What better story to have for Labor Day weekend than one featuring a former Frederick resident and businessman who seemed to derive a great deal of fun from everything he did. This gentleman surely didn’t look at his job as work, but more as a form of recreation and sport. I guess that’s because his work was directly related to amusements of sort. His name was John H. Frazier.
Up until four days ago, I had no earthly idea about this gentleman—frankly I had never heard of him. After just a few days of reading and research, I now feel like I’ve known him for years! With several story ideas in the pipeline for upcoming weeks, I decided this past week that I would try something different in respect to my Labor Day topic—I didn’t want to put much “labor” into choosing my subject.
I simply grabbed the second volume of T.J.C. Williams History of Frederick County. For those not familiar with this work, Williams published this two-volume classic, history work in 1910. Volume I is a chronicled history of the county, while Volume II contains biographies of past residents. This second volume was a sales gimmick on the part of Williams at the time, which still pays dividends to us history wonks and genealogists today. Williams sold subscriptions up-front to county residents for his history set. For those that bought into it, he offered the opportunity to have a biography/ personal family history included in Volume II.
Anyway, for my labor day-based, “labor free” choice of subject, I just closed my eyes and opened up Williams’ History of Frederick County (volume II). My draw was page 1160, introducing me to the biography of John H. Frazier, complete with a photo.
Birth of a King Pin
Born in the greater Knoxville area of south-western Frederick County on April 30th, 1874, John Henry Frazier has family roots in this area dating back to the Colonial era when George Frazier acquired lands originally patented by John Hawkins of Prince Georges County. One such was a portion of “Hawkin’s Merry-Peep-o-Day,” a 3,100-acre land grant from King George II of England. This original parcel comprised most of the area we today know as Brunswick, eastward to Catoctin Mountain, and received its unique name from the vantage point it gave each morning with the rising sun seen directly over Catoctin Mountain.
Our subject was the son of George Washington Frazier and wife Rebecca Donaldson. George was employed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a laborer, as were two of his brothers. In addition to his parents, John H. Frazier’s family consisted of five children, three boys and two girls. John was in the middle. In the 1880 census, the family can be found living in the hamlet of Weverton along the Potomac, just west of Knoxville. The children attended school locally, but things would change drastically for them in the mid 1880’s when John’s mother died in 1885 at the age of 41. As was common with male widowers of the day, the children were dispersed to relatives due to George Frazier’s hard, blue-collar profession.
Now at 11 years of age, John was sent to Frederick City to live with his Uncle Edward Frazier, a railroad engineer. He took up residence in south east part of the city near the old B&O Train Depot (S. Market and All Saints streets). Sadly, John’s father would die less than two years later in 1887.
Young John Frazier would attend St. John’s College on East Second Street. Originally opened in 1829, this school was positioned next to St. John’s Catholic Church and better known by its official name of St. John's Literary Institution for boys. He was taught by Jesuit priests in this academic rival to Georgetown College in Washington DC.
Throughout these formative years, John worked as a message carrier for Edward Keefer, the depot telegraph operator for the B&O Railroad. This job introduced the former country boy to a great deal of city residents of all socio-economic levels. Frazier also learned business acumen from Mr. Harry E. Krise, working in the Krise & Dean grocery store once located at the southeast corner of S. Market and E. All Saints streets (directly across from the B&O passenger depot). This section of Frederick would serve as the center of his professional and personal life.
One decade after the death of his mother, John H. Frazier would be married on June 27, 1895. His bride was a Baltimore girl named Mary A. Finneran, daughter of a restaurant operator. Ten days later, according to Williams History of Frederick County, Frazier “embarked in the saloon business at the corner of Market and All Saints’ streets.” Perhaps he received additional guidance from his new father-in-law. I wasn’t able to ascertain the exact location, but it appears to be the former location of the old Krise & Dean corner grocery.
As the 21 year-old was cutting his teeth as a young business owner, an incredible opportunity arose the following year, just a few doors up the street. Former Mayor Mathias E. Bartgis was looking for a buyer for his popular saloon and bowling alleys located next to the agricultural implements business of P.L. Hargett. The business was advertised in early April within the local newspaper as “one of the best paying saloons in Frederick, with stock and fixtures, comprising pool and billiard tables, a cash register, fire proof safe, 2 large ice boxes, and everything complete for a first class bar.” In Frazier’s eyes, it likely seemed the opportunity of a lifetime. He purchased the Bartgis’ business, (no. 58-60 S. Market Street ) on May 1st, 1896. He reopened as the Diamond Café and Bowling Alleys.
All the while, the saloonkeeper never lost sight of his family, and strove to give four children a happier, and richer childhood than he had experienced, solely due to the deaths of his parents at such a young age. The Frazier’s children included Marie, Estella, Louisa, and John H., Jr. Mr. Bartgis died in 1907, and John bought the latter’s fine, three-story brick, at 56 S. Market Street for $4,750. The next year, he made extensive improvements to this structure for his family home. It was located next to his café.
At this time, He also took the opportunity to enlarge the bowling lanes, making this one of the best facilities in all of Western Maryland. Meanwhile, John H. Frazier kept his body strong as a member of the YMCA, and his mind and spirit sound as a faithful congregant of All Saints Episcopal Church.
As his café and bowling alleys gave local residents much in the form of fun, Frazier took over another related amusement located on W. 4th Street. This was the former roller-skating rink located in a structure named Groff Hall. He did extensive renovations and renamed the business the Diamond Roller Rink, what else? He advertised skating accompaniment would be made by an orchestra. John H. Frazier promoted additional physical and athletic recreational endeavors in the years 1908-1910 in the form of semi-pro baseball and basketball in Frederick. In 1910, he even managed the Diamond Basket Ball team to a state championship.
The Last Frame
Unfortunately, Frazier suffered a major health setback in early March. He traveled to Washington with friends to participate in the presidential inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. While there, he suffered a double hernia and experienced tremendous pain difficulty in getting back home to Frederick. Not feeling better after a few days, the saloon-keeper extraordinaire made the decision to check himself into Frederick City Hospital. While there, he underwent surgery.
Articles appearing in the Frederick News in subsequent days showed signs of improvement. However, all of that would change drastically on March 15th, when his condition reversed, and plunged quickly as the hours went on. John H. Frazier faded fast, as March 16th would be his last.
He was only 38 years-old. A life dedicated to providing amusement and community service to his friends and neighbors was extinguished—gone was Frederick’s “Mr. Fun.”
Touted as one of the largest attended funerals to date, John Frazier would be laid to rest in Mount Olivet Cemetery’s Area S (Lot 116) on March 19th, 1913. A fine monument bearing his surname would be placed here, along with a modest footstone including only his name and vital dates. Wife Rebecca would not join him here until 47 years later in 1960.
One-hundred and four years after Frazier’s death, a thunderous sound, reminiscent of a bowling ball crashing into a rack of pins, was heard echoing through S. Market Street and the surrounding neighborhood. This occurred on March, 7th, 2017 as the blighted façade of Frazier’s former home and Diamond Café and Bowling Lanes was demolished by order of the City of Frederick.
I wonder if, somewhere out there, Mr. Frazier was watching intently, and yelled out, “Strike!” from wherever his spirit resides?