Author: Guest Writer

We're always looking for interesting stories and photographs about preservation and revitalization in historic Baltimore neighborhoods. If you are interested in writing a post, sharing a photo or you have an idea for a topic you'd like us to write about, please get in touch at

New self-guided tour highlights the history of Baltimore’s Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse

Thanks to William M. Dunn, Master in Chancery of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for contributing a guest post on the history of Baltimore’s Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse. William Dunn and a generous group of volunteers welcome visitors to the Courthouse most weekdays from noon to 1:00pm at the Museum of Baltimore Legal History. Stop in and pick up the museum’s new self-guided walking tour brochure (also available to check out on Facebook or at the Baltimore Bar Library) by Master Dunn and his colleague James Schneider, Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland. Small group tours may be available on request – contact William Dunn at 410.396.3304 or for more information.

419295_382626811836418_781478833_nIn 1885, Baltimore City set out to build the most beautiful Courthouse in the country. Fifteen years, and $2.2 million later ($56 million adjusted for inflation), that goal was realized. On January 6, 1900, the Baltimore Sun reported that the City of Baltimore had built a “temple of justice, second to no other in the world.” The building, which is a magnificent exemplification of Renaissance Revival architecture, continues to stand as a monument to the progress of the great city of Baltimore, and to the importance of the rule of law.

Today, this main building in the Baltimore City Circuit Court complex is referred to as the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse in honor of the local lawyer and nationally respected civil rights leader. Most of the original splendor of this massive building can still be enjoyed, including the granite foundation, marble facades, huge brass doors, mosaic tiled floors, mahogany paneling, two of the world’s most beautiful courtrooms, domed art skylights, gigantic marble columns, and beautifully painted murals. In addition, the Courthouse is home to one of the oldest private law libraries in the country, and to the Museum of Baltimore Legal History.

Library of Congress, LC-D4-16517
Library of Congress, LC-D4-16517

The exterior foundation of the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse was built from granite quarried in Howard County, while the exterior walls are crafted from white marble quarried in Baltimore County. The Calvert Street exterior façade is especially outstanding, as it displays eight of the largest monolithic columns in the world, each weighing over 35 tons and measuring over 35 feet in height. The interior of the building is even more impressive. Among the many historic spaces, the Supreme Bench Courtroom is one of the finest. The circular courtroom is like no other in the world. It is surmounted by a coffered dome resting upon sixteen columns of Sienna marble from the Vatican Quarry in Rome. Inscribed upon the frieze around the base of the dome are the names of Maryland’s early legal legends.

Other fascinating rooms include the Old Orphans Courtroom (which houses the Museum of Baltimore Legal History); the Ceremonial Courtroom, and the Bar Library (described as one of the most elegant interior spaces in Baltimore, with its paneled English oak walls and barrel-vault ceiling punctuated by forty art glass skylights).

MSA SC 5590
Washington Surrenders His Commission, MSA SC 5590

Also noteworthy for its artistic beauty are the two domed stained-glass skylights above the stairs in Kaplan Court which depict the goddesses of Justice, Mercy, Religion, Truth, Courage, Literature, Logic and Peace. In addition, the courthouse has six original murals from world renowned artists depicting various civic and religious scenes. Those murals include: Calvert’s Treaty with the Indians; The Burning of the Peggy Stewart; Washington Surrenders His Commission; Religious Toleration; The Ancient Lawgivers; and The British Surrender at Yorktown.

New historic marker commemorates the 1877 Railroad Strike at Camden Station

Our latest guest blog post comes from Bill Barry, long-time Director of Labor Studies at the
Community College of Baltimore County introducing us to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and a new historic marker at Camden Station to commemorate the event. We’re also excited to feature a video on the 1877 strike produced for Explore Baltimore Heritage by UMBC student William Carroll for the course Practices in Public History course with Dr. Denise Meringolo.

Bill Barry
Bill Barry

When I spoke at a gathering of the Occupy Movement at the McKeldin Fountain in 2011, I mentioned that we were on hallowed ground because the original “occupy” movement in Baltimore City occurred in 1877, as tens of thousands of railroad workers carried on the first national strike, shutting down all freight traffic and giving new meaning to the term “reconstruction.” The strike started on July 16, 1877, against the B & O Railroad and the first strike demonstrations were in front of the company’s main depot at Camden Yards.

One aspect of the strike was the military opposition to the strikers, first from state militia in Maryland and West Virginia, and then by federal troops ordered out by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who had been elected, in part, for his commitment to withdraw all federal troops from the states. In a devastating moment, eleven citizens were murdered by the militia near City Hall as the troops tried to march from the armory across from the Shot Tower to Camden Yards. Since this movement is virtually unknown—the Pratt Library catalogues its documents under “The Riots of 1877″—I decided to propose a historical marker in front of Camden Yards, honoring the strikers and their community.

214965cuThe process for applying for a new marker is available at online at the Maryland Historical Trust website. While proposals generally have to get approval from the State Highway Administration, this one also had to pass the Maryland Stadium Authority because of its unique location. In addition to the usual historical support, I also turned in several dozen letters from high school teachers across the country, who participated in a workshop in July, 2011, about the strike. My partners in this project—Nancy Kurtz from the Maryland Historical Trust and Jan Hardesty, from the Stadium Authority—were wonderful and a process that I was warned could take years was completed in about six months! The state cast (and paid for) the marker, using language I proposed, and the unveiling will be a great event.

1877 Railroad Strike Historical Marker Unveiling
Saturday March 23, 10:30 am
Unveiling at Camden Yards in front of the B&O Warehouse on Howard Street
See the Orioles website for information on parking and transit options. There will be a reception after the unveiling at The Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemon Street, across from the B & O Museum. Free parking is available for anyone who RSVPs in advance with Bill Barry at

Preservation works in Station North: Re-making historic buildings for a new Baltimore

Historic preservation in Station North has been in the news recently with historic tax credits awarded to the former Centre Theater in January and the announcement in December that the long-neglected Parkway Theater will be the new home for the Maryland Film Festival. We asked Charlie Duff, Executive Director of Jubilee Baltimore and the developer of the Centre Theater to share his thoughts on the exciting progress of preservation in Station North.

Charles Theater in Station North, courtesy the Station North Arts District

If you visit North Avenue during the day, you might think it hasn’t changed for years; it’s just a big rundown street. At night, however, North Avenue is starting to be a happening place, a focal point of Baltimore’s emerging Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Like Fells Point, Station North is livelier by night than by day.

10 E. North Avenue, courtesy Jubilee Baltimore

Long known for the Charles Theater – and not much else – Station North is now home to several dozen restaurants, galleries, and venues for music, arts and theater. It’s busy every night and hopping on weekends, and the Station North music scene led Rolling Stone to name Baltimore the best Indie music scene in the country. But it’s not just a scene. It’s also a neighborhood and a part of Baltimore’s economy. More than 700 artists live and work in Station North right now. They’re young and vigorous, and they think Baltimore City is the greatest place on earth.

Even though Station North is Bohemian and avant garde, historic buildings are the key to the growth of Station North. Here’s a brief listing of projects that take advantage of historic buildings:

  • MICA Studio Center – This summer MICA completed a $20 million renovation of the former Jos. A. Bank loft building on North Avenue near Howard Street. More than 300 MICA students now have studios and take classes on North Avenue. They come and go at all hours of the day and night, and the street is richer and more vibrant because of them. And the building, a splendid loft building from the first decade of the 20th century, looks fabulous.
  • Baltimore Design School – Under construction now in the 300 block of East Oliver Street is the Baltimore Design School, Baltimore’s new 6-12 school for kids who might want to be architects or designers. This fabulous 1916 loft building, vacant for more than 25 years, uses $3 million in State historic credits. Go check out the amazing (and authentic) brand-new steel windows. Students arrive in September.
  • The North Avenue Market – Occupying the whole block of North Avenue between Charles and Maryland, the North Avenue Market is becoming beautiful and lively again. New owners are restoring its lovely 1928 façade, and new tenants are making North Avenue hum. The Windup Space, in the North Avenue Market, is the hottest ticket in artistic Baltimore, and printmakers flock here to rent amazing equipment by the hour at the Baltimore Print Studios.
  • 10 E. North Avenue – When Jubilee Baltimore learned that one of the largest vacant buildings in Station North was going to be auctioned off, we put together a team of investors and bought the building very cheaply. Add the cheap price to the $3 million in State historic credits that we’ve just won, and 10 E. North Avenue becomes a real opportunity to create lively space for impecunious but creative people. What should happen here? After much research and millions of conversations with local artists, we are pursuing leads to create a shared use artist space with well-equipped, well-managed, code compliant work spaces of various kinds. We are also in discussions with MICA and a couple of good restaurants and arts venues.
North Avenue Market, 1929. Image courtesy the BG&E Collection, Baltimore Museum of Industry, BGE.1847N.
North Avenue Market, 1929. Image courtesy the BG&E Collection, Baltimore Museum of Industry, BGE.1847N.

Station North may not look like a great historic district, but it is becoming a great place. It wouldn’t be happening at all without cheap, wonderful buildings and historic tax incentives. Take a walk down North Avenue and recharge your Preservation batteries. Preservation works!

Jubilee Baltimore is a non-profit developer and neighborhood revitalization organization helping the people of Baltimore to build safe, stable, desirable, mixed-income neighborhoods through affordable housing development and neighborhood revitalization. If you are interested in highlighting a great preservation effort in your neighborhood, please get in touch!

Remembering William Donald Schaefer

William Donald Schaefer shaped the Baltimore we have today perhaps as much as anyone. Baltimore Heritage did not always see eye-to-eye with the former mayor and governor, and indeed we fought vehemently against projects he supported, including highways proposed for Baltimore’s waterfront and the east-west connector in West Baltimore that threatened and demolished historic buildings and neighborhoods. On other issues, Governor Schaefer was a friend and leader for preservation, including the Dollar House Program and preserving the West Side of downtown. Former Baltimore Heritage President Fred Shoken joins us in remembering William Donald Schaefer with a guest post–

The highlight of my career as President of Baltimore Heritage was presenting William Donald Schaefer with the 1993 Douglas H. Gordon Award for Preservation Advocacy.

When the Board of Directors first considered Governor Schaefer for this honor, we envisioned giving the award to someone who after many years of public service ultimately became convinced that preservation was important. We would honor an individual who championed our cause and carried it forward. After reviewing his career in more detail, we realized the opposite was true. William Donald Schaefer was the leader in creating the foundations upon which Baltimore’s preservation movement was built.

While preservationists were busy fighting individual concerns, trying to save one building or the next, William Donald Schaefer saw the big picture. He realized that nothing could be preserved and no community could be revitalized without convincing people to take pride in their neighborhoods. He made it his mission to restore neighborhood pride in Baltimore City, and he was effective.

He knew that people who are not proud of their history, of their community, of their city, will do nothing to preserve their heritage. Without pride of place, there is no preservation. People who are not proud of themselves or of their neighborhoods are destructive. They tear down rather than build up. People who are proud of their history and heritage will preserve the symbols of the past and work to improve the future. William Donald Schaefer worked harder than anyone to restore pride in our neighborhoods. This, more than anything else, allowed preservation to flourish in Baltimore.

There is no doubt that conflicts will exist between preservationists and government officials on particular issues. Preservationists had battles with William Donald Schaefer. Some we won … others we lost, but that was not a factor in honoring the Governor. We honored William Donald Schaefer because deep down he was proud of the history and accomplishments of Baltimore City and the State of Maryland. His pride in Baltimore made him a great advocate in preserving Baltimore’s historic and architectural heritage. In turn he made others proud, which aided the cause of preservation. For this reason William Donald Schaefer deserved recognition from Baltimore Heritage and our thanks.

Fred Shoken, President of Baltimore Heritage, 1988-1994

Baltimore’s Centennial Homes: Honoring Neighborhood Stewardship of “Unsung Heroes”

Our volunteer program manager Lisa Doyle wrote this article for the January 2010 issue of Forum News on the development of our Centennial Homes program and the story of John Pente and the Little Italy rowhouse the Pente has owned for over 100 years. Thanks to Lisa for sharing this great story!

Historic preservation is all about places: buildings, sites, communities, even entire towns and cities. As preservationists, we uncover forgotten or neglected details about these treasures, restore them, and find ways to preserve and share their relevance for future generations. Yet some of the greatest preservationists in our own neighborhoods receive scant recognition: the people and families that have been living in the same home on the same block in the same neighborhood for a long time. Baltimore’s Centennial Homes Program seeks to thank these cornerstones of communities by honoring families that have lived in the same house for 100 years or more.

Centennial Homes families are the “unsung heroes” that have played a significant role in preserving the history of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. They have unique voices and perspectives that recount how their neighborhoods have evolved through times of war, immigration, social and economic changes. Heartfelt decisions from generation to generation to remain not only in the same neighborhood but in the same home reflect a true commitment and stewardship for their neighborhoods.

Baltimore’s Centennial Homes Program was born five years ago when a local city councilman was knocking on doors trying to get elected. He came across a number of “little old ladies” who answered their doors and mentioned that they had been born in their houses as had their parents. James Kraft, now a councilman for a district near Baltimore Harbor, felt that there should be some way to thank these families that have long been a part of Baltimore’s historic neighborhoods. He initiated a partnership between the City of Baltimore and Baltimore Heritage, and the Centennial Homes Program began.

The program is modeled after the numerous state programs that honor agricultural properties that have been continuously owned and maintained in agricultural use by the same family for a century or more, such as those of Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming. Families may be recognized in ceremonies at the state fair, as well as with certificates or plaques and other publicity. Colorado’s Centennial Farm Program and Oklahoma’s Centennial Farm & Ranch Program both present an additional Historic Structures Award to farm and ranch families that have preserved four or more historic buildings (at least 50 years old) in conjunction with the land. The Georgia Centennial Farm Program gives special recognition to properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Baltimore’s Centennial Homes Program gives this idea an urban twist. The focus of the program is on families and how they have contributed to their communities. The Centennial Homes houses are not grand or historically important, other than as part of the fabric of their historic neighborhoods. And Baltimore Heritage has emphasized the link between the family and neighborhood, regardless of the condition of the house.

From its beginning, the Centennial Homes Program has relied on partnerships with local universities. As a semester project, a Goucher College historic preservation program undergrad created the nuts and bolts of how the program works. Undergraduates from Loyola University and the University of Baltimore history programs interview the homeowners, create a family profile, and document neighborhood history of the last 100 years. Baltimore Heritage features each family and the family’s neighborhood on its website, providing inspiration to other neighborhood residents about their own past and future community involvement. Along with these profiles, each Centennial Home receives a bronze plaque to identify the house and its occupants as long-term stewards.

At the real heart of the program are the people and their neighborhood stories. The story of the first Centennial Homes family tells a lot about the program itself and what it can accomplish. John Pente, the 99-year-old patriarch of the Pente family in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood, lives by himself in a quintessential Baltimore rowhouse. John’s father purchased the house in 1904 and John has lived in it since his birth in 1910. From this house, he wooed his future wife, raised his family, found work during the Great Depression, cheered for returning troops from both World Wars, saw new families join the neighborhood in different waves of immigration and others leave for homes in the suburbs, and experienced booms and busts of economic fortunes. Throughout all this, the family has stayed active in the neighborhood, from volunteering at church dinners to advocating sidewalk repairs. The Pente family has been part of the backbone that makes Little Italy a unique and thriving neighborhood.

For the past 11 years, John has allowed the Little Italy Film Festival, held outdoors on Friday nights in the summer, to project movies from a bedroom window of his home. It was only fitting that the official launch of the Centennial Homes Program honor the Pente family at one such Friday film night. Neighbors new and old came out to honor and thank the Pentes for their stewardship. Most viewers would not identify themselves as “historic preservationists,” but their support for the neighborhood and the Pente family proves otherwise.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was learning that John’s great-niece recently purchased the house next door from her grandmother, John Pente’s sister. With a fifth generation of Pentes due to arrive soon, it appears this family’s commitment to the neighborhood will not fade any time soon. As Meredith Nagle, John’s great-niece, said: “I just couldn’t let someone other than family buy the house that feels like a second home to me.”

There are now nearly a dozen Centennial Homes families identified in ten different neighborhoods across Baltimore, with new leads on possible 100-year owners coming in regularly. As we work to preserve our buildings and neighborhoods in Baltimore, the Centennial Homes Program helps us focus on an essential component: these unsung people and families, whose voices and daily efforts to care for historic communities cannot be forgotten.