By Eli

Eli Pousson started as a Field Officer at Baltimore Heritage in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in October 2009. Prior to moving to Baltimore, Eli worked for the DC Office of Historic Preservation and completed graduate work in anthropology and historic preservation at the University of Maryland College Park. Eli continues to work with the Lakeland Community Heritage Project and other heritage organizations in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

34th Street Lights, 5 December 2008. Courtesy mkriedel/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

Holiday house tours, Hampden heritage and the Mayor’s Christmas Parade

The holiday season has arrived and historic places are at the heart of how our city celebrates! This Saturday, you can explore the grand mansions of Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill on the Mount Royal District Poinsetta Tour. Next weekend, you can discover the handsome rowhouses around Union Square for the 29th Annual Christmas Cookie Tour. Not to be outdone, Charles Village offers their 6th Annual Snowflake Tour of historic houses on December 21.

So among all these contenders which neighborhood can boast the most seasonal cheer? No one can top Hampden with the lights on 34th Street and the Mayor’s Christmas Parade coming up this Sunday, December 7. Last winter, volunteer and Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance organizer Nathan Dennies talked to long-time parade organizer Tom Kerr about the history of the event and came back with this story.

Photo of Tom Kerr, c. 1980. Courtesy the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance.
Photo of Tom Kerr, c. late 1970s. Courtesy the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance.

William Donald Schaefer approached Tom Kerr, head of the old Hampden Business Association, in 1972 to organize the Mayor’s Christmas Parade. The parade would be Schaeffer’s answer to the Hochschild-Kohn Toytown Parade which drew thousands of spectators for thirty years on Thanksgiving Day, but stopped running in 1966. Schaeffer wanted the parade to be held downtown but Kerr insisted on having it in Hampden.

Kerr hoped the parade would bring positive attention to Hampden. The Mount Vernon Mill Company closed its last remaining mill in Hampden-Woodberry that year, marking the end of the textile industry in the area. The first parade was far more modest than the department store extravagance of the Toytown parade. Kerr was only able to secure a single Santa Claus float and six marching bands. Nonetheless, the parade drew a large crowd and was considered a success. As of 2013, Kerr has been organizing the event for forty-one years.

Every year the parade elects a Grand Marshall. Past prominent figures to hold the title include baseball legend Brooks Robinson in 1978, and more recently, John Astin, famous for his role as Gomez in The Addams Family. Schaeffer made a number of appearances as mayor and came back as Grand Marshall after becoming governor. In 1980, spectators were baffled to see his yellow Cadillac moving toward Thirty-sixth Street without him. The convertible left while he was giving a speech and he quickly darted across the street, ran through an alley, and ducked under a police barrier to cut off the ride for his own parade.

Find the end of the story on Explore Baltimore Heritage. You can enjoy Hampden history and a special holiday celebration next Friday with the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance Christmas party and fundraiser! Tickets will help support the adaptation of the new self-guided walking tour brochure into a tour for Explore Baltimore Heritage along with a traveling exhibit on Hampden history. Learn more details and register today. Please share your own ideas on how to celebrate the holidays with history in the comments.

Poly and Western Marching Bands, 4 December 2011. Photo courtesy Spinstah/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Poly and Western Marching Bands, 4 December 2011. Photo courtesy Spinstah/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
This Place Matters, Hebrew Orphan Asylum

News: New Life for Old Jewish Landmark

Special thanks to historian Deb Weiner for her efforts to help us keep spreading the word about Baltimore’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum!

New Life for Old Jewish Landmark, Simone Ellin, Baltimore Jewish Times,‍‍ November 18, 2014.

“I think it’s an incredibly important building,” said local historian Deb Weiner of the Romanesque-style building designed by architects Edward Lupus and Henry A. Roby. “After B’nai Israel and the Lloyd Street Synagogue, it’s probably the most important building to the Baltimore Jewish community. “It represents the era, in the 19th century, when Jews started to build charities,” Weiner continued. “It shows how the community was becoming more affluent and could afford it.” …

“We got involved when there was a proposal to demolish the building,” said Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and a board member of the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation. “Then Coppin State got a new president who thought the building was an asset.” Hopkins and his colleagues worked with Coppin State to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. “It was a slam-dunk,” said Hopkins, “since the building was so significant both architecturally and historically.”

With support from Coppin State, in 2012, the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation, Baltimore Heritage, Inc. and architectural firm Kann Partners were granted a $2.5 million tax credit from the Maryland Sustainable Communities Tax Credit program. A state study later concluded that the neighborhood around the building was one of the five least healthy in the state, leading Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown to announce that the neighborhood would encompass one of five new Health Enterprise zones. The Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation will now restore the building and create a full-service medical facility called the Center for Health Care and Healthy Living.

Rowhouses, Savannah, Georgia

Photos: PastForward 2014 Conference in Savannah, Georgia

We are in Savannah, Georgia this week to spend a couple of days learning with fellow preservationists at the PastForward 2014 conference organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Baltimore and Maryland are well represented at the conference by staff from the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland and, of course, Johns and me!

Since we couldn’t bring you all with us, we wanted to share a few photos from the first few days of our trip – including rowhouses, parks, monuments and more! You can also participate in the conference from home as a virtual attendee.

Photograph by Nathan Dennies, October 25, 2014.

Photos: Exploring Industrial Heritage in Woodberry for Doors Open Baltimore 2014

Thank you to the nearly 500 people came out and participated in Doors Open Baltimore 2014 tours this past weekend. Congratulations to AIA Baltimore on an exciting first year and we are excited to continue our partnership for Doors Open Baltimore in 2015. In thehistoric mill village of Woodberry, the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance offered a full day of walking tours led by Nathan Dennies including stops at Clipper Mill and Union Mill. Participants had the chance to pick up the brand-new Greater Hampden History Tour brochure available now along the Avenue.

Don’t miss the chance to meet other history-lovers and preservationists in the Hampden area at the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance holiday celebration on December 12!

View of the Battle Monument, John Rubens Smith (1775-1849), 1828. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-01545.

News: Field Tripping – Getting Historic

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us for our Bmore Historic 2014 unconference earlier this month. Read Kate Drabinski’s column for a great take on the day or check out the unconference blog for more details.

Field Tripping: Getting Historic, Kate Drabinski, Baltimore City Paper, October 21, 2014.

“Thing is, though, my job also means that this year’s Bmore Historic Unconference is as much a field trip as a work obligation, and I got to spend the day sharing equal parts curiosity and righteous indignation with a wide swath of Baltimore-area history buffs, museum professionals, preservationists, students, and nerds as we asked those good questions of what counts as history, whose histories matter, and what the heck we should do with them…

Other sessions served as skill-building workshops in oral history, DIY genealogy, connecting youth to history and heritage issues, and how to use open-source web resources to curate online archives and collections. Eli Pousson from Baltimore Heritage shared its Explore Baltimore Heritage app that allows users to pull up historic photographs and narratives of sites all over the city from their smartphones. Drawing on her work in oral history as part of University of Baltimore’s Baltimore ’68 project, Elizabeth Nix led a packed workshop on how to do oral histories. Participants shared their ongoing Baltimore-based projects gathering the stories of such wide-ranging groups as veterans, LGBTQ people, youth, elders, laborers, suburbanites, and alt kids. These projects hope to bring out the many different and diverse ways that people have made Baltimore home.”