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   Chapter 7 NICHOLAS LONGWORTH.

Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made By James Dabney McCabe Characters: 27679

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The grape culture of the United States is yet in its infancy. Although the annual wine product is estimated at nearly three millions of gallons, there can be no doubt that ere many years shall have elapsed America will rank as one of the most important wine countries of the world. California is already extending her vineyards for miles along her smiling valleys, where the clear sky and the balmy air, which are unchangeable at the season of the grape harvest, permit a degree of perfection in the fruit unattainable in any European country. Already her wines are commanding an enviable place in the markets of the world, with no apparent limits to the growing demand for them. The hillsides of the lower Ohio Valley are lined with thriving vineyards, whose rich clusters of Catawba and Isabella grapes delight the eye on every hand, and thousands of acres are now given to successful grape culture, where formerly only a few straggling vines were seen. More than five hundred thousand gallons of wine are now annually produced in the neighborhood of Cincinnati alone, and find a market in that city, and what was but a few years ago a mere experiment is now one of the chief sources of the wonderful prosperity of the Ohio Valley, and one of the most important features in the commerce of the Queen City of the West. The success which has attended this branch of our industry must be a matter of congratulation to the whole country, and the man to whose courage, energy, and liberality it is mainly due must be regarded as a public benefactor.

This man, NICHOLAS LONGWORTH by name, was born at Newark, New Jersey, on the 16th of January, 1782. His father had been a man of large property, but in consequence of being a Tory during the Revolution, his possessions were confiscated, and he and his family impoverished. Young Nicholas's childhood was passed in indigence, and it is said that he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, when a mere lad, to learn the trade as a means of livelihood. However this may be, it is certain that when very young he went to South Carolina as a clerk for his elder brother. The climate of the South, however, did not suit his health, and he returned to Newark, and began the study of the law.

He was poor, and the East was overcrowded, even at that early day, and offered but few inducements to a young man entirely dependent upon his own efforts. Ohio was then the "Far West," and emigration was setting in toward it rapidly. Those who had seen the country related what then seemed marvelous tales of its wonderful fertility and progress. Few professional men were seeking the distant land, and Longworth felt convinced that the services of such as did go would assuredly be in demand, and he resolved to cast his lot with the West.

In 1803, at the age of twenty-one, he removed to the little village of Cincinnati, and, having fixed upon this place as his future home, entered the law office of Judge Jacob Burnet, long the ablest jurist in Ohio. He soon won the confidence and esteem of his instructor, and succeeded so well in his studies that in an unusually short time he was admitted to the bar.

He entered upon the practice of his profession with energy, and soon acquired a profitable business, which increased rapidly. He was a man of simple habits, and lived economically. His savings were considerable, and were regularly invested by him in real estate in the suburbs of the town. Land was cheap at that time, some of his lots costing him but ten dollars each. Long before his death they were worth more than as many thousands. He had a firm conviction that Cincinnati was destined to become one of the largest and most flourishing cities in the Union, and that his real estate would increase in value at a rate which would render him wealthy in a very few years.

His first client was a man accused of horse-stealing, in those days the most heinous offense known to Western law. Longworth secured his acquittal, but the fellow had no money to pay his counsel, and in the absence of funds gave Longworth two second-hand copper stills, which were his property. These the lawyer accepted, thinking that he could easily dispose of them for cash, as they were rare and valuable there in those days. They were in the keeping of Mr. Joel Williams, who carried on a tavern adjacent to the river, and who was afterward one of the largest property-holders in Cincinnati. Mr. Williams was building a distillery at the time, and, as he had confidently reckoned upon using the two stills in his possession, was considerably nonplussed when Longworth presented his order for them. In his extremity he offered to purchase them from the lawyer for a lot of thirty-three acres of barren land in the town, which was then worth little or nothing. Longworth hesitated, for although he had an almost prophetic belief in the future value of the land, he was sorely in need of ready money; but at length he accepted the offer. The deed for the land was made out in his name, and the stills became the property of Mr. Williams. The distillery was built, and its owner realized a fortune; but Longworth did more. His thirty-three acres of barren land were soon in the very heart of Cincinnati, and long before his death were valued at two millions of dollars.

The foresight of Mr. Longworth was fully justified by the course of events. The growth of Cincinnati was almost marvelous in its rapidity. In 1802, it contained about 800 inhabitants; in 1810, 2,540; in 1820, 9,060; in 1830, 24,831; in 1840, 46,338; in 1850, 118,761; and in 1860, just three years before Mr. Longworth's death, 171,293 inhabitants. The reader can easily imagine the immense profits which a half century's increase placed in the hands of the far-seeing lawyer. It seems almost like reading some old fairy tale to peruse the accounts of successful ventures in real estate in American cities. They have sprung up as if by magic, and it is impossible to say where their development will end. Said a gentleman of less than thirty-five years of age to the writer of these pages, "I am the oldest native-born citizen of Chicago. When I first saw the light, my native place could not boast even the dignity of a village; and young as I am, I have witnessed all this wonderful growth." The prosperity of Cincinnati was scarcely less marked, as the career of Mr. Longworth shows. The investment of a comparatively insignificant sum laid the foundation of his fortune, and the first counsel fee he ever earned, a sum trifling in itself, placed him in possession of millions.

Mr. Longworth continued carefully to invest his gains in real estate. The prices paid by him increased, of course, with the rise in the value of property, but as he was persuaded that the limit had not yet been reached, he extended his operations without fear of loss. He sold many of his original purchases, but continued until the day of his death the largest land-owner in the city. In 1850 his taxes were over $17,000, and in the same year the taxes of William B. Astor amounted to $23,116. At the time of his death Mr. Longworth's estate was valued at fifteen millions of dollars, and is doubtless worth fully one-third more at the present day.

Mr. Longworth retired from the practice of the law in 1819, to devote himself to the management of his property, which was already sufficiently important to require his undivided attention. He had always been an enthusiast in horticultural matters, and believing that the climate of the Ohio Valley was admirably adapted to the production of grapes, had for some time been making experiments in that direction; but he fell into the error of believing that only the foreign vines were worth cultivating, and his experiments were unsuccessful. The foreign grape did not mature well, and the wine produced from it was not good. In 1828 his friend Major Adlum sent him some specimens of the Catawba grape, which he had procured from the garden of a German living near Washington City, and be began to experiment with it in his own vineyard.

The Catawba grape, now so popular and well-known throughout the country, was then a comparative stranger to our people, and was regarded even by many who were acquainted with it as unfit for vintage purposes. It was first discovered in a wild condition about 1801, near Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina, near the source of the Catawba River. General Davy, of Rocky Mount, on that river, afterward Senator from North Carolina, is supposed to have given the German in whose garden Major Adlum found the grape a few of the vines to experiment upon. General Davy always regarded the bringing of this grape into notice as the greatest act of his life. "I have done my country a greater benefit in introducing this grape into public notice," said he, in after years, "than I would have done if I had paid the national debt."

Mr. Longworth's experiments with the Catawba were highly successful, and induced him to abandon all his efforts with foreign vines, and undertake only the Catawba, to which he afterward added the Isabella. He now entered systematically upon grape-growing. He established a large vineyard upon a hillside sloping down to the river, about four miles above the city, and employed German laborers, whose knowledge of vine-dressing, acquired in the Fatherland, made them the best workmen he could have. He caused it to be announced that all the grape juice produced by the small growers in the vicinity would find a cash purchaser in him, no matter in what quantities offered. At the same time he offered n reward of five hundred dollars for any improvement in the quality of the Catawba grape.

The enthusiasm which he manifested, as well as the liberality of his offer, had a decidedly beneficial effect upon the small growers in the neighborhood. "It proved a great stimulus to the growth of the Catawba vine in the country around Cincinnati," to know that a man of Mr. Longworth's means stood ready to pay cash, at the rate of from a dollar to a dollar and a quarter a gallon, for all the grape-juice that might be brought to him, without reference to the quantity. It was in this way, and by urgent popular appeals through the columns of the newspapers, that he succeeded, after many failures, and against the depressing influence of much doubt and indifference, in bringing the enterprise up to its present high and stable position. When he took the matter in hand there was much to discourage any one not possessed of the traits of constancy of purpose and perseverance peculiar to Mr. Longworth. Many had tried the manufacture of wine, and had failed to give it any economical or commercial importance. It was not believed, until Mr. Longworth practically demonstrated it, that a native grape was the only one upon which any hope could be placed, and that the Catawba offered the most assured promise of success, and was the one upon which all vine-growers might with confidence depend. It took years of unremitted care, multiplied and wide-spread investigations, and the expenditure of large sums of money, to establish this fact, and bring the agricultural community to accept it and act under its guidance. The success attained by Mr. Longworth soon induced other gentlemen resident in the vicinity of Cincinnati, and favorably situated for the purpose, to undertake the culture of the Catawba, and several of them are now regularly and extensively engaged in the manufacture of wine. The impetus and encouragement thus given to the business soon led the German citizens of Hamilton County to perceive its advantages, and, under their thrifty management, thousands of acres, stretching up from the banks of the Ohio, are now covered with luxuriant and profitable vineyards, rivaling in profusion and beauty the vine-clad hills of Italy and France. The oldest vineyard in the county of Hamilton is of Mr. Longworth's planting.

Mr. Longworth subsequently increased the size of his vineyard to two hundred acres, and toward the close of his life his wine houses annually produced one hundred and fifty thousand bottles of wine. His vaults usually contained a stock of three hundred thousand bottles in course of thorough ripening.

His cellars were situated on the declivity of East Sixth Street, on the road to Observatory Hill. They occupied a space ninety feet by one hundred and twenty-five in size, and consisted of two tiers of massive stone vaults, the lower of which was twenty-five feet below the surface of the ground. The manufacture of the wine was placed under the charge of a celebrated chemist from Rheims, and the mode of preparation was as follows:

After the pressing of the grape, the juice is subjected to the vinous fermentation, by which ten or eleven per cent, of alcohol is developed. In the following spring, it is mixed with a small quantity of sugar, and put into strong bottles, the corks of which are secured with twine and wire. The sugar accelerates a second fermentation, which always takes place about this time, and thus a strong movement is produced inside the glass, which generates gas enough to burst the vessels briskly, adding thereby considerably to the cost. This is known as the gaseous fermentation, and the effect of it is to render the wine more enlivening, more stinging to the taste, and more fruity. "This last effect results from this, that the flavor of the fruit mostly passes off with the carbonic acid gas, which is largely generated in the first or vinous fermentation, and in a less degree in this second or gaseous fermentation." It is impossible to avoid the loss of the flavor in the first fermentation, but the strong bottles and securely-fastened corks preserve it in the second. The liquid, which is muddy at first, becomes clear in about a year, a thick sedime

nt having collected at the bottom of the bottle. The bottles are then placed in racks, with their necks downward, and are shaken vigorously every day for about three weeks. This forces the sediment to settle down in the neck against the cork. When it is all in the neck, the wires are cut, and the cork blown out by the gas, carrying the sediment with it. Fresh sugar, for sweetness, is now added, new corks are driven in and secured, and in a few weeks the wine is ready for the market.

Mr. Longworth continued his wine trade with great success for about twenty-five years, and though for some time his expenditures were largely in excess of his income from this source, he at length reaped a steady and increasing profit from it, which more than reimbursed him for his former losses. He was very fond of the strawberry, and succeeded, by careful and expensive cultivation, in making several very important improvements in that delicious fruit. His experiments in the sexual character of the strawberry are highly interesting, but must be passed by here. He manifested no selfishness with respect to his fruits. He was anxious that their cultivation should become general, and his discoveries and improvements were always at the service of any and every one who desired to make use of them.

He was thoroughly devoted to his adopted home, and anxious to secure its steady improvement. When it was proposed to establish an observatory, the Mount Adams property, then owned by him, was regarded as the most fitting site for it. He was asked to name the price for which he would sell the property. To the astonishment of the parties in charge of the enterprise, he made a free gift of the land-four acres in extent-to the trustees. A gentleman who had hoped to dispose of some of his own property for this purpose charged Mr. Longworth, through the press, with being influenced by a desire to improve his adjoining property by the erection of the observatory on Mount Adams. Longworth promptly replied that if the writer of the article in question would donate four acres of his own property for an observatory, he (Longworth) would put up, at his own expense, a building on it equal to that which had been erected on Mount Adams, and transfer the latter place to the city as a permanent pleasure ground. He quietly added that in this way his accuser might himself receive, for his adjacent property, all the benefits of such an improvement, and at the same time win for himself the lasting gratitude of the people of Cincinnati. This settled the matter, and no more was heard from the other side.

"Longworth," says one who knew him, "is a problem and a riddle-a problem worthy of the study of those who delight in exploring that labyrinth of all that is hidden and mysterious, the human heart; and a riddle to himself and others. He is a wit and a humorist of a high order; of keen sagacity and shrewdness in many other respects than in money matters; one who can be exact to a dollar, and liberal, when he chooses, with thousands; of marked peculiarity and tenacity in his own opinions, yet of abundant tolerance to the opinions, however extravagant, of others-a man of great public spirit and sound general judgment.

"In addition to all this, it would be difficult to find an individual of his position and standing so perfectly free from pride, in the ordinary sense. He has absolutely none, unless it be the pride of eccentricity. It is no uncommon circumstance for men to become rich by the concentration of time, and labor, and attention to some one object of profitable employment. This is the ordinary phase of money-getting, as closing the ear and pocket to applications for aid is that of money-saving. Longworth has become a rich man on a different principle. He appears to have started upon the calculation that if he could put any individual in the way of making a dollar for Longworth, and a dollar for himself at the same time, by aiding him with ground for a lot, or in building him a house on it; and if, moreover, he could multiply cases of the kind by hundreds, or perhaps thousands, he would promote his own interests just in the same measure as he was advancing those of others. At the same time he could not be unconscious that, while their half was subdivided into small possessions, owned by a thousand or more individuals, his half was a vast, boundless aggregate, since it was the property of one man alone. The event has done justice to his sagacity. Hundreds, if not thousands, in and adjacent to Cincinnati, now own houses and lots, and many have become wealthy, who would, in all probability, have lived and died as tenants under a different state of case. Had not Mr. Longworth adopted this course, he would have occupied that relation to society which many wealthy men now sustain, that of getting all they can and keeping all they get."

In politics, Mr. Longworth was a Whig, and afterward a Republican. During the famous Clay campaign he was asked to give one hundred dollars to help defray the expenses of the party.

"I never give something for nothing," said he. "We might fail to elect Clay, as we did before, and I should fling away the hundred dollars."

The applicant, who was himself a man of wealth, assured him that there was no doubt of Clay's election.

"There can be no chance of your losing," he said.

"Well," replied Longworth, "I'll tell you what I will do. I will give you the hundred dollars, but mind, you shall be personally responsible to me for its return if Clay is not elected."

The offer was accepted; and when the campaign resulted in the defeat of Clay, Longworth demanded his money from the politician, who was compelled to return it out of his own pocket.

In his own way-and a quaint, singular way it was-Mr. Longworth was exceedingly charitable. Long after he was worth millions, and when every moment of his time was valuable, he was supernumerary township trustee. This was an office which required the expenditure of a considerable portion of his time, and brought him in constant contact with some of the most wretched of the lowest class of the poor. He was always in his office, at stated times, and with a patience and kindness worthy of all admiration, the millionaire listened to their sad tales, and provided such aid as was necessary, oftentimes giving it out of his own purse when the public funds failed.

He was a bitter foe to vagabondage and mendicity. If people in need were willing to work, he would place them in the way of doing so. He was the owner of a stone quarry on Deer Creek, the traces of which may still be seen in the lines of the new Gilbert Avenue; and he kept in his office a supply of picks and shovels. When a stout beggar asked him for alms, he would inquire if he was willing to go to work. If answered affirmatively, he would give him a pick and shovel, and start him for the quarry, where the wages were promptly paid out every night. Many availed themselves of the opportunity, and worked for him faithfully; but others gave the quarry "a wide berth," and sold the pick and shovel for money or liquor. It was his custom to buy large quantities of bread tickets from the bakers, and to distribute them to those whom he considered worthy; and he would also keep on hand large quantities of shoes, dry goods, etc., which he gave away in the same manner.

Mr. Frank Pentland, who was once in his employ, relates the following incident:

"One morning, just after Mr. Longworth had gone to his office, near the Third-Street entrance, where he was accustomed to receive applicants for charity, he was accosted by a man who craved assistance. In answer to a question as to his needs, he replied that his main want was a pair of shoes, and a glance at his feet showed that he spoke truthfully. Mr. Longworth appeared 'to take his measure' at a glance, and impulsively shaking his right foot (he seldom wore his shoes tied), kicked the shoe over to the applicant, saying:

"'Try that on, my man. How does it fit?'

"'Illigant, yer honor,'

"'Well, try that, now,' said he, kicking off the other. 'How will they do?'

"Illigant, yer honor; illigant! May many a blessing'-

"'Well, well, go now-that'll do,' and turning to Pentland, who was then a young boy in his service, ordered him to the house to get another pair. Frank obeyed, but was told by Mrs. Longworth that those he wore away from the house were all that he had. The result was that Frank was hurried off to William Hart's shoe store, on Fifth Street, for new ones, with instructions to 'Ask Mr. Hart for the kind I always buy, and don't pay over a dollar and a half for them.'"

Yet many persons charged this man with stinginess-a charge to which every rich man lays himself open who does not give to all who ask him. Even the rich must refuse sometimes, for there is no reason why they should answer all the calls made upon them-a course which would soon impoverish them. They must discriminate somewhere, and how this shall be done is a question which each must decide for himself. Longworth exercised this discrimination in an eccentric manner, eminently characteristic of him. He invariably refused cases that commended themselves to others. A gentleman once applied to him for assistance for a widow in destitute circumstances.

"Who is she?" asked the millionaire. "Do you know her? Is she a deserving object?"

"She is not only a woman of excellent character," answered his friend, "but she is doing all in her power to support a large family of children."

"Very well, then," said Mr. Longworth, "I shan't give a cent. Such persons will always find a plenty to relieve them."

He was firm, and turned coldly from the entreaties of his friend. Yet he opened his purse liberally to those whom others refused. Vagabonds, drunkards, fallen women, those who had gone down far into the depths of misery and wretchedness, and from whom respectable people shrank in disgust, never appealed to him in vain. "The devil's poor," he whimsically called them. He would listen to them patiently, moved to the depths of his soul by their sad stories, and would send them away rejoicing that they were not utterly friendless. "Decent paupers will always find a plenty to help them," he would say, "but no one cares for these poor wretches. Every body damns them, and as no one else will help them, I must." Yet he aided them in such a manner as to encourage them to rise above their wretchedness.

In his personal appearance Mr. Longworth was not prepossessing. He was dry and caustic in his remarks, and rarely spared the object of his satire. He was plain and careless in his dress, looking more like a beggar than a millionaire. He cared nothing for dress, except, perhaps, that he preferred common clothes to fine ones. One of his acquaintances relates the following story in illustration of this phase of his character:

"Many winters ago, it will be remembered that a style of striped goods was quite popular with poor people on account of its cheapness, and that it acquired the name of 'Hard Times.' Every body with scant purses wore coats or pants of it, for the reason that they could not very well buy any other kind. As the story goes, it appears that 'Old Nick,' as he was familiarly called, invested in an overcoat of this material, and took great pride in wearing it, much to the annoyance of the women folks. It happened that one cold, stormy night the faithful family coachman was at the house without an overcoat, and Mrs. Longworth, after very feelingly depicting his forlorn condition to her husband, solicited the privilege of giving him the aforesaid overcoat. Much to her gratification, Mr. Longworth assented, and the coachman wore off the 'Hard Times,' the good wife replacing it by an elegant broadcloth that she had quietly provided for the occasion. The next morning 'Old Nick' very innocently (?) overlooked the new coat, and went off to make his usual morning rounds without one; but it would be impossible to portray the annoyance of the household when they saw him returning to dinner wearing a duplicate of the veritable 'Hard Times,' and for weeks afterward it was no uncommon occurrence to see the 'master and man' flitting about the old homestead dressed in their gray stripes."

The shabbiness of his dress once led to an amusing adventure, which he enjoyed very much. Climbing one of the hilly streets of the city one broiling summer day, he sat down on a pile of bricks, under the cool shade of a tree, to rest. Taking off his well-worn hat, he laid it on his knee, and closing his eyes, sat enjoying the breeze which had just then sprung up. He was very tired, and his whole figure expressed his weariness. As he sat there in his shabby dress, with his eyes closed, and his hat resting on his knees, he looked the very picture of a blind beggar soliciting charity. For such, indeed, he was mistaken by a working man who passed by a few minutes later, and who, pitying the supposed unfortunate, tossed a few pennies into his hat. The noise of the coppers made the old man open his eyes and look up; and to his amazement the workman recognized in the object of his charity Nicholas Longworth, the millionaire. Mr. Longworth looked at him a moment in his dry, quizzical way, and then, thanking him politely, put the coins in his pocket, and, closing his eyes, once more resumed his former position.

Mr. Longworth had erected a magnificent mansion in the midst of his vineyard. He gathered there a fine library, and a collection of paintings, statuary, and other art treasures, which were his pride. He died there on the 10th of February, 1863, at the age of eighty-one. His loss was severely felt by the community, especially by his "devil's poor," for whom he had cared so tenderly.

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