Exterior view, Eastern Female High School. Photograph by Johns Hopkins, 2015 July 11.

Recent fire, financial challenges place the Eastern Female High School at risk

On July 11, the Eastern Female High School on Aisquith Street caught fire—just the latest challenge for this 1869 school-house turned apartment building that has stood empty and since it closed in 2001. We visited the building the day after the fire and found the structure largely intact but completely unsecured after the fire department had to break through the boarded up windows to put out the fire. We contacted Michael Braverman, Deputy Commissioner of Code Enforcement for the Baltimore City Housing Department and he quickly arranged to secure the building.  Unfortunately, the fire also left a hole in the roof that could make the damage to the interior even worse if it is not soon replaced or repaired.

Adding to the uncertainty is the situation of Sojourner-Douglass College, which purchased the building from Baltimore City in 2004. The college developed plans to convert the building into a science and allied health educational facility and presented their proposal to the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation in February of last year. But progress was slow, and stopped in the face of the school’s financial troubles. Recently, the college lost accreditation, and although Sojourner-Douglass is contesting the decision in court, it seems unlikely that the school will have the resources to pursue redevelopment of the Eastern Female High School in the near future.

We urge the leadership of the college to preserve the Eastern Female High School—stabilize the structure or find new ownership with the resources to turn this unique historic building back into an asset for East Baltimore.

Exterior view, Eastern Female High School. Photograph by Johns Hopkins, 2015 July 11.
Exterior view, Eastern Female High School. Photograph by Johns Hopkins, 2015 July 11.
Eli Pousson and Louis Hughes, Mount Vernon Pride Walking Tour. Photograph by Nicole Stanovsky, 2015 May 31.

News: Recording the Rainbow Revolution As gay bars in Baltimore shut their doors, activists work to document LGBTQ history

City Paper writer (and Baltimore Heritage volunteer) Kate Drabinski responded to the news that the 43-year-old gay bar the Hippo is closing this year with a thoughtful article on the work being done by archivists, scholars and community members to preserve LGBTQ history in Baltimore:

“Louis Hughes, now 71, moved to Baltimore in 1970 and came out in 1974. In 1975 he helped found the Baltimore Gay Alliance, which is now the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB). He served on the community advisory board of Johns Hopkins Hospital and worked tirelessly with others to pass the Baltimore City and Maryland lesbian and gay rights bills, work that took years. After those bills were passed, he helped with trainings for police, social workers, teachers, and the general public to help what he calls “the slow but sure process of change.” He now serves on the Baltimore Heritage LGBTQ history committee and helps lead tours of Baltimore’s “gayborhoods” of Mount Vernon and Charles Village.”

Read the full article – Recording the Rainbow Revolution – or connect with others interested in LGBTQ heritage on the Rainbow Heritage Network website and Facebook group.

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

News: These Walls Could Talk – For these five families, the homing instinct remains strong

Thanks to Amy Mulvihill and Baltimore Magazine for highlighting our recent celebration of Baltimore’s Centennial Homes:

“According to U.S. Census data, the average American moves about 11 times in his or her life, a statistic that confirms what many of us know from experience: Thanks to moves necessitated by jobs, schools, and relationships, “home,” is more of an ephemeral concept than a physical place these days. But that’s not true for everyone, including the Baltimoreans on the following pages, each of whom is part of a family that has kept its homestead for 100 years or more. In Baltimore City, such domestic dynasties are recognized via the Baltimore Heritage Centennial Homes Program, which will celebrate 10 families this month with a reception at City Hall.”

Be sure to read the full piece for profiles on families from Overlea, Hollins Market, Canton and Catonsville accompanied by some great photographs from David Colwell.

From the Preliminary Alternatives Screening Report (2014), B&P Tunnel Project.

Preservation review of the B&P Tunnel project—an important opportunity for community input

As we shared earlier this year, the planned replacement of the B&P Tunnel is a project with major consequences for historic West Baltimore neighborhoods. The current set of proposals could require the demolition of the American Ice Company, the Ward Baking Company building or whole blocks of rowhouses in the Midtown Edmondson neighborhood. When demolition is unavoidable, the preservation review process known as Section 106 can secure an agreement that mitigates the harm the project may bring – by investing in community resources, preserving nearby buildings, or telling the stories of the history lost to demolition. If you live in West Baltimore, your comments on these alternatives are critically important to determining the future of the buildings and community around the proposed rail line.

What is Section 106? Since last fall, the B&P Tunnel project has been working through a review process required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Section 106 of the NHPA requires the Federal Railroad Administration to meet with the Maryland Historical Trust and a variety of interested parties and consider the effects of the proposed project on historic buildings and neighborhoods. A Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 Review (PDF) from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation explains:

Section 106 requires federal agencies to consider the effects of projects they carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties… Section 106 review encourages, but does not mandate, preservation. Sometimes there is no way for a needed project to proceed without harming historic properties. Section 106 review does ensure that preservation values are factored into federal agency planning and decisions.

In meetings in July and August, the Federal Railroad Administration asked Baltimore Heritage and other consulting parties to consider the two remaining alternatives for the B&P Tunnel(with a total of five variations)  and submit comments. What of these alternatives does the least harm? How can the effect of these proposals be mitigated? We’re asking your help in answering these questions by reviewing the alternatives below and sharing your comments with us and with the B&P Tunnel project team.
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An aerial view of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum, Mary Pickersgill's home on Pratt Street. Courtesy the  Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum.

Highlighting a famous flagmaker and a little-known collection Interview with the director of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Read on for the second post in a new series from local preservationist Auni Gelles as she works on our new Battle of Baltimore website and soon-to-be-launched app. Auni interviewed Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, about this museum’s unique and little-known collections.

If you have an interest in the Battle of Baltimore, you’ve no doubt visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House on Pratt Street. (And if you haven’t, now is a great time to check it out!) The 1793 brick house became the home and business of flagmaker Mary Pickersgill in 1806, seven years before she was commissioned to sew the enormous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The house’s proximity to the busy harbor helped to make her business creating ships’ colors and signal flags quite stable. Mary stitched the soon-to-be-famous Star Spangled Banner and a smaller storm flag in seven weeks over the summer of 1813 with the help of her mother (and fellow flagmaker) Rebecca Young, daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant.

The city of Baltimore purchased the house in 1927 and it has served as a museum for the past 88 years. A new permanent exhibit at the Flag House entitled “Family of Flagmakers: The Women Who Created the Star-Spangled Banner” explores the lives of these women.

In addition to the historic house, a contemporary museum building, and landscaped grounds, the Flag House is home to a collection of archival materials related to the Battle of Baltimore and the Star-Spangled Banner. Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, took some time to answer my questions about this little-known but valuable collection.

Auni: Some Baltimoreans may be aware of the historic house and museum building but not the collections at the Star-Spangled Flag House. What types of materials are held here? How large is the collection?

Amanda: The Flag House holds a collection of 19th century decorative arts (the majority are from the early part of the century, 1800-1820), memorabilia from celebrations in recognition of the Star-Spangled Banner, Old Defenders, and Baltimore anniversaries, and War of 1812 military items. There are also small holdings of primary source documents (city directories, letters, periodicals) and WWI and WWII posters. We have roughly 1,000 items in the collection. This does not include the archaeological materials found in 1996 and 1998.

Auni: How did these objects/documents end up at the Flag House? Were they donated by descendants, purchased/donated by individuals, or acquired by the city?

This photo of Mary Pickersgill was taken some 40 years after the Battle of Baltimore. Courtesy of the museum.
This photo of Mary Pickersgill was taken some 40 years after the Battle of Baltimore.

Amanda: Collections items have come to the Flag House in a variety of ways. The one of the first administrators, the Ruth Bibbins, who purchased or collected many of the furnishings for the house. Some items have been gifted over the years and some items have come to us as permanent loans from institutions that are no longer operational. Very few items have been donated by descendants of Mary Pickersgill. Her daughter Caroline Pickersgill Purdy was childless so few things have come to us by the descendents of Mary’s sister Hannah.

Auni: Is the collection accessible to researchers?

Amanda: We are currently undergoing reorganization of the collection, cataloging, and status reports so for now the collection is not open to researchers—although that is the end goal, and to add our online catalog to the website.

Auni: What artifact or document is most surprising, in your opinion?

The living room at the Flag House, courtesy of the museum.
The living room at the Flag House.

Amanda: The most surprising item in the collection is the receipt for the Star-Spangled Banner for the fact that it even exists. There is little to no documentation of the flag making business aside from advertisements in city directories. We have two key documents that sort of create bookends to Mary’s career as a flag maker: the first is the [flag] receipt from 1813, six years after the establishment of the business in 1807 and obviously her most famous commission. The second is an 1815 receipt for what we consider to be one of the last flags made by Mary. The receipt is for an American ensign 15 x 24.5 feet, for $120, commissioned in February 1815. It dates to the period in which Mary stops making flags before the marriage of her daughter, Caroline, to iron merchant, John Purdy.

Auni: Are there any objects/documents related to Grace Wisher in the collection?

Amanda: There are no objects related to Grace Wisher, the only evidence I believe anyone has been able to locate about Grace is her indenture contract, which is not part of our collection.

Auni: I know there was some archaeological work conducted at the Flag House a number of years ago. What were some of the most interesting finds of those digs?

Amanda: This is probably my favorite part of the collection. There is one box of objects from the dig under the kitchen floor conducted in 1996. Everything from beer bottles to a lady’s hair comb. The 1998 dig conducted by the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology uncovered over 15,000 unique items. The majority of the items were preserved and mostly intact due to the use of the privy and beehive oven being used as trash disposal areas. I specifically included a case in our new exhibit to showcase some of these items to tell the history of the house itself and because there was so much cool stuff!

For me as a decorative arts historian some of the best items are intact utilitarian objects like yellow ware bowls and a decorative candy dish because they were so well-preserved and are great educational tools to talk about material culture and life in the 19th century. A close second would be the remnants of a thimble and pair of scissors that the archeologist located in the old foundation of the oven and date to the period when Mary lived in the house. If you asked kids who visit what the coolest item is, they might say the blue glass doll eyes.

Auni: Thank you, Amanda, for taking time to share the collection with us!