Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hampden Heritage

I recently took a look at the souvenir booklet published for Hampden's 100th anniversary in 1988 (actually, this was the anniversary of Hampden's incorporation into Baltimore City, not of Hampden itself) and discovered some interesting stuff regarding how Hampdenites represented the community in the 1980s. What follows are my observations on the representation (or lack thereof) of Hampden's industrial heritage in this booklet; next week I'll post about some other themes in the booklet that seem to have been really important to the people who put it together.

The opening commentary states that Hampden is “a strong, working-class, residential community [in which] many of the attitudes that existed in the early mill community persist today including a strong sense of community and family” (pg. 3). Indeed, most of the rest of the booklet that is not taken up with advertisements is devoted to brief histories of community institutions such as schools, libraries, churches, the Roosevelt Recreation Center, and the fire house and police station, as well as public spaces like movie theaters and “The Avenue.” Even on a list of “One Hundred Nice Things About Hampden,” the first three items listed are friends, family and home. Not until item #75 is anything related to Hampden’s industrial past mentioned, the item being “stone houses” (in Stone Hill, the oldest part of Hampden). Craftspeople are item #86, right before “mill factory memories” at #87.

The only other acknowledgment of working-class or industrial heritage in the entire booklet is one page titled “The Craftsman” (pg. 8—in the “Our History” section) and devoted to Mill Centre, a former textile mill that has been renovated for commercial use by “artists, craftsmen and small businesses.” Interestingly, this vignette, written by historical geographer D. Randall Beirne (a professor at the University of Baltimore and author of a dissertation and several scholarly articles on Hampden), weaves back and forth between being an advertisement for the new Mill Centre and a description of Hampden’s industrial past. In addition to describing the industrial history of Hampden’s mills, this short piece emphasizes the importance of family. Beginning with a colorful description of Hampden during its early years, the author describes how the neighborhood “echoed from the sounds of clanging lunch pails and the voices of small children carrying the noon meal to their families in the mills.” Families, being preferred by the mill owners as a stable source of labor, worked together in the mills; houses and churches were built by the mill owners for families; and many people living around Mill Centre can still claim family ties to the textile industry there. Furthermore, the difference between skilled and unskilled labor is again minimized. While the author mentions that machines once did the work of weaving and spinning in the mills, while today the work in Mill Centre is performed by “skilled artisans,” he nevertheless draws a parallel between work then and work now: “Today the sounds of cheerful voices and humming machines in the new Mill Centre are reminiscent of the Hampden of a hundred years ago that claimed to be the fastest growing community in Maryland.”


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