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.
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.