"Ask counsel of both times —of the ancient time what is best, and of the latter time what is fittest."
—Francis Bacon

It is tempting to consider any firm as a homogeneous entity that performs repetitiously from decade to decade, but in fact professional service firms merely reflect the talents and personalities of the people who staff them. It is thus more accurate to consider this firm in the context of the men who peered through its instruments and sat at its tables from year to year. In fact, even a cursory study of the firm’s records will reveal differences in personalities between the partners—differences that had a direct influence on the firm’s workload and work product.

The Early years

Thomas P. Chiffelle, a West Point-trained surveyor and engineer operated a surveying business in Baltimore at least as early as 1843 and was elected Baltimore City Surveyor from 1851 through 1854. Simon J. Martenet began his career with Chiffelle in March 1849 upon finishing his course at the High School.

1867 Circular
(Click to enlarge)

It is unknown to what extent Chiffelle participated in the firm’s operations thereafter. Records are spotty from the era and no diaries or financial records have been found documenting the period. The technical records from the time, although sparse, refer to Chiffelle as if he were a client. Although it is probable that Chiffelle maintained records of his surveys as do most surveyors, none have been located for the period prior to 1849. For reasons that remain unclear, Chiffelle left Baltimore in 1854 and Martenet assumed sole control of the business.

Prior to the Civil War when business had slowed, Martenet embarked on preparing a series of maps of the several counties, culminating in a Map of Maryland that so impressed the Legislature it ordered the map’s use in all public schools in the state.

Although he is perhaps most widely known for those maps, firm records indicate that they were but a small part of Martenet's overall operation. The bulk of the work consisted of property surveys, topographic surveys and new development layout—in short, typical surveying activities both then and now. He was elected 6 times to the office of City Surveyor. Printed advertisements reveal a firm involved in many aspects of the real estate business: surveying, developing, appraising, agency, etc. In 1872 Martenet bought at auction the tract he was to name "Parkville" and developed it into streets and lots, later building a second house there.

At the same time, the firm was busily involved with the creation of the town of Aberdeen, in the first major expansion of Glen Burnie, and in the developments of Canton, Govans, Arlington and Fairfield, as well as dozens of other developments.

Next: The next generation

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Copyright © 2009 S.J. Martenet & Co., Inc.