Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

SAA meetings

I am headed off tomorrow to the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, PR. I have never been to one of these before, and have never been to San Juan, but it should be fun anyway. I am chairing a session on community archaeology and delivering a paper on praxis in community archaeology. Here is the abstract:
Writing in 1970, Paolo Freire (2005:51) defined praxis as "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it". In recent years, some archaeologists have begun to include the notion of political action into their work. But how can archaeologists’ reflection and action be transformative? An ongoing archaeological project in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland attempts to employ this notion of praxis by acting, through education, on public heritage discourse. By promoting a democratic discourse centering on heritage, the project seeks to increase the power of local community members to affect the course of gentrification in their locality.

I will try to post once or twice about the meetings while I'm there, but they are always busy, so I'm not promising anything.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

housing for the summer (again)

Well, when I posted this a little over a month ago, I didn't get any responses, but I hope its because at that point people really weren't sure about the summer yet. The situation is this: I really want to come to Hampden to work this summer. In order to do that, I need a place to stay--really just a room with kitchen access will do. I would prefer a place in Hampden proper, since it's nice to actually be in the community (I have a possible place in Medfield, but I'd like to be closer to the digging). So, if anyone really wants to help out Hampden Archaeology and happens to have a room to spare for the summer (roughly from the beginning of June to mid-August), I'd love to hear from you. I am, of course, willing to pay rent and utilities. Thanks a bunch.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Responses to Bryn Mawr Questions

Thanks everyone for all of your comments. I enjoyed the tour. There are a lot of questions here, so I will try to take them one at a time.

The most common thing that folks commented about was the idea of a microcosm. In some ways I think that this is a useful way to think about the neighborhood, but in others I think that it is not. Here is why:

Hampden, like many other industrial towns was, as we discussed, closely tied to the Atlantic economy through the shipping industry. Because of this, it was subject to the same ideological and economic forces - including market pressures, organized labor activities, paternalism, and so forth – that it followed the same general historical/economic trajectory as many other places in America.

With that said, its important to bring up something we didn’t get a chance to talk about on the tour, which is Hampden’s history of racial exclusion and outright racism. Cady is correct when she points out that:

There are parts of America that weren't represented in Hampden during that time that were keys parts of the country.

In fact, there were large parts of American that aren’t represented in Hampden’s history. In particular, one reason that the paternalist system worked is that the mill workers, who were almost exclusively people of English descent that migrated from the Appalacians to the town in search of steady work, exchanged their good behavior for favorable hiring practices. Those practices excluded anyone of African or Eastern European descent from working in the mills. This legacy of exclusion has had lasting consequences, and even today the neighborhood of Hampden is 92% “white” (according to the 2000 U.S. census) in a city that is at least 70% African-American.

Another common question concerned Hampden’s future. People wanted to know if I thought Hampden would continue to gentrify, and what I though the next ten to twenty years would be like. I have to say that I don’t know. There is a lot of struggle along class lines in Hampden right now, and the direction of Hampden’s future depends in large part on the outcomes of those struggles. I think that development in Hampden will probably continue until houses get too expensive for people to buy, and then it will slow down or stop.

Some of you wondered about the effect this would have on working-class families in Hampden. The goal of my project is to give working-class families in Hampden a voice in how development occurs in their neighborhood by giving them a concrete and powerful way to talk about their heritage. If all goes well for working families in Hampden, they will continue to wield some control over the processes of development and gentrification in

Some others:

Since the mills have been shut down and the silver company is no longer, what other businesses provide an income to this town? Also, what is your favorite part of Hampden?

Hampden has gone through a number of economic changes in the last century. The mills, along with other manufacturing operations, left slowly, beginning in the 1920’s. By the late 1960’s the major textile mills had moved south in search of cheaper labor. As all of this occurred, the people who worked in manufacturing were forced to look outside of the neighborhood for jobs, sometimes with limited success. By the 1970’s, Hampden was a fairly impoverished, fairly unsafe neighborhood. Even the commercial sector – the small business owners- began to suffer, and many shops in the neighborhood closed. When a resurgence began in the late 1980’s, it was not Hampdenites that started it, but middle-class entrepreneurs from outside of the neighborhood who sought to capitalize on cheap rents and working-class culture

When did the sort of "demise" of Hampden really start to occur? You mentioned how the police station left and crime went up, but i'm wondering if there were any other things that lead to this?

I think its premature to announce the death of Hampden, but see my comments above. The social situation in any neighborhood is closely related to its economic structure, so that the rise in crime and poverty coincides with the economic changes that the neighborhood has undergone.

I'd like to learn more about life in the mill, where can I find more information?

There aren’t a whole lot of sources, but check out these:

Hare, Jean.
1976 Hampden Woodberry. Hampden-Woodberry Community Council, Baltimore.

Harvey, William
1988 “The People is Grass”: a History of Hampden Woodberry 1802-1945. Della Press, Baltimore.

Hollyday, Guy
1994 Stone Hill: The People and Their Stories. Privately published, Baltimore.

All of these are available at the Hampden branch of the Pratt on Falls Road

I realize the mills and the silverware company and the old police station are landmarks in the area, but what makes this area more famous and historic than any other?

I don’t think about Hampden as being particularly famous. It is however quite historic, but I don’t think that it is more so than lots of other areas of Baltimore. It sounds like your asking why I should bother working here, and why you should bother learning about it. The answer there is that Hampden is a place that presents a wonderful combination of and contemporary historical problems, that I have the opportunity to study in detail. What I like about Hampden is not that its famous, but that there is a great deal of evidence – archaeological and historical – that tells us about people who couldn’t or didn’t write their own history. We know that most often, histories are written by the wealthy and powerful, who are never in the majority, and that those histories tend to reflect the interests of their authors. In contrast, I think its worthwhile to examine the pasts of people whose voices has been left out of those privileged histories.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pacific St. (again)

Even though I'm working my way through a fairly daunting pile of books and articles for my upcoming comprehensive exam, I manage to get out in the field every so often. A couple of Fridays ago was such a beautiful day that i couldn't stand to just sit around in the house, so I went out in the field and excavated a level in the trench on Pacific Street. Its fairly interesting stuff. I dug through a layer of coal-ash that also contained a lot of destruction debris presumably from an early addition to the house. The destruction must have occurred sometime after 1920, based on a dated coin within the fill, but the addition is clearly quite a bit older, as evidenced by some hand-wrought nails, which tend to indicate a date in the first part of the 19th century.
Pacific St. excavationPacific St. excavation

School Tour on a Spring Day

Today, a group of high school students from Bryn Mawr School joined me for a tour around Hampden. As many of the kids remarked, it would've been a beautiful day for a walk if it hadn't been so windy. We started at the Hampden Elementary school, looking at the frieze of which I'm so fond. We then walked down Keswick Avenue, stopping to take a look at some of rowhouse architecture as well as the old Northern District police station (shown right - before the recent renovation began).

We then headed down to the Stone Hill, where we discussed paternalism and textile manufacture before going on to check out some of the worker housing. Stopping briefly at the Mount Vernon No. 3 Mill, we talked a little bit about how mill the buildings function as control mechanisms, as well as how cotton duck was produced. We then headed up the hill along Chestnut Avenue, pointing out changes in the commercial character of the neighborhood, and noticing some of the creative uses of lawn ornamentation along the way. The tour ended at the Bank of America Mural on Elm Ave, which serves as a pretty good bookend for a tour that focuses on history and gentrification.

I really enjoy doing these tours because they give me a chance to talk about all of my thoughts about Hampden in a fairly condensed way. There's no time for political or archaeological theory, you pretty much just have to say what you think. In many ways this is very good, but it also means that I leave a lot out because the neighborhood is so dynamic and complex.

Anyway, I understand that my tour group is going to be checking out the blog in the next few days, so I hope that you guys enjoyed yourselves. I invite you to leave a comment here, or on any of the posts below. Also, please check out the project's web page, which contains, the project research design, some transcriptions of oral histories from the Baltimore Neighborhood Heritage Project, and more.

Class Consciousness is Everywhere!

Last summer I did some research in the Maryland Room of Hornbake Library on the campus of the University of Maryland-College Park. I discovered a treasure trove of photocopies of newspaper articles, all pertaining to organized labor activity in Baltimore, collected by a former graduate student in History at UM who had donated all of his photocopies to the library. I didn't get to spend nearly enough time there to go through all of the collection, but what I found in the clippings from the 1870s was very interesting indeed. But first, a preface:

In the mid-1870s, the nation was reeling from a deep economic depression that had struck in 1873. As usual, wage workers took the brunt of the impact, which didn't exactly make them feel to be on particularly stable ground when it came to providing for their families. Increasing tension between workers and corporations came to a head in the summer of 1877, and it all began in Baltimore. When the B&O RR cut wages yet again in mid-July, workers in Baltimore and Martinsburg, WV walked off the job. A riot at Camden Station on July 20 resulted in the deaths of several protesters when National Guard troops fired into the crowd. Martial law was established in Maryland the next day, but the fire of rebellion had already begun spreading to other industrial cities and small towns, primarily through the middle of the country. Cities that witnessed particularly violent confrontations included Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis (where a workers' committee actually established de facto control of the city for a whole week), and San Francisco (where the railroad riots were used as a pretext for anti-Chinese violence). By August 1, military and government forces had re-established control in most places, and the Great Strike of 1877, widely considered to be the first national uprising of workers against an unjust capitalist system, was over.

So what, you ask, does this have to do with Hampden? Two things, I say. First, as Bill Harvey has already told us in his book "The People Is Grass," employees of the Ma and Pa RR stationed in Hampden-Woodberry participated in the general strike. Perhaps more importantly, however, is what I found in the newspaper clippings in College Park: After the strike had ended, workers turned their efforts to a more socially acceptable form of political action--across the country, local "Workingmen's Parties" were established in an effort to give laborers a political voice in state and local government. As it turns out, Hampden was the epicenter of such activity in Baltimore County (it had not yet been incorprated into the city). Throughout the fall of 1877, Baltimore newspapers regularly reported on the organizational meetings of the Baltimore County Workingmen's Party that were held (most often) in Hare's Hall in Hampden. From what I understand, eventually control of the party moved to locales in the western part of the county. Unfortunately, most Workingmen's parties across the nation did not last very long, and I believe that Baltimore County's was no exception.

Clearly, however, these brief newspaper accounts provide a glimpse into a very interesting and largely hidden history of working-class activism in 1870s Hampden that deserves a much closer inspection. Thus, I will again end a post by calling for help: If you have any information about Hampden-Woodberry workers' participation in either the Great Strike or the formation of the Baltimore County Workingmen's Party, we'd love to hear from you. I can be reached by email at rchidest@umich.edu, or you can respond to this post.