only one that could be made for the present.

 

                                    The gentlemanly conductor on the C.V. R.R., Levy McCormack, Esq., who served an

                                    apprenticeship on that same route, under the horse car arrangement; George B.

                                    Ayres, Esq., the polite, efficient general Agent for the Company, and Geo. W.

                                    Simmons, Esq., the unequalled Agent for the Adams Express Co., constitute a trio

                                    of good fellows, noble and true, all of them, upon whom devolve the duty of

                                    serving the public on the highway -The Franklin Rail Road. The more intercourse

                                    the people along the line of the road have with these gentlemen the better they

                                    will like them.

 

                                    The first Train which passed over the road to Greencastle, consisted of nine

                                    heavily laden freight, and two passenger cars. The firm of C. W. Eyster, &Co.,

                                    forwarding merchants of this place, have the credit of bringing down from

                                    Greencastle, the first loaded car -which was done by Monday's return trip.”

 

     Note that, in the latter reference, an A. J. Jones is referred to.  Quite likely this refers to GBA’s brother-in-law, the husband of Susan Bucher Ayres – Andrew J. Jones.

 

     The very next time I find George is in 1864… 

 

The "Old Folks" first Grand Concert, Franklin Hall, Chambersburg

on Friday Evening, June 17th,: 1864.

For the benefit of the U. S. Christian Commission.

Musical Conductor - George B. Ayres.

 

                                                                                         PROGRAMME.

 

 Part 1

      1. Chorus - Song of the Old Folks.

      2. Song - Happy be thy Dreams - George B. Ayres.

      3. Quartet - Evangeline - Miss Snider, Mrs. McClure, Mr. McClure and Mr. McLenegan.

      4. Solo - The Kiss- Miss Maggie Barnlitz.

      5. Piano Solo -La Fille du Regiment - Nelle Halm

      6. Comic Song - R. A. McClure.

      7. Violincello (Left hand, without changing strings) Last Rose; Old Folks at Home - R. N. McClure.

      8. Quartet - "Oh, Gently Breathe" Misses Barnitz and Roberts.   Messrs. McClure and Rebman.

 

 Part 2

      1. Chorus Bonnie Doon.

      2. Solo and Flute - The Echo Song Miss Snyder and Mr. Ayres.

      3. Comic Song - Mr. McFinnigan, Mr. Monyer.

      4. Piano Solo - Lee Somnambuler - Nelle Halm.

      5. Duet - Two Merry Girls - Miss Barnitz and Miss Roberts.

      6. Quartet - Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming

      7. Song - I'll be no Submissive Wife - Miss Maggie Barnitz.

      8. Song -The Ivy Green - George Ayres.

      9. Grand Finale - When this cruel War is Over - Solo - Miss Abbie Rankin.

 

     The next year, I find an entry that looks as if it could be GBA, but I have no verification of it.  In a Chicago City Directory, I discovered:

 

                                                 1865 - Ayers George, salesman R. B. Appleby, bds. 155 Monroe.

                                                            Appleby Richard B., whol. dealer in ambrotype and photographic

                                                            stock and artists materials, 120 Clark, r. Washington, cor.

                                                            Bishop ct.   

 

     One might ask, “Why do you consider Chicago the year after George is conducting a musical concert in Pennsylvania?  For the simple reason that I discovered this reference:

 

"In 1866 George B. Ayres became the proprietor of Hesler

                                                             Gallery in Chicago..."

 

     This, in turn, is supported by these entries from Chicago city directories:

 

1864: HESLER ALEXANDER, photographer, 113 Lake, h. 595 W. Lake.

                                                           Thayer N. C., photographic stock and materials, 113 Lake.

                                                 1867-8: Ayers George B., photographic artist 113 Lake, h 242 LaSalle

                                                              Thayer N. C., photographic goods 113 Lake.

 

     What had motivated this sudden move?  I cannot say.  Was George, who apparently dabbled in photography before this time, suddenly drawn to make a change in occupation?  Was he thus moved to be near such natural delights as the Niagara Falls?  The Great Lakes?  Did his marriage have anything to do with this?  Ah!  His marriage…  We find that GBA married Mary Robbins Smith, the daughter of Mary V. Robbins and Spencer C. Smith of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, on October 10, 1867.  The marriage was performed by the well-known Presbyterian minister of that county, Joseph R. Van Dyke, at the bride’s mother’s house.  Yet, in one place, reference is made to the marriage, listing it as involving Buffalo, Erie County, New York! 

 

Early Settlers of New York State, Volume I, May 1936, Marriage Records, Avery - Ayres, Page 322

  Marriage Records, copied from Buffalo Newspapers, are published through the courtesy of the Buffalo Historical Society.

 

  Ayres, George B. and Mary Robbins Smith,  Oct 10 1867

 

  George B. Ayres found in:

  New York City, 1600s-1800s Marriage Index Spouse:  Mary Robbins Smith

  Marriage Date:  1867

  Location:  Buffalo and vicinity

  County:  Erie

  State:  New York

  Marriage ID:  2220253626

  Publication:  Early Settlers of New York State, Their Ancestors and Descendants, Extracts from Vol.2, No.11 (May 1936)

  Page:  No page number listed

  Author:  Foley, Janet

  Publisher:  Foley, Thomas

                                                                                           Published:  Akron, NY

 

     We thus, quickly, see three more geographies tossed in to confuse matters.  Fortunately, there was not an abundance of George Bucher Ayres’ so we are able to definitely assign these facts to the George of this note.  Suffice it to say, at least for now, that these events all occurred, and were to be a key factor in the historical remembrance of George Bucher Ayres.

 

     What was the sequence of events in the purchase and selling of the studios on Lake Street under discussion?  Taken from a brief copyrighted article by John S. Craig, concerning Daguerreian Nathaniel Clinton Thayer, we read:

 

                                               “He was listed … in 1859, and in 1859-1860 was listed as Thayer & Co.,

                                              with William M. Thayer. The business was listed at 113 Lake Street, and

                                              both Thayers lived at 264 West Washington Street. In 1883, an article

                                              noted him as "the oldest stock dealer in the West. His house has always

                                              sustained its reputation for upright and honorable dealing, holding the

                                              respect and admiration of all." He sold to William Thayer in 1865, who

                                              in turn sold out to Alexander Hesler.”

 

     George Bucher Ayres, in turn bought the studios from Mr. Hesler, in 1866.

 

     One reference says that GBA left within a year after his purchase of the studios for Buffalo, New York.  Maybe that is so.  Certainly, he is found there apparently at his primary residence, a few years later.  But did he actually leave Chicago in 1867?  Well, if so, according to the 1867 Chicago city directory referred to above, it was not at the very beginning of the year.  I list no actual reference before 1870 that demonstrates where exactly George lived for that timeframe.  Since the Thayer brothers (there had been two initially involved) and Hesler and George had all owned that business at one time or other, and since there was no clear moving away of the parties involved, it is not easy to say exactly who owned the property at the time of October 8, 1871.  Yes, this was the time of the infamous Great Chicago Fire!  Had George previously sold the property.  A reference we will consider later on would seem to indicate he had.  The only thing that can be definitely stated by me at this time is what is found in the Buffalo city directory:

 

                                                 1870: George B. Ayres  artist, boards at 387 Washington

 

     Despite repeated efforts, I have never had success in locating George Bucher Ayres in the 1870 U.S. Census.  George had not yet had any children, and it would be difficult to attribute any Mary Ayres to being his wife based on the census alone, unless the address matched that in the above city directory entry.

 

     It should be noted that there is no Hesler, no Thayer, and no Ayres entry in the 1871 Fire Edition of the Chicago city directory.  Since the area of Lake Street had been devastated by the fire, this is no surprise.  In fact, Lake Street had had a number of photography-related businesses along its path, but not one photographic business is listed in that directory!  So now, we switch our attention to the post-Chicago life George Bucher Ayres lived – that is – we switch our attention after mentioning one very important detail.  George Bucher Ayres, during the ownership of the Hesler Studios, discovered some negatives that Alexander Hesler had made of Abraham Lincoln.  Hesler was a photographer par excellence, and the images of Lincoln he left behind would eventually become very popular with the public.  One was of a beardless Lincoln, one of a tousled-hair Lincoln, etc.  Concerning the beardless image of Lincoln, we read:

 

                                     “[The] picture of Abraham Lincoln is the one he used during his campaign

                                  for the presidency in 1860. It was taken on a Sunday, June 3, 1860, in the

                                  state capitol building, (now the Sangamon County courthouse)…”

 

  George had taken these with him to Buffalo.  Speaking of Buffalo, George is again found in the city directory for 1872:

 

                                                 1872: Ayers, George B. 308 Main [Buffalo, NY]

 

     One reference claims GBA moved to Philadelphia in 1872 or 1873.  The address is reputed to have been: 1232 North 6th Street.  Whether that is true or not, it is certain his wife, Mary Robbins Smith Ayres, died February 1, 1878.  She had left behind two small children.  They were Edith Lyon Ayres, born February 5, 1875, and Annie Smith Ayres, born September 15, 1876.  What their mother, Mary died of, is, at this point, unknown.  That information should be easily available, however.

 

     There were two separate 1880 Census entries for the family.  George had placed the tiny girls in their grandmother’s care in New Jersey.  Mary V Robbins Smith was a widow with other family members living with her.  They would be in a better position (this was the standard point-of-view at the time) to receive a proper raising in their earliest years by an interested female family member.  George, meanwhile, moved in with the his older brother Jacob Bucher Ayres (always known as just Bucher) and his family, in Philadelphia.

 

     George had begun publishing books on his photographic artistry before 1880.  He especially wrote about the art of water-coloring photographs.  For instance, there exists:

 

Ayres, George B., How to Paint Photographs in Water Colors (Philadelphia: Benerman & Wilson, 1869).

How to Paint Photographs, George B. Ayres, Appleton & Company, 1878.

 

     George Bucher Ayres had relocated his choice of publishers to New York from Philadelphia.  As was shown above, he himself lived in Buffalo during part of the 1870’s.

 

     It appears that George Bucher Ayres remained in his final home, Philadelphia, until the end of his life – probably around 1906 – at the age of about seventy-seven.  Here are some of the last Philadelphia city directory entries for GBA, as well as for his brother, Jacob Bucher Ayres:

 

                                                             1880: [Jacob] Bucher Ayres (B. Ayres & Co[mpany]), h 455 N 7th

                                                                        George B. Ayres, artist, h 2021 N 12th

                                                             1885: Bucher Ayres (B. Ayres & Co[mpany]), h 631 N 12th

                                                                        ----no entry for G B Ayres----

                                                             1890: Bucher Ayres, h 805 N 17th

                                                                        G. Ayres, h 1916 Mt Vernon  ß Who is this?  No other possible entry for GBA.

                                                             1895: Bucher Ayres, h 805 N 17th

                                                                                                                  Geo. B. Ayres, artist, 1816 N 16th

                                                             1900:  ----[J Bucher Ayres deceased]----

                                                                        Geo B. Ayres, artist, 1710 Oxford

                                                             1910:  ----no relevant entries----

 

     There are no entries for the years thereafter, thus appointing to the apparent demise of George Bucher Ayres.

 

     Recall that George Bucher Ayres had had two children, both daughters.  Their names were Edith Lyon Ayres and Annie Smith Ayres.  There is a non-specific reference to one of them on the worldwide web.  Making reference to matters discussed earlier in this article, events decades after GBA’s death are referred to:

 

                                        “In those days, photographers used wet, glass plates, and it was common

                                     practice for them to reclaim the glass by dipping it in an acid bath to remove

                                     the collodian which carried the picture. Somehow, the Lincoln picture

                                     escaped that fate.

 

                                        In 1866, about a year after Lincoln was assassinated, Hesler's studio passed

                                     into the hands of George B. Ayres. The full impact of Lincoln's legacy had

                                     not yet dawned on people, but Ayres decided to keep the negatives as

                                     mementos. A year later he sold the studio and moved East, taking the

                                     negatives with him. Five weeks later the studio burned.

 

                                        Ayres left the negatives to two daughters, and in 1932, a Philadelphia

                                     lawyer accepted them in lieu of a fee and debt on the estate of one of the

                                     daughters. When the attorney attempted to send them by mail to St. Louis,

                                     the negatives were broken, making it impossible to obtain any further prints

                                     from them. They were turned over to the Smithsonian Institute.

 

                                        These were believed to be the only existing negatives of the historic picture

                                     until the fall of 1952, when King V. Hostick, Springfield collector of historical

                                     documents, found a duplicate set of negatives in an assortment of effects he

                                     bought in Philadelphia from the Ayres estate. This print was made from one of

                                     these negatives.”

 

     Before discussing the main implications her discussed, consider the possible clarification of events before this time by statements made in this quote.  It lays claim that George had sold the studio before the Great Fire – even spelling out a timeframe of five weeks.   The above quote also makes it appear that GBA likely possessed no insight as to the future value of the photographic plates he had acquired, but kept them, apparently, more out of interest in the subject of the photographs, than in any intrinsic value they might later have.  

 

     The quote also says George’s estate was in Philadelphia.  Hence, it adds a bit of weight to the argument that George likely died in Philadelphia.

 

     George had made a duplicate set of negatives.  Hence some information might yet be found if knowledge of the affairs of King V. Hostick can be determined, and the source of the current possessor of the duplicate plates can be questioned.

 

     What caused George to do something with the plates and when did he do it?  Yet another quote on the web says:

 

                                        “In 1866 George B. Ayres became the proprietor of Hesler Gallery in

                                        Chicago were he found the negative of the young Lincoln.  25 years later,

                                        triggered by a beardless Lincoln picture in Harper's Magazine, he

                                        remembered his photographic relics and brought the negative to light again.

                                        It was used as the frontispiece in John Hay and John Nicolay Lincoln

                                        biography which first appeared in The Century in November 1886.

 

     Since that time until the 1890’s and possibly later, George Bucher Ayres made prints from the negatives and colored those prints, and they can be found at several well-known institutions.  They have been located at the Paul Revere House, Franklin-Marshall University, the Norton Museum of Art, and elsewhere, including private collections.  From time to time, one even sees a sale of one of the prints in public auction.

 

     What demise did George Bucher Ayres meet, and when did it come, and where is the place of his interment.  Unfortunately, at this point in time, I am unaware of the answers to these.  I merely speculate, perhaps with a bit more insight than mere guessing, that he likely died in 1906 or briefly thereafter, and is buried in what surely was at the time considered a highly-respected cemetery, perhaps alongside his daughters and wife, most likely in the hometown he knew best and last – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 

                                                                                                         Vincent Edward Summers

                                                                                                         Charlottesville, Virginia                                                                                                         

                                                                                                         October 23, 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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