The Demuth Family and Their Properties

The Demuth family has a Germanic heritage and upon arrival in America the family settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Christopher Demuth (1738-1818), who moved to Lancaster to marry Elizabeth Hartaffel, started a small tobacco shop at 114 East King Street. As the shop prospered, Christopher was able to purchase the brick residence at 114-116 East King Street, possibly from his father-in-law, settling his family in Lancaster. Eventually, Christopher was able to construct a brick tobacco and snuff manufacturing plant on the back of the property facing Mifflin alley. In the 18th century, tobacco was a status industry and the Demuth family quickly took the lead in Lancaster.

By the close of the eighteenth century a second generation of Demuths, headed by Jacob (1778-1842) was in charge of the shop. Jacob was the proud father of 20 children and, not surprisingly, the residence at 116 East King Street was not ample enough for the needs of such a large brood. When the adjacent property at 118-120 East King Street became available Jacob purchased it.

Five successive generations of Jacob's children ran the shop and manufacturing plant. The security of the tobacco shop and industry allowed the Demuths time for leisure activities. Indeed, several of Charles' relatives were artists. His grandmother Caroline and her brother Samuel Christopher left behind sketchbooks and great aunt Louisa was a sensitive amateur flower painter.

Charles Demuth's father, Ferdinand and Uncle Henry co-ran the tobacco shop from 1906 until Ferdinand's death in 1911. Both Charles' mother and father influenced his interest in art in his youth and adolescence. Ferdinand was an amateur photographer and helped to originate the Lancaster Camera Club. Taking photographs of local architecture, country scenes, the circus, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, his father's photographs tended more towards the documentary. Nevertheless, Charles knew the early process of photography and, as seen in this photograph of young Charles with cows, would go with his father on excursions to take photographs. A photograph Ferdinand took of the Trinity Lutheran church steeple, in 1896 while it was undergoing repair, particularly influenced his son. Later this steeple and others like it would preoccupy his subject matter. To view examples of Ferdinand's photographs, click here.

Charles' mother Augusta was another artistic influence on him. Demuth's mother, affectionately known as "Augusta the iron-clad" or as "a ship under full sail," was six feet tall and took great care with her only child. Because Charles was a sickly child, she tended to dote on him. This indulgence took the form of his mother's keeping him close to her apron strings and encouraging his artistic skills. She hired Letty Purple, from nearby Columbia, to teach Charles china painting and pyrography, and Martha Bowman of Lancaster taught Charles still life and landscape painting. Augusta was also an excellent gardener. It was noted that, "His mother has that magic with flowers which belongs to a few rare individuals." The garden was paved with red bricks in plain and chevron patterns and more red bricks edged the raised areas of planted garden. On the eastern side of the garden there was a high board fence, which gave it a secluded, cloistered effect such as that of a medieval church in France or a Spanish dwelling. It was this locally famous garden that Demuth's early sketchbooks with great love of the insect, animal, and plant-life it contained. The garden's flowers and vegetables would also serve as inspiration for Demuth's more mature works.

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