June 17, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

Sound and Proclamation (Part 2): Learning about Henry McShane and His Bells

McShane Bells placed at First United Methodist Church of Monongahela PA by John J. Matey and crew, 1925; restored in 2013.
Photographed in July, 2020 by Ethan Gamble, U.S.N.A.

Introduction and Arrivals

Like many Irish immigrants, 16-year-old Henry McShane (pictured) began his trip to America via Liverpool, England, where he paid 7£ for the journey .

It was a deep-water port that could handle large ships such as the ship Scotia, a 559-ton vessel built by William F. Smith. His shipyard was located in Baltimore’s neighboring shipping center, known as Fell’s Point. It was the largest ship built there in 1839, and specifically designed to carry significant cargo, rather than leaning toward speed, as Baltimore-built clipper ships tended to be. Journeys on the Scotia from Liverpool could take as long as 60 days, but the ship’s solid construction added a good measure of security on the open sea for passengers who already had enough trauma for a lifetime.

The Scotia’s first stop as it entered the Baltimore harbor was Lazaretto Point, located in present-day Canton, at the southern terminus of South Clinton St.(pictured). Its famous lighthouse marked the spot of the city's quarantine station for maritime travelers and freight. Henry and his fellow passengers were inspected by both civic and medical authorities before they could continue to the disembarking stations in Fell’s Point or Locust Point.

Ship Captain J. Miskelly was responsible for delivering his 185 passengers in keeping with American standards for numbers of passengers allowed within available space on board. Sailing past the quarantine station was a criminal offense; Baltimore authorities were taking no chances with spreading disease, such as typhus, into the city’s population.

Working and Family Life

Henry McShane began his working life in a local Baltimore brass foundry owned by Joseph Regester. He also lived with the Regester family in Baltimore’s 5th ward.

Henry must have learned his trade well, and began his own business in 1856. His foundry proved successful, and he married Catherine circa 1858. A daughter arrived a year later, and they began building a family that would eventually include at least seven children. The family lived well, and had homes on Cathedral St. and later on Eutaw Place. They eventually moved to Mount Washington, in Baltimore County at the time.

McShane was listed as the proprietor of his own brass and bell foundry in Baltimore’s 1863 City Directory (pictured). A second family member, named “J. McShane” was included in the advertisement. This is most likely John McShane, who was listed in later directories as working for Henry McShane and Co…. likely a brother from Ireland.

Business continued to expand, and the foundry developed into a major manufacturing center (see two images below). It was located on North St. (present-day Guilford Ave.), adjacent to Baltimore’s Calvert Street Station: part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system. Rail service was an essential element in his business model, both to receive copper and tin for pouring, and to ship his bells to churches across the nation, and the world.

All this took considerable labor, and by his death the foundry had 1,000 employees. He and his workers had made and shipped over 200,000 bells, supplying 75% of the bells found in America’s churches. Ships and civic memorials also purchased bells from the firm.

An Honorable Death

Henry McShane (grave marker, pictured) passed away on February 23, 1889, at age 59. His funeral was held at Baltimore’s Catholic Cathedral. 800 employees were in attendance, as well as James Cardinal Gibbons and other dignitaries. He left an estate valued at over one million dollars, and a business that continues to this day…albeit under several different owners and locations (they moved to St. Louis in 2019).

A Life Remembered

He is also remembered by the naming of the Baltimore suburb “Dundalk”, where his family moved the business in 1894. A railroad depot and mail service were essential in this seemingly remote, unnamed area in eastern Baltimore County, and it was fitting that it be named after his home town in Ireland (see picture).

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