Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Class Consciousness part II

Finally, the second part of my piece on class consciousness:

The “suburban factory village” so idealized by the Sun (See Part I) began in the 1820’s as a series of water-driven grist mills in the valley of the Jones Falls about three miles upstream of the booming shipping town of Baltimore. In 1833, Lloyd Norriss and William Tyson advertised the sale of a 238 acre parcel on the Jones Falls. The parcel contained mansion house, a farmhouse, a tavern, and a brick and stone grist mill capable of producing 120 barrells of wheat per day (American 28 May 1833. Ten years later that Woodberry Mill was one of eighteen in the Baltimore area and at least three in the immediate locality. Another, White Hall Cotton Factory, was still water-driven (American 25 Sept 1843). However, by 1850, Gambrill Carroll and Co. - White Hall’s owners - had begun the conversion to steam drive. By this time, there were also 27 dwelling houses for mill workers erected on mill property (American 2 March 1850). While paternalism certainly already had a past in Hampden, here is its appearance in the historical record.

By 1860, Hampden-Woodberry hosted a large foundry and the area was sufficiently populated to warrant the construction, by mill workers, of a library (Sun 3 Oct 1860). In the early 1870’s the village had blossomed into a full-fledged mill town, albeit a rustic one. Simultaneously an apex of industrial development and a backward suburb lacking even paved streets, Hampden played host to no less than five steam-powered cotton duck, or canvas mills, and supported as many as 8,000 inhabitants (Sun 8 August 1872; 6 April 1874). It was in this condition that the Maryland’s cotton mill labor delegates found the town on the night of their meeting:

Saturday night, while everything was activity in Woodberry, the people on their several errands were walking up steep and unpaved streets and groping in the dark, the only light in the place being that coming down from the windows of the cottages. With 8.000 inhabitants, large churches of various denominations, a daily newspaper, public halls, numerous large cotton factories and engine works and stores of all descriptions, Woodberry, situated three miles from the heart of Baltimore City has no gas, little or not supply of water, and the most meager kind of communication with the city, to which of necessity one half of the population have business every day (Sun 6 Apr 1874).

At the meeting, laborers from textile mills throughout central Maryland began discussed the possibility of organizing in order to reduce working hours and increase wages. The gathering signals the beginning of real labor consciousness in Hampden-Woodberry. Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s, organized labor gained strength, particularly under the auspices of the Knights of Labor, and won a series of strikes, culminating in a successful strike of 1918. However, by 1923, labor seems to have lost some of its strength. After a winning a lengthy strike in that year, mill corporations began the slow process of closing their operations and moving them south, drastically changing the character and economy of the neighborhood.


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