1833: Frederick Graff to Charles Graff

Frederick Graff, Designer of Fairmount Water Works, Philadelphia

This letter was written by Frederick Graff (1775-1847), the son of Jacob Graff, Jr., and Maria Shinkle, who was a Philadelphia Engineer and a protege of Benjamin Latrobe from 1799 to 1804. His crown of achievement was designing the Philadelphia Water Works — called Fairmount — and then serving for many years as its Superintendent of operations. Lamed at age 18 when he accidentally struck his knee with an axe, Frederick Graff turned the interest in building he inherited from his father into studying architectural design and drafting.

In the letter, Frederick mentions taking his sons Frederick (b. 1817) and Charles (b. 1820) with him to Cape May [New Jersey] to try some cold water bathing therapy and also to visit the Delaware Breakwater Project then completing its fifth year of construction on Delaware Bay. He also mentions taking his wife Judith and daughter Mary (b. 1809) with him to Brandywine Chalybeate Springs — a resort owned by a group of Quaker businessmen in Newcastle County, Delaware.

Frederick wrote the letter to his brother, Charles H. Graff (1779-1846), a Philadelphia merchant, then traveling in France with his 18 year-old son Frederick. Charles was married to Ann Maurer (1792-1856). Besides Frederick, two other children of Charles and Ann’s are mentioned in this letter — Ann Graff (1813-1896) and Mary Graff (1816-18xx). Charles’s trip to France may have been purely for pleasure rather than business though we learn from this letter that he intended to procure a new set of dentures while in Paris because Frederick pleads with him to “save your old teeth for me” as promised.

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Addressed to Charles Graff, Esq., Paris [France]

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
August 5, 1833

Dear Charles,

With extreme pleasure your favours of May 29 and June 14 have been received. Altho you appear to have been troubled with indisposition, I was rejoiced that this far nothing serious had taken place and that you were likely to be gratified in seeing all the wonders, which you so long felt an anxiety to examine for yourself. Your description commencing with your departure from Havre [France] with a detail of the buildings, roads, manners &c. &c. has given me great pleasure to read, particularly as I now know from a correct source that such things are. I have read your letters several times with satisfaction. It is difficult to comprehend or imagine how all the various operations working in such a scene & bustle work thro the world and maintain themselves from starvation and distress. The heavy expenses of maintaining the King and all the grandeur it would appear must exhaust all the resources that could be raised and that the small fry would of course starve, or that an end or termination of funds to carry on such extravagance must finally cease. Whether such a winding up will not take place both in France and England is a question. In such a case, many throats must be cut. My own opinion is that the time will arrive when such a state of things will be, but whether they take place sooner or later, I cannot tell. At the same time, I believe that the period is not far distant. In France, the people generally appear to be ripe for such fun as they are used to such changes. In England and Ireland, they feel equally disposed to act but thus far the Grandees manage to rule with better judgment and they keep the distressed so low as to foot them. But let them once rise to a fair starting point and then farewell to all order.

We received a letter from Mr. Saybert directed to you asking a remittance of $3000 after paying your account of former advances made to him. It left to his credit only about $200. However, in a few days after some rents were paid, which aided his funds up to the sum of $659.00. The balance $2341.00 to make up the sum he wanted I advanced. I obtained bills for that amount $3000 which have been remitted under cover, directed to Mr. Saybert, he not having instructed that they should be addressed to Welles & Co. for his use. Your memorandum of remittances previous, some were to H. Saybert, and some to Welles & Co.. This rather bothered us. Finally, we concluded to remit to the order of Mr. Saybert. If Mr. Saybert should be present, it matters not, but should he be absent, the draft would have to wait his return for signature.

The presents you have sent have not yet arrived from New York [City]. I shall take care that the cost of duties & charges shall be duly sent to Mr. Fox.

I wrote two letters to you of no particular import, except that they mentioned that we were going on here as formerly. I have only to report that our family and all other links in our chain of relations still hold together without any change — better or worse — except that we have become somewhat older. Your friends are all pleased to hear from you. About the middle of July, I proceeded to Cape May [New Jersey] with my [sons] Fred & Charles under a hope of getting relief of my complaint by bathing. The moment I entered the water — which was very cold — I found it would not answer as I immediately began to founder. Next day, I tried it again with worse success. Instead of a glow of heat when I got out, I became chilled and in 2 hours after became so stiff as to be unable to stoop to unlock my trunk. Of course I gave up any further attempts at bathing. Next day, 80 of us went across the [Delaware] Bay to the breakwater in the steamboat, dined alongside of the breakwater, and returned to the cape in the evening after a delightful days excursion, and satisfactory examination of the great work which when finished cannot fail to be useful to the full extent calculated upon. [William] Strickland [the project engineer] was not there. [Adam] Traquair [the inspector of stone] was a good substitute and he explained all to us in a very satisfactory manner. The next day I returned to the city after an absence of five whole days, which you know is a long time allowed for curing a complaint in the back of 4 months standing.

The Brandywine Springs Landscape in the 1830s

The next day I took Judith and Mary to the Brandywine Springs and was much gratified to find it occupied by a number of our most respectable families, who before I left there increased to the number of 120 children. And all told, we had fine music at dinner, and at tea time, then music and dancing till 10 o’clock. In fact, I was much pleased and could — if time would have permitted — spent a month there as the living and every arrangement is kept up in first rate style. I was very anxious that Judith and Mary should continue there, and that I would come once a week to see them, but all would not do and they returned with me after 3 days absence from home.

Aunt Nancy determined to stick to your order that your family shall remain together during your absence, prevented me from urging that your Ann & Mary should go to the Springs with us. Had they been along, I could have prevailed on them & Judith to stay, which I am certain would have been beneficial to them all.

The season has been very cool and our city remains wonderfully healthy, as the evenings have begun to be cool. I flatter myself we shall pass along tolerable pleasant and I hope with continuance of health until we all shall meet again, which I presume will be about 20 November next.

Grandfather, his wife, & my [daughter] Henrietta have been to Baltimore. Mr. & Mrs. Trenor have been to Boston. All have returned and on our stations of duty.

Your son Charles attends to all matters and affairs most attentively. Aunt Nancy and the children ride out. Everything goes on with success and nothing but anxious wishes that you may be placed ____ to prevail from all hands.

Do not forget to save your old teeth for me — remember you promised them. I expect when we see you again, it will require an introduction to know you and an interpreter to understand you as in all probability you will become so french as to have lost your English. Don’t forget my teeth as I assure you they will not come too soon.

As to general matters, they are so similar to what they were when you left us that I wil not trouble you with a detail. Your Philadelphia Bank has been painted outside and looks well. Old Mr. Bird who lives above Mr. Pepper died last week. Cousin Bainbridge is also dead. Your friend, J. C. Stockin has also departed this life. He was buried last week. He had taken a trip of pleasure to Long Branch. It appears the doctor had cautioned him as to his living &c. He was, I believe, taken with the gout in the head which soon closed his earthly career. One of the Lewis’ takes his place in the office. He gives to Mr. Stockin the salary for this year after which God knows how they will make out. So I am not so good a scribe as yourself at description. You must take my letter for its worth. In fact, you have all new subjects before you to excite wonders, while I have only the old fiddle to play on. Of course my music will be dull to you, while every note you please to send me is new. Therefore, please favor me with frequent letters as I assure you they will be very gratifying.

All our love and respect to you and Frederick. We would have been pleased to hear from him. For the happiness of yourself and friends, I offer my sincere wishes under a hope that we shall meet again in November next to enjoy all the pleasures we anticipate in hearing your descriptions of castles, parks &c. &c.

I remain, yours most sincerely, — Frederick Graff

The Fairmount Water Works designed by Frederick Graff. Bartlett Painting (1835)

One response to “1833: Frederick Graff to Charles Graff

  • Cap'n John

    Anyone who has a line of descent from these Graffs and would like more information regarding them may contact me at capnjohn-at-windstream-dot-net.

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