Monument City Blog

Branches of Baltimore History

Superintendent’s House in Druid Hill Park

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The 1872 Superintendent’s House in Druid Hill Park is undergoing a complete restoration. The George A. Frederick designed stone mansion at Auchentoroly Terrace will be part of a new Parks and People Foundation complex that will also include the adjoining carriage house, a new structure and landscaped park land. The facility will make long overdue use of the neglected western parcel of Druid Hill, a once overgrown wasteland adjacent to Mondawmin Mall.

Ziger/Snead Architects are leading the project utilizing reclaimed building materials when possible and claims to be saving a majority of the 200+ trees that envelop the property. The gothic Superintendent’s House will remain true to the Frederick design on its exterior while its interior will be given a modern open feel. The stone building that once housed Druid Hill’s chief officer will be used as a multifaceted recreation center and community meeting place. The Ecology Center will be slightly north of the Frederick mansion and will include offices for the Parks and People Foundation. The project is exactly what Baltimore needs. Turning blight into a valuable resource for the community and saving historic structures at the same time is certainly worth it. I can only hope that the city and its numerous non-profits will follow this example.

The renovation almost never happened. During Kurt Schmoke’s tenure as mayor the overgrown 9 acres were nearly sold to a church. The congregation intended to cover the entire parcel with a 34,000 square foot house of worship, a family center, apartments and parking lots. The Superintendent’s residence, its carriage house and surrounding trees would have been lost. After an enormous outpouring of discontent from the community Schmoke canceled the city’s plan to sell the park property.

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Written by monumentcity

March 15th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

A Short History of Hoes Heights

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This story first appeared in Underbelly

Ever wonder about Hoes Heights? The hidden and oft-overlooked north Baltimore neighborhood 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. 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 suggested relocating 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. I may stay awhile.

Sources:

  • 1860 Baltimore County census
  • Hoes Heights: A Neighborhood Plan (Hampden Pratt Library vertical file)
  • Passano File, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society
  • Atlas of Baltimore and its Environs, Vol. 1, G. M. Hopkins, 1877
  • Hampden Improvement Association map, J. Morris Wampler, 1857
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance maps
  • Baltimore Evening Sun, May 8, 1934
  • New York Times, Dec. 8, 1901
  • Baltimore’s Two Cross Keys Villages

Written by monumentcity

March 5th, 2013 at 6:52 am

Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church & Cemetery in Hampden

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At the Diocesan Convention of 1855 a petition was granted to create a new parish in the village of Hampden. The first church building was erected that year in present day Roosevelt Park. In 1859 the city bought the land and created the Hampden Reservoir, displacing the church. The reservoir was filled in a hundred years later.

The Saint Mary’s episcopal congregation moved in 1860, one year before the Civil War began, to a few acres of land in north Hampden donated by Henry Mankin, a developer and landowner in the area. The parcel was later expanded in 1900 through a gift from local businessman Robert Poole. The churchyard extends from Roland Avenue down the hill to Hickory Avenue and is bounded to the north by 41st Street and to the south by Rectory Lane.

The second church, built on the new property, was made out of wood and subsequently burned down before 1873. Northern troops may have used the timber for firewood. A wooden fence that once surrounded the property was taken down piece by piece and used at a nearby Civil War soldier camp. The southern sympathizing Hampdenites were apparently treated with contempt by the Union battalions.

The third church building was built in 1873 and still stands today. The parish was decommissioned in 2002 and the building was turned into an outreach center for the Hampden community. In 1964 the congregation tore down its rectory, which stood just south of the 1873 church, and the Roland towers assisted living complex was erected. The chapel at the northern boundary of the parcel is still standing but is vacant. The building was previously occupied by a separate congregation.

The Victorian graveyard is one of a few remaining in the city that is still physically connected to the church of its origin. Founded around the same time as the episcopal parish, Saint Mary’s Cemetery has graves dating back to the late 19th Century. The park is open from from dawn until dusk and is worth visiting for the view alone. A tour of Hampden is not complete without a trip to Saint Mary’s.

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Written by monumentcity

December 28th, 2012 at 6:53 am

Melvale, Maryland

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Melvale is a section of north Baltimore City west of Roland Park with its center where Cold Spring Lane (once called Melvale Avenue) passes over the Jones Falls. A water driven flour mill was established in the first half of the 19th Century in Melvale. The mill structure still stands and is today part of the Fleischmann vinegar plant. From 1887 to 1920 the stone building was used by the Melvale Distilling Co., one of the nation’s premiere rye whiskey producers of its time. Prohibition ended the distillery’s successful run.

In 1885 an asylum was established by Dr. William Frederick Steuart in Melvale. Steuart was a surgeon for Robert E. Lee’s troops during the Civil War. His son, Dr. Cecilius Calvert Steuart, took over administration of the Melvale Hospital upon his father’s retirement. The Steuart’s are related to the Calvert family, founders of Maryland.

The Melvale gas holder was built in 1933 for the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company. The 258 foot tall steel cylinder was constructed by the Bartlett Hayward Co., one of Baltimore’s historic businesses. The gigantic tank sits just off the Jones Falls Expressway next to the Cold Spring Light Rail station. The decommissioned tank once stored gas and later natural gas for nearby Baltimoreans. The Melvale gas holder is targeted for demolition in 2013.

Phase IV of the Jones Falls Trail, a paved biking/hiking path, will run right past the gas holder on its way north to Greenspring Avenue and Cylburn Arboretum. The entire trailhead will eventually connect Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with Lake Roland. Phase IV, running from Woodberry to Cylburn, is scheduled to be completed in December 2012, but appears to be slightly behind schedule.

The boundaries of Melvale are difficult to determine today and the name is rarely used anymore. The old mill building lies within a series of parks starting with Cylburn Arboretum and descending south to Cold Spring Park, Woodberry Woods, Hooper & Rockrose Park and terminating at historic Druid Hill.

A city landfill, which started as a quarry, west of Cold Spring Park is now athletic fields and a parking lot. The city’s “stump dump,” once the sewage filtration plant for the Roland Park neighborhood is also contained within the region of Melvale.

The origin of the Melvale name is not clear to me at this time. Further research of land records and old maps will hopefully shine some light on the subject. I suspect the name is attached to the mill that once turned grain to flour along the west bank of the Jones Falls long before there was a concrete expressway dividing the rolling landscape.

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Written by monumentcity

December 24th, 2012 at 7:09 am

Cylburn Arboretum in North Baltimore

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Jesse Tyson, the grandson of abolitionist Elisha Tyson, purchased 180 rolling acres of north Baltimore land in 1863. The Quaker businessman planned to erect a summer home for himself and his aging mother. However, his mother passed away and the Civil War loomed, stalling development.

Tyson enlisted George Frederick, a gifted local architect, to design and oversee construction of a stone mansion at the property’s highest point. Built out of gneiss from Tyson’s Bare Hills quarry and topped with a mansard roof, Cylburn Mansion is one of Baltimore’s most unique homes. In 1889 Tyson and his young bride Edyth Johns began living at the property.

Edyth took immediate responsibility of the grounds, directing the landscaping and gardening that epitomizes Cylburn. She decorated the Victorian mansion with the same tenacity, filling the house with European furniture and art. After Jesse Tyson passed away in 1906 Edyth spent fours years as a widow before marrying Bruce Cotten, a veteran of China’s Boxer Rebellion.

The couple spent summers together at Cylburn entertaining friends and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. A private railroad brought guests to the remote area. Cotten volunteered his services during World War I and returned with the rank of Major. When his wife died in 1942 he sold the estate to the city.

Today Cylburn Arboretum is one of Baltimore’s finest parks. The preserve is free to the public and open from dawn until dusk Tuesday through Sunday. A modern visitor’s center recently opened and the mansion is under renovation. There are several hiking trails in the wooded area and the open air space is ideal for relaxation. Cylburn is without a doubt the cleanest park in Charm City and is perfect for escaping the stresses of urban living.

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Written by monumentcity

October 21st, 2012 at 5:22 am

Architectural Cast Iron in Baltimore

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In the 19th Century, Baltimore was at the forefront of cast iron architecture. Construction teams were eager to find stronger, more flexible materials. Cast iron was one solution. Created by pouring melted pig iron into molds, the molten material can be manipulated for use in various architectural applications ranging from ornate trim work to vital support columns.

Generally brittle, cast iron is weak under tension yet very sturdy under compression. Its load-bearing qualities are greater than brick and stone while using less space. Cast columns allowed for a greater number of windows and larger interiors, a characteristic desired in storefront businesses and warehouses in the 19th Century.

Charm City possessed several foundries during the 1800s suited for producing architectural materials such as Hayward, Bartlett & Company and the Poole-Hunt Foundry. Remnants of the Poole-Hunt compound in Woodberry have been reconstituted as a restaurant, a gallery and an art studio.

During architectural cast iron’s heyday, from the mid 1800s to the 1890s, Baltimore’s businessmen outfitted the commercial district with warehouse/storefront structures lavishly decorated in molded pig iron. Most of the remaining facades are located between Old town and the Howard Street shopping district.

The Sun Iron Building, completed in 1851, was the second all cast iron structure in America. Designed by New York architects James Bogardus and Robert G. Hatfield, the Sun headquarters was the brainchild of publisher and mogul A. S. Abell. The impressive building set the tone for Baltimore’s industrial buildings thereafter. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1904.

Baltimore has several examples of finely restored cast iron facades. The Fava Fruit Co. building on Front Street near the Shot Tower was originally stretched out between 218 and 226 South Charles Street. Built in 1869, the iron front was removed in 1974 and placed in storage. In the 1990s the facade was reassembled in its staggered form at its current location.

The complex at 300 West Pratt Street near Oriole Park at Camden Yards has an accurately restored exterior and generously modernized interior. Additions flank the former warehouse turned office building, more than doubling its size. Erected in 1871, 300 West Pratt Street (originally called the Wilkens Building) is now called the Marsh-Mclennan building after the insurance firm that occupies it.

The city’s extensive park system has numerous pavilions, urns and fountains made with cast iron. Mount Vernon has its porches and railings poured in decorative patterns. It also contains the Edmund Lind designed Peabody Library, one of the finest cast interiors in America. Our old Victorian cemeteries have beautiful fencing created with the formed alloy, the Whitridge family plot in Green Mount being one of the finest remaining examples. Complex church interiors were assembled in cast iron such as Saint Alphonsus Church, the house of worship designed by acclaimed architect Robert Cary Long. Long lectured and wrote extensively about the flexible material and its benefits.

Cast iron fell out of fashion with builders and architects in the late 1800s with the arrival of inexpensively produced steel. However, its legacy lives on in America’s oldest cities where restoration projects continue to be financed and executed. Here in Baltimore the specialized and difficult work is steady as it goes.

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Written by monumentcity

August 15th, 2012 at 11:21 am

Baltimore’s Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery

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Baltimore’s Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery was established on May 3, 1882. The Redemptorist burying ground is situated in north Baltimore and is bound by Belair and Moravia Roads above Herring Run Park. The Redemptorist order is a Catholic congregation founded in 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, the Italian author, philosopher and bishop. The graveyard was created to serve the city’s Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint James the Less parishes. Over the years other local congregations acquired sections of the burial ground, forming a rich cross section of Baltimore’s catholic history.

The centerpiece of the cemetery, the Francis E. Tormey designed chapel, was payed for by local businessman and politician Frank Furst. Completed in 1917, the Furst Memorial Chapel was once used for ceremonies and is currently under consideration for renovation. Mr. and Mrs. Furst are entombed within along with 61 Redemptorists that were transferred from a graveyard in Ilchester, Maryland.

Babe Ruth’s mother is buried in section G-2 near Priest Circle. A new tombstone was recently placed on her previously unmarked grave. She died in 1912 of tuberculosis while her son was still a teenager. In section W lies the remains of Henry Gunther, supposedly the last man to die in World War I. Gunther was killed in France on November 11, 1918 at 10:59 in the morning. His grave consists of an angel on a plinth and detailed marker that was installed in 2010.

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Written by monumentcity

August 9th, 2012 at 7:34 am

B&O Railroad Museum

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The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum is located at 901 West Pratt Street in Charm City. The museum is geared towards rail enthusiasts and fans of America’s industrial history. The collection includes over 200 pieces of rolling stock as well as hundreds of artifacts representing every key period in the timeline of American railways.

After studying rail facilities in England in 1826, businessmen Philip Thomas and George Brown returned to Baltimore and, with 25 others, organized the B&O. The railroad was formally chartered in 1827 and is the country’s first large scale commercial rail service. On July 4th, 1828 construction began with the aging Charles Carroll of Carrollton presiding over the ceremony.

The countries best engineers were hired to survey the line including Jonathan Knight, Major George Whistler and Colonel Stephen Long. The team initially set out to reach Ellicott Mills, a distance of 13 miles, as a test run on their way to the Ohio River. Over 140 years of continuous operation followed. In February of 1963 the Baltimore & Ohio was acquired by the rival Chesapeake & Ohio. By 1970 the line merged with several others to form Chessie System (now CSX).

Throughout the company’s long existence a few great men took great care in saving and preserving the B&O’s heritage, storing stock in unused yards for future exhibition. These relics would eventually find their place at West Charm City’s Mount Clare yards and its massive roundhouse.

In 1884 the company built a new structure at their existing Mount Clare yards. The E. Francis Baldwin designed roundhouse was the largest car shop in the country when it was completed. Today the building houses locomotives and rolling stock from the steam era to modern times.

The museum’s roundhouse, annex buildings and open acreage are littered with examples of rolling stock, and although some are in better condition than others, the collection is impressive. The price of admission may seem steep, $16.00 for adults, but if you have a few hours it’s definitely worth it. This is certainly one of the finer museums in Baltimore.

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Written by monumentcity

June 29th, 2012 at 7:12 am

Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs

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Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs was established in 1786 as Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery. In the middle of the 19th Century the congregation (First Presbyterian) decided to erect a church building. They chose the cemetery for the Dixon, Dixon, Balbirnie designed structure, placing the foundation on top of the burial ground. Completed in 1852, the Gothic Revival church is raised above a portion of graves creating catacombs. It closed in 1977 and is now owned and maintained by the University of Maryland School of Law. The facilities are available for functions and the cemetery is open to the public from 8am until dusk. The catacombs can be toured by appointment.

Several American heroes are resting at Westminster. Revolutionary War physician James McHenry was buried here in 1816. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s aide-de-camp, McHenry eventually became the third United States Secretary of War. Fort McHenry was named in his honor.

Brigadier General John Stricker was instrumental in Baltimore’s defining moment during the War of 1812. In command of the third brigade of the Maryland Militia, Stricker was tasked with stalling the approaching British land force as they marched on Baltimore in September of 1814. His men were successful, enabling Major General Samuel Smith to carry out his fortification plans. Stricker was also a soldier during the Revolutionary War.

Next to the Stricker vault is the final resting place of Samuel Smith, merchant, statesman and war hero. Smith elevated to Lieutenant Colonel during the Revolutionary War and to Major General during the War of 1812. He commanded the city’s overall defense during the Battle of Baltimore and was a United States Senator from Maryland. He was mayor of Baltimore from 1835-1838. Smith died in 1839 at the age of 86. His politician brother Robert, Secretary of State under James Madison, is also buried at Westminster.

A number of Baltimore mayors are entombed here. James Calhoun, Edward Johnson and John Smith-Hollins join Samuel Smith in the small Victorian cemetery.

In 1849 Edgar Allan Poe was placed at Westminster next to his grandfather, David Poe Senior. A veteran of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, David was Charm City’s assistant deputy quartermaster during the Revolution and apparently committed $40,000 of his personal fortune to the American cause. He helped defend Charm City in 1814 at the age of 71. His tombstone reads: Patriot.

In 1875 Edgar Allan was moved to the front of the cemetery and placed under an Egyptian-themed George Frederick designed monument. Several years later, in 1913, a second headstone was erected at the writer’s initial burial site.

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Written by monumentcity

April 29th, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Sherwood Gardens in Guilford

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Sherwood Gardens is located on 6 sprawling acres in the North Baltimore neighborhood of Guilford. Each year the tranquil expanse is planted with around 80,000 tulips. April and May are the best months to see Sherwood in full bloom. The park has no fence and is open to the public.

Guilford was once the estate of Revolutionary War veteran General William McDonald. McDonald named his property after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse where he was wounded. Upon the good General’s death, his son, Billy, installed a boat lake, horse track and a massive 50 room Italianate mansion designed by local architects Edmund Lind and William Murdoch.

Baltimore Sun publisher Arunah S. Abell purchased the rural property in 1872 for his family’s country seat. The Guilford Park Company acquired 210 acres in 1907 from Abell’s heirs for a million dollars and began developing shortly thereafter. The boat lake was drained and made into a community park named Stratford Green.

When the Olmsted Brothers designed community opened, local oil baron John Sherwood purchased a lot near Stratford Green and set about building his home. The conservationist’s love of gardening found him importing Dutch tulips and transplanting Colonial period trees from Southern Maryland. He purchased adjoining lots and created a vast flowering landscape. The Guilford community has maintained the park ever since Sherwood’s death in 1965.

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Written by monumentcity

April 14th, 2012 at 12:55 pm