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Picture This: The Fed Ex of Its Day

Enterprising businessman seizes the reins of delivery business.

In a day when we routinely use FedEx to zip packages to distant destinations overnight, time was when just getting a package a distance of 12 miles was no easy task. Enter James H. Gaither, who, in 1894, started the Gaither’s City & Suburban Express Co., a horse-drawn covered wagon package service.

It made daily runs from Ellicott City to South Howard Street in Baltimore, with stops at the train depot and Smith’s Corner in Catonsville. The depot is near the corner of Mellor Avenue and Frederick Road, just behind the CCCS Building, and the starting point for the Catonsville Short Line Railroad, which snaked its way to the main Pennsylvania R.R. line east of Loudon Park Cemetery.

Smith’s Corner is mentioned in the accompanying ad and refers to the corner of Bloomsbury and Frederick where the Smith family owned a store and house. That building, recently renovated, now contains the House of Time. 

Gaither’s company seemed to be community-minded, judging from news accounts following the flooding of the Ohio River. In March of 1913, Gaither’s company offered its services, free of charge, as part of a goodwill effort by Baltimoreans to send supplies to flood victims in Dayton, Ohio. Gaither’s delivered donations of $3,500 worth of canned goods the company collected from local residences to the Red Cross in Baltimore. That sum is equivalent to more than $81,447 in today’s dollars. 

When Gaither died on Nov. 25, 1921, his obituary in The Sun stated in part:

…his early entry into the express business, when communication between Ellicott City and Baltimore was very slow, advanced his home town considerably. The success of his venture is evidenced by the fact that in later years, prior to the advent of the automobile, he owned and operated one of the largest livery stables in the vicinity of Baltimore.

Surviving him were his widow, one daughter and three sons. One of the sons, James H., operated a used-car dealership in the 1400 block of North Charles Street in Baltimore. Sadly, three decades later, on May 6, 1953, The Sun reported that he and his wife, both age 60, were found shot to death in their bedroom in an apparent murder-suicide. A friend reported that both had been in failing health since the death of their 23-year-old daughter from tuberculosis eight years prior.

Thanks go to Bryce Rumbles, librarian at the Catonsville Branch, and Lisa Vicari, Catonsville Room volunteer and board member, Friends of the Catonsville Library, for their research assistance. Anyone interested in ordering digital reprints of any of the historical images featured in this series, should contact Bryce Rumbles at brumbles@bcpl.net.

Images shown in this column are housed in the Catonsville Room’s extensive collection of documents, photographs, news articles and family histories about the area. Digitized versions for many are available to view and download through the BCPL Legacy Web site. The Catonsville Room is located on the lower level of the Catonsville Library and is open on Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m., and on the first Wednesday of each month from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Appointments accepted for in-depth research. 

Nancy Gaither September 26, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Loved this article. I've been researching my family on Ancestry.com and happened to enter Great-Great grandfathers name and voila. I'll be in touch!
Bryce Rumbles September 26, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Nancy, do you have any pictures of your great-great-grandfather? Can you confirm the man in the bowler is he?
Maureen Sweeney Smith September 26, 2012 at 01:22 AM
As one of the volunteers on the Catonsville Short Line Rails To Trails project, I loved this article. Thanks for the article and the picture.
Colleen September 26, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Fantastic story, and excellent research.
Nancy Gaither September 29, 2012 at 03:29 AM
I have to do some digging and also get out a magnifying glass, but I do believe that I have some pictures. Will look this weekend. :-)

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