“A prominent figure” forgotten: Dr. William Potter Shaw, Berlin, Pa.

Many–maybe most–people are forgotten. Some are remembered who ought to be obliterated, and some who should be recalled are lost to recollection.

So little is left of Dr. William Potter Shaw (1866-1933) that it is impossible to say what kind of man he was.  Here is what I know:

According to his obituary published in the Meyersdale Republican, William Potter Shaw, the son of Barton, Md. native George Shaw (1827-1912), was born “at the famous stone house along the National Highway, near Grantsville” (likely the Tomlinson Tavern and farm at Little Meadows). His mother was Harriet (Potter) Shaw (1832-1909).

Shaw was a teacher before entering the University of Maryland Medical School. He earned his MD in 1893 and settled down in Berlin, Pa. to practice medicine (Baltimore Sun 19 May 1893; Meyersdale Republican 16 March 1933).

He likely had this portrait taken as a memento of graduation; according to Ross Kelbaugh’s Directory of Maryland Photographers, Harry Lenfield Perkins (b. abt. 1854, Md.), son of photographer Palmer Lenfield Perkins, had a studio at 311 Baltimore Street between 1887 and 1897.

In 1903, Shaw married a girl from Middletown, in Frederick County, Md.: Miss Harriet Geisinger Shafer (1871-1949), daughter of school teacher Peter W. Shafer and Anne L. L. (Young) Shafer.

In their home at 401 Main Street, the Shaws raised  two daughters: Mary Elizabeth Shaw, a trained nurse who married accountant Robert B. Berkey, and Helen Louise Shaw, who remained single.

By 1910, the Shaws had enough money to keep a servant, whose occupation is given as “ostler, barn,” so they must have kept a horse and buggy for the doctor’s calls.

Although I haven’t found any evidence that Shaw was anything more than a competent country G.P., his obituary says that “Dr. Shaw was a prominent figure in the religious, social and civic life of the Berlin community.” He was a member of  Trinity Reformed Church, served on the Berlin Borough School Board and the Borough Council, and in 1931 was elected Burgess of Berlin Borough.

Although Dr. Shaw’s obituary does not mention his ancestry, my research strongly suggests he was descended from the Shaws who settled the Georges Creek area that became known as Barton, in Allegany County, Maryland. They mined coal, laid out towns, and amassed land and businesses.

Shaw’s father was George W. Shaw, and one family history researcher, Pat O’Toole, has a family tree that lists George W. Shaw’s father as being a grandson of English immigrant Rev. William Anthony Shaw (1757-1815) and Charlotte Trimble Shaw (1765-1844). Both are buried in Morrison Cemetery, Barton, Allegany Co., Md.

According to Pat O’Toole’s research, George Shaw’s parents were, Joseph and Francis Shaw.

I’ve traced them from Maryland to Barbour County, West Virginia. Descendants of George’s siblings, Benjamin, Samuel, and Harriett, settled there and in Buckhannon, Upshur County, West Virginia, where they were farmers and teachers.

Dr. Shaw’s brother, Henry Columbus Shaw (1852-1910), appears to have had both the popularity and business acumen of his forebears. H. C. Shaw, a coal mine owner and merchant, left a valuable estate in Somerset County, Pa. His funeral was said by the Meyersdale Republican to have been attended by hundreds.

Some years after Dr. Shaw’s death, his widow, their two daughters and son-in-law Robert Berkey left Berlin behind and moved to Long Beach, in Los Angeles, California, where descendants still live today. Nothing remains in Berlin of the Shaws to mark their approximately 40 years in the community.

I am grateful to the wonderful Meyersdale Public Library in Somerset, Pa., Pat O’Toole, Steve Colby’s amazing Cumberland Road Project, the digital archives of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the diligent researchers of the Allegany County, Md. Genweb for their resources and aid.

2 comments on ““A prominent figure” forgotten: Dr. William Potter Shaw, Berlin, Pa.”

  1. Beverly,
    Found this interesting….Also did copious searching in Somerset County this April

    • Lucky you–you got to go there in person! Dr. Shaw’s house is still there–I could see it on google street view, believe it or not.


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