Ever wonder about Hoes Heights? The hidden and oft-overlooked north Baltimore neighborhood of Hoes Heights bears the name of Grandison Hoe, a freed slave in Antebellum Baltimore who once owned and operated a farm on the location. Nestled between its more renowned neighbors—Hampden to the south and Roland Park to the north— this neighborhood remained entirely African-American until the last few decades. Hoes Heights, bound by Cold Spring Lane to the north, 41st Street to the south, Falls Road to the west and Evans Chapel Road to the east, became part of Baltimore City under the 1918 Annexation Act. It is an architecturally diverse community consisting of 19th century stick style houses, turn of the century single-family homes, and brick rowhouses. Many are probably familiar with this neighborhood’s most prominent feature—the 148 foot tall water tower located on Roland Avenue near the intersection of University Parkway.
The earliest reference to the Hoe property is found in an 1857 map of Hampden and its surrounding regions by J. Morris Wampler (seen to the left). The property’s boundaries terminated to the north at what is now Roland Heights Avenue and to the west along the crest of the hill that descends to Falls Road. In the 1860 census of Baltimore County, Grandison is listed as being 40 years of age with property worth $3,600 and an estate worth $200—a modest house on valuable land. Also listed as residents of the farm are his 38-year-old wife Lucy, their five children, and a man named Augustus Green. All are identified as farmers.
The history of Hoes Heights prior to 1857 is somewhat murky. Who deeded Grandison Hoe, a freed slave, this coveted piece of land? Eliza Hoe, who may have been a sister or close relative of Grandison, shows up in the 1870 census as a housekeeper for a branch of the Fendall family in Bolton Hill. This same family also owned property adjacent to Hoes Heights, which was once part of Charles Ridgley’s massive North Baltimore estate. This Hoe-Fendall connection could possibly explain how Grandison ended up with the land.
Hiram Woods (1826-1901), a local sugar refining magnate who owned land north of Cold Spring Lane, so desired Hoe’s Hill (as it was then known) that he offered several times to buy the land and resettle the Hoes in Cross Keys, a small African-American village just to the north. Woods even offered to relocate the family burial ground. The Hoes rejected the offer. (Woods’s parcel later became part of Roland Park.)
As the Hoe family grew older the need for more living quarters arose. Grandison’s two sons, William and Richard, built their own houses adjacent to their father’s. Relatives, possibly from Charles County, moved to the Hoe farm and built homes. As the 20th century approached, the occupants of Hoes Heights began shifting from farm to domestic work, earning their livings in Roland Park and other exclusive neighborhoods. The harsh circumstances of the Great Depression forced the Hoes to sell portions of their land in order to pay delinquent tax bills. As a result, several blocks of small brick rowhouses were built on 43rd Street, 42nd Street, Evans Chapel and Providence Road during the 1930s and 1940s. Around 70 houses were built with most sold to African-American veterans returning from World War II.
By 1876, Grandison Hoe was most likely deceased—the 1877 Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, Vol. 1 by G. M. Hopkins shows the name Lucy Hoe on the parcel. The map also depicts a P. Solvine as the property owner of a small piece of land above Roland Heights Avenue terminating at Cold Spring Lane. The Solvine parcel (now part of Hoes Heights) eventually came to be known as Heathbrook. A mid-1970s census report states that Heathbrook was 100 percent white, while Hoes Heights was 100 percent African-American. Historically the two communities have maintained close ties—the Heathbrook Community Organization has worked closely with the Hoes Heights Improvement Association, but the two have remained separate entities.*
Today, Hoes Heights continues to feel more like a rural village than a city neighborhood. The amicable neighbors and tranquil setting gives the impression of simpler times and a real connection between past and present is evident. (Bryson Dudley)
Hoes Heights: A Neighborhood Plan (Hampden Pratt library vertical file)
1860 BaltimoreCounty census (Towsontown courthouse)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Baltimore Evening Sun May 8, 1934
Baltimore‘s Two Cross Keys villages by Jim Holechek
Baltimore Deco by S. Cucchiella
After responding to an advertisement placed in local papers by the Park Commission seeking to buy a large plot of land for a public open space, Lloyd Nicholas Rogers (1787- 1860) sold the Druid Hill estate for $121,000 in cash and $363,027 in city stock. Though the cantankerous Rogers tried to back out of the deal late, claiming the city lacked the authority to issue bonds outside the official city limits for the purchase, Mayor Swann, in one of his many questionable abuses of power, got the deal pushed through.
Perhaps Mayor Swann saw the writing on the wall concerning the city’s water supply issues, when during the Druid Hill Park inauguration ceremonies he stated that:
“…In addition to numerous springs heading in all the principal ravines, and furnishing a liberal supply of water for ordinary wants, the close proximity to the Jones’ Falls, and the great receiving reservoir of the city, gives assurance that the most extensive arrangements may be safely made for the lakes and fountains at a comparatively trifling expenditure. A resort to artificial supply is always to be preferred in a park, where the volume of water cannot be relied upon from natural flow….[Then upping his flowery poetic waxings, continued]…the soft and trembling shadows of the surrounding trees and hills as they fall upon a placid sheet of water, and the brilliant light which the crystal surface reflects in pure sunshine, mirroring too, at times, in its resplendent bosom, all the cerulean depth and sunny whiteness of the overhanging sky, give it almost a magical effect in a beautiful landscape.”
In 1864 the city began to utilize the natural geography of Druid Park as they made their “cerulean” vision a reality. A deep ravine formed by a stream that traveled southeast from the boat lake toward the Jones Falls was selected as the site for the new reservoir. Civil engineer Robert Martin developed plans and constructed a giant wall of mud that became the largest earthen dam in America (at that time). Steam excavators were used for the first time in the city to move 500,000 cubic yards of earth. The dam itself consisted of a water tight clay core, or puddle wall, surrounded by steep banks of soil, and was supported by a stone wall laid in cement running the entire length of the dam. Earthen banks were laid in thin layers and pressed by horse drawn rollers. When completed in 1871, the dam supported a reservoir that covered 55 acres, reached a depth of 94 feet (averaging 30 feet), and sat at an elevation 217 feet above mid-tide. Towering over the surrounding park at a height of 119 feet, the dam was 750 feet long, with a width of 600 feet at the base tapering up to 60 feet at the top.In 1864 work started on the reservoir, and by 1865, seven 30-inch pipes were taking water in and out of the reservoir: three from Hampden, three to Mt. Royal, and a drain pipe. Things didn’t necessarily go smoothly…
The year work on the dam began in Baltimore, the whole world read about the horror of the Dale Dyke reservoir in Sheffield England, where flooding from the spring thaw caused the dam to fail. Eight hundred and fifty-five million gallons of water rushed through the valley at 18 mph, killing 244 people. The public saw eerie similarities between the earthen dam in England and the new dam in Druid Park. Though Dale Dyke was at a higher elevation, the new reservoir in Baltimore was in much closer proximity to the population center and held a greater amount of water. In addition, when water was drawn off from the reservoir in 1866, it was confirmed that the seven pipes traveling through the base of the earthen dam had buckled and collapsed under its weight. The broken pipes at the bottom of the dam posed the risk of significant leakage that would compromise the integrity of the earthen structure. It appeared that a complete overhaul of the dam was necessary.A board of experts consisting of engineers Isaac Ridgeway Trimble (1802-1888), Charles Pratt Manning (1817-1886), and John H. Tegmyer (1822-1901) were appointed by the city to see if the new dam in Baltimore posed a similar risk to the catastrophe in England. The board concluded that they saw the “impossibility of failure from anything like similar causes” because the puddle wall had been constructed properly and the banks had been sufficiently compacted. Most importantly, the board proposed to replace the seven broken pipes with five new mains enveloped in stone arches that would not penetrate the puddle wall, exiting through the south side of the dam. Over 140 years later the dam has continued to hold strong, and in 1971 it was named a National Historic Civil Engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Ultimately $1,000,000 was spent to repair the cracked pipes, and the reservoir was reduced to holding only 429 million gallons of water (as opposed to the initial goal of one billion). By 1871 Druid Lake was complete.** Over the next four years a west high service reservoir was added at a height of 320 feet above mean tide to service areas at higher elevations in the northwest part of town. By 1872, faced with more serious droughts, the city once again realized its supply of water was not sufficient, and finally turned its eyes towards the Gunpowder. Ironically, the $700,000 difference between the projected cost and the cost after the repairs was almost identical to that saved by selecting the waterworks on Jones Falls over the much higher volume project on the Gunpowder River. (Eben Dennis)
* The “park tax,” as it was known, would dwindle to 12 percent in 1874, 9 percent in 1882, 3 percent in 1932, then disappear completely.
**The resulting body of water had been known during the first half of its construction as Lake Chapman, after Unionist Mayor and head of the Water Board at the time, John Lee Chapman (1811-1880). Since much of Chapman’s tenure as mayor was characterized by the bitter partisan feuding of the Civil War period, it came as little surprise when his Democratic successor, Robert T. Banks (1822-1901), and the City Council voted unanimously to change the name to Druid Lake just four months after he left office in early 1868.
Bowditch, Eden and Draddy, Anne. Druid Hill Park : the Heart of Baltimore (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.)
Cox, J. Journal Proceedings of the First Branch City Council of Baltimore (Baltimore, 1866.)
Coyle, Wilbur F. The Mayors of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD : reprinted from the Baltimore Municpal Journal, 1919.)
Hall, Clayton Coleman. Baltimore: Its History and Its Peoples (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912.)
Howard, William Travis. Public Health Administration and the Natural History of Disease in Baltimore, 1797-1920 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1924.)
Inauguration Ceremonies and Address of Hon. Thomas Swann on the Opening of Druid Hill Park, October 19, 1860 (Baltimore, Md: Bull and Tuttle, 1860.)
Passano File, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County (Baltimore, MD: Regional Publishing Company, 1971.)
Weishampel, Jr., J.F.. The Stranger in Baltimore: A New Hand Book, Containing Sketches of the Early History and Present Condition of Baltimore, with a Description of Its Notable Localities, and Other Information (Baltimore, 1866.)
“The Park.” Baltimore Sun, June 16, 1860.
“Mayor’s Message.” Baltimore Sun, January 5, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, January 18, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, March 4, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1867.
“Committe on Water Investigate the Circumstances….” Baltimore Sun, November 12, 1867.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1868.
“Baltimore Water Supply.” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1869.
Baltimore City Services History http://cityservices.baltimorecity.gov/dpw/waterwastewater02/waterquality3.html
Today’s “Then and Now” photograph was taken from the roof of the Pratt Street Power Plant, ca. 1905. The three-story buildings shown here on the 500 block of East Pratt were built to replace a row of four-story buildings, most likely involved in maritime supply or wholesale commodity trades, that were destroyed by the Baltimore Fire of 1904 (see photo below).
Amazingly, by the time the featured photograph was taken in 1905 much of the area had been rebuilt. The northeast corner of Pratt and Gay Streets became a waterfront lodging call the Marine Hotel, later demolished in 1973.
The Power Plant was designed by architect Henry Brauns of the firm Baldwin and Pennington, to generate the electricity used to power Baltimore’s trolley cars. Though it endured the fire and several ownership changes over the 20th century, it was finally closed 1973, when the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company concluded it had no further use for the plant. In the 1980s the power plant held both a short-lived amusement park and then a dance club. Since 1997 it’s been home to chain stores such as Barnes and Noble, ESPN zone (now closed), and the Hard Rock Cafe (surprisingly not closed). Today it is also the headquarters for the Cordish Company Developers, and the architecture and planning firm Design Collective. Were it not for the recognizable shell of the Power Plant, this section of Pratt would be hardly recognizable today. (Eben Dennis)
The Passano File, Maryland Historical Society
Peterson, Peter B. The Great Baltimore Fire. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society Press, 2004.
I’m of the opinion that historical material needs two of three factors in order to survive for future generations: luck, money, and someone caring. Most of our collections have benefited from all three. Because of this there is less material representing working class people that survives than the wealthy; in other words, without money the material’s survival relies heavily on luck. Since Hampden was a traditionally a working class community, less stuff has survived, making the manuscripts, artifacts, and photographs that much more valuable.
So what can I learn from this swiss-cheese piece of map that somehow made its way to our library years ago? For one, I learned that the history of the area represented in the map is equally full of gaps—not a coincidence. Second, I learned that the best way to fill these historical gaps is by using the resources the map lives amongst in our library. A healthy library (and the help of Francis O’Neill) can make each crumb exponentially more valuable.
There are three very striking features on this map. (1) The ornate title reading “Hampden Improvement Association; Property Baltimore County, 1857, J. Morris Wampler;” (2) it is subdivided into 250 numbered, mostly undeveloped plots; and (3) the name H. Mankin, the man responsible for giving the village known as “Slabtown” its modern name “Hampden,” on a couple of the larger plots with two houses.*
Using The Baltimore Sun and the Dielman-Hayward file, we found that J. Morris Wampler was appointed Chief Engineer of the City Water Board in 1857; he most likely designed the Hampden reservoir. It appears this map was commissioned by the Hampden Improvement Association, perhaps to create the path for a pipe from the reservoir at Roland Park to another reservoir at the present day site of Roosevelt Park in Hampden.
We found references to the Hampden Improvement Association in The Baltimore Sun, but couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. We did find reference to the incorporation of a similar group calling themselves “the trustees of Hampden Hall,” in Chapter 222 of Laws of Maryland, 1856. This group evidently had the joint goal of forming a girls school. In the process of incorporating, they established themselves as a land company. Whether this was coincidence, an accident, or for economic reasons is unclear, and though two lots are called “College Lots” on the map, no school was ever established. The names associated with Hampden Hall are John N. McJilton, David Stewart, Samuel Wyman, Isaiah Martin, and Henry Martin. After looking up H. Mankin in the Dielman-Hayward file, I noticed that his father was named Isaiah. I am guessing this is a typo and these two “Martins” are actually the “Mankins.”
General Henry Mankin (1804-1876) made his fortune in shipping, taking over the firm Clark and Kellog, when its founders retired. He was responsible for establishing the first regular lines between the major ports of Baltimore and Liverpool; his fleets became famous for the large quantity of freight that was sent overseas, and the hundreds of immigrants who arrived on his boats returning to harbor. In 1838 Mankin married Sarah Anne Foard, and they bought a country place north of Baltimore between Falls Turnpike and Stoney Run called Mount Pleasant. They planted many trees and flowers, and soon the area that is now known as Hampden “became noted for its beauty and fragrance.”
Predicting that Baltimore would be forced to expand northward, Mankin left the shipping business and formed the Hampden Improvement Association (possibly through the Hampden Hall maneuver) as a business venture with the Mount Pleasant tract at its heart. Unfortunately for Mankin the expansion did not happen at the rapid rate he anticipated—it was slowed by the Civil War. Mankin passed away In 1876 a much poorer man than he had been in the 1850s, his investment never really panning out. Though the village had greatly increased in size due to an influx of mill hands and foundry workers, it never turned into the prosperous business venture he envisioned. In 1887 Hampden was incorporated into the city when Baltimore expanded northward.
“Man in the Street: Martin Kelly,” The Baltimore Sun, Feb 11, 1951.
“Classified Ad #23,” The Baltimore Sun, May 1, 1868.
“Classified Ad #15,” The Baltimore Sun, January 9, 1861.
“Classified Ad #35,” The Baltimore Sun, June 29, 1859.
“Local Matters,” The Baltimore Sun, July 25, 1857.
“Local Matters,” The Baltimore Sun, May 28, 1856.
Passano Historic Structures Index, Maryland Historical Society.
Dielman–Hayward File, Maryland Historical Society.
“Sketch of the Life of Henry Mankin,” Dielman–Hayward File, Maryland Historical Society.
Baltimore County. Map of Hampden. 1857, M271, Maryland Historical Society.
Laws Made and Passed by the General Assembly of the State of Maryland, 1856.
Chalkley, Mark. “Hampden Woodberry.” Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, 2006.
The most valuable resource for studying the buildings of Baltimore is not Google Maps—in fact, it isn’t online at all. It is an index card collection of historic structures known as the Passano File that lives in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society. Edited and overseen by Francis O’Neill, a reference librarian who began working in the MdHS library in 1981(the year this writer was born), the file is comprised of over 40,000 entries.* If you walk into our library and hear the antiquated clacking of a typewriter, you are hearing the sound of Mr. O’Neill at work on the most richly detailed catalog of our city’s geographic history.Alongside Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner, the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, the William Stone Engraving, and the McKeldin-Jackson Oral History Collection, the Passano File stands among the most valuable gems in our collection.
From 1935 through 1940, Eleanor Phillips Passano (1870-1949), a library volunteer at MdHS , worked on a card file that connected family names to specific properties in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. Over the course of the next 50 years, this file remained dormant. As the years passed, what was once a rich source of information became less and less useful; modern researchers had become chronologically detached from the family names previously associated with the buildings decades before.
By his fifteenth year at the MdHS library, O’Neill had noticed the waning use of the Passano File. More importantly, however, he recognized the informational value and research potential of the resource. In 1995 O’Neill began the process of reorganizing the Passano File according to geographical location rather than family name, linking the cards to a permanent physical space. Most importantly, he once again began updating and adding index cards, giving the Passano File a whole new life.
The Passano File is arranged geographically in the sense that it is alphabetical by street address. As you flip through the typed index cards, you physically travel east and west or north and south through Baltimore’s streets. Through address changes, fires, and demolitions, each index card describes the history of the buildings, estate, or neighborhoods that have existed at the modern address of the geographic space. Each card also contains further references to photographs, articles, and books about the structures.
Since the formal title is the Passano Historic Structures File, and structure is a somewhat vague term, O’Neill needed to settle on a definition. For convenience and practicality’s sake, O’Neill defines a structure as “anything you can go in and out of.” Parks, neighborhoods, and cemeteries, accompany the buildings and city blocks. When asked how monuments fit into this scheme (being for the most part solid structures), he matter-of-factly responds, “I have a different file for those.”
As the majority of us get dumbfounded, overwhelmed, and are eventually numbed by the waves of information that constantly flow past us, Francis O’Neill narrows his scope. He casually filters, plucks, and types up information about the city as it changes around him. Luckily for those who venture into our library with a little curiosity, he makes it available for our use. I nominate a name change to the Passano-O’Neill File. Anyone with me? The Passano File is open to researchers from 10-5pm Wednesdays through Saturdays. Ask for Mr. O’Neill.
As an example, I’ve photographed the cards for 2001-2003 Druid Park Drive from the file. You can see that these five cards contain detailed information about the location, as well as references to other books and articles in our library.
*index card count derived from a mathematical formula that relied heavily on the width of my finger.