The Byron family was involved in the political and business worlds western Maryland, particularly in Williamsport, throughout much of the twentieth century.
W. D. Byron & Sons Tannery:
Joseph Byron (1809-1886) was a "prentice" to a tanner in Halifax, Nova Scotia, until the age of eighteen. After "keeping a store" for a few years and spending some time in debtor's prison, Joseph and his young family moved to Massachusetts (circa 1832) where he started the leather tanning firm Joseph Byron & Sons. Joseph's third son, William Devereux Byron (1832-1915), started working in the family business at the age of eleven doing light work, such as hanging leather for finishing. Around age fifteen, William finished grammar school and started working as a "prentice" in the family business. William worked in partnership with his father for a few years until the Panic of 1857, when he lost most of his money and decided to move to Chicago to take advantage of the growing leather trade there. On his way to Chicago, he ended up looking for jobs in Albany, Syracuse, and Buffalo, landing a job doing piecework for a tannery in Buffalo. After the Civil War, William moved back to Massachusetts and started working contracts, finishing rough leather for various tanneries. In the late 1870s, W. D. Byron & Sons opened in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and expanded into nearby Stoneham.
In 1892, W. D. Byron & Sons opened a tannery in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and in 1897 opened another location on a site on the Conococheague Creek near Williamsport, Maryland. William's youngest son, Harold "Harry" Winchester Byron, would take over operations of the Mercersburg tannery in 1901. The Byron's Mercersburg tannery would be sold out of the family in 1945 due to lingering financial difficulties from the Great Depression, and the Byron estate in Mercersburg eventually left the family as well and became the Mercersburg Inn.
The Williamsport location of W. D. Byron & Sons suffered a fire caused by a lightning strike in 1903 that caused significant damage to buildings and stock, but the business rebounded quickly. In 1911, the Byron family opened a shoe manufacturing plant in nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, called the Hagerstown Shoe & Legging Company. William's sons, Lewis T. (1870-1922) and Joseph Charles Byron (1860-1932), were the first two presidents of this shoe company. W. D. Byron & Sons would remain in the family for three more generations with William's son Joseph Charles Byron passing the torch to his son William Devereux II, and finally to the last president James "Jamie" Edgar Byron, the second of William Devereux Byron's great-grandsons. In 1976, after declaring bankruptcy due to the expense of switching from coal to oil and building facilities for processing waste materials, Garden State Tanning purchased W. D. Byron & Sons.
The Byron Family was also heavily involved in local, state, and national politics in western Maryland. Three generations of the Byron family were mayors of Williamsport, two Byron family members died in office while representing Maryland's Sixth District in the United States House of Representatives and were replaced by their wives in "widow’s mandate" elections, and one family member represented Maryland in both houses of Congress and served as a judge on two federal benches. Throughout most of the twentieth century the Byron’s played a role in presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. The following individuals are highlighted in the Byron Family Papers:
Louis Emory McComas (1846-1907):
Louis Emory McComas was born October 28, 1846, near Hagerstown, Maryland. He attended St. James College in Maryland and graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He returned to Hagerstown and, after being admitted to the bar, he began practicing law. In 1875, he married Leah Marie Humrichouse (1851-1904). McComas unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland's Sixth District in 1876. He ran again in 1882 and served four consecutive terms in Congress before losing his bid for reelection in 1890. After leaving Congress, McComas served as secretary to the Republican National Committee in 1892 and played a role in the re-nomination of President Benjamin Harrison at the 1892 Republican nominating convention. On November 17, 1892, President Harrison appointed McComas to associate justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. While on the bench in Washington, McComas also served as a professor of international law at Georgetown University. He served as a justice until being elected to the United States Senate from the state of Maryland. McComas served as chairman of the Committee on Organization, Conduct, and Expenditures of Executive Departments in the Fifty-sixth Congress and of the Committee on Education and Labor in the Fifty-seventh and Fifty-eighth Congresses. His first wife passed away in 1904; he married his second wife, Hebe Muir, in 1907. In 1905 he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt as a justice on the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit, where he served until his death in 1907. Many notable people in the Maryland and Washington legal communities attended his funeral. He was interred at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland.
William Devereux Byron II (1895-1941):
William Devereux Byron II was born in Danville, Virginia, on May 15, 1895, to Joseph Charles and Jane "Jennie" Frances Wilson Byron, and named after his paternal grandfather. He moved with his family to Williamsport, Maryland, in 1899 where he attended public schools before going to the Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. During World War I, Byron enlisted as a private in the Army Aviation Corps where he received a commission as a first lieutenant and was assigned as an instructor in flying and aerial gunnery. In 1919, he returned to Williamsport where he began working at W. D. Byron & Sons. He eloped with Katharine McComas Edgar (1903-1976) in 1923 before gaining the blessing of both sets of parents. The pair would have five sons, William Devereux III (1925-1990), James "Jamie" Edgar (1927-2011), Goodloe Edgar (1929-1978), David Wilson (1932-1964), and Louis McComas (born 1938). In 1925, Byron followed in his grandfather William Devereux Byron's footsteps to become mayor of Williamsport. He was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1930 and in 1934 Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie appointed him to the Maryland Roads Commission where he served for two years. Byron was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland's Sixth District in 1938. He defeated Hall of Fame pitcher and Montgomery County Executive Walter Johnson for a second term. On February 26, 1941, still a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Byron died in a plane crash near Atlanta, Georgia, on the way to meet his wife in New Orleans. He was interred in the Riverview Cemetery in Williamsport, Maryland.
Katharine McComas Edgar Byron (1903-1976):
Katharine McComas Edgar was born in Detroit, Michigan, on October 25, 1903, to Clinton Goodloe and Mary McComas Edgar. Her maternal grandfather was Louis Emory McComas. She grew up on the McComas family estate, Springfield Farm, near Hagerstown, Maryland, and attended private schools including the Holton Arms School in Montgomery County, Maryland. In 1923, she eloped with William Devereux Byron II, and the couple went on to have five sons. In 1938, she was elected the first councilwoman on the Williamsport Town Council. After the death of her husband in a plane crash in 1941, Katharine Byron sought election to his vacant seat representing Maryland's Sixth District in the U. S. House of Representatives. She won the election and became the first female representative to Congress from the state of Maryland. While in the House she was present for many votes leading up to and including the vote to declare war on Germany and other Axis powers during World War II. She was chosen as one of five members of the House to give floor speeches in support of the declaration of war. She did not run for a second term, instead deciding to stay home to care for her young family. After leaving office, Katharine Byron, who had been a well-known hostess during her and her husband's terms in office, stayed in Washington and continued to be active among the District's political social circuit. In 1947, Katharine Byron married Samuel Bynum Riddick. She spent much of her post-congressional career as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, but took to the campaign trail once again in 1970 to help her son Goodloe campaign for her former seat in the House of Representatives. Katharine Edgar Byron passed away on December 28, 1976, in Washington; she is buried in Riverview Cemetery next to her first husband, William.
Goodloe Edgar Byron (1929-1978):
Goodloe Edgar Byron was born June 22, 1929, in Williamsport, Maryland. The third son of William Devereux Byron II and Katharine McComas Edgar Byron, he was named after Katharine's father Clinton Goodloe Edgar. Goodloe Byron grew up in Williamsport where he attended public schools and later attended St. Alban's School in Washington, D. C., after his family moved there. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and went to George Washington University to study law, receiving his juris doctor in 1953. After graduation he joined the army, was commissioned as a first lieutenant, and was stationed with the Third Infantry Division in Germany serving in the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) office. After leaving the military in 1957, Byron practiced law in Frederick, Maryland, and joined the Maryland National Guard. Goodloe Byron married Beverly Barton Butcher (born 1932) on December 20, 1952. After some time as a Frederick County attorney (1959-1961), he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1963 and the Maryland Senate in 1967. In 1971, Goodloe Byron was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Maryland's Sixth District, the same seat that both his parents and great-grandfather Louis Emory McComas had held. He was re-elected three times before dying of a heart attack while jogging on the C & O Canal near Hagerstown on October 11, 1978. After his death, his wife successfully ran for his vacant seat. Goodloe Byron was interred in Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Maryland.
James "Jamie" Edgar Byron (1927-2011):
James "Jamie" Edgar Byron was born July 14, 1927, in Williamsport, Maryland, the second son of William Devereux Byron II and Katharine McComas Edgar Byron. James Byron was named after his uncle, James McComas Edgar, Katharine's brother. In 1952, he married Lynne Redgrave Kerwin (1931-1998). They had four children, two boys and two girls. In 1961, he was the third Byron to be elected mayor of Williamsport. Byron was involved in Democratic campaigns in western Maryland, working for the Kennedy-Johnson campaign and also campaigning for his brother Goodloe. James Byron was the last president of the W. D. Byron & Sons Tannery before the business was sold in 1978. He later became an analyst for the leather industry in the International Trade Commission for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He died on July 2, 2011, and is buried in Riverview Cemetery in Williamsport, Maryland.
Other Individuals of Note in the Byron Family Papers
David Wilson (1825-1906):
David Wilson was born in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, on March 30, 1825. He attended public and private schools before going to seminary and medical school, receiving a doctor of medicine in 1868 from Washington University in Baltimore, though he never entered active practice. He spent most of his early career working at churches in and around Maryland. He was one of the charter members of Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College). On March 6, 1856, Wilson married Annie Marie Zollickoffer (1829-1870). They would have four children, one boy and three girls, before she died from complications during the birth of their fourth daughter in 1870. In 1872, he married his second wife, Frances Smith, who bore two children and survived him. In 1880, he was appointed post chaplain at Fort Meade, Dakota Territory; many of his sermons and articles included in this collection come from his tenure as an army chaplain. He retired from active service in 1890 and moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1898. He lived in Denver until his death on February 28, 1906. David Wilson was interred in the Methodist Protestant cemetery at Uniontown, Maryland.
Joseph Charles Byron (1860-1932):
Joseph Charles Byron was born November 2, 1860, in Buffalo, New York, the third child of William Devereux Byron and Harriet Newell Cook Byron. Joseph Byron attended public and private schools before attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. In 1882, while studying law in Johnstown, New York, he was offered an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he attended with classmate John J. Pershing. While in the military, he was stationed in Fort Meade, Dakota Territory, where he was assigned command of a troop of recruited Native Americans. He married Jane "Jennie" Frances Wilson (1869-1946), daughter of David Wilson, the base chaplain, in 1889. They had two children while at Fort Meade and two more while he was commandant of the Danville Military Institute at Danville, Virginia. Joseph Byron served in the army through the Spanish-American War, was wounded in action at Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, in 1898. He also served as a quartermaster in China during the Boxer Rebellion. His last posting was at the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia; he resigned in 1902. Joseph Byron returned to Williamsport and became a partner at W. D. Byron & Sons Tannery. In the period leading up to World War I, he became involved in public service, serving as president of the school board as well as working with the YMCA, the city park system, and the municipal band. During World War I, Joseph Byron again served his country, this time working for the Leather Equipment Committee of the Council of National Defense and the War Industries Board. He was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the war. After the war, he was awarded a contract through the Unites States Harness Company to sell surplus military leather goods. Byron and three other directors were investigated by the Attorney General, indicted for and exonerated of price fixing charges related to this venture. Returning to civilian life, he became the president of the Hagerstown Shoe & Legging Company in 1922 and he resumed his public service by doing charitable work for the Salvation Army, serving as president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees, and becoming a charter member of the Hagerstown Rotary Club. Joseph Byron died February 4, 1932. Family and friends, including General Pershing, attended his funeral. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland.
- Reverend Dr. David Wilson, 1825-1906
- Senator Louis Emory McComas, 1846-1907
- Colonel Joseph Charles Byron, 1860-1932
- Jane "Jennie" Frances Wilson Byron, 1869-1946
- General Clinton Goodloe Edgar, 1873-1932
- Representative William Devereux Byron II, 1895-1941
- Representative Katharine McComas Edgar Byron, 1903-1976
- Representative Goodloe Edgar Byron, 1929-1978
- James "Jamie" Edgar Byron, 1927 - 2011
- Byron Family Papers, Box 20, Folder 34, "Byron, James "Jamie" Edgar – W. D. Byron & Sons Tannery - Company image, rules, and policy," Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
- Byron Family Papers, Box 19, Folder 6 "W. D. Byron & Sons Tannery - History and genealogy," Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
- Gombach Group, Mercersburg Historic District, Mercersburg Borough, Franklin County, 17236 PA Mercersburg, 2008 http://www.livingplaces.com/PA/Franklin_County/Mercersburg_Borough/Mercersburg_Historic_District.html (accessed June 21, 2010).
- Jennifer Reut, "Industrial Traces: Central Chemical & Hagerstown Shoe Company," 2002, www.faculty.virginia.edu/centralchemproject/docs/shoe.doc (accessed June 21, 2010).
- GST Autoleather, Company Information: History, 2003, http://www.gstautoleather.com/automotive_leather_info/history_automotive_leather.asp (accessed June 21, 2010).
- McComas, Louis Emory (1846-1907), http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000351 (accessed June 22, 2010); Byron Family Papers, Box 26, Folder 2 "McComas, Louis Emory – Autograph Book – 1892 Republican Presidential Nominating Convention," Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.
- McComas, Louis Emory (1846-1907), http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000351 (accessed June 22, 2010).
- BYRON, William Devereux (1895 - 1941), http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B001206 (accessed June 22, 2010).
- "Katharine Edgar Byron 1903-1976," in Women in Congress 1917-2006, 206-209 (Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006).
- Byron Family Papers, Box 14, Folder 22, "Wilson, David - "In Memoriam,"" Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.