Sunday, October 27, 2013

Truxtun Park/Truxton Heights of Annapolis

The last few years I have been living in the Truxton Heights area of Annapolis. Truxton Heights overlooks Truxtun Park. I always thought it was odd that there were two different spellings of the name and assumed that it was a mistake by developers when they named Truxton Heights. I had never given much thought to the history of the name, despite the fact that I had previously included a brief story about the legendary witch of the area in my book, Witch Trials, Legends, and Lore of Maryland. The only thing I knew about the area was that the park was donated to the City of Annapolis in the 1930s by a Truxtun Beale. I learned this from reading a marker in the park. I sort of just assumed that Truxtun Beale was probably a batty old rich woman who donated the land when she died. And I thought it was odd that they named it after her first name. Shouldn't it be Beale Park?

"Don't Fuck with the Trux" was his personal motto,
or at least it should have been.

Well, it turns out that my assumptions were wrong. First, Truxtun Beale was a guy and a very interesting fellow. Born in 1856 in San Francisco, he was a lawyer and a diplomat. He was once the US Ambassador to Persia and then Greece, Romania, and Serbia.

One has to wonder what sort of diplomacy he engaged in. Beale was a badass, for lack of a better term. In 1902, in San Francisco he was charged with shooting a newspaper editor.  He argued it was self-defense and was acquitted. At age 60 in Washington, D.C., he started a fist-fight with a former Navy Secretary.

Beale was also involved in politics. He was a delegate from California to the Republican Convention in 1912. In 1920, he offered cash rewards to young Republicans who came up with the best suggestions for the platform.

An ardent supporter of liberty and limited government, Beale was a big fan of the Herbert Spencer, the legendary English philosopher who was a proto-libertarian of sorts. Spencer died in 1903, but Beale was convinced that the American people in the early 20th century desperately needed his wisdom. In 1916, Beale produced a book of Spencer's writings that were accompanied by commentary from important men such as President/Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Henry Cabot Lodge. In The Man Versus the State a Collection of Essays, Beale hoped to warn his fellow citizens about the dangers of the progressive movement, so-called. The publisher wrote at the start of the book:
It is due to the interest and energy of Mr. Truxtun Beale that these essays of Herbert Spencer, with comments by eminent Americans, have been gathered together into a book. Mr. Beale has been a student and a disciple of Spencer ever since he became acquainted with his work; he has, indeed, been a sort of lay exponent of the Spencerian philosophy in America. It is a long generation since Spencer did the greatest part of his work, but it is not so long since these essays were new and vital in the world. They are filled with straight thinking and fundamental truths about man's efforts to construct social organisms and state systems, and the inevitable failure of democracy to bring about that perfection of order and social justice of which man has always dreamed. Spencer looked into the world and into the heart of man, and what he found he set down faithfully and without swerving from the truth. Because of their lack of sentimental thinking and their lack of unfounded hope; because of their recognition of truths not altogether pleasing to our social dreams, these essays, after establishing the foundation of all our modern social thinking, were in a fair way to be neglected, if not forgotten by the world, until Mr. Beale conceived the idea of gathering certain of them together and making them into a book. In pursuit of his idea, Mr. Beale travelled about the country enlisting the aid of a few of those leaders of thought in America who know the tremendous value of Spencer's work in our social system; and he succeeded in inducing these men to write critical and interpretative comments on the essays, as they appear in the light of what they can teach us in relation to the problems' that are perplexing America to-day. This book is the result of Mr. Beale's adventure in preaching the gospel according to Herbert Spencer.
Herbert Spencer at 78
The reason I find this so fascinating is because after I found and started reading Spencer, I also became a fan of his work. One day when walking my dog in
Truxtun Park I also thought about putting together a book of Spencer's writings along with commentary about how they relate to current political debates. I didn't know that nearly 100 years before Beale had done the same thing. Other than seeing his name on a plaque, I had no idea who he was. I wonder if Beale thought up the idea while at his Annapolis retreat. Maybe I should really work on that project now and dedicate it to Truxtun Beale.

Beale eventually died in 1936 at his country home in Annapolis. His house must have been in or around the area, but I do not know where. He was buried in Williamsburg, VA. . But that doesn't answer why it was named after his first name or why the spelling is different for Truxton Heights. A simple answer may be that he didn't name the park after himself. It was likely named after his grandfather, who he was also named after, Thomas Truxtun, a naval officer during the Revolutionary War who later rose to the rank of Commodore. In the days before the grammar and spelling nazis required conformity, spelling was not always consistent and sometimes Thomas Truxtun's name was spelled as Thomas Truxton. What is the right version? Who knows? But it probably made sense to use both spellings to make sure that his memory was properly honored.

So there you have it, the history of Truxtun Beale who donated the land that became Truxtun Park. And in case you are wondering, there is a Beale Park out  there, but it is in California.


The 'witch's grave' in Truxtun Park.


Anonymous said...

The "witches grave" on the hill overlooking the recent ball field and Hilltop Lane is not. It is, in fact, a vault for one of the Woodward/Hessilius family. John Hessilius (1728–1778), the famous potrait painter, "married the wealthy Annapolitan widow Mary Young Woodward, whose husband owned "Primrose Hill,"(built c.1750)(across Hilltop Lane) where he soon moved in with her. He became more involved with his local parish, St. Anne's Church in Annapolis. He is also shown to have sold numerous properties throughout the Annapolis area. Nick Christhilf

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the history behind the large Mansion off of Milkshake Lane by Truxton Park

Anonymous said...

I realize I am about four years late to respond to you but that house/land was a farm owned by a doctor. They named it milkshake lane after one of his dogs named Milkshake. I believe his children sold the land after they inherited which is why it is more developed now.