Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hampden Reservoir

Originally uploaded by Megananopod.
This afternoon, I've been editing transcriptions of oral histories recorded by the 1979 Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project. The project recorded oral histories all over Baltimore in 1979. A number of them remain untranscribed, and the tapes are stored in the special collections department at the University of Baltimore. Recently students from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland have begun to work on the transcriptions as part of the Hampden Heritage project. Those texts are then posted on the project website. They are really good sources of information about Hampden's past and make for good reading.

Two of the ones I edited today mentioned the Hampden Reservoir. Engineer James Slade designed the reservoir in 1861, and it remained in Roosevelt Park for nearly 100 years.

During its time, the reservoir provided first drinking water, and later fed the city's fire hydrants. Shortly before 1960, crews building the Jones Falls Expressway began to fill in the reservoir with their excavation spoils, to the consternation of many community members. The site of the reservoir is now a series of open athletic fields.

One Hampden community member, interviewed in 1971, remembered that the city just began to fill in the lake one day, without community consultation:

I guess that was the beginning. I became concerned, because I learned at that time that the residents and the property owners in Hamden had no say, whatsoever, when Baltimore City officials made up their mind to do something. It made no difference whether they were going to tear a street up, whether the residents wanted it or didn’t want it, the street was going to go. Even with considerable opposition, with legal help…with paid legal help, Baltimore City did what they wanted to do. The beginning was the Hamden reservoir, which had been there for many, many, many, many years-- way before the 1900s...The first time that anyone from Hamden, the residents, knew that the lake was being disposed of was when the fence was torn down and there were dump trucks and dirt being dumped in along the edge by Potts and
Callahan, who were under contract by the city to build the Jones-Falls
Expressway. See, dirt had to be disposed of, obviously, but the residents
did not know of the plans for the disposition of the dirt from the causeway,
when they level it off and fill it out. So the contract was left with Potts
and Callahan with the understanding to fill in the Roosevelt park lake, because
it was closer to the excavation of Jones-Falls expressway. In that sense they wouldn’t have to haul the dirt as far so the city agreed to let them fill in the lake, and that’s exactly what they did. From that time on I swore to stay as knowledgeable as I could with what was going on around Hamden. Later on, I started to attend the Baltimore City council meetings every Monday night, the Zoning Commission on Tuesday, and the Liquor Board hearings.

Another Hampdenite, active for many years in the machine politics of the Trenton Democratic Club, tells a very different story:

Interviewer: In the 60’s and then the Trenton Democratic club and the Trenton Democratic Club was still strong in the 50’s. Is that right? Okay, in the 50’s there was talk about filling in the reservoir a couple of times, one or twice, and people got upset. And that what I know about people can call on the community issue, what is there any way you would act or did act?

Response: Yes. I was called by several people they said that they was having a meeting in the Hampden Methodist Church and that I won’t mention the man’s name, the man in charge of the Department of Woodbridge of (?) circle said that we was going to be there and… So, I called Jack Pollack and told him about the meeting and I said I was going to be there and wanted to get all the facts and everything and I wanted to get with you. Pollack said, “Maybe tomorrow and come over to my office and tell Ms. Herbert what you think.

Anyway, he had all the plans there and everything, there having been a kid and swam there a couple times, I have hurt myself . I know of others that got hurt because of the way the lake was slanted and all. It was not being used at that time and after I got all the facts together. And then I all considered, what’s involved, who is involved and why? We as human beings, we have our doubts about any kind of change. Any change we like is getting a new car. We have a dislike of , why you gonna put that light over there why you put it there; it got to be a reason for that.

Anyway, I went down and attended the meeting. They had the plans and everything down there and they had the architect and grant and all the blueprints and I look things over and then I tried to close my eyes and tried to make a mental picture of what it would be, what it was now and what is now, what it’s gonna be.

Actually , sure I could show you a picture of it. I got picture of it downstairs; you want to see it? Did you want to see it? I went to Jack the next day and I said Jack, “I said I have been personally involved because we were kids we dove off the granite building”. Down at the end and it is about as big as the room here and kids used to climb up and the stone stuck out about that far from the climb up on that and you could see the cobblestones, the cobblestone bottom there, if you don’t cut real quick you and
see. But as kids this isn’t a challenge here and I know several that got hurt . I was convinced that was a better thing.

I think the two accounts are a really interesting illustration of different approaches to civic engagement in Hampden, and particularly into the power of Democratic machines in running this town until very recently.


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