Dedication speech given by Seamus Kearney, then President of the Franklintown Park Friends (one year later officialing becoming Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park)
September 26, 2009
An innovator, inventor and entrepreneur, Matthias Baldwin was not a native Philadelphian, but his legacy is forever tied to this city by the company he founded—the Baldwin Locomotive Works. A company that became the largest manufacturer of locomotives in the world spread out over 13 acres not far from here. Unfortunately, that legacy is all but forgotten in the physical sense: his factories have disappeared, his great home on the banks of the Delaware gone, the company he founded no longer in existence, a school named for him now demolished, his first church destroyed and his statue situated in a little visited nook outside City Hall.
We are gathered here today in the hope that the dedication of this park in his name will revive the memory of Matthias Baldwin and of his deeds. Born in the 18th century, he died in the 19th, forgotten in the 20th century we will revive him in the 21st.
This park, so near to the site of his factories, is a work of art called Connections. Art connects us to concepts and one of the concepts of Matthias Baldwin’s life, I have found, is: if you have it, share it—and do it quietly. “Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame” was inscribed on his memorial service pamphlet.
We know of his genius at developing mechanical devices to move goods and people through his locomotives, we know of his gift of discovery such as his method of gold plating—still in use today--and we know of his skill in creating & crafting jewelry, his first trade. But let us look now at who he was. Blessed with talent, skill and drive that had defined him in business, he was also defined with tragedy--tragedies that transformed him.
He was raised in some affluence but chicanery by his father’s executors put his birth family in dire straits and he was forced to work at the age of 16. He used that opportunity to become a skilled jeweler. He and his wife had three sons, two of whom died shortly after birth but the third lived beyond infancy—the joy of his life. But, that son died at 2 years of age and the Baldwin family was heartbroken. But from this wreckage emerged Matthias Baldwin the civic benefactor, the philanthropist and the benevolent business owner.
He despised the fact that a new Pennsylvania Constitution would not allow free African-American men to vote. He campaigned to exclude that provision in the constitution. Inspired by ill-clothed African-American children playing in the alley behind his house on 10th Street, he learned that they lacked the benefit of school. He put up the money to provide a school for them and paid the salaries of the teachers. Aware that his business success belonged in part to his workers, he made sure they were paid well and shared in the profits of his company.
During his memorial service, Matthias Baldwin's own words were used to reflect his life on this earth:
“I feel more thankful for the disposition to give largely than for the ability to give largely, for I know that immense wealth can be acquired a great deal easier than the heart to use it well. My money without a new heart would have been a curse to me.”
And so it went to schools and churches and teachers and pastors and to his skilled and devoted workers and craftsmen. Money well spent from the heart of a man to whom we now dedicate this park, the Matthias Baldwin Park that is Connections.