Sunday, September 21, 2014

Working Together to Preserve and Interpret the Past in a Sustainable, Virtual Environment
The Lynx, a Baltimore Privateer captured by the British: a reconstruction that visited Baltimore with the rest of the Tall Ships

Recently, I was asked to speak on the future of historical research and writing, especially as it related to helping teachers access and make use of the rich resources that are currently being placed on line in the virtual world.  My words were in the form of a challenge to all cultural institutions with regard to their placing digital versions of their holdings on line.  A reporter present headlined his blog with

alchemy edtech baltimore innovation week
Alchemy Learning cofounders Henry Blue (left) and Win Smith address attendees at their Baltimore Innovation Week event. (Photo by Christopher Wink)

The sponsor of the session was Alchemy Learning which is a new and innovative start up company devoted to linking teachers to the resources of cultural institutions through meaningful and easy to use lesson plans.  It was my task to remind all present that for that to become a dynamic and viable reality, attention also needs to be paid to the means of access through a permanent and sustainable electronic archives as well as the need for a related digital sandbox in which teachers and researchers of any interest can assemble and write their narrratives.  

Such an undertaking needs the cooperation of, and funding from  universities, public and private, government agencies such as city government, and the cultural institutions themselves.  In all what I called for is our working together to preserve and intrepret the past in a sustainable, virtual environment.  Baltimore should take the lead, not unlike the massive cooperative effort it undertook to defend itself in  the late summer and fall of 1814.

On the eve of the War of 1812 when Maryland merchants and investors sent out Baltimore’s merchant fleet to harass British shipping and further Baltimore’s commerce in the time of war, Baltimore had no plan for its growth and development.  Baltimore build ships like the Chasseur (known as the Pride of Baltimore) and the Lynx (pictured above), did their best to disrupt British trade and their history is well known thanks to scholars like Jerome R. Garitee who lives quietely north of the city.

Today, while there are a number of wonderful programs promoting the history of Baltimore City ranging from the Community Lecture Series of Mike Franch, the Environmental lecture series fostered by Joe Stewart, and the highly successful academic conferences shepherded by Garrett Power, and while the city abounds in cultural and historical places to visit and learn, there is no plan and no place for coordinating and accessing the sources, primary and secondary, of the city’s history.  There is no communal virtual sandbox in which scholar, teacher, and interested citizen alike can explore the city’s history and reflect upon it.  

Prior to, and during  the War of 1812, Visitors and Emigre’s to Baltimore had attempted to map the city while Merchants and Investors tried to find pathways to enrich themselves through the international import and export trade.  A. P. Folie (1797)  and Charles Phillip Varle (1790s-1830s)  fled the revolution and slave revolts in what would become Haiti.  In Baltimore, as French trained engineers and surveyors, they mapped the city and the surrounding countryside.  Both produced maps that would form the basis of what the Americans and the British knew of the ground on which the British would unsuccessfully attack the city in September of 1814, and Varle’s map would be used as the map of the city for visitors and residents attached to city directories until the 1820s.  Varle would even call himself a ‘civil engineer’ and offer unheeded advice to the city fathers about public health , particularly about the need to have modern privies to combat disease,  and at the end of his stay in Baltimore in the 1830s would produce a tourist guide to the city to rival that of his competitor Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

But the City had no plan for the future development of a community composed of three smaller communities united by the legislature of Maryland into one: Old Town, New Town, and Fells Point until they hired, let go, and re-hired another surveyor beginning in 1811, Thomas Poppleton.

Poppleton carried the science of surveying to new heights in Baltimore, using triangulation to establish and lay down the town’s boundary stones, streets, and lots, doing his best to accommodate those that had already been delineated on the maps and plats of Folie, Varle and less skillful surveyors like Jehu Bouldin.

In the decades after the city charter was implemented (1797 to the 1840s) Baltimore’s mainspring was commerce, both the import and the export of goods.  The population nearly doubled every two decades and by the 1840s Baltimore was the third largest city in America with a population of 102,513 confined to about 16 square miles.

Poppleton was hired on the basis of this triangulation proposal in 1812 on the eve of the War of 1812.  When his work was suspended by the efforts of the City to defend itself against the British and to survive commercially, Poppleton, a British citizen at the time, went to New York to map Manhattan as New York’s City Surveyor. He was lured back after the war, producing his grand map of the city in the form of a beautiful wall map illustrated on its perimeter by drawings of prominent buildings that was finally published in 1822.  That map governed the course of the development of the city, its streets, and its lots, not to mention street names, until the next annexation of land in 1888.

The Poppleton map also illuminated and contributed to the conflict between wharf owners who sought to enlarge their presence in the port and the grading of the streets that Poppleton proposed be the consequence of his grand layout of the city. By 1817 the run off from the new streets into the harbor was clogging up the wharfs of ship builders and merchants such as Craig and Barron of Fells Point, who took their complaints as far as the U. S. Supreme Court and lost in the face of the argument that cities could do almost as they pleased to accommodate urban expansion as long as it was an exercise of publicly approved policy, such as following the dictates of streets mapped out at city expense.  Wharf owners would have to pay to get rid of the silt deposits (runoff from streets) themselves without hope of just compensation for the loss of their business or the cost of removing it.

The physical growth of the city posed the obvious questions of public health.  Where would uncontaminated drinking water come from?  How would human waste and garbage be disposed of?  To what degree would the city be concerned with public safety, public health, and lighting of the streets.  As a seafaring community, Baltimore acquired the reputation as early as 1807 as ‘mob town’ in which periodically uncontrollable masses of people would riot, destroying life and property with a ferocity that gained a national reputation and deeply affected national politics.  When Alexander Contee Hanson’s printing press was demolished in the summer of 1812, and he and his friends were beaten up so badly by the mob (a distinguished veteran of the Revolution was killed), those that rallied to his cause formed the major opposition to President Madison’s war and ultimately elected Hanson as a U. S. Senator from Maryland.

Generally the story of the City is told through the eyes of the elite and the heroes of the moment, with small regard to those who actually participated in its life through space and time.  With the maps of the time, placing them on the earth of today, and the narratives and stories of the lesser known participants in its history, we perhaps can better understand that enormous burst of community energy that came together to defend the city in September of 1814.  It was unlike anything before in American history, and rarely duplicated since. While General Jackson had to declare martial law in New Orleans to keep the populace from welcoming the British with open arms, and the citizens of Washington and Alexandria were helpless in the advance of the invaders, even having to supply them the necessities of war time to prevent further destruction of homes, businesses and public buildings, Baltimoreans turned collective under the leadership of a committee of Vigilance and Safety and their chosen military commander, Merchant/General Samuel Smith.  It was and remains a remarkable story of wholehearted and complete  community involvement and action with fortifications built and manned, encircling the city, within 4 weeks of the burning of the U. S. Capitol and the White House.  

During that time there was little or no opposition (British deserters were given $5-10 and passage out of town.  A few dissenters were investigated, but only one person was brought to trial for treason, and he for saving Upper Marlboro from being torched).  Even Alexander Contee Hanson, who secretly invested in the only opposition newspaper published in Baltimore during 1814 (the Telegraph) stayed out of town and found being feted in upstate New York far more to this liking.

That the city defended itself so successfully in the late summer and early fall of 1814 is particularly remarkable in light of the difficulties facing its life blood, its commerce, in the years of the embargo and the war.  When it came time to build the defenses against the British Navy and Army, the funding had to come from local loans and contributions (even though the Madison administration promised reimbursement).  Those that had profited from privateering, ‘illegal’ and clandestine trade, and the banks in which they deposited their earnings, coughed up hundreds of thousands of dollars in short order to pay the daily laborers on the fortifications and to arm them with cannons and militia (the paid citizen army).  Some merchants even had to sacrifice their shipping for the defense of the harbor when a number were commandeered by the City to be sunk at its mouth to keep the British Navy out.

Today, among the cultural and research institutions holding the documents, the artifacts,  and the stories of Baltimore’s past, there needs to be a renewed coming together of those resources in a sustainable virtual world in which the resources are shared, well explained, and inexpensive to access.

The future of informing  the world about Baltimore and its history lies in how well it is told on the web in a sustainable and dynamic environment where students of any age and interest can easily find what has been written, learn and access what sources  there are to write and explore more of Baltimore’s past, both in terms of actual site visits to exhibits and surviving historic places and virtually through easy access to on line documentation.  It is an all inclusive proposition, from Ruth to Poe to Mencken to a rainbow of immigrants and the absorbing exhibits of the Maryland Historical Society, the Walters, the BMA, and the B&O museum, to mention but a few.

To meet that future of virtual access tied to actual visits, institutions need to look beyond their walls and provide inexpensive access to the treasures they hold in a searchable context that guides the interested not only to what they have on and off line, but to resources elsewhere related to the topic or person of interest.  To meet that future teachers at all levels of education must be able to easily find teachable resources on line through virtual workbooks or binders  as those proposed by the Alchemy project, and a dynamically developed subject portal maintained in one stop on the ‘cloud’ of the internet, but shared and contributed to by all cultural and research institutions having any artifacts and records relating to Baltimore city’s rich past.

Both Alchemy and Baltimore Heritage are staging conferences on how best to encourage the keepers and interpreters of Baltimore’s memory to share what they know and what they have, but no one is taking the lead in providing an integrated place of knowledge of what exists, where it exists, and how to move what there is in to an increasingly accessible virtual world in which teachers can not only mine what is there but make real contributions to the value of what they find.  Nor is anyone taking the lead in providing a permanent place for linking and accessing the virtual knowledge of the City’s history as expressed on web sites, web exhibits, and on-line sources, as well as providing the stimulus for improving what is available virtually for the study of Baltimore’s past.

A number of institutions have made a stab at it with regard to their own holdings and collections, and in pointing to resources elsewhere.  Admirable examples are the web sites of the Baltimore City Archives at, the Maryland Historical Society, and Baltimore Heritage, but these are largely volunteer or single staff operations that are only able to address a miniscule portion of the wealth of resources available to explore the City’s past.

Where should such a dynamic and extensive portal to the City’s past be based? Who, will, like with the Chasseur and the Lynx, captain and crew the ship.  Most of all, how will it be paid for?

My suggestion is that it should be a high priority of the City government to fund such an endeavor with additional support from private and non-profit sources.  The hosts should be a collaborative among the major universities in town (JHU, U of Md, University of Baltimore) and the cultural institutions of all flavors from historic houses to major depositories such as the Maryland Historical Society, the Baltimore City Archives, the Pratt Library. . It needs to be permanent and perpetual and not disappear as does all the work currently placed on the users of Blackboard, the most commonly used virtual platform of colleges and universities.

At the present time the city has sunk millions of dollars into its Cityview mapping service, but there are no ‘layers’ currently available and easily searchable on it that map the local research institutions holding the documentary treasures of the city’s history, let alone all the historic places that teachers and tourists might like to know about an visit.  For example cityview does not even recognize that there is a city archives holding the largest single collection of records relating to the public history of the city.

The logical place to manage such an integrated effort at access and explanation of resources would be the Pratt Library or the Maryland Historical Society with substantive monetary contributions from all cultural and resource institutions in and around the city (note that the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the University of Maryland College Park, have remarkable collections and collecting programs relating to the history of the city, as Johns Hopkins with its special collections devoted to Roland Park), but with funding,  it could also be managed by  the Baltimore City Archives which is currently supported by the limited  IT resources of the Maryland State Archives.

The model I am suggesting is making best use of a ‘cloud’ in which the hardware would be a shared environment at the Universities in the City and on the City’s computers, with the overall management/captaincy of the portal vested in an institution such as the Pratt, the Baltimore City Archives, or the Maryland Historical Society.

In building such an integrated guide to virtual sources, places to visit and learn, and resources not yet online, there needs to be an inexpensive component, a permanent depository of the research and writing of those who write about the City’s history, a perpetually maintained sandbox of the good work of those thousands of individuals who have stories to tell and write about Baltimore’s past.   It could be modeled on George Mason’s Zotero program, but it must be easy to use and not costly to join and whether individuals or institutions.

As I work with my students at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Law School, I find, as most teachers and researchers do, that the stories to be told about Baltimore require knowing paths to resources complimenting those that are in the City, some as far away as Sweden and Tokyo and as near as the National Archives.  How to explain what those resources are and what value they have to the history of the community, whether it be the world of 1812, or the ongoing story of revived lost neighborhoods of Baltimore, combined with holding on to that knowledge for the use of future generations in a permanent sustainable virtual environment is what I believe is the most important task before as keepers of the city’s history and the sources of that history.

Just recently the President of the United States visited Ft. McHenry and was introduced by Maryland Historical Society President Burt Kummerow and Vince Vaise of Fort McHenry, to the original manuscript (one of a number of originals) of the Star Spangled Banner written by Francis Scott Key.  Entitled “Facing Perilous Fights, Obama Turns to History and Donors,” the article covered a lot of ground, but pictured was the solitary exhibit case with the original floating in space between two pieces of what I assume are ultra-violet inhibiting glass to protect it from damaging light.  Is there more to be learned from the document than what we celebrate already and try to sing in part at sports events.  What about the third verse?  What can we learn from it and teach from it?  Where are the studies and sources that illuminate it, as opposed to the first verse that most of us have learned by heart?  Where can a teacher create or find such a lesson plan and share it permanently with her students and anyone else?

Alchemy Learning offers a solution for individual teachers, a substantive gateway to teaching from the rich sources for the history of the City and the Nation available right here in Baltimore, but supplemented by resources scattered around the world..  I suggest it is time for the City, the Pratt, and the Universities within the geographical confines of the city  to join  all cultural/historical entities in the city  in an educational outreach effort to create a permanent portal and depository of the virtual history of the city and its surviving places of historical interest.  In doing so, more people will want to visit what has survived, leaving the contents of their wallets at the gift shops, and reversing the trend of declining admission to most historic places and museums, while increasing our understanding of the past and its relevance to the communities of the present.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lost Neighborhoods and Public History

Over the next few weeks I will be launching a new website and on line research center devoted to the history of Baltimore's current and lost neighborhoods

The objective will be to provide an interactive website and repository for research and writing about the history of Baltimore City from the perspective of time and place, utilizing current and historical mapping to create time and space layers of cityscapes that can be viewed in Google Earth and Google Maps and are linked to the life stories of the owners and occupants of the built city at specific points in time.  For example, the first major undertaking on my part  is the reconstruction of the city and its residents in 1814, the year of repulsing an attack of British naval and land forces, and the emergence of a strong sense of National pride that transcended deep political differences.

The main purpose of the website, however, is to provide an interactive home for the scholarship and electronic files of all those industrious individuals who are documenting and telling the stories of their neighborhoods, assuring their permanence and providing them in a searchable context to which new material can be added and past work can be improved upon.

I am hoping to have the website on line by September 1.  In the meantime, I will update any who are interested through this blog.  Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere, but is it safe to drink?

Preserving and Accessing the Records of the Gunpowder Watershed of Maryland and Pennsylvania

Edward C. Papenfuse, Archivist of Maryland (Retired)

With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, the title of this essay on  preserving and making accessible the sources of history was chosen because the history of the Gunpowder watershed is both a triumph of the reversal of human degradation of the environment, and a cautionary tale about the failure of humans both  to sustain the accomplishment and to care for the records that document its story for the instruction and enlightenment of future generations.

I.  The Triumph:

Baltimore City’s effort to acquire a sustainable water supply between 1830 and the 1950s led to the rehabilitation of a watershed that had become developed and polluted.  With paper mills (the Hoffman Mills), manufacturing (Warren) and Iron mines (Ridgley Iron Works), not to mention agricultural runoff and quarrying, the water of the gunpowder was suspect as a source of water  for the city, its people, and to a lesser extent, its industry.  Over the course of about 150 years, using eminent domain powers acquired by 1908 and bond money authorized by the Maryland legislature, a considerable portion of the lands of the watershed  along the river were acquired by the city and turned back to nature.  It was a triumph of the public good for the welfare of the majority.

II. The History:

A) Who are its keepers?

There have been a number of people over the years who have been responsible for altering the course of the history of the Gunpowder watershed and promoting the keeping of its history.   I will only mention a few:

1) Thomas H. Buckler

Thomas H Buckler is best known for his acid tongue when it came to the slowness with which Baltimore addressed its health problems. Writing from the comfort of a European Spa, possibly paid for in part from income from the Gunpowder lands of his wife’s estate (she was a Ridgely), he opined that the best solution to the contamination problems of Baltimore harbor were to level Federal Hill into the basin, filling it up. He may have had another ulterior motive than public health as well. Federal Hill was the symbol of Union occupation of the city with its canons trained on the populace to keep order (they are still there today), Buckler was an ardent supporter of the South and fled to Europe to avoid the war.

Except for Nancy Shead’s biographical work on Buckler as a physician, there is no readily accessible biography of him.  Yet , he more than anyone person was responsible for both advocating the Gunpowder as a source of water for the city and advancing the public health reasons why pure water was necessary for public health.  He began his advocacy as physician at the Baltimore County alms house before the Civil War.  As late as 1885 the first daily newspaper in California, the Daily Alta, sang his praises:

No Certain Cure but Cleanliness a Preventive.


The Harm Done by Drs. Ferran and Koch— Pure Air, Pure Water and Wholesome Food Required to Combat the Disease.

In recent conversations Dr. Thomas H. Buckler cf Baltimore, has had considerable to say in regard to the prevention of cholera. Most of what follows was said in particular reference to the City of Baltimore, but applies to all intents and purposes equally well to the City of San Francisco. Of the cholera epidemic he says "In 1832 when the population did not exceed 90,000, the number of deaths reported from epidemic cholera was 853. In May and June, 1849, preceding the edvest of cholera, an epidemic typhus made its appearance among the free negroes of the city. It was confined almost exclusively to this race, only two cases having been noted in whites. In rows of houses occupied by Germans, Irish and free blacks, it would invariably single out the latter, in many instances seizing an entire family. It came alike from all sections of the city, and invariably from filthy and unwholesome localities. This disease was highly infectious in character, and in its pathological lesions corresponded in almost every essential particular with yellow fever which occurred at Gibraltar, and is described by Louis. Many of these cases were taken to the Almshouse and a large number to the old smallpox hospital, fitted up for the purpose." After describing the old Almshouse, where the cholera epidemic of 1849 occurred, the topography of the surrounding country, (the western outskirts of the city,) the hygienic conditions of the Almshouse, which he said "seemed to be, of all other places, the field, not only for the spontaneous origin, but also for the growth and spread of disease," and the inefficiency of existing systems of quarantine, Dr. Buckler states that during the prevalence of the epidemic typhus before referred to as occurring among the free blacks of the city in June, 1849, eighty-three cases in all were sent to the Almshouse. Thirty-nine proved fatal. Of these all but one were colored people.


Fearing that the typhus might become general, and in view of the fact that the city was threatened with an invasion of cholera, the physicians of the Almshouse, Drs. Buckler and Willis H. Baxley, gave notice to the public of the malignant character of the disease, and advised that the municipal regulations relating to cleanliness and public hygiene be rigidly enforced. In accordance with this recommendation all the lanes, alleys and byways were put in a thoroughly wholesome condition. The merchants had the wharves, then in a very filthy condition, cleansed and sprinkled with lime at their own expense. On the first of July the first case of cholera occurred at the Almshouse. It seems to have originated there, as did several other cases following in quick succession. In the meantime the Almshouse had been thoroughly cleansed. It was discovered by Dr. Buckler, however, that a cesspool had overflowed and was in a very filthy condition. Other sources of impurity were also discovered outside the north wall of the enclosure, and Dr. Buckler finally satisfied himself that a large space of ground "was one putrid and pestilential mass, capable of generating under the ardent rays of a midsummer sun the most poisonous and deadly exhalations.' Of the inmates of the Almshouse, 155 were attacked with cholera and 86 died. The proportion of deaths was much larger among the blacks than among the whites, a large number of the colored patients, however, had already been broken down by typhus. From the fact that while nearly one half of the male inmates were seized with cholera, more than four fifths of the opposite sex escaped, Dr. Buckler deduces the conclusion that this was precisely what might be expected if the malarial influence already alluded to exercised any control over the disease, for the men, having outdoor occupations, were most exposed to atmospheric influences. During the month of July, when the cholera prevailed, 76 persons eloped and 56 were discharged by the Board, most of whom went to the city to hide. In several instances they wera seized with cholera, and in this condition carried back to the Almshouse. These facts indicate that notwithstanding this constant and unrestricted intercourse, the disease confined itself to its favorite haunts. "It is fair to conclude." adds Dr. Buckler, *that but for the existence of the local impurities, cholera would never have visited the Almshouse." With the entire restoration of the establishment to a proper sanitary condition, the disease entirely ceased.  The malaria acting probably as the strong predisposing cause of ill-health,”' says Dr. Buckler, *'exerted its influence by depressing the nervous system and lowering vitality, to as to interfere with a healthy performance of all the different functions. Thus predisposed, the inmates were rendered not only more susceptible to the imposition of morbid poisons, or to the action of any other exciting causes of disease, but at the same time their chances of recovery were greatly diminished, owing to the weakened state of their vital powers of resistance."


The appearance of epidemic cholera at the Almshouse gave a fresh impulse to the work of purification and induced a strict adherence to the sanitary measures previously adopted, so that all the avenues of the city were kept in the most perfect order. In accordance with Dr. Buckler's suggestion, committees of citizens were appointed in every ward to examine the premises connected with the various blocks of buildings and to see to the prompt removal of impurities. - The result was there were only four cases of cholera in the city, although it had been raging at the Almshouse. Mild cholerine, however, prevailed in almost every section of the city, showing that the cholera atmosphere pervaded this region. The conclusion, therefore, is inevitable that, to quote Dr. Buckler's words, " the immunity which Baltimore experienced in 1849 was owing entirely to the thorough purification which the city underwent in anticipation of the advent of cholera. Admitting the conclusion to be just, the inhabitants of Baltimore may enjoy the comfortable assurance that they have nothing to fear from future epidemics of this much-dreaded disease, provided they will see that judicious sanitary measures are properly carried out; but if they refuse to profit by their past experience, they must only expect to suffer a well-merited rebuke for their negligence." In other words, pure air, pure water and wholesome food, are the only conditions required to combat the disease. Baltimore's experience in 1849 has been the experience of communities all over the world. In .Europe the cities which have suffered most were in a filthy condition. At Naples and Toulon, where the epidemic raged most virulently, but little attention was paid to cleansing the streets. In Spain the disease has been prolonged because of the universal disregard of sanitary laws. Dr. Ferran, by inducing the people to believe that inoculation was an efficacious preventive, has done great harm by causing them to turn their attention- from the only real preventive — cleanliness. Dr. Koch's investigations have had a similar tendency. They have proved nothing, and on the other hand have encouraged persons to think that cholera can' be cured, and that sanitary precautions are comparatively useless. The germ theory of Koch is not a new thing, as it was partially investigated by Dr. Buckler and Dr. Christopher Johnson during the Almshouse epidemic in 1849,


In his pamphlet under the heading "Theories Tested," Dr. Buckley says : "Before the removal of the nuisances (at the Alms House) the various cholera theories were tested as far as practicable. Saucers containing solutions of acetate of lead, nitrate of silver and other delicate re-agents were placed on the margin of the pond and at various other points back of the north wall, and numerous strips of chemically-pure paper wet with solutions of these salts were hung out at night over the different pools. Paper prepared with Sconbine'e solution of iodide of potassa and starch were also used to test the presence of ozone. Duplicate experiments were instituted in the city at the same time, but without any very satisfactory results in either of the trials, the changes which occurred being nearly alike at the two places.

"With a view of testing the cryptogamic and animalcular theories, plates of microscopic glass attached to threads by means of sealing-wax, were dipped in solutions of sugar, starch and gum acacia, and hung back of the north wall and in the cholera hospital. Other plates of glass were covered over with glycerine, remarkable for its property of remaining fluid for a long time .when exposed to the air, and these, like the former, were suspended in various places about the establishment. Sugar, and starch were selected because of the known tendency to vegetable germs to form on these compounds,and it was supposed if animalcula existed in the air, that some of these would of necessity be caught on the moist and tenacious glycerine. These. plates of glass having been thus treated, were carefully examined by Dr. Christopher Johnston, aided by powerful lenses, but he was unable to detect' the slightest trace of vegetable germe,animalcula or microscopic organisms of any sort.


The only true course, in Dr. Buckler's opinion, is to bend all energies to the prevention of the disease. When we get perfect sanitation, says Dr. Buckler, cholera will become a disease of the past. When there was universal ignorance and disregard of sanitary laws, and every city and town was a pig-sty, the black death, the plague and the sweating disease, which are now diseases of the past, ravaged many communities. Cholera will also become, like them, an obsolete disease if due regard is paid to sanitary laws. There is no certain cure for cholera, but it can be prevented, as was shown in Baltimore in 1849. Quarantine, Dr. Buckler thinks, is of no value if the city is in good sanitary condition. A number of cases might be brought here and they might die, but nobody would take the cholera. Dr. Buckler cays cholera is such a mysterious disease that it cannot be safely predicted whether it will or will not appear in this country next year. Baltimore, however, the Doctor stated, has nothing to fear if a rigid system of sanitation is enforced.

In view of the ravages of cholera abroad, the cleansing of the city cannot be begun too soon. Once cleaned, the city should be kept clean. As Dr. Buckler shows in his history of the almshouse epidemic in 1849, the thorough cleansing of the city of Baltimore in that year resulted in a marked decrease in zymotic diseases of all kinds, so that even if the cholera fails to come, any city will reap a sufficient return in the general benefit resulting from the scheme of the sanitation proposed.

2) John McGrain

John McGrain’s work on mollinography is internationally recognized (Louis Bergeron for example) and his career as a preservationist in Baltimore County is legendary.  His most recent publication is on the history of Charles Street.  His research on the Gunpowder is available on and off line at the Maryland State Archives and is indispensable for anyone interested in the mills and manufacturing in the gunpowder watershed..

3) Ron Parks

I strongly urge anyone interested in the history of Baltimore’s water supply to purchase Ron’s books, particularly this one which is a guide to all the good work he has done over the years to preserve the history of Baltimore’s water supply.  Included is an extensive time line relating to efforts to acquire water for the city that is invaluable to the study of the Gunpowder watershed.

4) Teri L. Rising


Teri L. Rising
Historic Preservation Planner, Baltimore County Department of Planning

Over a hundred years ago, Baltimore City proposed building a dam that would bring water from the Gunpowder River to Baltimore City. While the reservoir would accomplish this goal, it would also destroy homes, communities, and create controversy between Baltimore City and County. As a historic planner and historian, I am often asked for the story behind Loch Raven reservoir. “History Underwater” is a brief summary of the project that would change the landscape of Baltimore County forever.
Baltimore City had long struggled to supply its citizens with clean water, but the increasing population caused natural sources to disappear and water contamination to increase.  A drought in 1869 convinced city officials to look beyond the Jones Falls for sources of water and the Gunpowder River had been identified in 1853 as a possible choice.
“This matter of water supply cannot be overestimated in its importance, and when the water of the Gunpowder shall have been conducted into the city, as it must of necessity be in the lapse of a few years, no city on this continent or in Europe will be able to boast of so great a bounty.”Mayor of Baltimore - 1872
Construction began December 3, 1875 and the Loch Raven lower dam was completed by 1881.  The works consisted of a dam, which formed the reservoir, a tunnel connecting the reservoir with Lake Montebello, and a conduit connecting Lake Montebello to Lake Clifton. That water tunnel is still used today.  Officially named in 1877, “Loch Raven” was inspired by area landowner, Luke Raven, along with the addition of  “Loch”, as Scottish for Lake.  William Gilmor, owner of the "Glen Ellen" estate, has been credited as the source of the name.  
A polluted Jones Falls convinced officials to expand Loch Raven by adding an upper dam.  Knowing that Baltimore City was scouting for land, the Warren Company secretly sold the town to the city in 1908 for a confidential price. The City Council conducted an investigation and concluded the acquisition was inappropriate and price too high.  Negative press coverage resulted in serious criticism for officials and the deal was nullified by the Court of Appeals in 1913.
After the upper dam was completed, the city implemented the next phase and raised the spillway to the 240 feet maximum.  In response, nearly 50 square miles were annexed in 1918.  The annexation consumed many farms and mills and forced residents to relocate. City inspectors assigned values to the properties and negotiated their acquisition.  Many sites were demolished and flooded; others were partially demolished and left to deteriorate within the watershed’s boundaries. Those affected had names like Morgan’s Mill, "Furnace Farm", "Vauxhall", and "Glen Ellen".
Amidst lawsuits and accusations of impropriety, the last lands purchased for the final phase of the Loch Raven Reservoir included the towns of Warren and Phoenix.  When they were finally condemned in 1922, it cost the City one million dollars. Spectators made the trek and documented the dismantling and demolition of the village making Warren’s demise the best known and documented.
If you are interested in learning more, or would like information about the sources I used for this blog, feel free to contact me at
Further Reading

5) Dr. Charles Stine



and the mysterious 

6) “Gargonzola”. Note that his article is about Warren and that some of the web sources he cites no longer exist.

Warren began its life in 1750 when King George III granted a certain Richard Britton land in the Gunpowder Falls Valley (the "Valley of Jehosophat"). The place was sustained by two grist mills, but probably couldn't properly be called a "town" until 1814, when a group of investors leased some of John Merryman's land to build a cotton mill. The investors included James A. Buchanan and a local Revolutionary War hero, General Samuel Smith. It is probably Smith we have to thank for the naming it after another Revolutionary War general, Joseph Warren, who was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. If you have read my writeup on Smith's estate Montebello you will recall that Buchanan was embezzling from the Second Bank of the United States at the time; enough to cause a financial panic in 1819. Smith and the other investors were ruined. The Warren mill continued to produce cotton ducking and calico cloth on and off through the booms and busts of the antebellum business cycle, and the company town was a sort of eastern Hell's Half Acre. That is, until Summerfield Baldwin acquired the mill beginning in 1864. The Baldwins, devout Methodists, managed to put the mill and community on a firm footing, building a schoolhouse and forbidding alcohol.

All but Buckler and Stine have an easily findable presence on the web, but I will caution that that presence is not sustainable unless related to a permanent electronic archives maintained in perpetuity by public support.  Already at least one very good website devoted to the history of the Gunpowder has disappeared into the ether (as Joseph Priestley might have referred to it).

B) Where are there untapped resources and who will make them available on line and in perpetuity?

When the AP history students of Western Technical School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville produced their thoughtful and pioneering  study of the history of the Baltimore Water Supply in 1999,  their introduction pointed out the difficulty in finding the necessary sources to write the history of the communities that populated the watershed:

Finding proper primary sources was quite difficult. This information was
locked away and kept in places that were inaccessible to our needs. The use of maps were helpful throughout the process, however, at times the accuracy of the maps were suspect due to the map making techniques of the period studied.  

What they did not know and had no easy way of finding out at the time was that, in addition to the work that Ron Parks had undertaken to preserve the Baltimore city records relating to the history of the water supply, there is an abundance of detailed and visual information about the efforts to acquire the watershed among the court records of the State.

Beginning in 1975, the Maryland State Archives began a program to save as much of the surviving court records in Maryland, particularly those relating to land ownership, as possible.  For the purposes of exploring the history of the Gunpowder watershed, there are many examples, three of which have been placed on line as part of the virtual collection at the Maryland State Archives devoted to documenting and expanding the efforts of Ron Parks to make the sources of the history of the Baltimore City  water supply accessible and permanently preserved.

I will begin first with a volume preserved by Ron Parks, the companion of which disappeared before he began his efforts to collect the surviving record:

To understand the process by which Baltimore city acquired the water rights to the Gunpowder watershed and the State came to establish parkland along it, the court records provide an unparalleled window of observation and analysis.


BALTIMORE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket) Volume 8 Page 164 [MSA C 326-8, 2/49/8/7]

2) Warren Manufacturing Company of Baltimore County v. The Mayor & City Council of Baltimore et al., 119 Md. 188, 1911-1912

BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket, Index) 1853-1982, MAV-MEN [MSA CM 1295-20, CR 69,129]
BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Docket A, Miscellaneous) Volume 51A pp. 322, 445, 452 and 459 [MSA T 55-51, 3/4/1/34]
BALTIMORE CITY CIRCUIT COURT (Equity Papers A, Miscellaneous) Boxes 2813 & 2814 Case No. A6166 [MSA T 53, 3/8/8/26 & 3/8/8/27]

3 )William H. Hoffman v. Warren Mfg.

62 Md. 162, 1884
Trial Court Records
Appellate Court Records
Scanned as msaref 5458-51-4035

4) Acquisition of Hoffman Property by Baltimore City
2 July 1901:

Hoffman lands sold to Rockdale Powder Co.
BA Land Records, MBM 245, p. 476-488; Carroll Land Records JHB 93, p. 266-285 (note that both deeds are the same).
Land sold for $100,000. 7 tracts of land, totaling 1160 acres.
30 December 1924:
Rockdale sold lands to Title Guarantee & Trust Co.
7 tracts of land, totaling 1160 acres. Sold for $5.00 and "other valuable considerations."
14 January 1925 Title Guarantee & Trust Co. sold land to Mayor & City Council, 14 January 1925
The city bought the land for $5.00 and "other valuable considerations" (i.e. a player to be named later). Land purchased for the construction of Prettyboy Dam.
Hoffman & Sons owned Gunpowder, Clipper, Rockdale, and Hoffman (at Silver Run) paper mills. Not shown on the map is the Hoffman's Marble Vale mill, located on Paper Mill Road, near Cockeysville, which burned in 1888.
Map from McGrain, From Pig Iron to Cotton Duck, p. 269.

Secondary Sources:

John W. McGrain, From Pig Iron to Cotton Duck: A History of Manufacturing Villages in Baltimore County, vol. 1, p. 274-279.

Mary A. Seitz, The History of the Hoffman Paper Mills in Maryland, p. 51-53.

III. The Challenge:

A) sustaining the triumph

The only way that the success of preserving the Gunpowder watershed can be sustained is by the public realizing that the resources represented by the watershed (tree cover, naturally ‘clean’ water, etc) must be preserved from development and managed by public entitities paid for by tax dollars.  I leave that discussion to others

B) keeping the memory of what transpired

If we don’t pay attention and allocate adequate resources to the care, preservation, and access of the memories of the past as represented in the surviving public and private records (including newspapers), much of the lessons of the Triumph will be lost and our understanding of the human experience on the land and its instructive power for the future will we lost.  We will be condemned as  George Santayana  warned us, to repeat the sins of the past.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana