West Baltimore was once a densely packed, vibrant neighborhood full of theaters, local businesses, and industry. Drive down many of the streets today and you’re likely to see a vacant lot or a boarded up row house on nearly every other block. But even an empty field has a history. The tiny, off-kilter house pictured to the left is one of the oldest houses in West Baltimore. Or at least it was circa 1865 when the photograph was taken. Like many of Baltimore’s historic structures it has been lost to time and the march of progress. It is now the site of a vacant lot. Built in the mid-1700s, the two-story wood frame house was located at 930 West Baltimore Street, two doors west of Amity Street. The property is known as the Sulzebacher house. The name is most likely a corruption of Sulzbach; according to the Baltimore city directories, a currier named Peter Sulzbach occupied the residence for a few years in the 1840s.
The house is of typical design for a mid-eighteenth century home in Baltimore. The gable roof may point to the construction of the home in the 1760s or 1770s; by then “gambrel roofs had fallen out of favor and most frame houses were a full two stories in height, with gable roof, with or without dormers.”* The building’s obvious tilt was characteristic of structures “located on streets built to match a since-altered street grade.”** Visible on the second floor is a fire insurance seal. Also called a fire mark, these iron, copper, or lead emblems indicated that a specific insurance firm paid a volunteer fire department to protect it – Baltimore’s first paid fire department was established in 1859, but the fire seals often remained left on the buildings. The Sulzebacher house survived for over 150 years, no mean feat for a wood frame house from that period. Sometime before 1911 the house was razed – the structure is not visible on the 1911 edition of the Sanborn fire insurance atlas – and replaced by a three-story barber shop.
The house at 932 West Baltimore Street, the edge of which can be seen in the photograph, may have been even older. Built in the same period, it had a much larger frontage than its neighbor at 930. The original structure was razed just a few years prior to the Sulzebacher house to make way for a motion picture theater. Both 932 and 930 West Baltimore Street appear to have caught the eye of rival theater owners. At around the same time that James W. Bowers was pursuing the properties at 932, A. Freedman had similar designs on 930. Freedman apparently lost the contest, because the only theater that debuted was Bower’s Aladdin Theater, which opened its doors to the public near the end of 1909. Advertising itself as “West Baltimore’s finest motion picture house,” the Aladdin theater seated about 400 patrons.
Between 1910 and 1938 the theater changed both ownership and names a number of times. In 1917 J. Louis Rome purchased it and renamed it the New Aladdin. The following year it came under the control of C.E. Nolte and his partner, Baltimore-born movie mogul Frank Durkee, whose Durkee Enterprises owned or controlled a large number of the movies houses in Baltimore, including the Ritz, the Palace, the Arcade, and the Senator. In 1930 the theater became the New Queen. It was open for less than a year, perhaps closing from the effects of the Great Depression. Then from 1933 to 1938 it operated as the segregated Booker T. Theater. This was the last of the property’s run as a host for cinematic productions – in 1942 it was converted into a plant for the New Gold Bottling Company, a soft drink manufacturer.
The New Gold Bottling Company was founded in 1925 by Greek immigrant Dionicios Karavedas. The company went on to produce Sun Spot, a popular orange flavored soft drink, whose advertisements boasted that it was made with real orange juice. During the 1950s and 1960s, the beverage, which retailed for a nickel, could be found in neighborhood stores and confectionaries throughout the city. The riots of 1968, which hit West Baltimore particularly hard, led to a decline in business for the soft drink manufacturer. In an odd change of direction, Dionicios’s son Nicholas, who took over the company after his father retired in 1960, began producing a sugar detecting beverage alongside his sugar enhancing ones – in the 1970s, he was involved with developing a product known as GTTS (Glucose tolerance testing solution) that detected the presence of gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Through a new company, Custom Laboratories, Inc., Karavedas went on to become the “the largest supplier of glucose testing solutions in the country.”***
By the 1980s, the beverage companies were still producing their dissimilar drinks on West Baltimore Street. But the city had its own plans for the site. In the mid-1980s it began purchasing properties on both the 900 and 800 blocks of West Baltimore Street for a proposed redevelopment project.
By 1992 the Karavedas owned companies were the remaining holdouts. According to a Baltimore Sun article from that year, the beverage companies were “the last tenants on a block the city has been clearing for as-yet unspecified housing or commercial redevelopment use.”**** By 1998, they had relocated across the city to Highlandtown. Twenty years later the 900 block of West Baltimore street, now owned by the University of Maryland, still remains undeveloped, a field of grass surrounded by a mixture of boarded up row homes, storefronts, University of Maryland medical buildings, and vacant lots. (Damon Talbot)
*Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004), p. 9.
**The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, West)
****”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
Sources and further reading:
”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
The Dielman-Hayward File, Karavadas, Dionicios
Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Exit: A History of the Movies in Baltimore (University Park, Md: Robert Kirk Headley, Jr., 1974)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004 (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006)
Jones, Carleton, Lost Baltimore Landmarks: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings (Baltimore: Maclay & Associates., 1982)
Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010.
Life Magazine, December 24, 1965
The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, 930-932, West)
On an auspicious afternoon in late September 1903, a crowd of Baltimoreans converged onto the intersection of Mount Royal Avenue and Lanvale Street to witness the symbolic-laced unveiling of the William H. Watson monument. The monument, erected by the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, honored Marylanders who lost their lives during the U.S.-Mexican War.(1) Taking place on the fifty-seventh anniversary of Lieutenant Colonel Watson’s death during the Battle of Monterey, spectators watched as aged survivors of the war took their places on the grandstand. Meanwhile, they also laid eyes on the over ten-foot statue, draped in the flag that had shrouded Watson’s corpse as it left Mexico. The most symbolic moment came when Watson’s last surviving child, Monterey Watson Iglehart, walked towards her father’s likeness and unveiled the statue. The unveiling by Iglehart, born on the day her father died, was the highlight of a ceremony that included speeches from U.S.-Mexican War veterans, politicians, and other dignitaries.(2)
“[E]nduring object lessons”
The unveiling partly served as an opportunity to describe the bravery of Marylanders who fought in Mexico. At the same time, it also provided an opportunity for dignitaries to discuss the monument’s impact on public memory. In presenting the Watson Monument to the city of Baltimore, Louis F. Beeler, president of the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican-American War, talked about the proud record of the state’s war veterans. He also talked about how the monument, finally realized after fifty years of planning, served to honor all the Marylanders who died fighting for their country.(3) Among all the speakers, Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, spoke most clearly of the monument’s long-term role in shaping public memory. Warfield believed that “[m]onuments are enduring object lessons, pointing the rising generations to the services of their fathers, and pressing home to their minds great events and epochs in the history of our country.”(4)
The Watson Monument recognized the importance surrounding the U.S.-Mexican War experience, while simultaneously interpreting the past in an effort to shape the present.(5) By highlighting the valor and honor of Baltimore’s U.S.-Mexican War heroes, like Watson and Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold, the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War allowed the public to view the veterans as heroes of a conflict which greatly benefited the United States, as opposed to participants in an unjustifiable land grab. Watson and Ringgold’s deeds illustrated the sacrifices that came with the United States’s mission of spreading democracy. The monument thus provided “enduring object lessons” that enabled Baltimoreans to shape contemporary circumstances. Given the theoretical similarities between the U.S.-Mexican War and the United States’s imperialist endeavors of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the monument offered implicit support to national endeavors in the Caribbean.
“The bands which unite our country…”
Today, the monument blends into the scenery of west Baltimore. The war that it commemorates has faded from memory, especially on the East Coast.
Tensions between Mexico and the United States, which had brewed for years, boiled over after James Polk was elected president in 1844, with a promise to annex Texas. Texas was then an independent republic, having broken away from Mexico in 1836. Mexico did not recognize Texas independence, considering it instead a rebel province, much like China considers Taiwan today. Worse, even if Mexico was willing to negotiate away its claim to Texas, a border dispute existed. Texas claimed the boundary at the Rio Grande. Mexico claimed the traditional boundary, the Nueces River, 100 miles north.
When it became clear that Texas would enter the United States, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor with an army to the edge of the disputed zone. Then in early 1846, Taylor’s army advanced to the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande. Since both armies were in the disputed zone, both could claim that blood had been shed by the other in its own territory when hostilities broke out at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on April 25, 1846. When word of the fighting reached Washington, President Polk immediately asked Congress for a declaration of war, stating that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil.” Mexican president Mariano Paredes could make a similar claim. Congress complied, and declared war.(6)
Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold became the first prominent Marylander to die during the war. During the Battle of Palo Alto, Ringgold became mortally wounded when he had both thighs “torn out” by a Mexican cannon ball. He died on May 11, 1846, in Port Isabel, Texas.(7) Ringgold’s death muted the joy Baltimoreans felt in the aftermath of General Taylor’s victories. Flags throughout the city flew at half-staff, as did all the flags that adorned the ships in the Baltimore Harbor. Buildings within the city were draped with black crepes. Poignantly, the Baltimore Sun noted that Ringgold’s “fate so sad, his fame so brilliant, has awakened a lively interest in all that relates to him, especially in this city, where it is now apparent that he was known only to be loved, and where his memory will continue to be affectionately revered.”(8)
For the next year and a half, Mexican and U.S. armies battled across Mexico. After Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto, Taylor’s armies advanced through northern Mexico. The Battle of Monterey, fought on September 21-24, 1846, came at a cost of losing Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson. During fierce street fighting, Watson had his horse shot out from under him. He rose, and, while trying to lead his troops in an attack against Mexican forces, he received a musket shot to the neck which killed him instantly. According to Charles J. Wells, Watson’s death represented “one of the great tragedies of the day for the Baltimoreans.”(9)
Watson died instantly, but his stature grew as stories surrounding his death emerged. According to historian Robert W. Johannsen, “[t]he dying moments of fallen soldiers were told and retold in the war’s literature, and their last words were offered as evidence of the patriotic ardor of the men in Mexico.”(10) Watson, already wounded, had been urged to retreat. He refused, stating that, “[n]ever will I yield an inch! I have too much Irish blood in me to give up!”(11)
The war was not without opposition. Senator James Pearce of Maryland, for example, questioned President Polk’s motives, and believed that the United States could not rule over such a large expanse of land: “[t]he bands which unite our country, if stretched so far, must inevitably snap.”(12)
But opposition to the war faded as General Winfield Scott’s army moved from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847, occupying the “halls of the Montezumas” in September. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war, with Mexico ceding the northern portions of its territory to the United States for $15 million.(13)
The war had a significant impact on the United States. In addition to the United States gaining a quarter of its continental footprint—all or parts of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas—that conflict provided the final tinders for an issue that would ignite into civil war scarcely a decade later: slavery.(14)
Over time, the memory of the war’s controversy faded, and Marylanders, like people in the rest of the United States, united to commemorate the conflict and its veterans.
“To die is gain”
Death catapulted Marylanders like Ringgold and Watson into the realm of American heroes. The U.S.-Mexican War, according to Johannsen, led to the appearance of a new group of individuals who would help the nation “celebrate deeds of courage, daring, and leadership.” For U.S. soldiers, one of the quickest ways to achieve hero status was through death on the battlefield.(15) Ringgold had already been considered a hero before Americans, and Marylanders, received word of his death. In death, Ringgold reached the highest stage on the scale of heroism. He became a “true Chevalier ‘sans peur, sans reproche,’—the Bayard of our army.”(16)
Similarly, death enabled Watson to achieve the status of an American hero. Reverend Henry V.D. Johns, D.D., stated that “[t]o die is gain.” As Reverend Johns declared in a sermon to honor Watson, G. A. Herring, and J. Wilker, Johns continued, “[n]o earthly honor, my brethren, can be placed upon the summit of that glory, which common consent of all ages and nations, is assigned to those who die in the lawful service of their country; and for this reason—that no arm of mortal can reach that elevated point.”(17) Ringgold and Watson’s heroism helped define the way Marylanders would remember the U.S.-Mexican War.
Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans returned home and formed the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War by 1849. In forming the veterans’ association, the veterans were “desirous of perpetuating the recollection of their services and the memory of their deceased comrades.” The group imposed fines or recommended expulsion for members who failed to comply to the organization’s rules of acceptable behavior.(18) Furthermore, the association also relied on symbolic imagery to achieve the objective of preserving positive memories of the U.S.-Mexican War, relying on images that reminded people of the heroism of its members. For instance, during the eighth anniversary of the Battle of Monterey, John R. Kenly received “a gold ring enclosing a miniature of Col. Wm H. Watson, by the Servicemen of the Baltimore Battalion and DC and MD Regiment in war with Mexico.” Watson’s image probably did not need much explanation for people living in Baltimore in 1854.(19)
The association’s efforts received a boost from an important piece of poetry written during the Civil War. After the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment fired on a mob of Baltimoreans in April 1861, James Ryder Randall penned a poem that condemned the North, urging Marylanders to stand up and repel the invaders. Titled, “Maryland, My Maryland,” the poem referenced several of the state’s prominent historical figures, including Ringgold and Watson. Randall wrote, “With Ringgold’s spirit for the fray,/With Watson’s blood at Monterey . . ./Maryland! My Maryland!” The poem spoke to Ringgold and Watson’s bravery, and, when set to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius,” the poem ultimately became the Maryland state song in 1939.
Yet, the association sought to solidify the memory of the U.S-Mexican War through the construction of a monument. Monuments had gained increasing popularity in the United States prior to the Civil War. During the post-Civil War era, monuments became increasingly popular for commemorating the past as the nation struggled to create a new United States reunited after the Civil War.(20) Plans to erect a U.S.-Mexican War monument in Baltimore began in 1890. The association formed a twelve-man committee to raise funds. Led by Louis F. Beeler, Joshua Lynch, and James D. Iglehart, the committee lobbied city, state, and private contributors to cover the estimated $10,000 cost of the monument. The city appropriated $5,000 in July 1900. Meanwhile, the state appropriated an additional $3,000, which, with interest, rose to $3,600.(21)
The remaining balance for the monument came from private contributors. In seeking private donors, the association’s fundraising efforts sought to gloss over any dissent of the U.S.-Mexican War, focusing instead on the war’s overall benefits. One undated request informed potential subscribers that the successful completion of the U.S.-Mexican War “added so much valuable territory to the United States, wherein was found the gold and silver mines which [gave] our country its financial standing.” The request paid minor attention to the political dissent which surrounded the war, not even providing the reasons for political dissent.(22) As a result, the association received contributions from people like Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. The association also received an additional $800 in private contributions, which covered the costs associated with changing the monument’s location from the triangular intersection of Liberty and Fayette Streets and Park Avenue to the intersection of Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue.(23)
The political undertones in the request for subscriptions connected the Watson Monument to U.S. foreign policy during late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Given U.S. activity in the Caribbean, and the monument’s connection to the U.S.-Mexican War, the memorial presented a counterpoint to the overall anti-imperialist sentiment that existed in Baltimore during the period. Prominent Baltimore politicians like Senator Arthur Gorman refused to support the peace treaty with Spain unless it included an anti-expansionist amendment. Moreover, the Baltimore American expressed opposition to U.S. policy in the Caribbean, describing U.S. fighting in the Philippines as “our violent departure from the doctrine of the ‘consent of the governed.’”(24) The Watson Monument, on the other hand, offered a symbol of the U.S. mission to spread democracy to distant lands in order to uplift inferior peoples.
The Watson Monument provided the crowning achievement in the association’s efforts to memorialize the U.S.-Mexican War. With Watson standing tall, his sword resting peacefully at his side, the monument attested to the valor of Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans. The monument also attested to the sacrifice, with plaques containing the names of the Marylanders who died during the war.
However, the Watson Monument represents a political statement in favor of U.S. actions in Mexico and the Caribbean, highlighting the controversies surrounding U.S. policy. So the next time you are in West Baltimore and drive past the Watson Monument, or start humming “Maryland, my Maryland,” remember Watson and Ringgold, but also remember the history of Maryland’s complicated relationship with its nation’s southern neighbors. (Richard Hardesty and David Patrick McKenzie)
Richard Hardesty is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard previously contributed “Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles,” which appeared on this blog on November 15, 2012. He is currently examining the role the Orioles played in the urban redevelopment of Baltimore.
David Patrick McKenzie is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a working public historian. He is studying the relationship between the United States and Latin America, particularly in the early 19th century. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of any organization with which he is affiliated.
Half a block north of where Fell, Thames, and Ann Streets intersect just east of the heart of Fell’s Point, stands a nondescript rowhouse that, at first glance, has little to distinguish it from the other brick rowhouses in the neighborhood. But a closer look at 812 South Ann Street reveals a front facade that is noticeably different from its neighbors. Named for its builder and first resident, the Robert Long House, completed circa 1765, is the oldest surviving residence in Baltimore.
But wait, less than three miles to the west stands another seemingly out of place structure and candidate for oldest residence in Baltimore, the Mount Clare House. An 18th century colonial mansion perched incongruously on a hill overlooking Carroll Park and the modern city now surrounding it, the Mount Clare House was built by Charles Carroll, Barrister, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and one of Maryland’s first state senators. Sources differ on the exact time frame of the building’s construction. Some claim construction began as early as 1756; others as late as 1763, but most place the completion date around 1767.
The two properties could not be more dissimilar—one a modest rowhouse, the other a Georgian-style mansion built on what was, at the time of construction, a sprawling plantation estate of some 1000 acres. Robert Long, a merchant who hailed from York, Pennsylvania, was one of the earliest settlers of Fell’s Point (originally known as Fell’s Prospect), founded in 1730 by William Fell, an English Quaker. In 1764, Long began construction on his property on Ann Street and then apparently abandoned the project within the year. According to the Annals of Baltimore, published in 1824, it was said that Long had “persuaded Mr. Fell to lay off that part of the town, commenced some improvements at the corner of Ann and Thames Streets, moved to the country and left his building unfinished.” Long and his family soon returned though, occupying the property from 1765 to 1781.
Rather than adopting the architectural style of his newly adopted home, Long constructed the house in a style found in the southern regions of his native state, with the shed dormer and pent roof the most noticeable architectural features setting it apart from the typical Baltimore rowhouse. The house was originally built with only two floors—the third floor and attic that are seen in the circa 1930 photograph were added sometime in the mid to late 1800s. The home was set to be torn down by the City of Baltimore in 1969, until the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point stepped in and acquired the property in 1975. The group then set about restoring the property to its original appearance. Today the group maintains its office in the residence and offers daily tours of the house and garden.
The Mount Clare House has more prosperous origins. In 1732, Dr. Charles Carroll, the father of Charles Carroll, Barrister, purchased 2,368 acres of land west of the recently established Baltimore Town. He called the property Georgia Plantation. Carroll eventually sold all but 800 acres of the original purchase to the Baltimore Iron Works, of which he was part owner. His son, Charles Carroll, Barrister, inherited the property in the late 1750s. Mount Clare was built as his summer residence, and was named in honor of his sister and grandmother.
Following Charles Carroll’s death in 1783, the estate remained in the possession of the Carroll family until 1840. Between the years 1840 to 1860 all of the original outbuildings on the plantation were destroyed, leaving only the main house remaining. During the Civil War, the house served as a quarters for Union soldiers. In 1865, a group of Germans leased the house and used it as a beer garden until 1890, when the City of Baltimore purchased the house and the remaining 70 acres of land. The city also purchased an adjoining tract of land and merged the properties into what is now Carroll Park. In 1917, the National Society of Colonial Dames in Maryland took over operations of Mount Clare and opened the site to the public as a museum. The group continues to offer tours of the home today.
So which dwelling is officially the oldest in Baltimore? Answering this question seems to be an ongoing debate, with both print and web sources yielding conflicting views. The Mount Clare House is variously described as: “the oldest colonial-era structure in Baltimore”; “the oldest extant colonial building in Baltimore”; “Baltimore’s oldest house”; “the oldest home in Baltimore City”; and “the oldest house in Baltimore City.”
The Robert Long House is billed as: “the oldest residential house in Baltimore city”; “the oldest surviving city house in Baltimore”; “the oldest existing residence in Baltimore”; “Baltimore’s oldest surviving residence”; “Baltimore’s oldest surviving urban residence”; and “the oldest standing residence in Baltimore City.” One publication goes so far as to state that the structure is the “oldest surviving urban residence within the boundaries of the original Baltimore Town,” though Baltimore Town, founded in 1729, did not amalgamate Fells Point until 1773. Mount Clare, on the other hand, did not become part of Baltimore City until at least 1822; a map from that year shows the western boundary of the city extending just over six blocks beyond the estate.
It seems that a distinction can be made. If the date that construction commences on a property is used as the basis for determining the age of a residence, then the Mount Clare House is the oldest. If date the house was completed is given more weight, than it’s the Robert Long House. Either way you choose to look at it, Baltimore has some pretty old houses. (Damon Talbot)
Sources and Further Reading:
Annals of Baltimore, Thomas Waters Griffith (Baltimore: W. Wooddy, 1824)
Historic Baltimore: Twelve Walking Tours of Downtown Fells Point, Locust Point, Federal Hill, and MountClare, Priscilla Miles, (Baltimore: Priscilla Miles, 1987)
Images of America: Fell’s Point, Jacqueline Greff (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005)
MountClare: Being an Account of the Seat built by Charles Carroll, Barrister, upon his Lands at Patapsco, Michael F. Trostel (Baltimore: National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Maryland, 1981)
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, 60th Anniversary, 1937 – 1997, Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, (Baltimore: Printed by Reese Press, Inc.,1997)
Since last month’s Hampden Reservoir post, I have taken more delight in my commute as I pass by Roosevelt Park, going to and returning from work via the Falls Road exit of the JFX; I can almost see the half moon shape of the reservoir on my left as I climb the hill approaching 36th Street. The commute home every day also served as a reminder that I needed to finish the story of the waterworks. The Hampden Reservoir was actually one of of a chain of three bodies of water, beginning with Lake Roland, and ending at the Mount Royal reservoir, where fresh water entered the city. As I began this installment of the waterworks series, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this second forgotten reservoir in the system is also an integral part of my daily routine. My commute literally bisects its old location.
After an ordinance was passed by the City Council in 1857 to provide additional water to Baltimore City, there were two options for sources: (1) to increase the amount of water taken from the Jones Falls by damming further upstream, or (2) to introduce water from the Gunpowder Falls. The engineering costs of bringing water from the Gunpowder were estimated to cost over $2.1 million, compared to around $1.3 million for construction of new works on the Jones Falls.* The Gunpowder was estimated to produce 65 million gallons of water during the dry season, while the latter was believed to provide around 20 million gallons per day. The Council chose the cheaper option.
Construction of the new waterworks from the Jones Falls began in 1858, eight miles north of the city, at a narrow point near the North Central Railroad Station. What was formerly called Swann Lake was dammed up to become what we now know as Lake Roland. A massive conduit was concurrently built connecting it to the Hampden Reservoir. Shortly thereafter a conduit was also excavated going south to the Mount Royal Reservoir just north of the city boundary. The waterworks were completed and fully operational by 1862.
The site of the Mount Royal Reservoir lay just west of the Northern Central Railroad tracks on the former site of the Mount Royal Mill property (previously the tract had been owned by Charles Carroll of Carrollton who sold it to Solomon Birckhead in 1801). The most notable feature of the reservoir was a large central fountain (see image below), similar to the one in present day Druid Lake, ornamenting the center of the reservoir with a stream of water bubbling high into the air. By 1863 just over half of the city’s 38,881 buildings received water that was delivered from the Mount Royal Reservoir.
Even before the waterworks was fully operational it was discovered that this new source was once again insufficient for the growing population of the city. On top of the population boom during these decades, the Civil War resulted in a large number of Federal troops being stationed in, passing through, or being cared for in Baltimore hospitals. In addition to increasing the demand, sick soldiers carried typhoid, dysentery, and other diseases which were spread as a result of poor sanitation and sewage from cesspools leaching into city springs and neighborhood wells. During hot and dry periods of the summer the system would run short of supply. The Water Department’s response to the shortage was to cut down on demand by raising the price of water. The increase in cost resulted in contractors not connecting their working class tenements to the city mains, which forced tenants to rely on the same backyard pumps that had been poisoning them in the first place. As usual, the city’s low lying poor were hit hardest. Sewage from cesspools leached into neighborhood wells and polluted the springs of the city, increasing the demand for clean water from the mains.
Less than a year after the completion of the waterworks, the City Council passed an ordinance authorizing a $300,000 loan to purchase the land nearby at Lake Chapman to begin building what was to become Druid Lake. Even Druid Lake did not alleviate the supply problem when it was completed in 1865. It took severe droughts from 1869 through 1872 to finally get the city to seriously consider the Gunpowder as a permanent water source. The original price difference of $2.1 to $1.3 million payed a direct cost in human life and well-being.
In 1910 the Mount Royal Reservoir was abandoned by the City Water Department and transferred to the Parks Department. In 1924 the City Park Board demolished the reservoir and removed 50,000 cubic feet of earth, turning the site into park land. At various times proposals to turn the site into a stadium, a swimming pool, and an art museum were discussed, but due to overwhelming dissent the project never got underway. The site remained park land until 1959, when it was bisected by the northbound entrance to the new JFX highway off of North Avenue. Today you can still see the monumental entrance posts to Druid Park via Mount Royal Terrace that stand at the base of the reservoir’s original location as you drive past on North Avenue. The keen observer can glimpse the remains of the reservoir’s embankments as they pass by on the light rail. (Eben Dennis)
To be continued…next post – Conduit: Druid Park Lake, the Gunpowder, and Baltimore Waterworks 1860s- 1880s.
*This does not include the cost of purchasing real estate, water rights, or distribution of water mains inside the city.
** This system was upgraded to a steam pump system around the time of the annexation in 1886.
McCauley, Louis. Maryland Historical Prints. Baltimore, Md: Schneidereith and Sons, 1975.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County. Baltimore, MD: Regional Publishing Company, 1971.
Passano File, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.
O’Neill, Francis. Index of Obituaries and Marriages in the Baltimore Sun, vol. 1, 1866-1870. Westminster, MD, 1996.
Mount Royal Reservoir and Its Surroundings From the Air. Baltimore Municipal Journal. Feb, 10, 1922.
Howard, William Travis. Public Health Administration and the Natural History of Disease in Baltimore, 1797-1920. Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1924.
Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City and Vicinity, 1907.
Hopkins Atlas of Baltimore, 1877.
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.
The City Needs a Water Supply
In the early days of Baltimore an abundance of natural springs provided clean and pure water for its inhabitants; but alas, good things never last. As the population grew, springs became stressed, contaminated, and even dried up. There was a need for pumps, wells, and general infrastructure to be created, so after a decade of attempts to establish a water company, a 1797 ordinance passed that appropriated $1,000 to erect pumps in the city’s streets. It seems this ordinance passed because people had concerns about putting out fires; they were complacent about the cruddy water they drank. The linear causation likely had fewer steps. Fire burning skin is easier to comprehend than water gets dirty, we drink water, we get sick. Boy it’s a good thing we don’t make reactionary environmental decisions like that anymore….
By 1800 the idea of bringing water from Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls, and/or Herring Run was being kicked around, and the City Council began plans to divert water into the city. In 1804 water from Carroll’s Run ( a source of springs on the west side) was in the process of being piped to the city, when land owners whose property the pipe encroached upon issued an injunction stopping the efforts. Unable to accomplish its goal, the city was forced to rely on its civic minded citizens. Gen. Samuel Smith, Alexander McKim, Elias Ellicott, Robert Goodloe Harper, Thomas McElderry, and John Eager Howard, formed the committee which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Baltimore Water Company on April 20, 1804. This company was funded through subscriptions by citizens, insurance companies, and corporations.
On the suggestion of civil engineer Jonathan Ellicott, the company set its sights on the Jones Falls. The elevation and dry season volume made the waterway quite suitable. Though they couldn’t purchase the water rights as far north as they desired in Woodberry, John Eager Howard sold the rights to the water around the present day site of the Preston Street bridge. A storage reservoir to hold the water delivered by a millrace from this site was built on the corner of Calvert and Centre Streets, which was also the site of the Baltimore Water Company’s offices.
By 1830 there was yet another need to increase the supply of water to the growing city. Wooden pipes were replaced with cast iron pipes, new plans were made, and surveys were drawn up to determine how to supply Baltimore with “a never failing supply of pure, fresh, and wholesome water.”* Due to their elevation above sea level, Gwynns Falls and the part of Jones Falls near Tyson’s mill (in present day Hampden) seemed to be the most suitable sources. Unlike the landowners along the Gwynns Falls, however, many of the landowners on the Jones Falls made outright refusals to sell their property, and the committee recommended the Gwynns Falls as the best choice.
Fast forward twenty-eight years. New iron pipes had been laid, new water sources were exploited, and a new reservoir had been built to supply water for the east side of the city. But it still wasn’t enough. The city continued to expand and grow. After an ordinance was approved by the City Council on July 11, 1857 to provide an increased water supply from the Jones Falls, the water board authorized the money to buy the water rights from Rock Mills north of Woodberry for $150,598, and Swann Lake (now known as Lake Roland) for $289,539.
The map from last week’s post, made by Chief Engineer of the City Water Board J. Morris Wampler, was drawn for the purposes of purchasing and condemning land for the conduit from Lake Roland to the new city reservoir in Hampden on the present day south side of Roosevelt Park. The Hampden reservoir was completed in 1861 three years after it began at a cost of $206,643.50 by John W. Maxwell and Company. Maxwell, along with Joseph H. Hoblitzell and F.C. Crowley, constructed the dam at Lake Roland, the conduit, and the new reservoirs at a total cost of 1.3 million dollars. The conduits construction consisted of the excavation of three separate tunnels totaling over 5,000 feet, and over 6 million bricks. All of the pipes used in the project were manufactured in the Poole and Hunt foundry and presumably rolled up the hill. The work was done by mechanics and day laborers.
The Hampden Reservoir remained in operation until 1915, when the municipal water supply was reconstructed once again, and the polluted 40,000,000 gallon reservoir was reduced to a neighborhood ornament. In 1930 it was drained and cleaned, and the pipes were cut off entirely from the city water system to prevent any contamination through seepage. Though the city threatened to drain it for years, Hampden residents managed to block all proposals for more than forty years.
A Murky Murder and a Heliport
In 1957 the Hampden reservoir was drained as investigators searched for a .32 caliber automatic weapon they believed was used in the murder of sandwich-shop proprietor Vincent DiPietro. A few weeks before it was drained, a youth laborer named Donald Coleman was charged in the killing of DiPietro after making “certain admissions” following four days of interrogation. Though DiPietro was a known hot-head, and had stabbed a man in his shop a year earlier, for some reason revenge was discounted as a motivation by the investigators; nor was a robbery mentioned in any report.
Only minutes after the investigators pulled the gun out of the mud of the drained reservoir, DiPietro’s widow (who he had also stabbed in a separate incident several months prior) married John C. Lloyd in the Hampden Methodist Church (now known as the United Methodist Church) directly across the street from the muddy pit. When the Rev. Leslie Werner, who was conducting the ceremony on short notice—unaware of the woman’s connection to the victim—told the couple that the gun was discovered, there wasn’t much of a response. Only after reading their names on the marriage certificate and directly questioning her relationship to the slain man did Rev. Werner realize it was her deceased husband. A week after the marriage the reservoir was once again filled back in with water to the delight of Hampden residents.
In 1960 the Bureau of Water Supply began draining the reservoir without announcement. The city then revealed plans to fill the muddy pit and turn it into a Department of Aviation heliport. The residents, led by Rev. Werner, responded with an immediate outcry. The irate citizens protested that helicopters would be a major disturbance to the school, recreation center, and churches in the immediate proximity. Werner called the ordeal “an infringement on our territorial rights without due recourse to a public hearing.”** Eventually the city recanted on the heliport. The draining did continue, however, as the city conveniently had an arrangement with the contractors excavating the new Jones Falls Expressway nearby. In exchange for a local site to dump the excavated soil, the city would receive a discount on the cost of that stretch of highway.
So it was settled, the mud from the Jones Falls Expressway filled the giant hole, and the reservoir has been largely forgotten.
The month of October is known for two holidays—Halloween and Columbus Day, as well the 31-day celebration that is National Pork Month. But few outside the archival profession (and probably few within it as well) know that October is also American Archives Month. In commemoration of Archives Month, first celebrated in 1969, here are a few “then and now” images of the archives and library of the Maryland Historical Society.
This is the first post of a series that will show images of buildings, street scenes, and other locales from the Maryland Historical Society’s collection of more than 1,000,000 photographs, alongside photographs of how they appear today.
The following two photographs show the main reading room of the library as it looked in 1920, two years after MdHS moved from its former location in the Athenaeum building (no longer in existence) on St. Paul Street, and in 2012.
The basement storage area located underneath the main reading room is where many of the library’s collections are housed. What staff members today refer to as “the belly,” has seen its share of interns scream in fear, as staff, having forgotten about the intern supposedly hard at work down below, locked the gates and shut the lights off. The photographs below show the room as it has appeared at various times over the past 92 years.
The last three images are of the library’s east room, which today houses the microfilm collection, genealogical volumes, and other resources. It has also been used as a museum gallery and a rare book room. (Damon Talbot)
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.