Druid Hill Park is as mysterious as it is massive. Designed by Howard Daniels, the seven hundred and forty-five acres of rolling countryside just north of downtown Baltimore has a surprisingly pleasant vibe. Inaugurated in 1860, shortly after New York’s Central Park, the terrain features the Jones Fall Stream, Druid Lake and what was once known as Boat Lake. For many decades the expanse was an immensely popular location for city dwellers. Patrons could stroll the rolling hills capriciously, relaxing the day away with ease and grace. The city even provided a narrow-gauge railroad for straightforward transport around the estate.
Over time generous farmers and wealthy landowners started donating animals to the park. Habitats were constructed and the creatures were integrated into the overall scene. Primates and reptiles were eventually brought in to accompany the livestock. Opening in 1876 the Maryland Zoo at Baltimore is one of the oldest zoological gardens in America. Over the years it’s size and scope has changed, the zoo’s land has slowly diminished leaving behind remnants of it’s former charm. Large areas have been shut down because of financial and infrastructure problems. Numerous animals have been loaned to other institutions as Baltimore’s menagerie struggles to regain it’s former glory.
Exploring the Zoo’s forgotten installations is amazing. A friend of a friend led us past closed gates and imposing barriers down an old road. We saw the former alligator pond, the vacant emu runs covered in bamboo and numerous waterway installations. At the end of one ominous trail was a stone slab dump. This discarding site for cornerstones was creepy at best. Amongst the granite and concrete pieces were small monuments that aforetime pilgrims had erected coupled with the unforgiving sight of grave markers from god knows where.
The Buchanan and Rogers families inhabited this territory during the 18th and 19th Centuries. We stumbled upon their funerary grounds during our expedition. Some of the stones dated as far back as the late 1700s. The markers are coming to pieces and the perimeter fence is pretty mangled, but the 200 year old cemetery is in remarkably good shape.
After traversing the closed back roads of the park we came to a strip of modern pathway. It appears the Jones Falls Trail is being connected through Druid Hill. The tranquil bike path is well built and expanding. With city revenue down it could be some time before the trail is completed, but the idea is paramount. Baltimore needs these paths and park lands to alleviate internal pressures. When this park is restored and reestablished the neighborhoods surrounding it will benefit exponentially, helping revitalize the area.