Not much blogging over here lately but there is plenty of exciting material going up at Baltimore 1814. I’m also pretty excited about our new Battle of Baltimore site and a few other exciting project at Baltimore Heritage.
I just stumbled across an amazing piece printed in very first issue of the Maryland Colonization Journal in 1841. The piece – titled “An Important Subject Noted” – excerpts in full another article published in the Emancipator and Free American – an abolitionist paper published in New York and Boston.
In the piece, I was excited to find a reflection on the interracial makeup of the forces at the 1814 Battle of North Point and the the naval forces more broadly during the War of 1812. The example is used to illustrate the nation’s retreat from an integrated military (the U.S. Army formally prohibited enlistment for “Negroes and Mullatoes” in 1820) and urge free blacks to maintain an ‘organized neutrality in the case of a military conflict involving the U.S. writing:
“Shall we a third time kiss the foot that crushes us? If so, we deserve our chains. No! let us maintain an organized neutrality, until the laws of the Union and of all the states have made us free and equal citizens.”
The full piece is pretty fascinating but I pulled the quote on the Battle of North Point and the War of 1812 for its particular local interest.
An Important Subject Noted
The ‘Emancipator and Free American,’ the leading abolition paper of the north, has the following article which we copy entire that our Maryland readers may know something of what is going on out o’doors… we consider its character the most seditious and mischievous of any thing we have lately seen…
The Duty of Coloured Americans …
A large proportion of the seamen by whom our principal victories were gained in that war, were men of colour, who were then enlisted without restriction, but now we have a standing general order of the navy, that not more than five in a hundred seamen enlisted, shall be coloured — and this is officially explained to be for the purpose of confining coloured men to menial services on board our vessels of war! Said a brave man in Baltimore, who fought in the defence of North Point and afterwards served against Algiers in the Guerriere,
‘there we stood intermingled, white and coloured, manning the same gun, and shot down indiscriminately; the officers exhorted us to fight bravely in the defence of our country; and then after the war was over they tried to get us to go to Africa, and told us that was our country; but I will not go. I feel that this is my country and that I shall never go out of it alive.’
The Maryland Colonization Journal was published by the Maryland State Colonization Society an organization dedicated to promoting the transportation of manumitted enslaved people and free blacks to the west coast of Africa from 1827 to 1863. Records and correspondence from the history of the Maryland State Colonization Society are housed at the Maryland Historical Society (MS 571) and a substantial portion of the microfilm from that collection has been digitized by the Maryland State Archives.
CASH FOR NEGROES – The subscriber has built a large and extensive establishment and private jail for the keeping of SLAVES in PRATT st., one door from Howard st. opposite the Circus or Repository.
The building having been erected under his own inspection, without regard to price; planned and arranged upon the most approved principle, with an eye to comfort and convenience, not surpassed by any establishment of the kind in the United States, is now ready to receive SLAVES. The male and female apartments are completely separate – the rooms for both are large light and airy, and all above ground, with a fine large yard for exercise, with pure delightful water within doors. In erecting and planning this edifice the subscriber had an eye to the health and cleanliness of the slaves, as well as the many other necessary conveniences. Having a wish to accommodate my Southern friends and others in the trade, I am determined to keep them on the lowest possible terms, at twenty-five cents per head a day, and furnish them with plenty of good and wholesome provisions. Such security and confidence I have in my building that I hold myself bound to make good all jail breaking, or escapes from my establishment. I also will receive, ship or forward to any place at the request of the owner, and give it my personal attention.
N B – Cash and the highest prices will at all times be given for likely slaves of both sexes, with good and sufficient titles. Persons having such property to dispose of, would do well to see me before they sell, as I am always purchasing for the New Orleans market – I, or my agent can at all times be found at my office, in the basement story of my new building.
Hope H. Slatter
Classified Ad 40 — No Title, The Sun (1837-1987); Jul 11, 1838; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Baltimore Sun, The (1837-1987) pg. 3
I wrote this post back in 2010 but took it down after judging it a bit too personal and not my strongest writing. I recently received a comment from someone who grew up in Arcola Knolls looking for more information about the development so I wanted to re-post with a few minor edits from the original.
There are many modest vernacular examples of mid-century modern design in the Washington, DC suburbs that often go overlooked in favor of more iconic, innovative, or controversial buildings. My own appreciation for the vernacular modernism of Maryland’s post-WWII subdivisions, gas stations, auto garages, and municipal buildings arrived gradually during the three years I lived in a 1962 split-level in the Arcola Knolls subdivision at the edge of Wheaton Regional Park. Although not quite as stylish as the homes in nearby Hammond Wood designed by Charles M. Goodman, Arcola Knolls testifies to a fascinating period in regional history as rapid residential development encouraged local architects, developers, and home-buyers to experiment with contemporary architectural design.
Jo-Rich Developers, Inc. began work on Arcola Knolls in 1961 with the subdivision of the former agricultural property into 11 lots along Arcola and Orebaugh Avenues. Jo-Rich Developers, Inc. grew out of the friendship between builders Joseph Bonnett and Richard Cohen, just 27 and 21 years old when they began the project. Bonnett, a veteran and married father of two, planned to move his own family into the project upon completion while Cohen still lived with his parents in the North Portal Estates neighborhood of Washington, DC. Bonnett described the design of Arcola Knolls as “striking and daring in the contemporary style,” featuring a “post and beam effect, exceptional window space and adaptation to indoor-outdoor living.” Each house included four bedrooms and three baths, and was listed for sale by N.S. Bryer, Inc. for $28,950.
In April 1962, Jo-Rich Developers advertised the small development as “Silver Spring’s Most Contemporary Community,” emphasizing its proximity to churches, Northwood High School (1956), Wheaton Library (1962), and Wheaton Plaza (1959). With the rapid growth of Wheaton in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the adjoining Wheaton Park served as a pocket of wilderness, described in a Washington Post headline: “Verdant Island Rises in the Suburbs.” The Post noted that when “asked how the county managed to save the plot from homebuilders,” a Maryland National Capitol Parks and Planning official said simply, “‘We got there first.’”
Architect John Arnold d’Epagnier (1913-1977) graduated from Catholic University with a B.Arch. in 1936 and by the 1950s maintained an office in the recently transformed Cissel-Lee building in Silver Spring. Previous examples of his residential design included “The Presidential,” a 1955 model home in Burnt Mills Estates, a “community of contemporary homes…to appeal to the modern-minded young families.” In addition to residential architecture, d’Epagnier designed a wide range of commercial structures and religious buildings including the Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah synagogue at 16th & Jonquil Streets NW, and St. John the Baptist Parish in Colesville, a congregation to which he also belonged.
d’Epagnier’s design for Arcola Knolls evidently proved popular as Jo-Rich sold all eleven homes within a few short months. My own grandparents purchased a home at the end of Orebaugh Avenue in 1962 and remained there for over forty years. My grandfather was a mechanical engineer working for the Department of the Navy and my Mom recalls that the modern architecture held a lot of appeal.
Unfortunately, Jo-Rich Development abandoned modern architecture on their few subsequent project, building low-slung Colonials in Montrose Park, Bethesda. Joseph Bonnett went with Dutch Colonial dwellings designed by architect Morton Noble for his late-1960s development, Hearthstone Square. In 1973, Richard Cohen went on to take over Wilco Companies – a commercial real estate development firm started by his father Charles Cohen in the early 1960s with investment from the sale of his two successful prior enterprises the Capitol Trash Company and the Normandy Cup Company. The firm remains a large commercial real estate development and investment firm in the Washington, DC area.
Arcola Knolls, the project where Richard Cohen’s development career began, where my grandparents bought a house and my mother grew up, remains a stand-out example of vernacular modernism in the Maryland suburbs.
“California Contemporary Homes Open Next Week.” The Washington Post and Times Herald (1954-1959), May 8, 1955.
Dessoff, Alan L. “Verdant Island Rises in Suburbs.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), July 7, 1960.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Land Survey, Subdivision, and Condominium Plats. “Plat 6353, Arcola Knolls, Blocks A-B; William Cohen and Charles Cohen,” June 20, 1961. Link.
“Young Builders Go Contemporary.” The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), March 31, 1962.
In September 1973, Mayor William Donald Schaefer led an effort to commission a set of ten murals funded by a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 85 artists submitted over 200 designs to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for a competition reviewed by a panel of judges including: Jane Harrison Cone, a curator of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Serena Jordan of Northwest Baltimore Corporation, James Lewis, a professor of Morgan State and founder of the James E. Lewis Museum of Art, M. Jay Brodie of DHCD, Betty Wells, a local artist, and Joan Berska of the Mayor’s office.
The panel selected ten winning designs and provided each artist with donated paint (Sears offered around 80 gallons), scaffolding, and a a $1000 honorarium. By July 1974 nearly all ten of the murals were complete and Mayor William Donald Schaefer was pleased with how the colorful murals had brightened the streetscape, remarking on a bus tour of the murals in early October:
“It’s a psychological thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard my lecture: If you go into a neighborhood and it’s dull an drab, you’re dull and drab. But if you go into a neighborhood and it’s bright and clean you feel better. You expect big things to be done. But it’s the little things that make the difference between living in a city and just existing.”
Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s bus tour was followed by a bike tour of a selection of eight of the ten artworks organized by the Baltimore Bicycling Club, Citizens For Bikeways and the Better Air Coalition to kick off Clean Air Week in Maryland.
Bill Tashlick, who led the ride, was an architect with the Rouse Company before starting work with the Baltimore Department of Planning in 1971. As the chairman of a joint bicycle task force including government agencies and citizens groups, he worked with the Maryland Department of Transportation on the design of bikeways across the state.
Tashlick’s bike tour of Baltimore murals began at Roland and Lake Avenues near the city line at the top of one of the city’s first designated bikeways. Gil Watson – who covered cycling for The Baltimore Sun in the 1970s and by the 1990s worked as the paper’s Sunday editor - joined the group of 23 cyclists on a chilly Sunday morning and provided an fascinating account that sketches out the 10 mile route:
Down Roland avenue, down University to San Martin, Howard to North. First stop was North and Park avenue where, in huge, cheerful block letters the word “Baltimore” itself is immortalized.
From Park we worked over to the 1800 block McCulloh, where a bold wall of yellow, green, orange and chartreuse (I think) rose from a small expanse of open grass. (All the murals are graced with a bit of open space.) Sunday early-risers eyed us as we eyed the wall.
Behind the Afro-American at Druid Hill avenue and Jasper street, a stylized pair of black dancers frozen on a white background was stop No. 3. No. 4 was the coffeeshop across from the Greyhound terminal on Howard.
Moving out again, some of us still carrying coffee, we headed for the Police Stables on the Fallsway, where a big horizontal design plays perspective games with motorists headed north.
We then chugged up to the corner of Barclay and East Chase. Kids were playing basketball in front of another mural, this one a towering vertical in green and white.
Two more stops, one at Aisquith and Lanvale, the other in the 1600 block North Calvert, and we ended our mural tour at what is surely one of the most intriguing – Robert Hieronymous’s creation at Lanvale and St. Paul. Fantastically detailed, intricate and dominated by a one-eyed pyramid and an eagle, it has to be seen to be appreciated.
For that matter, they all have to be seen. The ride took roughly two hours (skipping one painting in Patterson Park facing Baltimore street and another at West Mulberry and Mount).
This map involves a bit of conjecture as Gil Watson left out some details on their route towards the end of the ride. A few of the murals have survived the 30 years since but most are faded beyond any recognition or lost altogether. The mural painted for the police stables on the Fallsway still sports a small metal sign that appropriately credits funding for the “Wall Painting Project” to the NEA. Look out for an update with a gallery of the ghosts of surviving murals later this summer or follow the route to see how many you can spot yourself.
Formed in 1880, the League of American Wheelmen worked throughout the late-19th century advocating for road improvements, fighting for the right of cyclists to use public roads, and promoting bike racing as a sport. Baltimore boasted a large community of cyclists in the 1880s and 1890s and played host to the League’s annual Convention in 1888 and 1896. On a warm July evening in 1894, the Maryland Division of the League of American Wheelmen lined up at Druid Lake for an evening parade through the streets of Baltimore:
“‘Line up,’ ‘Fall in by twos,’ ‘Don’t jam,’ and then the parade of the Maryland Division, League of American Wheelmen, was off.
The route of the parade was Eutaw Place to Eutaw street, to Monument, to Charles, to Chase street, to Broadway, to Canton avenue and return by the same route. Some of the wheelmen came up Baltimore street on the return trip, but the larger part of the parade returned by Mt. Vernon Pace.
The largest contingents of riders came from the Harlem Wheelmen captained by George Kugler, the Maryland Bicycle Club led by Captain A.L. McMormick and the Baltimore Cycling Club, with 60 riders, led by Captain E.R. Folger. Bike clubs from across the city – Centaur, Clifton, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Patapsco, Riverside, and the Junior Order United American Mechanics - joined the parade.
When the cyclists were ready there was a wavering of the crescent of lamps far out at the east end of the lake. As Chief Consul Albert Mott, who commanded as marshal, came down the line he was received with applause. Club after club fell into line on the right and whizzed past the waiting cyclists on the left.
As Consul Mott went through the Eutaw Place gate after the start he had nearly a thousand wheelmen at his back, and a half-dozen wheelwomen too, who were not to be outdone by their male comrades. The ladies rode to the finish.
The riders passed through large crowds of spectators on each side as they went through the streets and responded to the applause by giving club yells, tooting syren whistles and jingling several bells that sounded as if they had done service as cowbells in the country.”
I’ve traced the route described in the account from The Sun (available through ProQuest) and included some suggested detours that Baltimore’s one-way streets demand. I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of posts that follow along with cyclists from the past in Baltimore and beyond.
Working in Mt. Vernon gives me ample opportunities to enjoy the neighborhood’s historic architecture and our generous share of surface parking lots. Many of these lots date from the 1960s when plans to redevelop Mount Vernon as a center of high-rise apartment buildings and office towers stalled out. The Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Authority demolished scores of 19th century rows and mansions to clear the way for development but developers only completed a handful of the many proposed building projects.
I’d love to share a more detailed account of the history of parking in Mt. Vernon (or automobile culture in Baltimore more broadly) but you can get a taste from this 1965 Baltimore Sun piece, “Parking Lot Will Replace Landmark Preston St. House” by Frank P.L. Somerville, September 5, 1965:
“Plans to demolish another landmark in the Mount Vernon area, the white marble mansion on the southeast corner of St. Paul and Preston streets, were announced yesterday.
A spokesman for the William Cook-Brooks funeral establishment said the three-story house at 101 East Preston street will be razed, probably next month, to make room for a parking lot. …
The Donaldson House is another is a long string of Mount Vernon area landmarks turned over to the wreckers in recent years.
Other distinguished Nineteenth Century buildings removed from the once-fashionable area south of Mount Royal avenue include two mansion replaced by a tall apartment house at Calvert and Chase streets; half a block of St. Paul street houses that fave way to another large apartment building now under construction at St. Paul and Chase streets; a whole block of West Monument street houses razed by the Maryland Historical Society to provide a lot for a new wing; the Cadoa buildings on Franklin street, now the site of a parking lot owned by the Catholic Archdiocese; Greek Revival houses on Cathedral street and Park avenue demolished for new apartment construction and several houses on Charles Street between Eager and Chase streets recently replaced by parking lots or new construction.
Demolition crews are in the process of leveling three mansions at the northwest corner of Charles and Chase Street.”
Over a year ago, I organized and led a bike tour of Civil War history in West Baltimore for my work Baltimore Heritage. In researching the history of Fort No. 1, an earthen fortification on West Baltimore Street where Bon Secours Hospital is located today, I turned up an unexpected story under the modest headline “Flag presentation.”
On the evening of July 20, 1863, a little less than a month after U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s General Order 143 created the U.S. Colored Troops, a group of free black laborers assembled to present an American flag to a group of Union troops including two companies of black Union soldiers led by Colonel William Birney. The account of the ceremony in The Baltimore Sun recorded speeches by Col. Birney and Col. Donn Piatt and opens a window onto a truly unique moment in our local and national history as people in Baltimore, both black and white, witnessed the emancipation of enslaved people and saw them armed to fight against the Confederacy. I’ve shared a full excerpt of the account below with a handful of photos to help illustrate the scene.
Flag presentation - Yesterday evening about 6 o’clock, the colored laborers who have been working on the various fortifications assembled at fort No. 1, (Fort Davis,) situated near Stuart’s place, on Baltimore street extended, for the purpose of presenting to the military authorities a national flag, which they had purchased to be placed on the above manned fort. Two companies of Col. Birney’s colored regiment were present, as were also two companies of the Fifth New York Battery. Gen. Milroy and staff were present, also nearly all the members of Major Gen. Schenck’s staff. Col. Birney made the presentation on behalf of the colored laborers, and Col. Donn Piatt, on the part of the government, received the flag.
Colonel Piatt — In behalf of the colored laborers on this fort, I have the honor to present to you, for the United States, the flag whose folds are now, for the first time, given to the breeze. It is a token of gratitude from men who, after having been long outlawed from our civilization, have been allowed to hope they have at last a country. Who that is not one of them can tell how deep and fervent is that sentiment! With what grateful love they turn to that banner which whispers to them hope and trust in God! To know it fully one must have himself felt the unutterable yearning for deliverance which for two centuries has filled with its agony the hearts of the laboring men of Maryland.
It did seem to them that God had forgotten that they were cast out from His mercy to be trodden under foot of men. The heavens were overcast with the thickening signs of a coming rebellion, but there was no bow of hope for the slave. Stormy words of menace swelled high on every breeze from the South but the hardy Northern mariner would not hear them in the blinding mist of the ocean; the lumberman did not cease his swift blows on the mountain oak, or the merchant to pore over his ledger, or the farmer to drive his plow, and the politician laughed at the speeding calamity as a sixty days’ bubble. — But God that sitteth in the heavens remembered. He meant to teach this nation. Victory was not a perch upon our banners, the plague was not to e stayed, until the unclean thing was put out of the camp. The inexorable logic of events produced the proclamation of freedom by President Lincoln; and colored men, both free and slaves, thanked God. It was then their hearts were wedded to the stars and stripes.
The flag they present you to-day is in token of their loyalty. Their hearts are true. Whoever else may be swayed from duty, the black remains firm. Pluck him from the very core of rebeldom, and he is a true man. You may trust him. All his aspirations are for the sake — of the right — the triumph of the nation. For his, the success of traitors is his own degradation, the dishonor of his family, the doom of his race to perpetual infamy.
You may regard, sir, the presentation of this flag as implying the readiness of the men of color to defend it. You have witnessed their alactricity in springing to the lines of these fortifications when Baltimore was menaced, their cheerfulness in volunteering their labor, their patience in its prosecution. These forts around the city will be monuments to their patriotism. With equal alactricity, sir, do they respond to the call of the country “to arms.” When the Goddess of American Liberty hands them the musket, they accept it with stalwart and ready arms, thankful to Providence that their frugal diet has prepared them for the soldier’s rations, that their life of continuous labor in the open air has inured them in advance to the hardships of campaigning, and that they have not now to learn patience and obedience, those two virtues of the soldier.
This battalion, here present, of colored men, armed with the muskets and clothed in the uniform of the United States, proves that the free colored men of Baltimore respond at once to the call of the country. They feel that their zeal will meet with the approval of the good men of this city and country: that the men who are saved from the perils of war by their devotion, will protect their wives and children when they are absent. They confide their little ones, so dear to them, to the honor of the citizens of Baltimore. Their dearest hope is that this war may give them an opportunity to vindicate their manhood; that when the blood of the white man and the black shall mingle on the same fields, for the same holy cause, they may clasp hands over the grave of buried animosities and wrongs, having together achieved Liberty and Union, now and forever one and inseparable.
Colonel Don Piatt, chief of Gen. Schenck’s staff, responded as follows:
In the name of the Eighth Army Corps of the Middle Department I accept this beautiful flag, purchase with the hard earnings of the workmen, to adorn the fort their hard labor erected.
In recognizing he fact I feel deeply that this is no ordinary presentation. Given and accepted as the banner is, I see an epoch in the history of our flag. Heretofore it has been the emblem of our power. Hereafter it will be that and the emblem of humanity as well. In the past it has carried in its folds only a portion of our Declaration of Independence; now it emblazons to the world every sacred word of that immortal instrument.
These are the closing scenes of our revolution. What our fathers began we hasten to complete. Our first act, achieved our independence as a nation. This, the last act, proclaims the independence of the man. This plan, running through a complicated chain of grave events, is evident to the thoughtful mind. It is the design of the Almighty. We have been tried, chastened, humbled, and, let me hope, with evidence before me, not found wanting.
Who could believe that the Divine hand that held through long centuries this vast continent an unbroken solitude, that on it at last the oppressed of all nations should find a refuge and a home; who guided the frail bark of Columbus to its destination.; sustained the pilgrims, and wrought almost miracles for our revolutionary forefathers; who, I ask, could believe that this interposition was made in behalf of a people to be known only as cunning workers in wood and iron, whose flag should represent only a vast accumulation of worldly wealth — a wealth built upon human misery — to accomplish which we had gravely announced through our highest tribunals to the world that we had four millions of subjects lying outside the sympathies of our people who had no rights a government was bound to respect? The man who could believe that is an infidel of the meaner sort, whose poor brain is in keeping with his barren heart.
It was not so designed. The Almightly has written upon all his works that a lie cannot live, and truth alone is immortal. The plague spot had to extirpated, or our people die with it. Through the long years of this apparently peaceful prosperity the South was rapidly relapsing into savage barbarism, while at the North manhood was silently being sucked from our hearts.
We had extended our dominion from sea to sea; we had changed the song of the wild bird to the busy hum of human life; we had built great cities, peopled vast solitudes, and spread the canvas of our commerce over every seal and all this while we were sinking our spiritual nature and driving the heroic from our souls.
The war was a necessity. We had attempted to live down the edicts of the Almighty and the hand of death was on us. Thomas Jefferson had written that all men were born equal, and in the prophetic agony of his great soul he foretold ruin to his people for the attempt to deny what God had decreed. Better this fearful war, better these dark fields of carnage, better the ruined homestead and wide-spread desolation, than a life of dishonor, where decay comes in advance of death, and we move and crawl in sickening rottenness.
Save that we may go through the fiery ordeal and come out purified, let us take no credit to ourselves. The course of human events written of by Jefferson moves on beyond our control. We cannot change and, above all, we cannot stop their march, or take in our own hangs our destiny. I read of a German who, being shown the Rhine near its source, put his huge foot across the rivulet, and as he dammed the stream remarked to his companions, “won’t they wonder down there when it ceases to run.” So, now, other simple minded men are putting their feet in this stream of events, and are expecting that the great river below will cease to run.
This flag presentation, the first in the history of this war, happens fortunately in Baltimore. On this spot it has a strange significance. Here was first composed the great national hymn to our banner that must go ringing down the aisles of time, so long as its stars and stripes are beautiful in our eyes, and its blood-stained folds dear to out memories. Here in Baltimore, the flag has associations dearer, purer and sweeter than elsewhere. Here we have brave hearts and stout arms to defend it, and here, above all places, then, is the spot to fling it out brighter and dearer for the truths it again promulgates.
After the speeches a salute of thirty-six guns were fired, cheers given, and the crowd dispersed.
Excerpted from LOCAL MATTERS The Sun (1837-1987); Jul 21, 1863; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Baltimore Sun, The (1837-1987) pg. 1. Link.