14 West Hamilton Street Club
The 14 West Hamilton Street Club, a group of Baltimoreans who enjoy good company, lively conversation, and excellent meals, formed in 1925. Young Princeton graduates in the city, eager to continue the traditions of the campus eating club, and several additional members of the venerable Baltimore Club who enjoyed special events with speakers joined forces that year and obtained quarters on this narrow old thoroughfare, which runs for just a few blocks east and west, above Franklin Street and south of Centre, a short distance from Mount Vernon Place. The club grew slowly but confidently. It kept few records and still prides itself on having no officers and as few rules as possible. First occupying a carriage house at 9 West Hamilton Street, then a townhouse at no. 16, the club in 1936 purchased no. 14—the center building of a set of five designed and built by Robert Cary Long Sr., probably before 1820--and has been there ever since.
The club continues, as originally it did, to draw members from journalism, architecture, medicine, the law, the arts, and scholarship. Founding and early members included, as examples, a juvenile court judge and head of Baltimore social services, Thomas J. S. Waxter; Dr. I. Ridgeway Trimble, a Baltimore native and Johns Hopkins Medical School graduate; the Haverford College star athlete and Harvard-trained member of the Baltimore bar, James Carey III; D. K. Este Fisher, a prominent Baltimore architect; former judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals William L. Henderson; a Cornell University graduate and physician, William F. Rienhoff Jr.; Hamilton Owens, editor of the Evening Sun; the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Sun cartoonist Edmund Duffy and other newspaper editors and writers, among them John W. Owens, Gerald W. Johnson, Frederic C. Nelson, Louis Azrael, William Manchester, and Robin Harriss; the Johns Hopkins research scientist and amateur musician Raymond Pearl; a Peabody concert pianist, Frank Bibb; George Boas, a distinguished Johns Hopkins University philosopher; Sidney Painter, renowned Johns Hopkins medievalist; a University of Maryland Law School dean, Robert H. Freeman; the writer/historian Hulbert Footner; Wilbur H. Hunter, director of the Peale Museum; John Dos Passos and Ogden Nash; and a succession of heads of the Johns Hopkins Medical School—Lewis Weed, Alan M. Chesney, Thomas B. Turner (who celebrated his one-hundredth birthday at the club in 2002), and Philip Bard. Gilbert Chinard, a student of French history and culture at Johns Hopkins, expounded on the delights of French cooking before taking a faculty position at Princeton. The editorial page editor and food critic at the Sunpapers, Philip M. Wagner, established Boordy Vineyards, the first successful vineyard in modern-day Maryland. William W. Woollcott, a free spirit and wit who worked for the family chemical company, once observed, "Here I am, the only businessman in the club, surrounded by parasites." In all, members have shared intellectual curiosity, irreverence, and a devotion to those fine things that deans of liberal arts colleges remind us to cherish--truth, justice, and beauty.
At mid-twentieth century, a Sunpapers columnist and early club member, Francis F. Beirne, published a volume entitled The Amiable Baltimoreans, in which he sketched a portrait of the club. Early in World War II, he reported, a member had explained to a guest that, at Hamilton Street, anyone was entitled to say anything he wanted and talk for as long as he wished, although no one had to listen. The visitor, Lord Lothian, announced that he knew of such a place at home—the House of Lords.
H. H. Walker Lewis, lawyer and anointed club scribe, wrote a delightful history of the club on its fiftieth anniversary in 1975. Not long afterward the club departed long practice and admitted women. To capture the story of that decision and the searching it inspired, Bradford McE. Jacobs, an Evening Sun editorial page editor, contributed a mock-heroic codicil to Walker’s history entitled "A Chronicle of a Certain Episode Which Occurred at Fourteen West Hamilton Street."
Robert J. Brugger
Johns Hopkins University Press