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J. Alexis Shriver papers

Identifier: MS 0963


The papers of J. Alexis Shriver (1872-1951) are contained in 17 boxes and number approximately 3,000 items. Shriver was a business administrator, public celebrations organizer, local history buff, and collector of manuscripts. The latter three aspects of his life are represented best in this collection, which spans the years 1790 to 1945.


  • 1790-1945


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

Joseph Alexis Shriver was born in 1872. A Baltimore resident during his early years, Shriver moved to near Joppa in Harford County after graduating from Cornell in the early 1890's. Born of a wealthy and well-known Maryland family, he invested money and assumed the Presidency of the Baltimore and Bel Air Telephone Company in the late 1890's. After selling the firm to the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, Shriver became involved with the Bel Air Electric Company and still later with the Baltimore and Bel Air Railroad Company. This last venture was essentially a streetcar line that connected Cockeysville, Timonium and Towson about 1910 to 1923. It apparently was not very successful, and folded in 1923 with public preference for a new bus service.

Just after the turn of the century, Shriver became very active in the Harford County Historical Society. He initiated an extensive membership drive to create interest and revenue for the organization, and was somewhat successful. His goal was to gather enough funds for a separate building, allowing the Society to leave the Bel Air Court House. From within the Society, Shriver launched an ambitious program to draw attention to what he felt historically important. He authored a compendious history of George Washington's 127 trips through Maryland, replete with trivia concerning taverns visited and roads traveled. In a similar fashion, Shriver wrote a work entitled Lafayette in Harford County which related accounts of the famous Frenchman's activities in the area named.

Shriver was not one to just write about his ideas concerning history; he wanted to make them highly visible by means of display and festivities. He caused a number of cast iron road markers to be raised along the highways and byways of the state. Most were concerning with Washington's well-documented journeys, and all were unveiled with as much ceremony as could be gotten from the situation. Going several steps further, Shriver evinced his penchant for orgainizing and administrating by means of heavy involvement with a number of state and local committees aimed at public celebration of historic events. He was heavily involved with the Lafayette Sesqui-Centennial of 1931, the George Washington Bicentennial of 1932, The Ark and The Dove Day festivities of 1933, and the Maryland Tercentennary of 1933-1934. Of this latter organization, Shriver was General Director for about four months before he resigned under pressure from the Executive Committee.

In his waning years, Shriver devoted his time mostly to placement of road markers and writing short articles for local papers. He died at his residence, Olney, at age 79 on February 6, 1951 survived by his wife, Harriet Van Bibber Shriver.


10.21 Linear Feet (17 boxes (12 full Hollinger boxes; 5 flat boxes))

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of J. Alexis Shriver, June 1949.

Related Materials

MS 750, Shriver collection, 1784-1944

MS 750.1, Shriver family papers, 1712-1876

MS 2085, Shriver family papers, 1774-1957

Scope and Contents

The J. Alexis Shriver collection contains varied material, as Shriver was a collector of papers as well as a writer and addressee. There is a body of documents, mostly official records, concerning the Baltimore Methodist-Episcopal Church. This material covers the years 1807 to 1846, although the bulk fits in between 1820 to 1830. It is a valuable source for understanding the working of the Baltimore Methodist-Episcopal Church Government and its activities in early 19th century. Lengthy lists of marriages and baptisms performed by M.E. ministers are included as well.

This collection also includes a group of apparently unrelated papers, ca. 1800 to 1880. Accounts, bills, receipts, letters, and legal papers are all evident. Lack of visible correlation between items hampers the research potential of this material. Smaller, more related groups of 19th century papers in this collection are the Israel papers (1840 to 1870). There are a number of accounts, bills and receipts belonging to Beale (1759-1830), Robert, and Fielder Israel, Baltimore conveyancers dealing with transfer of real estate. Another group are the Hollings-worth Papers (1809-1828). Relating to Thomas and Nathaniel Hollingsworth, this small body of material contains bills, receipts and some correspondence. There is a group of five letters connected with John, Thomas, and Andrew Shriver gathered together as the Shriver Family Papers (1775-1873). The content is mostly personal.

The papers relating to J. Alexis Shriver directly are quite numerous as well as rather unified. Included are correspondence and business records relating to his involvement with the Harford County Historical Society, of which Shriver was Secretary-Treasurer and prime mover for over 30 years. The years 1908 to 1914 are best represented in this case.

The most complete documentation in the collection is that to do with Shriver's extensive dealings with various public historical celebrations such as the Lafayette Sesqui-Centennial, the Ark and the Dove Day, the George Washington Bicentennial, and the Maryland Tercentennary. He actively corresponded with hundreds of persons in connection with these activities, and the letters that exist here are highly informative. They concern just about every element of the administration and programs of these events. Materials other than the correspondence in this area are less useful, as they seem incomplete. After Shriver's resignation in January of 1934 as General Director of the Maryland Tercentennary Commission, there is little material of any kind, presumable because the pace of his public life slackened after this point.

Shriver's involvement in other areas is documented to a lesser extent in this collection. His connections with the Baltimore and Bel Air Telephone Company, as well as the Baltimore and Bel Air Electric Company, are represented only marginally. His dealings with electric railroad companies (1910-1923) are covered in a separate collection (MS. 847) and partially explain the gap in documentation during this time period.

The remaining materials included in the collection deal with non-professional activities. Shriver's concern for upgrading Bel Air Road in the early 1900's is, for example, evident. Also obvious is his interest in local history, as witnessed by a number of tracts concerned with subjects of a historical nature. Included is the draft of his book, Lafayette in Harford County (1931).

Several small groupings of diverse items can be found in this collection. There is a note book of his filled with copies of correspondence of Otho Scott, a 19th Century Bel Air lawyer. Cornell alumni documents dating from the mid-1890's and items associated with the inventor-cleric William A. Crawford-Frost are also part of the J. Alexis Shriver papers. Items connected with the Harford County Boat Club (1904-1941) are present in greater quantity. These varied articles, although they shed light on some aspects of Shriver and his times, are limited in number and have but limited research value.

As mentioned earlier, the most informative element in the collection, overall, is the extensive correspondence of Shriver. Letters sent by Shriver are arranged chronologically by month; letters received are arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the sender's last name. Predictably, the period best represented is that from January 1931 to January 1934, the height of Shriver's celebrations involvement.

Guide to the J. Alexis Shriver papers
Under Revision
William G. Le Furgy
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-19: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States