Perhaps the most picturesque and interesting living figure in the history of Jacksonville, is Dr. A. S. Baldwin. Few persons are now living who were in Jacksonville when he came here, in 1838, at the age of twenty-seven years. ewer still were old enough at that time to even remember, muc less participate with him, in any of the stirring events of that period in which he had a conspicuous part as one of the defenders of the Sate, in the Seminole War, then raging. His history, from the time he came here, is the history of Jacksonville, for he has been prominenly identified with every movement for the development and advancement of the City from its very inception almost, and now, at the ripe age of eighty-four, he may look back with pride and pleasure to his early struggles, and view with satisfaction the evidences all around him of their results, in the present magnificent City.
A. Seymour Baldwin was born in Oswego County, New York, March 19th, 1811, and is sprung from the fine old Enhlish families of Seymour and Baldwin. On the paternal side he is sixth in direct descent from Richard, the elder member of a somewhat numerous family of Baldwins, who emigrated from Bucks County, England, in 1638, and settled at New Milford, Connecticut, from whence have spread over the United States, Canada and the West Indies the numerous descendants of this family.
The subject of this sketch was made an orphan in his early infancy by the deaht of his father, and was adopted by an uncle who lived in an adjacent county. There, for some time, he was taught by priate tutors. He afterwards pursued his preparatory studies at two popular institutions in Madison County: the seminary at Cazenovia and the Polytechnique Institute at Chittenango. His design of entering Hartford College at this time was frustrated by the death of his uncle in 1830, so he entered the Freshman Class of the same year at Geneva, now Hobart College. From this College he graduated four years later with the degrees of B. S. and A. B.
Upon the completion of his collegiate course, Mr. Baldwin began the study of medicine in the office of Dr. Thomas Spencer, a professor in the medical department of the institution which he had attended. He had already won proficiency in several branches of natural science. So after two years of medical study he received the appointment of botanist in the geological survey of Michigan, from Dr. Houghton, its chief. Exposure to camp life in the severe climate to which his new labors called him, resulted in an acute attack of inflamatory rheumatism, which unfitted him for the work, so he resigned and returned to Geneva. There he completed his medical studies and in 1838 received his medical degree, and from the College proper, the degree of A. M. in regular course. He then entered upon the practice of his profession in Geneva. In June of the same year he was married to Miss Eliza Scott, of an influential Geneva family. Owing to a frequent recurrence of his rheumatic attackes he decided to remove to Florida, where he arrived December 2d, 1838.
Dr. Baldwin's real history begins which his advent into Florida. Settling in Jacksonville, then a straggling village of scarcely 1,000 inhabitants, he immediately entered upo nthe practice of medicine which became at once extensive, remunerative and very laborious. This will be appreciated when it is known that for a year or more he was the only physician within an area of thirty miles around Jacksonville.
It was during his professional visits up and down the river that he began to observe the tides and currents which, having given considerable attention to, convinced him that a small appropriation for closing up Fort George Inlet, woudl enable the waters to have a freer discharge to the sea, and force a channel for the passage of vessels up the St. Johns. A public meeting was called to take action on his views, which resulted in Dr. Baldwin being sent to Washington to secure the needed appropriation, in which he was successful. So that it was due to his efforts that the first steps were taken to secure the splended navigation facilities in the river which is now enjoyed.
While absent in Washington on this business, which was in 1852, he was first chosen to represent his county in the State Legislature. During the first session Dr. Baldwin secured a charter for the Florida Central Railroad, with right of way from Jacksonville to Pensacola, and became President of the Company organized to build the road. The main line of the Florida Central & Peninsular Railroad to River Junction to Pensacola, is the outgrowth of this charter. He also, at the second session, fathered the bill creating a temporary Internal Improvement Board, of which he became the member from his district. The object of this Board was to assist in building railroads in the Sate. This they did by donating alternate sections of land along the proposed route of the road, and endorsing the Company's bonds for ironing. This Board was afterwards made permanent and consisted of the Governor and his Cabinet. Having let the contract for building the road, Dr. Baldin retired from the Presidency and devoted his attention to other enterprises affecting the growth and prosperity of his State and City. In this field he has always been a mos indefatigable worker.
From the lower house Dr. Baldwin was promoted by the votes of his fellow citizens to the State Senate in 1858, and was a member of that body when the war broke out. He strenously opposed secession, but when his Sate went out of the Union, like many another honest patriot, he went with her, and promptly offered his services to the Confederacy. He was commissioned Surgeon, and throughout the war was Chief Surgeon of Hospitals for Florida, in which position he rendered invaluable services.
Returning to Jacksonville when the war was over, he found that his property had all been confiscated, but after a few years he recovered his possessions, upon a portion of which, on Bay Street, he has erected an exensive block of stores, which, when built, was one of the most imposing structures in the City.
In the yellow fever epidemic of 1857, Dr. Baldwin lost his first wife. By this marriage he had one son who became Dr. William L. Baldwin. He perished in the fever epidemic of 1888. By 1855 Dr. Baldwin was again married, his second wife being Mrs. Mary E. Dell. The only issue from this marriage was a daughter, Edna Seymour, now Mrs. Samuel P. Holmes.
Dr. Baldwin never lost his interest in the improvement of navigation in the St. Johns River, nor relaxed hisefforts to secure adequate appropriations for carryinh out his plans in this regard. When the fame of Captain Eads spread over the country, Dr. Baldwin visited that gentleman at Port Eads and induced him to visit Jacksonville. He came in 1878 and made a personal examination of the river and bar, and from consultation of coast survey charts, decided upon a system of jetties, with which everyone is now familiar, as they were subsequently adopted by the Government engineers, who had also afterwards made a thorough examination of the same field. The two reports, of Captain Eads and the Government engineers, were sent, together with a memorial to Congress, urging an appropriation, and in 1880 Dr. Baldwin in person went to the Capital and secured the first available appropriation, which was $125,000. After this the work was continued steadily.
In 1878 the City voted $250,000 for sanitary improvements and water works. This sanitary improvement found was placed in the hands of five trustee,s of which Dr. Baldwin was made Chairman, and held the position until the last of the bonds were called in, in May, 1894. he trust was faithfully perfoemd, and like all his labor in the public interest, was gratuitous. This committee built the present splendid system of water works and established the sewerage system.
In science, as well as medicine, Dr. Baldwin has always been an interested student and worker. His published addresses on the climatology of Florida have been of great benefit to science. Thesr were based on the medical statistics of the army in Florida, and his own meteorological observations, covering a period of thirty-six years. For twenty years he was meteorological correspondent for the Smithsonian Institute, and furinished it regularly the monthly sheet of his observations. These reports were the first scientific exhibition of Florida climatic literature ever given to the world, and the American Scientific Association at the meeting at Montreal in 1857. He was also a corresponding member of the Boston Natural History Society, and a frequent correspondent of Agassiz on scientific subjects and natural history.
Dr. Baldwin organized the first medical society in Duval County, which was the first in the State, and in 1873 called a meeting of physicians, and organized the State Medical Association. He was its first president, and held th position for two years.
Dr. Baldwin has always been an earnest and consisten member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and became a member of St. John's Parish immediately on his arrival in Jacksonville. For fifty-five he has been a warden in the vestry of St. John's Church. He has always been an earnest church worker, and a liberal giver to Christian and charitable institutions.
The province of this work is such as to forbid a detailed account of this man's career, which has been so full of interest and good work. He has been doubly blessed by coming to Florida: The climate has entirely healed the complaints which first brought him here, and as a factor in building up his State and City he has had few equals; and when he shall have passed away the work of his living hands will keep his memory fresh in the hearts of the people he sered, and whose gratitude he has. In his old age Dr. Baldwin has again been honored most comspicuously; in his eighty-fourth year he has been elected President of the Board of Trade, which, next to the mayoralty, is the most important office in Jacksonville. A man of worth, and a father to the community, he is honored by all men.