Author: Leo Lawton
In the 800 block of Leadenhall Street in Baltimore resides the oldest woodworking firm in the United States. Founded by Joseph Thomas in 1820, the business was soon named Joseph Thomas and Son with the birth of his son in 1823.
It came to be that in the year 1845 an enterprising young worker named John L. Lawton found himself in the employ of Joseph. On a beautiful afternoon John took a break, stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air, glanced up, and lo and behold, espied a beautiful young lady gazing from an upstairs window. It seems that Joseph Thomas’ home was immediately to the rear of the factory, and John had caught a glimpse of Henrietta, the twenty-year-old daughter of his boss. John, being but a year older than the comely Henrietta, began to make a habit of stepping out to gaze longingly at the window for a possible glimpse of the young maiden. From time to time his luck was strong, and the young lass would appear as a vision in the upstairs window.
From a sly smile on the face of the damsel in 1845, things progressed to a point in 1847 that they married.
Although I do not know the birth year of Joseph Thomas, it was no later than 1800, and probably earlier, as evidenced by his starting a business in 1820. By the year 1858, John had been faithfully working in the business for at least thirteen years, married to Joseph’s daughter for eleven of them, and he was admitted as a member of the firm. Joseph died in 1865. John, and Henrietta’s brother Jacob B. Thomas, continued to operate as a partnership which lasted over forty years, until John’s death in 1908. Jacob’s demise followed John’s in 1911, and Henrietta the following year.
At some point the frame of the window where Henrietta had so wistfully gazed those many years before, was removed, and the wood was lovingly turned into a picture frame. A picture of John was placed in the frame, and attached was a short note. It reads:
“Made from the frame at which sat daughter of Joseph Thomas Sr. in 1845. Dwelling being on site of New Theater on Lexington St. factory being immediately in the rear. John L Lawton, employed by Joseph Thomas and Son, saw her and, attracted by her appearance sought to win her love. After a short courtship they were married.”
Two of the sons of that marriage, Joseph T. Lawton, president, and William T. Lawton, vice president, along with Joseph T. Lawton Jr. Secretary, make up the corporate structure.
Love Conquers All
Twice the wooden frame has been seriously endangered, but has survived the perils. In 1873, while the frame was yet in the dwelling’s window, the Clay street fire started in the Thomas plant, and swept through several blocks of the city. Again in 1921, fire started within the Thomas mill. The mill was completely destroyed, but the frame was miraculously found still intact. It was then cut to its present size, and the picture was installed within its boundaries. It has hung since on the corporate office wall.