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 William Charlton, Sr

William Charlton, Sr

Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 28 Feb 1888 (aged 48)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Section 133, Lot 50
Memorial ID 18892514 · View Source
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William Charlton was a prominent 15th Ward councilman and businessman in the 1870s and 1880s. His parents were Francis Charlton and Mary (nee Todd) Charlton. They had emigrated from Northern Ireland in 1838, a year before William was born. His father began the family's interests in the lamp black industry and began buying real estate. He passed these interests onto his sons.

We know that William Charlton served in the Civil War due to his G.A.R. Post No. 2 membership. A Pennsylvania veteran burial record index card lists his service with the "3rd Regiment Engineers."

On December 31, 1866, William married Margaret "Maggie" Jane Pollock, 2115 Callowhill St. As a girl, she had emigrated from Scotland with her family. William's occupation was "Chief Engineer" (probably of L. Martin Lampblack Co.). She was the daughter of a cotton factory foreman and carpet manufacturer. They had six children. Three died in infancy. The three surviving children were William, Francis and Margaret.

In 1868, the family was living at 2118 Callowhill Street and William was working as a foreman in the Luther Martin Lampblack factory, SE corner 29th and Oxford, where his father and brother Francis, Jr. were laborers. Maggie worked as a milliner. The family later moved to 402 N. 22nd Street.

William Charlton (Republican) was elected to Common Council on October 11, 1870. He served from January 2, 1871 to January 2, 1873. Daniel M. Fox and William Stokley (1871) were Mayors during this period. Henry Huhn served as President of Common Council until February 15, 1872 when he was removed by the State for malfeasance and was replaced by Louis Wagner. Throughout his term, Charlton lived at 402 N. 22d Street.
During Charlton's tenure, Common Council passed many ordinances and resolutions for the opening, widening, grading and paving of streets and placing streets on the plan of the City. The construction of City Hall at Penn Square began 1871. During 1872, many citizens began petitioning for gas lamp lighting on their streets. Also during this period, Common Council passed bills for the construction of new police station houses throughout the City, including the 4th, 5th, 8th, 19th and 21st Districts. Of note was the new paid Fire Department that was founded the month Charlton was elected and required appropriations. Charlton last attended Council meeting on January 2, 1873.

On May 12, 1873 Charlton purchased a three-bedroom home at 2700 Girard Ave on a 20' x 100' lot. Charlton later widened the lot to 40' x 100' and built a second smaller three-story building attached to the original home. The 1890 Hexemer tax map lists the second property as 2702 Girard ave.

William Charlton continued in the lampblack industy until 1876. In that year, he opened a coal yard at the northeast corner of 28th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Its area comprised half a block bounded by the 2800 block Pennsylvania Avenue, North 28th Street and North Pennock Street. It contained a stable, icehouse, wagon shed and a large coal shed. A short spur from the railroad came into the coal shed off of the Pennsylvania avenue railroad track lines. The 1876 Hexemer tax map lists it as "People's Coal, Ice & Lime Co." with William Charlton, Agent. Starting with the 1878 directories, Charlton is listed as a merchant of coal and ice. The company was later known as the Charlton Coal Co.

Charlton was chosen to serve as an assistant to the Chief Marshal for the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia on July 4, 1876. He was also elected by Council to serve on the Board of Port Wardens for two terms and a half, from May 1878 thru May 1884. He was not re-elected in May 1884. However, he did win re-election in May 1885 and served at least until the Spring of 1887. it was at that time that he was most likely removed due to a deteriorating mental condition.

In October 1882, Charlton was the subject of a bribery inquiry by the Committee of One Hundred during the City Treasurer election. That month, Henry B. Tatham, a lead manufacturer, claimed in the press that in 1872, Republican City Treasurer candidate William B. Irvine gave $400 to Fifteenth Ward Councilman William Charlton to get a contract award to build a bridge over the Schuylkill River at Callowhill street. As a result, the Public Record newspaper reported, the project cost the City $100,000 more than it should.

The surviving record of Council's action on this matter was published in the 1871 Journal of Common Council, Volume 2, (pages 303 - 305). On November 15, 1871, the Council's Committee on Surveys and Regulations reported that contractor J. F. Kennedy came in as the lowest bidder for masonry and J. W. Murphy was the lowest for the bridge itself. Murphy made the "unusual and unjust demand" that Kennedy's bid be disregarded and he get the entire job. Council felt Murphy's disposition was selfish and destroyed the integrity of the bidding process. The Committee then provided two schedules showing that if they replace Murphy with the Keystone Bridge Company, it would increase the project cost by $9,811.55. On December 7, 1871, both Select and Common Councls approved the bridge project with Kennedy for masonry and Keystone for the bridge.

In 1872, Henry B. Tatham, Esq., with residence at 1025 Spruce, was chairman of the Sub-Committee on Tax and Treasury Department of the Committee of Thirty on Abuses. Tatham later became the head of the Municipal Reform Association that hunted for fraud in city contract deals and the Citizens Municipal Committee. The public was used to his accusations against contractors. The basis for the accusation stemmed from a letter he received in 1872 from Henry C. Lea, then President of the Reform Association.

In 1879, rumours that Charlton received a bribe in '72 from Irvine appeared in Fifteenth Ward political circles to hurt Irvine, who was running for City Council at the time. Irvine made emphatic denials and it did not gain much publicity. Reformers resurrected the ugly rumour again a month before the 1882 City Treasurer election to attempt to prevent Irvine from winning that position.

On October 5, 1882, Charlton gave the following response, "These statements have been made with a view to injure my business, and I will protect myself from the defamer." Charlton sought out Irvine to deny the allegation.

Irvine, who was a Fifteenth Ward Councilman and neighbor of Charlton in 1882, went on record denying the bribery payment. Thomas Price, a witness did not support Tatham's claims. Irvine quickly charged Tatham with a libel suit and won the City Treasurer position. This appeared to end the matter.

In 1883, Charlton again became embroiled in a city corruption inquiry. Beginning about September 6, 1883, newspaper headlines reported the Councils Sub-Committee on Law investigating numerous contractors, including Charlton, having been paid twice for the same paving, grading and curbing work. The overpayments were a result of warrants from the City Treasurer and additional payments later on mandamus orders by judges. On September 5, 1883, the Councils Committee held hearings and presented evidence that Charlton was paid twice for grading 28th street from Poplar to Pennsylvania in 1875.

"The Mandamus Inquiry," which focused primarily on the misdeeds of ex-City Solicitor General Collis, ended in March 1884 with the Solicitor exonerated. The press following of Charlton and his case appears to have dropped off by the end of September 1883; its final disposition unknown.

During the early morning hours of September 13, 1883, burglars broke into the office of Charlton's coalyard at 2718 Brown Street. They bored holes in the fireproof safe and blew the door open with powder. The noise raised some of the neighbors, particularly the McBride family, and the burglars were frightened off without obtaining any plunder. It is unknown if the burglary was connected to the mandamus affair.

Without doubt, the mandamus scandal caused Charlton to narrowly lose his bid for re-election on the Board of Pot Wardens in May 1884.

During the early hours of August 21, 1884, someone attempted to burglarize the home of William Charlton at 2700 Girard Avenue. It is unknown if anyone was arrested.

Articles from the Philadelphia Inquirer show a sampling of the criminal activity in this Brewerytown neighborhood during the 1880s. In December 1882, police arrested a ring that conducted overnight burglaries throughout Brewerytown. In 1884, Mrs. John Lawrence, 2629 Girard Avenue had a boarder arrested for stealing from other guests. By 1889, a gang of boys staged a wave of thefts and burglaries. And by 1893, things were not any better. Thugs hung at the corner of 27th and Girard assaulting late-night pedestrians that refused to turn over money; loud drunks sat on steps and drank beer from cans. This finally culminated in a police shooting and killing of one of the ruffians.

Charlton was re-elected to the Board of Wardens in May 1885. The following is a summary of this agency from the City of Philadelphia Department of Records:

"Created a department of City government by an ordinance of Councils of March 28, 1870, although the Wardens had been first established, as State officials, by an Act of Assembly of 1766 and, even after 1870, remained State officers in a strictly legal sense. Their functions included the examination and licensing of harbor pilots, the maintenance of all aids to navigation and the clearing of obstructions to it in the Delaware River and Bay, formulating regulations for the movement of vessels within the port, and the maintenance of the wharf line. The posts of Master Warden and the Harbor Master were always filled by appointees of the Governor; assistant wardens were named by him also until 1803, the date of the first of a series of Acts that until 1864 increased their number and made them elective by the governing bodies of communities along the Delaware. By the latter date City Councils chose sixteen assistant wardens and the Borough of Bristol in Bucks County and the City of Chester each named one. An Act of June 8, 1907, abolished the Board of Port Wardens and transferred their powers and duties to the then-established Commissioners of Navigation for the River Delaware, a State commission of five members of whom three are appointed by the Mayor and two by the Governor."

Charlton continued his position in this agency until he became incapacitated due to illness. The following were the members of the Board of Wardens as published in the Commercial Manual of Philadelphia" in April 1886:

Geo. A. Cotton, President; William R. Tucker, 414 South Delaware avenue; Edward K. Stevenson, 133 South Front street; George A. Cotton, 22 and 24 South Delaware avenue; Samuel T. Kerr, Pier 8, North Delaware avenue; Joel Cook, Office Public Ledger; William Charlton, 2720 Brown street; Chas. Halyburton, Jr., 1365 Beach street; Samuel Disston, Front and Laurel streets; A. C. Ferguson; Frank T. Downing, 233 South Fourth street; Chas. H. Cramp, 1736 Spring Garden street; John B. Lewellen, Pier 35, North Delaware avenue; Chas. S. Lowry, Lombard street wharf, Schuylkill; William M. Neall, S. E. cor. Broad and Race streets; Theodore Frothingham, 217 Walnut street; Nathan McK. Wilson, 105 Walnut street; Amos Gartside, Chester; Joseph S. Pierce, Bristol; Christian K. Ross, Master Warden, Rooms 11 and 13, Chamber of Commerce; JONA. GiLLINGHAM, Secretary; James P. Lindsay, Harbor Master, 516 South Delaware Avenue; George F. Sproule, Vessel Clerk.

On the morning of May 18, 1886, William Charlton suffered serious head injury when he was thrown out of his carriage by his horse running away. Newspapers reported the location as "29th and Pennsylvania." This location did not exist now or at that time, but it approximates the 2800 block Pennsylvania avenue location of his coalyard. Several gentlemen picked him up and had him taken home.

August 17, 1886 Philadelphia Inquirer; "Mr. William Charlton, of the Board of Port Wardens, is with his family at the Stockton Hotel, Cape May. His carriage, with its span of stylish horses, is a conspicuous object on the roads."

"I see that our genial friends, William Charlton and family have returned home, and after a good talk with him am convinced that he is fully restored to health., and am very glad to see him around again. As for enterprise and push I consider him one of the best citizens we have in the ward, and I know his business will have full new life with him again at the head. I congratulate him in his timely aid in preventing a lady from being drowned at Cape May Point." - undated newspaper article from the Charlton family.

On or about September 25, 1886, William Charlton was appointed chairman of a committee to assist District Attorney George S. Graham who was renominated for a third term. The event was at Lincoln Hall, Broad and Fairmount.

However, William's health recovery did not last. Most likely after the fall elections, William Charlton went to spend the winter in Florida for convalescent but to no avail. Newspapers later reported that, beginning sometime around January 1887, William Charlton became "demented" and "insane." A will was prepared in March 1887 describing him as a contractor and builder being of "sound mind, memory and understanding." He was either too ill to sign it or meant to revise it.

Philadelphia government was transformed during the time that Charlton was gone in Florida. The "Bullitt Bill" took effect on April 1, 1887. Written by lawyer John Christian Bullitt, it became the new city charter and introduced a complicated series of laws which forced a complete readjustment of the city's affairs. It strengthened the Mayor as the chief executive.

Ex-Mayor William S. Stokley was appointed Public Safety Director by Mayor Fitler on April 4, 1887 and promptly began making changes.

During the first three weeks of April, Stokley made massive changes to city government and dictated how things would be run for now on. Many of these changes included personnel. He shifted police commanders and ward leaders didn't like how he hired and fired patronage appointees. He presided over the plans for new Civil Service examinations that were to be governed by the new city charter under the Bullit Bill reorganization. His influence likely extended to the Board of Port Wardens.

William Charlton returned home from Florida on Saturday, April 23, 1887. The day before, the Inquirer reported, "Mr. William Charlton's ill health, it is stated, will necessitate his retirement" from the Board of Port Wardens. Charlton apparently blamed Stokley.

Just before 11 a.m. on April 26th, Charlton dashed into a City Hall reception room where Stokley was finishing receiving morning briefs from police district lieutenant commanders. Charlton, wearing a top hat and carrying a heavy gold-headed cane, yelled, "Where is ex-Mayor Stokley? Fetch him out; I want to kill him!" It was quite a scene and Lieutenant E. M. Lyons, knowing that Charlton had become increasingly mentally ill, took him to his carriage where an attendant drove him home. He was described as being "demonstrative." Charlton's political and public career was brought to an embarrassing end.

Note: Lieutenant Edward M. Lyons was the commander of the twenty-third police district at 20th and Jefferson. Brewerytown was in its jurisdiction.

On May 6, 1887, Charlton's ill heath prevented him from re-election to the Board of Port Wardens.

On Saturday, May 14, 1887, Judge Gordon appointed Thomas A. Fahy, Esq. commissioner to inquire into the mental condition of William Charlton.

A week later, it was reported in The Times newspaper that Dr. Hugo Engel was taking Charlton to Atlantic City under his care. Charlton's condition was being looked upon as similar to that of ex-sheriff William Ellwood Rowan, another patient of Dr. Engel.

Earlier, on January 23, 1887, The Times reported, "Sheriff Rowan is hopelessly insane. His disease, which is paralysis of the brain, and known scientifically as peresis, is developing into idiocy. His case has become more and more hopeless during the three months that he has been restrained at Ercildowne. He is a puzzle to the physicians, who say they have never known of a parallel case. His confinement and the different stages of his mental disease have told on his physical condition and people who saw him three months ago would be surprised to see the change in his appearance. His face has lost its ruddy complexion, and his eyes, which used to be scorching in their expression, are now dull and look like the eyes in the head of an imbecile. He has forgotten how to write, and can't talk coherently on one subject for any length of time. He gets excited at times and then has long spells of utter imbecility. He can't recognize faces and has no inclination to try and collect his thoughts. In short, his mind is gone and he is incurable."

William Charlton's father, who died in 1885, had named William as co-executor in his will. However, on June 16, 1887, William was described as "being mentally incapable of attending to the duties of executor."

Meanwhile, William Charlton's wife and children hired attorney William F. Johnson, Esq. as counsel in a petition the object of which was to have Mr. Charlton declared insane. The court decreed Mr. Charlton insane, and he was taken to an asylum, from which he was afterwards liberated, and having recovered, the court vacated the order of insanity.

August 29, 1887 Inquirer: "Ex-Councilman William Charlton has quite recovered from the brain trouble from which he was seized last fall, and which resulted from his head being hurt in a fall from his carriage."

After his recovery, William Charlton went to see attorney Johnson and disagreed over the bill for his services. The October 12, 1887 Inquirer reported that this attorney sued for services after William Charlton failed to pay the agreed upon amount.

At 6:00 a.m. on February 28, 1888, William Charlton died of paralysis at his 2700 Girard Avenue home. I mentioned the circumstances of William's demise to my family physician. He suspected that William suffered from hydrocephalus as a result of the 1886 head injury.

Public Ledger, March 1, 1888, Page 4, Col. 5:
William Charlton
Ex-Councilman William Charlton died on Tuesday morning at his house, No. 2700 Girard avenue. His death was hastened by injuries received two years ago by being thrown out of his carriage. He was in the coal business and had large interests in building operations in the Fifteenth and Twenty-ninth Wards. Mr. Charlton represented the Fifteenth Ward in Common Council in 1872, and was for several years a member of the Board of Port Wardens. He was also a Knight Templar.


Public Record & Public Ledger:
CHARLTON - On February 28, 1888, WILLIAM CHARLTON, aged 47 years. The relatives and friends of the family, Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, F. and A. M.; Keystone Lodge No. 175, F. and A. M.; Columbia 91, H. R. A. Chapter No. 21; Girard Mark Lodge, No. 214; Corinthian Chasseur Commandery, No. 53, K. T.; Philadelphia Consistory, A. A. S. R., 32d degree, and Knights of Birmingham; also Excelsior Lodge, No. 46, L. O. O. F, Excelsior Lodge No. 86, A. P. A.; Quaker City Lodge No. 116, A. O. U. W.; Post No. 2, G. A. R., and other lodges of which he was a member, are respectfully invited to attend the funeral, on Friday, promptly at 1 o'clock, from his late residence, No. 2700 Girard avenue. To proceed to Mount Moriah Cemetery.

Philadelphia Record, Wednesday morning, February 29, 1888, Page 1, Col. 6:
William Charlton, an ex-member of Common Council from the Fifteenth ward and for several years a member of the Board of Port Warden, died yesterday morning at his residence, No. 2700 Girard avenue, aged about 54 years. Mr. Charlton received injuries about two years ago by his horse running away, from which he never fully recovered.

The March 2, 1888 funeral of William Charlton took place at his residence 2700 Girard avenue. A number of organizations, including Masonic and G.A.R., in which he held membership, were represented among the mourners. Interment was at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

At time of his death, his estate was valued at $11,527 goods and $125,000 real property. Charlton owned over 140 houses, nearly all in the Fifteenth ward. On March 10, 1888, his wife was granted Letters of Administration no. 291 of 1888. On January 16, 1890 the estate of William Charlton was settled by Judge Penrose in Orphans Court. $5,244.94 was distributed amongst his widow and three surviving children.

However, the matter was re-opened a decade later. In 1899 his estate was re-valuated; Goods: $15,000, Real Estate: $150,000. On April 21, 1900 the Letters of Administration were withdrawn and on April 23, 1900, the unsigned 1887 will of William Charlton was admitted to probate. The will was probated on April 26, 1900 at a final valuation of $161,527. Will no. 760 of 1900.

In his will, William bequethed his children the "sum of $5,000 to enable them to engage in business and for his son Frank "to build upon any of my vacant ground." He also specified for his son Frank, wife and "brother Francis Charlton for their mutual benefit they to pay unto my estate the annual sum of $500 for rent of coalyard." Additionally, upon his wife Margaret J. Charlton's death, "bequeth my said estate unto my dear children... William, Frank and Margaret Charlton share and share alike."

The coalyard operations on 28th street stopped sometime in the early 1900s. By 1909, the Baldwin Locomotive Works had a tanking shop there.

His wife remained in the house and occasionally advertised for a Protestant or white girl for general housework at the residence. She died January 6, 1903 and rests next to her husband in Mount Moriah Cemetery. The house was deeded to William's son Frank Charlton on July 1, 1903.

Frank Charlton, his wife May K. (nee Lower) and their child William (born 1901) continued to live in the house for another decade. Large birthday parties were held for young William gaining the attention of newspapers at the time. Tragedy struck again in 1908 when Frank died of typhoid fever.

On December 26, 1913 the house was sold to Robert K. Grice from "May K. L. Charlton and E. Scott Lower, Guardian, of Estate, of William Charlton, a minor." Additional notation; "Frank Charlton by descent to May K. L. his wife and William Charlton his son a minor. O. C. [Orphan's Court] appointed E. Scott Lower guardian for minor child."

My grandfather William MacLachlan, born 1904, was William Charlton's grand nephew. He remembered that a metal dog (or two horseheads) statue stood in front of the house and an iron fence enclosed the property. In February 1914 the property (described as two three-story houses and a rear stable; assessed at $13,000 value) was razed. A two-story store was quickly built there and a meat-cutting business opened up to the mostly German-speaking neighborhood. Today this building is a dollar store.

On March 6, 1935, the GAR inspected William Charlton's grave.

Biography researched and written by 2nd Great-Grand Nephew Drew Techner.

Family Members


  • Created by: Researcher
  • Added: 12 Apr 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 18892514
  • Researcher
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for William Charlton, Sr (20 Sep 1839–28 Feb 1888), Find A Grave Memorial no. 18892514, citing Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Researcher (contributor 46902961) .