Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bob's Dissertation, Chapter 1 Part 3

From Rural Mill Village to Urban Community: Hampden-Woodberry in Baltimore

While numerous other industries appeared in Maryland during the 19th century, textiles soon became the state's most important product as the flour milling industry declined. Growing out of the colonial mode of household production, Baltimore's first cotton mills opened late in the first decade of the 19th century; by 1810 there were 11 cotton or woolen mills listed in the state manufacturing census. As with the flour trade, the Baltimore City region was uniquely situated for a profitable textile industry, with the Jones Falls, the Gwynns Falls, and the Patapsco rivers all providing waterpower, and the Gunpowder Falls not far away. With the introduction of steam power in the 1810s, textile operations became even more widespread despite the national economic hardships of the decade. By the mid-1820s, the growth of the textile industry had made Maryland the largest manufacturing state in the South. About the same time, many of the cotton mills began specializing in the production of cotton duck, or sailcloth, to serve the local market created by the clipper ships that clogged Baltimore's harbor due to its status as a premier port of trade. In the 1850 Census of Manufactures, Maryland was ranked eighth among the 35 states in cotton manufacturing output (valued at $2 million), and fourth in the average number of employees per company (Clendenning 1992; Griffin 1966).

During the middle decades of the 19th century Baltimore began to undergo dramatic expansion. Large-scale manufacturing activities began to emerge, and the city's spatial organization and social geography were altered accordingly. Whereas previously, Baltimore's spatial organization had been typical of a North American mercantile city, the growth of productive industries resulted in the increasing clustering of similar industries, commercial activities, and social groups (divided along class and ethnic lines) into discernible districts. Most of the industries that flourished were tied to the city's commercial economy, such as textile mills, iron goods, agricultural processing (flour before mid-century, canned oysters and vegetables later in the 1800s), brickyards, breweries, and tanneries, among others. By 1860, the single most important industry in Baltimore (both in terms of output and employment) was the production of ready-made clothing, which employed about one third of the city's industrial workforce. The needle trade operations were organized in a number of ways, including large-scale factories and the putting-out, or contracting, system, which resulted in the well-known phenomenon of sweatshops. Employing a cheap labor force of unskilled immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe beginning in the 1870s, Baltimore's men's clothing industry was ranked fourth in the United States by 1900 (Muller and Groves 1976, 1979).

Throughout the rest of the 19th century and up through the 1950s, Baltimore experienced periodic booms during which the city's economy, population, and geographical area grew at a fast pace. Most of this development occurred in concentric rings around the core business district, just north and west of the harbor. Previous scholars have attributed this growth largely to periods of high capital investment following the introduction of new production and transportation technologies. Comparing the growth of Baltimore to the growth of a biological organism, geographer Sherry Olson noted, "In each generation a boost in the city's exchange with the outside world was matched by changes in its metabolism, and followed by changes in its morphology" (Olson 1979:561). The most important changes in physical morphology included annexations (two particularly important annexations occurred in 1888 and 1918; see Arnold 1978), the construction of more railroads, and the growth of industrial villages and company towns in surrounding Baltimore County in response to the increasing importance of extractive and productive industries there (Chidester 2004). European immigration was the largest factor in the changing social morphology of both the city and the county. Furthermore, during each investment boom and the subsequent period of "lean" years, as Olson demonstrated, the "redistributive impact of growth" resulted in the regeneration of a basic structure of social inequality, as previous immigrants to the city climbed the social ladder, only to be replaced by even more poor and desperate newcomers (Olson 1979:567-568).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bob's dissertation, Chapter 1 Part 2


It was a typical hot and muggy June day for Baltimore, but the "Avenue" was packed with thousands of tourists who had come to witness an event that had come to symbolize Baltimore's working-class heritage: HonFest. George and Thelma didn't use to mind HonFest so much when it was just one day on a Saturday, even if the "Best Hon" competition was a bit offensive to their friends and neighbors. Now that it had been expanded to two days, however, they were irritated--not so much because of the street festival itself, but rather because of the lack of respect that the event organizers had shown for the local community. Denise Whiting, owner of the Café Hon and the brains (and money) behind HonFest, had promised that the festivities would not interfere with church services on Sunday morning. Yet here George and Thelma were, sitting in the sanctuary unable to hear the minister's sermon clearly because of the festival music blaring outside.

Thelma's mind began to wander. She thought back to her youth, when Hampden was a different place. There had always been community conflicts, she knew, but when she was younger it seemed that at least everyone respected everyone else as part of the same community. Now, though, things were different. Ever since younger families and single professionals had begun moving into the neighborhood, it seemed that the newcomers had no respect for the older community. The Avenue had once been the place where everyone gathered to hang out, to shop, to see and be seen. Now, however, the Avenue was increasingly becoming the province of the rich yuppies, people who had the time and the money to shop at stores with names like "Atomic Pop" and "Mud and Metal." For Thelma and George, there just wasn't anything left on the Avenue worth doing or seeing.

The community history outlined in the preceding sketches belongs to Hampden-Woodberry, a traditionally white, working-class community in central Baltimore, Maryland. The trajectory that I describe—from mill village to deindustrializing community to economically devastated neighborhood to revitalized, gentrified community—closely matches the dominant narrative reproduced by a number of local historians, an underlying set of ideas about local history and experience that, until the mid-1990s, profoundly shaped the contours and boundaries of community identity in Hampden-Woodberry. Psychological anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere has labeled such narrative structures "myth-models," a term that I will borrow here (Obeyesekere 1991:10). In fact, there are several variations of the Hampden-Woodberry myth-model, but they all share the same broad outlines. Indeed, this myth-model (or portions of it) is still utilized by some local residents for culturally strategic purposes. The recent gentrification and revitalization of Hampden in particular has lead to a tendentious situation in which the long-time working-class residents of the neighborhood have withdrawn almost entirely from the public sphere. Nevertheless, local identity and the values of community are still very much fought over by the two communities that now inhabit the neighborhood. This dissertation is an exploration of the various manifestations of this struggle from the 1870s to the present.