Author: Johns

Johns Hopkins has been the executive director of Baltimore Heritage since 2003. Before that, Johns worked for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development developing and implementing smart growth and neighborhood revitalization programs. Johns holds degrees from Yale University, George Washington University Law School, and the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Read our position on this issue

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In 2017 then Mayor Catherine Pugh removed three memorials to the Confederacy and one statue of the author of the infamous Dred Scott decision that were erected with racist motivations and caused pain for many in our Baltimore community. Standing in our city today, there are other public monuments whose presence memorialize the oppression of Black people and people of color. These are also painful. For too long, too many people in the historic preservation movement have either discounted the ongoing harsh suffering that some public memorials are causing, or have remained silent. Since 1960, Baltimore Heritage has been Baltimore’s city-wide historic preservation nonprofit organization. We believe that we have an obligation to address this issue directly and that now is the time to speak out clearly. Below is our position.

  • We support the removal of public monuments that were erected with racist intent to memorialize white supremacy.
  • We believe that there are monuments standing in Baltimore today that continue to cause pain for many.
  • We support a process to discuss steps that we as Baltimoreans can take regarding our public memorials that is open to all, validates different points of view, considers creative approaches, and has goals of fostering reconciliation and creating a public realm where all feel welcome.
  • We believe that any actions taken to standing monuments should be done by city officials to ensure public safety.
  • We believe that our elected officials in Baltimore City have an obligation to lead a discussion over public memorials and we as an organization commit to participating.

—Johns Hopkins, Executive Director

How Canton Got Its Name (Probably)

We recently shared one of our Five Minute Histories videos on Captain John O’Donnell and the early origins of the Canton neighborhood. We asked the question of whether Canton really got its name from O’Donnell, a ship captain who traded in Canton, the anglicized name of Guangzhou, China. And we got the help we needed! 

Minutes after we published our video, Baltimore historian Wayne Schaumburg replied with some insight. Apparently we are not the first folks to wonder about this, and a book called Historic Canton by Norman Rukert may shed some light. Here’s the gist of the story. 

In 1935, two members of the Maryland Historical Society looked into whether Captain O’Donnell was the source of the name Canton. Based on meticulous research, Dr. Henry Berkley mapped out the area into original land grants, quit rents, and Calvert Family papers. His colleague James Hancock looked at the map and noticed that in 1652 (yes, 1652!) there were two parcels near today’s Baltimore that he read as “North Canton” and “South Canton.” This would have been over 100 years before John O’Donnell sailed into Baltimore in 1785 as one of the first American captains to trade with China. 

From the book, “Historic Canton,” by Norman Ruckert

However, the author of Historic Canton, Norman Rukert, didn’t fully believe Hancock’s reading of the word Canton and so he went back to the original Calvert papers himself. He found the parcels were not called Canton, but Conton with an “o” not an “a.” Humm.

To make matters more confusing, a reporter from the “East Baltimore Guide” then took a stab at the original research. He found the 1652 reference to the Conton parcels, and another reference dating to 1682, 30 years later but still way before Captain O’Donnell’s time. In this reference, one Robert Clarkson transferred a 245-acre parcel called Conton and later in the same document transferred the same 245-acre parcel but this time called it Canton. Didn’t anybody teach spelling back then?

Despite the flip-flops in spelling, the final chapter of the saga sheds some light. Upon investigation with the State Archives, the East Baltimore Guide reporter found that the locations of the parcels in question named either Conton or Canton (or both!) are described as on the west side of the Chesapeake and on the south side of the Patapsco near a place called Rumly Marsh. That’s all it took for the intrepid reporter to know for certain that these early parcels had nothing to do with Captain O’Donnell’s land. He knew that although today’s Canton could be described as being on the west side of the Chesapeake, it is certainly not on the south side of the Patapsco and is nowhere near Rumly Marsh.

So, whatever parcels may have been called Conton or Canton in the 1600s, they were not the nearly 2000-acre parcel that Captain O’Donnell amassed in the late 1700s and is today’s Canton neighborhood. We know that the good captain called his estate Canton, and the dogged search through historical records shows he was almost certainly the first one to do so. Case closed, we say! 

Accepting Ideas for 2019 Micro Grants for Preservation Work

We’re in our fourth year of giving away micro-grants to help fund preservation work in the city. If you have a good idea to help preserve a historic building or place in Baltimore or help revitalize  a historic neighborhood, we’d love to hear from you! The process is easy: simply fill out the online application and hit send by Friday, September 20, 2019.

We’ll pick the six most promising ideas and give them a chance for one of two $500 grants and two $250 grants. The awards will be made on October 17 at a reception at historic Clifton Mansion. At the reception, supporters of each idea will get three minutes to pitch them and at the end, the crowd will cast ballots to decide which ideas receive the micro grants. Whether funded or not, we will promote all the ideas and projects to help them garner attention and volunteers.

The types of eligible projects are endless, and as long as they relate to Baltimore’s history, heritage, historic buildings or historic neighborhoods we will consider them. Past award winners include: restoring leaking masonry at a historic church; launching an after school arts-based safe space program in a historic neighborhood; helping fund a new exhibit at a historic house museum; and designing postcards to promote a tour series. The sky’s the limit!

The amount of the award ($250 or $500) may not be enough to complete an entire project. That’s OK. The goal is to help spark new and support existing neighborhood-level preservation work. You don’t need to be a nonprofit organization or even a formalized group to be eligible. Individuals and small groups are welcome! Complete rules can be found on the application.

For questions, please contact Johns at hopkins@baltimoreheritage.org or 410-332-9992.

Behind the Scenes at the Parker Metal Decorating Building and Save the Date for Our Fall Lecture Series, Lexington Market Catacombs Tours, and More

In August and September, we’re taking on industrial Baltimore with tours of manufacturing facilities old and new at Parker Metal Decorating and Fashions Unlimited. We’re also resuming our tours of the catacombs and 100-year vendors at Lexington Market, and will host the first of our fall lectures at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion. Please carve out some time and join us!

On Monday evening, August 12, we’ll join Sam Himmelrich, the owner and developer of the Parker Metal Decorating Company building, on a tour of this nearly 100 year old former lithography factory turned funky office and event space.

On the morning of September 13, we’re going back to see modern garment manufacturing in action at Fashions Unlimited. Our tour there last year was so popular that we’re repeating it to see how Made In America is happening here in Baltimore in the form of swim suits, Mt. Everest climbers’ parkas, and European League soccer jerseys.

On Saturday September 14, we’re resuming our monthly tours of the catacombs and 100-year merchants at Lexington Market. If you can’t make it on this tour, we’ve lined up additional tours through December!

We’ve also finalized our fall lecture series in partnership with the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion. We’ve got four fabulous authors and historians lined up:

  • September 15: Rowhouses Near and Far: Historian Charlie Duff on his New Book “The North Atlantic Cities”
  • October 6: Baltimore in the Golden Age of Radio with Historian Jack Burkert
  • November 17: Christmas in Old Baltimore with Historian Wayne Schaumburg
  • December 15: The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote with Author Elaine Weiss

And finally, our Sunday morning Monumental City tours are rolling along. The next tour is this Sunday (August 4), where we’ll leave from the Sunday Farmers Market on a one-hour walking tour to explore downtown landmarks and lions.

Happy summer, and we hope to see you sooner AND later.

Behind the Scenes at Rheb’s Candies, the Downtown You Never Knew, and More Tours In July

It’s July in Baltimore and it’s hot. That’s not new. What is new are two upcoming heritage tours visiting a 100 year old family business and exploring parts of Downtown many of us never knew about. Please join us!

On Thursday July 25, we’re going behind the scenes at Rheb’s Candies to see how they produce their delectable sweets at this 101 year-old business that is still going strong in the Rheb family. The production facility is in the family’s former garage next to their house-turned-shop and here we’ll get an intimate tour of perhaps the sweetest place in Baltimore. 

Did you know that the Continental Congress met in downtown Baltimore? Or that German agents plotted sabotage on Charles Street during World War I? If you didn’t (and even if you did!) join tour guide Jefferson Gray on Sunday July 28 for a walking tour of The Downtown You Never Knew to learn about Baltimore’s hidden history in plain sight.

We are still rolling through our Sunday morning Monumental City walking tours. The next tours are of Jonestown and the Shot Tower on July 14 and Mt. Vernon Place and the Washington Monument on July 21. Come out and bring a friend!

Finally, looking ahead to the fall, we are pleased to be continuing our partnership with the Garrett Jacobs Mansion in a series of Sunday afternoon lectures. We just opened up registration for the first talk on September 15 with historian Charlie Duff on his new book “The North Atlantic Cities” exploring rowhouses around the world. We hope to see you there!