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

Happy Holidays from Baltimore Heritage Highlights from a year of historic preservation in Baltimore

On behalf of Baltimore Heritage, I hope you are enjoying a cheerful holiday season. I am thankful for the volunteers, members, and supporters who helped us to sustain and expand Baltimore Heritage’s education and preservation programs over the past year.

Before we all start to sing Auld Lang Syne, I’d like to share a few highlights from our year in review:

  • We expanded our tours. With our new Monumental City Tours, we offered volunteer-led tours every Sunday morning from April to November from Patterson Park to the Shot Tower. And we are getting ready to do it again in 2016!
  • We celebrated heritage milestones. We welcomed the tenth family into our Centennial Homes program honoring families that have been in the same house for a century. We also organized a year-long series of Fell’s Point walking tours celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Robert Long House.
  • We documented Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage. In partnership with the Maryland Historical Trust, our project—Looking for Landmarks from the Movement—has mapped over 200 places (from churches to rowhouses to tennis courts) associated with the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore. We are already putting this research to work with a new initiative to protect threatened Civil Rights landmarks.
Photograph by Auni Gelles, 2015 December 5.
Photograph by Auni Gelles, 2015 December 5.

Be sure to learn more about what we do with your support in our 2015 year in review! Thank you again to everyone who volunteered with us, joined or renewed their membership, and came out on a tour to learn more about Baltimore. If you have not contributed yet in 2015, please donate online today or send a check to 11 1/2 W. Chase Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.

I wish you a happy holiday season and I look forward to seeing you in the new year.

Excerpted from Baltimore Department of Public Works, Project Status and Update Presentation, October 2014.

Department of Public Works releases final plan for Druid Hill Reservoir project What does this plan mean for Druid Lake?

On Wednesday, the Baltimore Department of Public Works released their “100%” final plan for the Druid Hill Reservoir project. DPW is planning to install two drinking water tanks (one holding 35 million gallons and another 19 million) buried under the western third of Druid Lake. After construction, the land above the tanks would become part of the park including a new band shell. DPW plans to convert the remaining eastern part of the reservoir into a publicly accessible lake but Druid Lake would no longer be part of the city’s drinking water supply.

View of Druid Lake looking towards apartment houses in Reservoir Hill, 1930 April 24. Baltimore Museum of Industry, BG&E Collection, BGE.3375N
View of Druid Lake looking towards apartment houses in Reservoir Hill, 1930 April 24. Baltimore Museum of Industry, BG&E Collection, BGE.3375N

Changes to Druid Lake are required by new federal policies to improve drinking water safety and follow nearly three years of study and public meetings. With the release of this final plan, the Department of Public Works is moving forward with implementation and anticipates completing work in four to five years – 2019 or 2020.

Throughout the planning process, Baltimore Heritage worked with neighbors and the Friends of Druid Hill Park, to draw attention to issues around the treatment of the historic lake and the new configuration of Druid Hill Park. We now have answers to a few of these big questions.

What happens to the historic stone wall and iron fence around the lake?

Around the eastern area of the lake, the project plan keeps the stone wall and fence in place and repairs any deteriorated elements. Around the western area (located above the tanks), the plan keeps segments of the stone wall in place but removes all the existing ironwork. The goal of the latter changes is to make the lake accessible to the public and support new opportunities for recreational  boating, fishing, and other activities.

Now that the lake is no longer needed to supply drinking water, will it still be kept full of water?

The Department of Public Works has committed to keep Druid Lake filled with water by diverting groundwater into the reconstructed lake and, if necessary, supplementing that supply with drinking water.

How does this project pay for the necessary park improvements?

Funding for this project from the Department of Public Works should pay for widening the path on the southern part of the lake and constructing the base for the band shell. The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks is expected to find funding for to complete the band shell and related park improvements. Funding for this additional work is not currently included in the capital budget for Recreation and Parks but we hope to see those resources identified before construction is complete.

Illustration of proposed improvements. Baltimore City Department of Public Works.
Illustration of proposed improvements. Baltimore City Department of Public Works.
Photograph by Auni Gelles, 2015 December 5.

Join the conversation about Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments Learn more about the history of the monuments and how you can submit comments

Courtesy Baltimore Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.
Lee-Jackson Monument, 2015. Baltimore Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined our tour of Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments at Wyman Park Dell this past weekend. As I explained in my testimony before the Special Commission reviewing the city’s Confederate monuments on October 29, Baltimore Heritage supports the review process and is working educate the public about the history of the monuments. Our organization has not made any formal recommendation for what we think the commission should do about the monument. We think it is important for everyone with an interest in this issue to learn more and to add their voice to the ongoing discussion. To support this goal, we have put together a set of educational resources to help you prepare your comments or testimony.

What is the history of the monuments?

Confederate Monument, Mount Royal Terrace (c. 1906). Library of Congress
Confederate Monument, Mount Royal Terrace (c. 1906). Library of Congress

In September, Baltimore Heritage has published a detailed study on the history of the monuments with a particular focus on how race and politics shaped their meaning in the past and present. We also published our testimony from October 29 and our full tour notes from the December 5 walking tour. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know—we plan on continuing to revise and expand these materials in the months ahead. Additional profiles on the four monuments under review are available from the Special Commission.

Where are the monuments located?

We have also put together a map showing the four monuments selected for review and the broader collection of monuments, statues and historic sites related to the theme of Civil War memory and the Lost Cause.

What do the monuments look like?

Detail, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors MonumentThe staff of the Commission has shared their extensive photo documentation of all four monuments and we have uploaded these photographs to an album on Flickr so anyone can get a close look at the monuments from the general surroundings to the smallest details.

How do I send comments?

There are three ways to share your comments: send a letter by mail, send an email, or attend the public hearing on December 15. Please note that your comments become part of the public record and may be shared by the Commission as part of the process.

  1. To submit comments by email contact monuments.review@baltimorecity.gov or use the online contact form.
  2. To submit comments by mail, send a letter to the Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments c/o Eric Holcomb, 417 E. Fayette St. 8th floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.
  3. To testify at the public hearing on December 15, you should prepare your testimony in advance, sign-up before the meeting, and bring a printed copy of your testimony for the Commission. Find additional details about the public hearing on our calendar.

How do I prepare effective testimony?

For anyone interested in testifying at the meeting on December 15, we have six quick tips for making the most of your testimony:

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Lead with your key message
  3. Make it personal
  4. Stick to the facts
  5. Keep it short
  6. Say thank you

Check out our expanded version of this guide including links to more related resources. The Special Commission has details about the process of signing up to testify and what to expect in their guide (PDF).

For questions about this issue, please feel free to contact me at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or contact our director Johns Hopkins at 410-332-9992.

Four generations of the Smith family pose on their porch in Waverly. Photograph by David Colwell/Baltimore Magazine, 2015.

Renew your Baltimore Heritage membership in 2015

As we head towards the end of the year, I want to say thank you to all of our volunteers, supporters, and members for making this another exciting year of preservation and education at Baltimore Heritage. I also want to ask you to renew your membership (if you haven’t already!).

Eli Pousson and Louis Hughes, Mount Vernon Pride Walking Tour. Photograph by Nicole Stanovsky, 2015 May 31.
Eli Pousson and Louis Hughes, Mount Vernon Pride Walking Tour. Photograph by Nicole Stanovsky, 2015 May 31.

Membership giving is the largest single source of support for our organization every year. Contributions from members are critical for all that we do, from the Centennial Homes program honoring Baltimore families living in the same house for a century or more to the walking and building tours we organize throughout the year.

Member support also has given us the foundation to launch two major new initiatives in 2015. The first is Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage: Looking for Landmarks from the Movement—a partnership with the Maryland Historical Trust to document and preserve places associated with the long history of the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore. Of course, this effort became even more urgent in November with the demolition of Freedom House, the home to Baltimore’s first black City councilman and the long-time headquarters for the NAACP.

1232-1234 Druid Hill Avenue

The second project is our new Local Preservation School—a unique effort supported by the National Park Service to build an open online educational resource for volunteer preservation advocates around the country. We’re looking forward to offering our first course—Explore Baltimore Heritage 101—in January 2016. This free class will teach people both online and in person how to research and write about historic places.

Explore Baltimore Heritage 101

With your help, the year ahead is full of promise and opportunity. You can count on a full year of walking, biking, and historic building tours. With our community partners in Northeast Baltimore, we are working to bring public archaeology back to Herring Run Park in the spring. And, of course, we are continuing our advocacy to preserve and revitalize irreplaceable historic places from the West Side of downtown to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.

Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.
Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2015 May 13.

Membership begins at $35 for individuals and $50 for families and it only takes a few minutes to donate through our website. Thank you again for your support.

P.S. Baltimore Heritage membership makes a great holiday present! With tour and event discounts, it is a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year. Please email me at hopkins@baltimoreheritage.org or call 410-332-9992 for more information.

1232-1234 Druid Hill Avenue

Remembering the story of the Freedom House Why are we fighting to save Baltimore's Civil Rights heritage?

1234 Druid Hill Avenue had a story unlike any other. Harry S. Cummings, Baltimore’s first black City Councilman lived at the handsome rowhouse with his family from 1899 to 1911. In the 1950s and 1960s, the building served as offices to the local chapter of the NAACP, hosting Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt when they came to Baltimore to work with key leaders like Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson. In 1970, the property became “Freedom House” and continued to serve as a central hub of activism before Dr. Jackson donated the house to Bethel AME Church in 1977. Today, the house is demolition site piled high with bricks and debris.

Yesterday afternoon, Baltimore Heritage supported a rally organized by civil rights and heritage leaders Marvin Cheatham and Louis Fields to protest the demolition of the Freedom House by Bethel AME Church and start a conversation around saving threatened historic Civil Rights landmarks in the neighborhood. As we shared on Wednesday, members of the Marble Hill Community Association, who have been working to encourage the preservation of the Freedom House for years, were unable to stop the demolition when they contacted city officials with concerns in September and October. Regrettably, Baltimore Heritage only learned about this issue after the demolition began.

1232-1234 Druid Hill Avenue
1232-1234 Druid Hill Avenue, 2015 November 13

You can read more about the rally in the Baltimore Sun or see coverage from WJZ CBS. We are seeking a meeting with the leadership of Bethel AME Church and City Councilman Eric Costello to better understand how this demolition took place and what we can do to protect the building next door at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from the immediate threat of demolition. We are also working with Baltimore’s preservation commission and neighborhood residents to expand the boundaries of the Upton’s Marble Hill CHAP District.

Where do we go from here?

The rally gave our community a place to voice concerns and to make plans for the future. We lost one important building this week but there are many more that still need our help. We have already identified seven Civil Rights landmarks in Upton alone that are threatened by neglect. You can help by sharing your knowledge about buildings or sites associated with Baltimore’s Civil Rights movement more information about these and other properties or by exploring our map of Civil Rights site to learn more.

Here are three of the buildings in historic Marble Hill that we are working to preserve:

Mitchell Family Law Office

1239 Druid Hill Avenue
1239 Druid Hill Avenue, 2015 November 13

1239 Druid Hill Avenue served as law offices for Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and other members of the Mitchell family. An accomplished lawyer and activist, Juanita Jackson Mitchell organized the Citywide Young People’s Forum in the 1930s to push for more opportunity for black youth during the Great Depression. Clarence Mitchell, Jr. served as the long-time lobbyist for the NACCP and played a key role in the passage of major Civil Rights legislation. The roof of 1239 Druid Hill Avenue collapsed during the winter of 2014 and the building is severely threatened by neglect.

Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell, Jr. House

Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Residence, 1324 Druid Hill Avenue
1324 Druid Hill Avenue, 2015 November 13

Juanita Jackson and Clarence Mitchell moved to 1324 Druid Hill Avenue in 1942, the same year Clarence started working at the Fair Employment Practices Commission set up by President Roosevelt to fight workplace discrimination during WWII. Visitors at the home included Paul Robeson, Duke Ellington, and Marian Anderson. The couple raised five sons at the house and continued to live there until the end of their lives. Baltimore City stabilized the roof and rear wall of the building in 2013 but it remains vacant and in poor condition.

Druid Health Center/Home of the Friendless

Druid Health Center/Home of the Friendless
1313 Druid Hill Avenue, 2015 November 13

A former orphanage (listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Home of the Friendless), the Druid Hill Health Center at 1313 Druid Hill Avenue was the first public health center for African Americans in Baltimore. Years of vacancy and neglect have caused the building to deteriorate and neighborhood residents have pushed the city to stabilize the structure without success. A local developer recently submitted a proposal for 14 artist residences with preliminary support by the Marble Hill Community Association.

Why are we fighting to save Civil Rights heritage?

We believe that these buildings are important for the stories they hold and the lessons they teach. We also recognize that we cannot separate historic preservation from the difficult issues of vacancy and disinvestment in Upton and in many of Baltimore’s historically African American communities. To save Baltimore’s Civil Rights sites, we must listen to the people who live nearby and work together to revitalize their neighborhoods.

We do not yet have the solution to the decades-old problems of disinvestment that threaten so many homes in Marble Hill, but we do believe that preserving historic buildings is part of a solution. The stories behind these buildings help us understand Baltimore’s history of segregation and discrimination—a history that still contributes to challenges in these neighborhoods today. As Baltimore’s own Frederick Douglass remarked in 1884:

It is not well to forget the past. Memory was given to man for some wise purpose. The past is… the mirror in which we may discern the dim outlines of the future.

With Frederick Douglass’s words in mind, we are working to turn Civil Rights landmarks throughout the city back into assets for Baltimore neighborhoods and address the inequality that continues in too many Baltimore communities. Please help us find ways to save our city’s diverse heritage and build a stronger and more equitable future for Baltimore by contributing to our growing list of identified Civil Rights heritage sites and subscribing for updates on this important work.