Friday, October 11, 2013

Union Card Found in OSC Chimney Breast

On October 4, 2013, the construction workers made an exciting discovery in the chimney of the Old Senate Chamber. Lodged between the bricks was an old piece of paper that turned out to be a union card from the Bricklayer's Union of Maryland #5 dated April 1904. On the back of the card was a handwritten note that said, "Built by C. H. Obery Jr., Jos. Holland, July 29, 1906."

This card is almost certainly a remnant of the 1905 renovations of the State House under architects Baldwin and Pennington, which notably included the addition of the New Annex. The State House Building Commission also worked on the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber. Among the extensive renovations to take place in the chamber in 1905, the fireplace, which had been torn out in 1858, was rebuilt.

Workers uncovered a piece of paper in the chimney breast of the Old Senate Chamber, 4 October 2013.
Vicki Lee, Senior Conservator of the Maryland State Archives, inspects the union card in the chimney breast, 4 October 2013.

Careful analysis of the card revealed the workmen to be two Annapolis bricklayers, Charles H. Obery Jr. and Joseph Holland. While little evidence can be turned up in regards to the professional lives of these men, a significant amount of information can be revealed about their personal lives.

Charles H. Obery Jr. was born in 1882 in Annapolis to the Chief of Police, Charles H. Obery Sr., and his wife, Bertha. Both Charles Jr. and his brother, John, became bricklayers. Charles married twice - the second time to Estella Mary League, also of Annapolis, though no children resulted from either marriage. Estella died in 1953, and Charles in 1956; both are buried at St. Anne's Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Annapolis.

Joseph Holland was born in Annapolis in 1861. He spent his childhood on West Street, only a few houses away from the Obery family. Like Obery Jr., he was apprenticed as a bricklayer in his teens. Holland lived in Annapolis all of his life, just down the street from the State House. He died in 1922 and is buried with his wife, Ida, at St. Anne's Cemetery.

Front image of the 1904 Union Card. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5830-1-4.
Back image of the 1904 Union Card. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5830-1-4.
Wrapped around the union card was also an undated card that tracked Obery's membership payments to the union. Together, these artifacts provide an interesting key to the lives of the often overlooked laborers who have worked on the Senate Chamber over the centuries. Records rarely divulged the names of the workers, thus making a personal artifact such as this of great significance.

For more information on the workmen, please visit Charles Obery Jr. and Joseph Holland's bio pages. We will continue to update this blog with any more new finds as construction continues in the Old Senate Chamber!

Please contact us if you have a relative who was involved in the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber in 1905 or 1940.

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