In my continuing interest to put “flesh on the bones” of people of interest in Hancock County history, I could not help but note in reading a history of Pass Christian that there was a two-line entry saying that Albert Baldwin had died. Strange, I thought, because he was a Hancock County standout, and I had no knowledge of a connection to Harrison County.
We do have a few stories about Baldwin and his lodge, and we know that it was destroyed by one of our hurricanes. The ruin is accessible by boat nowadays, but in earlier days it was one of the stops that the L&N Railroad made for the convenience of fishermen.
Some of our members have visited the site but all they could get to see were the steps to the former house and the nearby swimming pool.
Considering the romantic aspects of this idyllic lodge on historic Pearl River, one might expect that the Baldwin file in Hancock County Historical Society is among the thicker ones. In point of fact, it is not exactly one of the skinny ones, but this is because its contents include a wonderful memoir of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Baldwin by two of their granddaughters, requiring approximately 27 pages. Other than that, the “standing” file has been empty.
The Alphabet File
What we do have are mentions in our alphabet files.
One, on page 18, recounts the fact of Baldwin’s death, giving a date of death as 21st April, 1912. It lists his two marriages and the names of his children and of their spouses.
An item that was written in 1892 tells of the “Club House” then being erected by “Mr. Baldwin and others…at the east end of the Louisville and Nashville bridge across the Pearl.” This is found on page 387, which also speaks in glowing terms of the opportunities for fishing and hunting in the area.
A transfer of ownership is also found on page 17, this dated November 15, 1922. It describes a $12,000 sale to daughter Alice Baldwin Vairin for a tract of land bounded north by the L&N, south by a bayou, west by Pearl River, and east by land formerly owned by Samuel White, together with building and improvements. The property is called Baldwin Lodge.
The Daily Picayune
Several articles have been discovered by my able assistant, who happens to be my daughter Nicole, an expert navigator of search engines.
One of significance comes from The Daily Picayune of New Orleans, dated April 22, 1912. It tells of the arrival of Baldwin and a number of guests at Baldwin Lodge, and that he felt well and was in good spirits. However, in short time he was discovered unconscious by a servant, who alerted Judge O’Donnell and other guests. Physicians and nurses were called, but Baldwin never regained consciousness.
He was seventy-eight years old.
Baldwin’s remains were brought to his home on Esplanade in New Orleans, and a funeral followed quickly thereon. Officiating was Rev. A. R. Edbrooke, rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Burial was at the family tomb in Metairie Cemetery.
In addition, the article contributes substantially to filling out the person and character of the man. We find that he was born in Watertown, Massachusetts on April 7, 1834. As a young man he became a bookkeeper at one of the oldest dry goods store in Boston. Soon he was considered one of the most expert accountants in Boston, and “a mathematician second to none in the country.” Eventually, he resigned his position in Boston and followed his brother to New Orleans, where he was employed by an established dry goods store, Burnside and Co. Upon the death of his brother, Baldwin was asked to succeed him in the firm of C.H. Slocomb and Co. Within five years, Baldwin’s name appeared in the name of the company, eventually becoming Baldwin and Co., a large hardware business incorporated in 1888. At the same time, Baldwin was associated with other financial institutions of the city, and became president and founder of the New Orleans National Bank.
A member of the Boston Club, Baldwin also had financial interests in a number of other businesses in the city. He was also an originator of the New Orleans Carnival Association and was one of the first kings of Carnival.
Baldwin was a philanthropist. He supported many charities, and was said to be non-ostentatious in those pursuits.
Biographical information in the article includes Baldwin’s marriage in 1862 to Artemise Bouligny, said to be “one of the beautiful girls of the day and of one of the most prominent families in the south.” A list of all of the children along with the business positions of several is included.
It was noted that Mrs. Baldwin had died in the previous year.
Known to have entertained lavishly, Baldwin often had the city’s most prominent people as guests, sometimes at the lodge. It may be assumed that some of these were among the seventy-four honorary pallbearers at Albert Baldwin’s funeral. Of particular note is that one of the Fortier family and Albert Baldwin Wood were among the active pallbearers. (The latter was the creator of the pumps which dispatch rainwater from the low-lying areas of New Orleans and are still in use.)
At one point he entertained former president Ulysses Grant.
The Times Picayune
An article dated August 4, 1911 reports that Mrs. Albert Baldwin had died the day before. Described as “one of the most prominent social leaders of the city, a descendant of two of the most aristocratic and ancient families.” Mrs. Baldwin was a member of the Catholic Church, her funeral being at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Born on September 8, 1850 in New Orleans, she married Albert Baldwin when she was sixteen. They had six children.
Her parents were Gustave Bouligny and Octavie Fortier. Her great grandfather had come from Spain with Governor O’Reilly and served for a while as acting governor of Louisiana. Professor Alcee Fortier, the noted historian, was a cousin of Mrs. Baldwin.
A long article titled “Hunting Grounds and Fishing Camps” appeared on February 26, 1901. While it is useful in adding information about Commodore Baldwin and his lodge, it also identifies his “ trim steam yacht” as the Idem Semper, meaning “Always the Same.”
The article is also included here for its listing of the many camps and clubs throughout the marshes of lower Mississippi and Louisiana.
Even now those areas have a proliferation of fishing camps, as can be observed on the shores of Pearl River and the Highway 90 drive between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne. Indeed, in my own memory, the L&N, on at least one of its daily trips between New Orleans and Clermont Harbor, made stops to pick up or unload fishermen at camps along the way. In this regard, the long-term memory of Ellis Cuevas is helpful. His parents once worked at one of the stops, operated by the Becker Hotel of New Orleans for its patrons. Ellis recalls several other stops besides Baldwin Lodge without hesitation: Ansley, English Lookout, and Lake Catherine.
The list of those mentioned in the article is impressive, giving an observer an idea of the enormity of interest in pleasure fishing:
Seven Ponds Club
Pine Islands Club
Happy Family Club
Tally ho Club
Queen and Crescent Club
While it is probable that most of the clubs were in Louisiana marshes, there was undoubtedly a kinship between those fishermen and the Mississippians whose camps dotted the Pearl River and Mulatto Bayou.
A column headed simply “Society” appeared in the Times Picayune dated November 8, 1896. It details a long list of comings and goings, and announces the 1896-97 season of the French Opera House.
It is included here for its description of the Baldwin Lodge: “Mr. Albert Baldwin was the genial host of a fishing party on Saturday of last week at the handsome clubhouse ‘Baldwin,’ lately erected on the bank of Pearl River, just where the Louisville and Nashville bridge crosses the stream. The clubhouse is a very pretty and attractive building, with every comfort and convenience, and shadowed by immense oaks, which add greatly to the picturesque effect of the grayish-green cottage, with it inviting broad galleries. An artificial pond, stocked with fine fish, is one of the many attractions offered the guests. A handsome steam yacht, the Semper Idem, is also at the disposal of the members and guests.”
[Editor’s note: I cannot help but wonder whether this Society column was one of the innovations added by Eliza Holbrook Nicholson during her term as publisher, 1867-1896. It has been recorded that such a column was one of her methods of pulling the financially troubled paper out of its deficits. For more information, see web site article, “Fort Nicholson.”]
This Massachusetts newspaper published an article on March 17, 1900, about a visit of some of its own residents to the Mardi Gras. They were Mr. and Mrs. James Robbins, and they were entertained by Albert Baldwin, “a former Cambridge boy and an old friend of Mr. Robbins and now one of the leading citizens of New Orleans….and vice-president of the electric street railway of New Orleans.” They told of a trip to dine at West End, travelling in Mr. Baldwin’s private car.
The article gives a bit more of the Baldwin biography, indicating that he had been born in Cambridge 65 years before, and that his business experience began when he was eighteen in a Boston dry goods store. He was paid $75 dollars per year. Later, it is written, he went to New Orleans during the Civil War and accumulated a fortune. His activities in addition to banking included hardware and farming machinery businesses and many other enterprises.
The Robbins couple also described a trip to Baldwin’s lodge and to “a large chateau owned by Commodore Baldwin and Capt. Schleder….The lodge is furnished in a costly manner with the best of plumbing, and water supplied by an artesian well.” They reported four fish ponds.
On one day of the excursion, they took the Idem Semper to Sea Glen, which they said was also owned by Baldwin, and described it incorrectly as having been the plantation of Gov. Claiborne of Mississippi. (This was better known as Laurel Wood when it was the plantation of J.F.H. Claiborne, whose uncle had been Governor of Mississippi Territory and later governor of Louisiana.)
More importantly, Mr. Robbins told of a drive of many miles through pine woods and cotton fields, thus indicating that cotton was still much in evidence in the plantations of the Pearl River area at the turn of the century.
Memoirs of Two Granddaughters
It would be a sin of omission if more were not mentioned about the transcript of a dialogue between the two granddaughters and an unknown interviewer. It is dated April 30, 1983.
These were granddaughters Aphro Vairin Morris, and Alice Vairin Westfelt, called Mamoo. Their memories – often contrary – are delightful to read about, even if their portrayals of their grandparents are somewhat irreverent at times. Contradictions make one wonder about accuracy, such as one recalling that Baldwin had shipped armaments to Central America, while the other had no such recall.
Moreover, one of these ladies said that Baldwin had thirteen children, whereas the correct number appears to have been six. The difference seems to have been that there were other children who died.
The dialogue is important in its revelations concerning the relationship of Albert Baldwin to his wife Arthemise, who lived under the same roof but were essentially estranged. It is also valuable for its description of the interior of the Baldwin mansion on Esplanade.
The memoir is particularly interesting to me for a personal reason. As I am told, the sisters at the time of the interview lived in the 19-hundred block of Esplanade. That house is directly across from a home which I owned for ten years, that being 1914 Esplanade. In addition, the mansion of their grandparents, two blocks away, was designed by the prolific architect Henry Howard. My home also was created by Howard, though not so palatial as the Baldwin house.
Baldwin and His Lodge – an Exoneration
It is mentioned above that while we had little by way of paper files for Albert Baldwin, we do have “stories.” Some of these are not too kind to his memory. What I have been told was that the lodge was more a den of iniquity than it was a fishing camp, that there was gambling and carousing and maybe even a few females who were not interested in piscatorial pursuits.
Happily for the memory of Mr. Baldwin – and so that Mrs. Baldwin may rest in peace – the sum total of my research indicates that Baldwin Lodge was respectable. It was a place to which its owner invited distinguished guests, business associates, and family. Even Mrs. Baldwin was known to take her own guests; indeed, the Society columnist of the Times Picayune must have been invited to write about Baldwin Lodge, reporting it on the same page as the program for the Old French Opera House.