November 1993

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


History of Bath

for the First Fifty Years


Ansel J. McCall

Historical Address, June 6, 1893
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII


The Bachelor Party

We will give a picture of our village at that time (1841), with the story of its wonderful resurrection, and how came about its present beautiful appearance:

In 1841, the public squares and streets were open pastures, ungraded, unenclosed and unadorned—they lay just as they were when first cleared. There was not a shade tree, except a few scraggly Lombardy poplars on the south-west corner of Pulteney Square. That now beautiful piece of ground was then rough and uneven; well trod paths crossed it in every direction. Vagrant cows grazed theron; "mendicant swine" (as learned counselor designated them) rooted and wallowed in soft places, and squawking geese, even, at times pastured there. It also served as parade ground for the militia floodwood, at their annual trainings. Captain Ralph K. Finch there drilled his ragged Invincibles. Caravans and circuses spread their ample tents, where the ground was smooth enough to admit of it. Political gatherings and parades found ample scope for evolutions upon it. There were no sidewalks. The streets were as uneven as a rail-fence, and intersected by mud-holes and bordered by ponds. Such was our village in 1841.

A few country villages in the State had commenced to beautify their public grounds and streets by grading and planting shade trees. Ours caught the infection, but the old fogies opposed the innovation, lest it should interfere with their surplus. And at last it became an issue at the charter election. The bachelors of the village, of which there were a goodly number, resolved quietly to take a hand and set the ball in motion. The night before the election they secretly organized and made the following ticket: For Trustees, John McCalla, Amos Babcock, James Shannon, Robert Campbell, Jr., and Levi C. Whiting; Assessors, Addison F. Elias, George Edwards and Marcus C. Warren; Treasurer, Lewis Shoemaker; Clerk, Charles W. Campbell; Constable and Collector, Thomas Hess. The ticket was successful, and there was great excitement. The veteran editor, Captain Smead, in his Democratic Bugle, the next week, gave the following account of the result, which we copy verbatim:

"Bachelors Triumphant."

Our Government under Their Control.

"Our Charter election was held on Tuesday last (May 6), a day to be remembered in the annals of our village. A keen-eyed politician would have discovered early on that day, from the patrolling of our streets and the marshalling of troops, that a contest was approaching—that an important event was at hand. We filled an extra pipe and sat down quietly in our editorial chair to reflect on our favorite doctrine of equal rights, and to admire its beauties, until the hour of battle should arrive. We marshalled the Democratic Phalanx, and marched from the Advocate office to the polls, to slaughter their ancient foes, the Federalists; judge then of our astonishment, when the announcement was made to us, 'The Bachelors are in the field with a ticket of their own!' We rained all our matrimonial forces, and called upon the 'Blue Light Federalists' of the Constitutionalist, to come forward and aid us once more in 'saving the country!' But then, our labors were in vain; we were routed-horse, foot and dragoons!"

The Board of Trustees at once organized by electing John McCalla, a typical bachelor, President, who forthwith issued the following inaugural, explaining the movement, and the reasons therefor:

"Brothers and Citizens:
Like all rebels against constitutional, as well as petticoat governments, the Bachelors of Bath feel called upon to give this explanation: We can now with propriety state some of the reasons which have impelled us to make Bachelor and Anti-Bachelor the distinctive parties in the late contest. It is not necessary to notice the many contemptible flings by which the opposition endeavored to lessen us in the estimation of the community. A single instance will suffice. 'A few years since, a prominent and distinguished gentleman, General George McClure, who claimed to represent us in the Legislature of this State, had the audacity to propose a repeal of the tax on dogs, and place it on old bachelors. The insults on insults, wrongs on wrongs, which have been heaped upon us, we have borne with patience, and could still bear, but we believe there is a point where patience ceases to be a virtue. We resolved, therefore, to say to our opponents in a manner not to be misunderstood, 'Thus far, and no farther!' Notwithstanding our corporation taxes have been very considerable heretofore, our village, beautifully situated, and possessed of great natural advantages, presents none but a dilapidated and somber appearance, tenfold worse than any bachelor's wardrobe; our public squares are an eyesore—lumbered with rubbish—our main streets defiled with mud-holes, floating old hats and drowned cats. We propose to make a change in the condition. Under the auspices of the present Board of Trustees we anticipate our beloved village will rise Phoenix-like, and become the admiration of all beholders—a spot where the traveler would love to dwell. This is about similic."

Aroused by this stirring appeal the trustees threw off their coats, took hold of the plow, the hoe and the scraper, and the work of grading the Square was prosecuted with such vigor that the results will be found recorded in the Constitutionalist of October 6th, 1841, as follows:

"Our bachelor corporation have commenced the promised improvements in good earnest under the supervision of the president of the Board. The work of grading the Square has been completed. In the last two weeks, plows, scrapers and wagons have been in active service and the trustees with hoes shovels and spades, contemplating the piles of earth, reminded us of so many deputy grave-diggers. To a countryman inquiring, 'What on earth are they digging?' a wag replied, 'Digging the grave of bachelorism.' And so indeed we trust it may be; not that we wish them to die off, but that they may be joined to their idols."

President McCalla was a rare character—famous for his dry jokes, quaint sayings, and queer catch-words. Every village and countryman always called him "Uncle John." His residence was on Morris street, and his maiden sister, Nancy, kept his house for him. Edward Hubbell, when a callow youth, scarcely nine years old, made him a theme of one of his extemporized ballads, commencing thus:

'"Uncle John! he was a hatter by trade,
He lived with Aunt Nancy, Aunt Nancy, a Maid,"

He took great pride in his office, and during his term Pulteney Square was graded, fenced and ornamented with those beautiful trees which have added so much to the adornment of the village, and furnish a lasting monument to the Bachelors of Bath. In this country, however, parties and politics are very changeable. The Bachelor party proved no exception. Self-interest or passion induced most of its members to desert its ranks, and "go over to the enemy." It is even hinted that it was to win the favor of the ladies, who always encourage improvement and adornment, that the major part engaged in the movement. All, with the exception of "Uncle John" and Tom Hess, the alpha and omega of the ticket, joined the army of benedicts; these two were true to their colors to the end. Not one of the goodly company of bachelors is now living. Reforms never go backward. From the work thus begun has been evolved our two beautiful parks, and the embellishment of our avenues and streets with a magnificent border of most beautiful shade trees that charm every beholder, realizing the promise of the Bachelor President, that by these improvements, Bath would become "a spot where the traveler would love to dwell."

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR