Francis O’Neill

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From Slabtown to Hampden

[title] Hampden Improvement Association map, J. Morris Wampler, 1857.

As I was inventorying some of our maps a couple months ago, I was very excited to stumble across a crumbly, crusty, and torn map of Hampden from 1857. Though we have an absolutely staggering amount of material in our collection, we do not have a lot from the community that almost half of our library staff calls home.

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.*

The Mankin plot can be seen here as #270. The street directly north of the lot, 3rd avenue, is present day 36th street, or “The Avenue.”

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.

(Eben Dennis)

*Outsiders originally called the village “Slabtown” after the architecture of its small houses. This name was greatly disliked by the majority Irish population of the tiny village, and they pushed to name the town Kellyville, after Martin kelly, the inn keep and man responsible for building many of these houses. Evidently he was a modest man and declined. The largest landowner in the community was General Henry Mankin (1804-1876), and thinking the name Hampden (after 17th century British statesmen John Hampden) sounded distinguished, he got it to stick.

The plot owned by the Clarke family was part of the Mount Pleasant tract (not to be confused with Mankin’s mansion of the same name), presumedly purchased from Henry Mankin. The Clarke family built the buildings shown in the map above called the “Beaumont Estate.” The property next changed hands to the Dulin Family who eventually sold it to the Maryland Casualty Company. Shortly after the first World War the Maryland Casualty Company built the structure we know of today as the Rotunda.

Sources

“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 Passano Files

Francis O’Neill standing in the main reading room with the Passano Historic Index File.

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.

Eleanor Phillips Passano (1870-1949)

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.

(Eben Dennis)

*index card count derived from a mathematical formula that relied heavily on the width of my finger.