PORT DEPOSIT – The name of Jacob Tome seems to have overshadowed all who came before or after him in Port Deposit.
The name remains vivid with Tome School in North East, Tome’s Landing Condominiums, Jacob Tome Highway and, of course, the current Port Deposit Mayor Wayne L. Tome. Certainly Tome’s philanthropy in building the Tome Memorial United Methodist Church and creating a free school for the children of Port Deposit, Jacob Tome Institute, give good reason for him to be so well remembered.
But there are others who made their fortunes in Port Deposit and shared their wealth through great philanthropic gifts or practices that seem to have faded from recent memory. Among the most pronounced and prominent of these in Port Deposit may have been James Harvey Rowland, who was born in Rowlandville, a former village north of Port Deposit, on Dec. 24, 1819, to Samuel Rowland and Mary (Black) Rowland.
The town of Rowlandville, where Samuel and Mary Rowland lived and raised their children, was founded by William and Sarah Rowland, the parents of Samuel and grandparents of James. It was known as a mill village after the mill that was built there in the 1700s along Octoraro Creek that expanded by turns into the Morocto Roofing Paper Company. It was also home to the McCullough Iron Company in production of metal for roofing of structures.
James Rowland did not enter the milling business or the mercantile business that his father engaged in at Rowlandville. Rather, James saw the opportunity, much as Jacob Tome had in 1833, and entered the lumber business at Port Deposit. Educated at West Nottingham Academy in Colora, James left the banks of the Susquehanna upon graduation to engage in the mercantile trade of the bustling Baltimore city for four years, before returning to Port Deposit and lumber.
He formed a partnership in Williamsport, Pa., with B.C. Bowman and developed a firm that would own massive tracts of standing timber and operate numerous large saw mills.
Like Tome, Rowland thus owned the land and trees in the timber stands, the saw mills where they were processed and frequently the vessels that brought the lumber to Port Deposit as part of a raft. He then built a massive warehouse in Port Deposit, where it was stored and subsequently sold, as well as the larger sailing vessels that hauled it to points along the Chesapeake Bay.
Rowland was not content to remain along the Susquehanna River with his investments, though he did not follow Tome’s path into Pennsylvania and Michigan for his additional land purchases. He instead looked to West Virginia and invested in coal and timber lands there. From these purchases, he extended his offerings in Port Deposit at his warehouse and office located between the current Oyster Shell Alley and Rowland Drive — appropriately enough — along the waterfront.
Although Rowland’s investments in the town of Port Deposit did not have the long-term impact of the Jacob Tome Institute, they nonetheless stand as a testament to his wealth and efforts today.
Whereas Tome’s mansion known as Hytheham was torn down at the close of World War II, between 66 S. Main St. and the existing Carriage House, Rowland’s mansion still stands. It is the only house in Port Deposit with a north-facing front door. Built of Port Deposit granite with an impressive interior showcasing beautiful varieties of wood and carving techniques, the Rowland Mansion once served as the manse for the Presbyterian Church.
Rowland’s other great achievement for the town of Port Deposit, was the erection of the Port Deposit Presbyterian Church at 44 S. Main St. Although the congregation had long been in existence and had a church home at Rock Run (now home to the First Baptist Church of Port Deposit), by early 1900 the congregation was seeking a more impressive edifice and land closer to the center of town or on the south side upon which to build. That land was acquired beside the 1857 Touchstone House, having once served as the home of James Touchstone’s blacksmith shop.
Timing was everything for the congregation, as the architectural firm of Boring and Tilton, composed of William A. Boring and Edward L. Tilton, had been selected to design the Tome School for Boys on the bluff above Port Deposit and were thus in town. They contacted the noted New York architects, who had recently won awards for designing the main buildings of the Ellis Island Immigrant Station, and contracted them to design the new church edifice.
The building they designed with a Gothic tower and lavender stained glass windows in dressed Port Deposit granite with an impressive pipe organ was made possible by the largesse of James H. Rowland and his siblings. Rowland contributed the lion’s share while other family members donated the pews, organ and hymn books, among other treatments. Individual windows were given by members of the congregation as memorials, all in place for the church to be dedicated in 1902.
Rowland only worshipped at the church for a few years before he passed away at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore at the age of 89 on May 24, 1908.
The mansion and the church still remain, however, as a testament to a life lived in Port Deposit. However, a third monument also exists, where he was buried at West Nottingham Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Colora. There one finds the James H. Rowland marker at his gravesite, appearing like an impressive stylized 8-foot-tall doorway with impressive carved details.
The monument is quite impressive, but the most intriguing part is perhaps the small carving on the bottom left corner of the stone, which reads, “Copyright 1909, Tiffany Studios, New York.”