James C. Clarke was a distinguished man and Frederick, Maryland resident. He was one of the most notable railroad men in History. He was brought into the world by Dr. Gustavus Warfield on March 3, 1824 in Unity, Montgomery County, MD. Son of Elizabeth (Betsy) Simpson and William Clarke. The Simpsons’ originally came from the South England and his father from Newtownard, County Down, Ireland. Betsy and William were entered into the estate of matrimony by the Reverend Doctor Jennings on May 4, 1823. William was employed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad when it was extending its line into Frederick County.
Betsy Simpson Clarke was very spoiled and high spirited. They were aristocratic,descending from Worthington’s and Ridgely’s, and quite wealthy owning many slaves. Mr. William Clarke was very amiable and endeavored to please her but she would frequently fly into a rage and seeking revenge would set free some of the slaves. Finally Mr. William Clarke would leave her and the family never to return.
Betsy in time became poor and at 12 years of age James C. Clarke stopped his schooling at Point of Rocks, MD to seek employment. He called on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal but was refused work due to his young age. James pressed on telling them he had a mother to support. They admired his courage and started him as a water boy. By age 16 he was a mule driver of a canal boat and held the position for four years eventually rising to the owner of a boat, which was sunk in a collision.
In 1844, when he was 20 years of age, he applied for a job on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and was accepted. His hard work and industrious application soon brought their reward. For 10 years he labored for the B & O starting in the machine and repair shops advancing to a locomotive fireman and next an engineer. He was an ambitious young man on the move. He soon mastered the conductors job, station agent and then train master. During his term of service he ran the old engine “Arabian.”
December 21, 1852 he married Susan Schaffer (1832-1892), daughter of Peter Schaffer and Elizabeth Brunner. The Brunner family it should be noted was one of the first families of Frederick. Her great-grandfather, Jacob Bruner, founded a tract of land called “Shiverstadt” now known as Schifferstadt and the home still remains to this day. James and Susan had 5 children.
In 1854 James C. Clarke was made superintendent of the Central Ohio Railroad where he was when the famous Col. John H. Drone, master of transportation on the B & O ,was selected as General Superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad. The only man that he asked to bring with him for the job was James C. Clarke. James was appointed Assistant Superintendent under Col. Drone.
Col. Drone died in an accident at Hyde Park in 1856 and James Clarke succeeded him as General Superintendent. While in charge he had the task of safely transporting President Abraham Lincoln from Harrisburg, PA to Washington, DC. A few years before Abraham Lincoln had been an attorney for the Illinois Central Railway and they enjoyed renewing their friendship while traveling together.
The Clarke family was eager to return to Maryland to engage in farming, milling and merchandising in Frederick County, MD. He was regularly visited by Federal and Confederate Armies. He once owned the farm that was owned by Governor Frank Thomas.
From 1862-1870 he took charge of the Ashland Iron works in Baltimore County, Maryland at a large salary in the manufacturing of iron. His success was unparalleled, he soon became an owner of interest in this establishment.
In 1866 after three years residency in Baltimore County, J.C. Clarke was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. In 1867 he was elected to the State Senate in Annapolis where he served for two terms at that point he was offered the presidency of the Western Railroad for a handsome salary, but turned it down for his first love the canal.
in 1870 Governor Bowie met with the Board of Public Works in Annapolis and nominated J. C. Clarke as President of the C & O Canal at $10,000.00 dollars per annum. The highest salary ever paid.
In 1872 General Clarke was made President and General Manager of the Erie Railroad where he remained until 1874. He was then made an offer to be the General Superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad, rising to President of the railroad in 1883. During his 4 year presidency the railroad shared in the general prosperity incidental to the western boom in immigration.
In 1888 Clarke went with the Mobile and Ohio Railroad for a year and a half as its V.P. and General Manager. He salvaged a flailing railroad and was able to put back the road on a paying basis and when he retired in 1898 left the railroad in a most prosperous condition. Clarke is described as a rough and ready railroader, tall and strong with a can-do attitude. He was a master story teller and loved by all.
James C. Clarke passed away December 9, 1902 of Bright’s Disease. He is honored in death by a family monument in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Buried beside him are his wife, children and family friend Caroline V. Haller.
Clarke Place, a charming street in Frederick County, Maryland was named for James C. Clarke. The beautiful fountain in front of the old court house (now City Hall) was donated to the City of Frederick in 1862 by the General. General Clarke had a love affair with the city for which he and his family had resided and he always remained a benefactor.
Photograph of City Hall Courtesy of Bob Carney, all rights reserved.