Baltimore Heritage prepared and submitted this study as a CHAP Landmark Designation Report to support the landmark designation of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue on January 12, 2015. This document was written by Eli Pousson, Director of Preservation & Outreach on November 19, 2015, expanded on December 22, 2015 and substantially revised January 4-9, 2016. Please contact Eli Pousson with any questions or corrections at email@example.com.
Significance Summary: 1232 Druid Hill Avenue
The Abraham Briscoe/George W. King House at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue is a three-story rowhouse erected by local builder Rufus Bennett around 1867 or 1868. 1232 Druid Hill Avenue is one of many large rowhouses built in the area now known as the Upton neighborhood during a period of rapid growth and development in Baltimore’s northwestern suburbs both before and after the end of the U.S. Civil War. The property is significant for its association with George W. King (1826-1899), a prominent local printer, lived at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from 1887 up until his death in 1898. The property is also significant for its association with the broader pattern of how African Americans sought opportunities in Baltimore before and during the Great Migration. This latter theme is exemplified by Abraham Briscoe and his family who lived at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue from 1899 through 1908, as well as the generations of black Baltimoreans who lived in apartments at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue between 1908 and 1981. Acquired by Bethel AME Church in 1981, the building has fallen into disuse in recent years. Regrettably, the 2015 demolition of 1234 Druid Hill Avenue, known as the “Freedom House”, and scores of other rowhouses within the Old West Baltimore Historic District over the past 20 years highlights the importance of preserving 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and the history of West Baltimore’s early twentieth century African American community.
Property History: 1232 Druid Hill Avenue
This property history proceeds chronologically from the development and construction of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue in 1867-1868, the period of George W. King’s residence (1883-1889), the Briscoe family residence (1899-1908) and continues up to the present. Where appropriate the property history has included limited historic context on individual residents and their lives. An expanded context on George W. King and the history of African American residents on Druid Hill Avenue is provided in the following Contextual History section of this report.
Please note: Prior to the 1887 renumbering of Baltimore’s street addresses, house numbers on the east side of Druid Hill Avenue between Dolphin and Lanvale Streets ranged from 240 to 274. 272 Druid Hill Avenue was renumbered 1232 Druid Hill Avenue.
1867-1868: 272 Druid Hill Avenue erected by Rufus Bennett
The history of the house at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue, erected by local builder Rufus Bennett between 1867 and 1868, reflects Baltimore’s broad patterns of suburban growth in the years after the Civil War. Beginning in 1859, new horsecar lines provided the transportation required to connect suburban enclaves with the city’s fast-growing commercial and industrial enterprises. This new infrastructure, combined with Baltimore’s growing population and wealth, encouraged new suburban development—often centered around new parks, like Franklin Square and Eutaw Place.
Druid Hill Park, established in 1860, reflected both the city’s interest in promoting development in northwest Baltimore and the need to protect some open space from prospective development. Following the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, the northwestern suburbs grew quickly. In just four years, between 1866 and 1870, building permits nearly tripled from 1,384 to 3,630.1 While many of these homes were primarily marketed towards wealthy buyers or investors, changes in homebuilding—notably innovative approaches to manufacturing better and cheaper bricks and the increasing use of prefabricated wooden elements for cornices and embellishments—helped to keep the cost within a range that a growing number of middle class Baltimoreans could afford.
On April 1, 1864, Baltimore Mayor John Lee Chapman approved an ordinance changing the name of Ross Street between Eutaw Street and North Avenue to Druid Hill Avenue. On August 30, 1867, the Sun reported on “Dwelling Improvements in the Western Section,” writing:
On Madison avenue, McCulloh street, Druid Hill avenue, Davidson street, McMechin and other streets, handsome dwellings are rapidly going up on lots which were but a few years ago open fields. Rufus Bennett, builder and owner, has just finished six on Druid Hill avenue, which are regarded as most stylish residences. On McMechin street, near the avenue, the same builder has five more in an advanced stage of completion, whilst three at Druid Hill avenue and Lanvale street and two at Lafayette square are under roof, under his superintendence.
On November 13, 1867, a classified appeared in the Sun advertising the Druid Hill Avenue houses for sale:
FOR SALE—One of those five new HOUSES on Druid Hill avenue, between Dolphin and Lanvale streets, just finished in the best manner, running back to a 16 foot paved alley. Apply to GEO. T. GOSNELL, on the premises.
Subsequent classified advertisements published in the Sun in May 1868 list additional homes for sale on the east side of Druid Hill Avenue and, on September 11, 1868, the Sun ran an advertisement:
For Sale—Three of those beautiful HOUSES on Druid Hill avenue, near Lanvale street, containing all modern conveniences and built out of the very best materials. Apply to the owners, HUBMER & WEBER …
These accounts support a date of construction for 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and the adjoining Italianate rowhouses between summer 1867 and spring 1868. Soon after the new homes were built, on November 27, 1867, the Baltimore City Commissioner’s Office opened Lanvale Street, as the Sun announced:
Upon application to establish the lines and grade of Lanvale street, between Druid Hill avenue and Division street, notice is hereby given that the City Commissioner and Surveyor will meet on the premises on WEDNESDAY, the 4th of December, at 10 o’clock A.M., for that purpose. By order, GEO. P. WOODWARD Clerk to the City Commissioner
Builder Rufus Bennett had a long and active career in Baltimore beginning as an apprentice around 1841 and continuing up through the late nineteenth century. The Sun commented on his death on July 22, 1906:
Mr. Rufus Bennett, one of the oldest residents of the city and for years prominent in business circles, died at 6 A.M. yesterday at his home, 520 West Biddle street. General debility was the cause of his death. Born in Carroll county, near Waters Mill, 82 years ago, Mr. Bennett was the son of the late William Bennett. He acquired his education at the public schools in the county and, when 17 years old, came to this city to learn a trade. He apprenticed himself with a contractor and builder and, about 55 years ago, opened an office for himself.
1870-1883: Early Residents at 272 Druid Hill Avenue
During the 1870s and early 1880s, the property on Druid Hill Avenue saw a variety of residents. The first resident in this period is James Foos, a bricklayer listed as a resident in the 1870 Woods’ Baltimore City Directory. In 1871, the Woods’ Directory lists two residents at 272 Druid Hill Avenue:
- William R. Robertson, tailor
- William Robinson, candy-maker
Between 1872 and 1877, according to the Wood’s Baltimore City Directory (1872, 1873, 1875 and 1877), Francis A. Benson, employee of the firm J. Fussell & Co. lived at 272 Druid Hill Avenue. Beginning in 1875, the household included Albert C. Stabell. Stabell is initially identified as an employee of J. Fussell & Co. and, in 1877, as a dealer in ice cream and country produce with an office at the Saratoga Building on Saratoga Street near Calvert Street.
On May 12, 1877, the house appeared for sale in a Sun classified advertisement:
FOR SALE—A strictly first-class HOUSE, No. 272 Druid Hill avenue, (next to the corner of Lanvale street,) containing 18 rooms, built out of the best material, hard wood finish, in complete order. Inquire, between 12 and 2 o’clock, of J. HUBNER, next door.
In 1878, residents in Woods’ Baltimore City Directory at 272 Druid Hill Avenue included:
- Charles King, grocer, shop at Eutaw and Lexington Streets
- Mcllvain King, grain commission merchant, office at 23 South Street
- William P. King, clerk
- J.H. Mcllvain King, clerk
The King household did not remain on Druid Hill Avenue long. On September 14, 1878, an advertisement appeared in the Sun advertising an auction by F.W. Bennett & Co. auctioneers scheduled for September 19 of “FURNITURE, CARPETS, ETC., of a private family declining housekeeping.” Items up for auction included:
Elegant WALNUT and EBONY PARLORSUITS, in good order.
By 1880, Woods’ Baltimore City Directory listed a new set of residents at 272 Druid Hill Avenue:
- Carroll B. Mount, clerk
- Thomas L. Mount, agent
- Mrs. Laura M. Starr
On April 27, 1882, a classified in the Sun advertised the property for sale:
FOR SALE—No. 272 DRUID HILL AVENUE, near Lanvale Street 20 feet front, first-class in every particular. Will sell cheap. Apply on premises.
George King had previously lived at 378 N. Eden St. (1872-1878), 197 N. Exeter (1868), and 37 N. Exeter (c. 1858 - mid-1860s). His move to Druid Hill Avenue exemplified King’s continued professional success further evidenced by his role as one of 25 printers who organized the Association of Employing Printers in 1877, and, a few years later, the Typographical Union.
1883: George W. King moves to 1232 Druid Hill Avenue
In 1883, the Woods’ City Directory lists George King, a prominent local printer, as a resident for the first time including two others:
- William B. Gibson, telegraphist
- Alberts King, clerk
- George W. King, King Brothers
During his residence at the house, King evidently engaged in speculative development and renting houses within the neighborhood. On July 31, 1883, a classified appeared in the Sun advertising a house nearby:
For Rent—583 DRUID HILL AVENUE, new and complete in modern improvements. Rent very reasonable. Apply at 272 DRUID HILL AVE. or 162 W. BALTIMORE ST., up stairs.
King also rented and repeatedly tried to sell a property at 2118 Druid Hill Avenue. The Baltimore Sun published a classified advertisement on Feb 4, 1887:
2118 Druid Hill Avenue, 10 rooms, large parlor, dry cellar, nice yard. Apply 1232 DRUID HILL AVENUE.
On May 16, 1891, King advertised 2118 Druid Hill Avenue for sale with the description, “cable road passes door; rents for $25.” Evidently finding no buyers, King continued to advertise the house for rent on October 8, 1896.
Around this same time, the row house next door to George King’s home, 1234 Druid Hill Avenue, sold and the owners converted the home into a boarding house. On August 15, 1888, 1234 Druid Hill Avenue is advertised as a “FIRST-CLASS DWELLING”:
Three-story DWELLING, front and rear, No. 1234 Druid Hill avenue, corner Lanvale street, 20 feet 6 inches front; all modern conveniences. JOHN GLENN & CO., 12 St. Paul street.
A subsequent classified advertisement, appearing in the Sun on April 9, 1890, advertised rooms for rent:
COMMUNICATING AND SINGLE ROOMS, with BOARD, also TABLE BOARD No 1234 DRUID HILL AVENUE, corner Lanvale st.
George W. King died at his home on Druid Hill Avenue in early November 1898. Additional background on George King and the King Brothers Printing Firm is included in the following section of this report on the Contextual History of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue.
1899: Briscoe family moves to 1232 Druid Hill Avenue
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, the population of the Druid Hill Avenue and many adjoining streets changed as many white residents left the area and African American households rented or purchased homes in the vicinity of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue. In 1899, George King’s son, George W. King rented the house to Abraham Briscoe, an African American wagon driver, and his family. Born in 1856, Abraham Briscoe was one of thousands of black Baltimoreans who migrated to the city from Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore in the years after the Civil War. The Briscoe family’s move to 1232 Druid Hill Avenue reflects the opportunities that many African Americans found in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century as well as their resistance to discrimination and segregation which laid a foundation for civic activism and organizing in the early and mid twentieth century.
According to the 1900 Census, Abraham worked as a wagon driver and shared his household with his wife Harriet, 2 brothers and his children:
- Joseph Briscoe (b. 1873, Maryland) / waiter
- John Briscoe (b. 1870, Maryland) / waiter
Based on his last name, Abraham Briscoe and his family were likely descendants of enslaved people held in St. Mary’s County by members of the Briscoe family—possibly the Sotterley Plantation held by Dr. Walter Hanson Stone Briscoe among a number of possible locations. Briscoe is originally a Scottish name brought to Maryland by several European colonists during the 1600s.
Notably, Abraham Briscoe’s family included people born before the Civil War and those born after the end slavery in Maryland in 1864. Like many others, Abraham Briscoe, his brothers, his wife Harriet Briscoe, or possibly their parents came to the city seeking both economic opportunity and freedom from the oppressive violence and poverty affecting black communities in Maryland. Movement did not stop when they arrived in Baltimore. Abraham Briscoe moved to Druid Hill Avenue from a prior residence at 1419 Maryland Avenue – making his household one of many moving away from the city’s central neighborhoods into a growing African American community in northwest Baltimore.2
Despite present-day working class associations, working as drivers and waiters placed the Briscoe family in a relatively privileged position—a status also reflected in their ability to move to 1232 Druid Hill Avenue. In homes with fewer wage-earning adults, owners or tenants often brought in boarders to help cover the cost of the rent or mortgage. For example, on August 5, 1899, the Afro published a notice from Mrs. E. J. Cummings, wife of Councilman Harry S. Cummings, advertising “Boarding and Lodging” at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue.
1232 Druid Hill Avenue also offered the Briscoe household the opportunity to host and entertain friends and relatives. On January 10, 1903, the Afro-American published an account of “A New Year’s Eve Reception” at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue:
Messrs Joseph Briscoe and Columbus Ramsey entertained many of their friends at dinner, Wednesday evening, December 31st, at the former’s residence 1232 Druid Hill Ave. The dining and drawing rooms were artistically decorated with holly, evergreen and smilax, while large potted plants completed the decoration. The Menu which was nicely prepared but more nicely consumed, consisted of oysters on the shell, bouillon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, Smithfield ham, hominy on chafing, individual ices and beverages to the course. At the stroke of twelve the guest knelt down in silent prayer which was lead by Mr. Abram Briscoe.
Joseph and John Briscoe’s employment as waiters highlighted in their ability to entertain in style also reflects the segregation that shaped the lives of Baltimore’s workers throughout the twentieth century. Prior to the Civil War, employing black enslaved workers as waiters had a long history in Baltimore, as one English visitor Alfred Pairpont noted, “the more genteel of [slaves] are here employed principally as waiters.”3 Men employed as waiters took on important leadership roles in early black institutions. For example, among the 33 class leaders at Bethel AME Church between 1825 and 1853 only 5 worked as laborers. The rest held skilled or semi-skilled jobs, such as a waiter, painter, porter, tailor, or cordwainer.4
After the Civil War, factories and industrial employers largely excluded black workers but service work remained an important source of support for black households. In the years after the Civil War, the number of African American waiters grew from 350 in 1864, 662 in 1868, and 798 in 1871. In total, the Woods’ City Directory in 1868 counted 8,000 employed black heads of households, a 100% increase over 1864. In a few cases, work as a waiter led to a more independent enterprise. For example, Richard Macks, born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland, arrived in Baltimore in 1868 and spent 17 years working as a waiter and butler before starting his own catering business in the late 1880s. Macks and other independent black caterers in the late 19th and early twentieth century (including James W. Hughes, Benjamin Simms, and Mrs. Emma Simmes) provided key financial support for black churches and early Civil Rights organizations. In many cases, however, conflict with white workers and white-owned businesses, and, for some African Americans, the perception of a waiter’s work as menial or degrading, made even the service sector a difficult place to work in the twentieth century.
Family also played an important role in shaping both activism and socialization. One nearby relative was Ella B. Morris who lived at 524 Laurens Street as early as 1904. According to a Sun report on December 17, 1900, Abraham Briscoe was a founding member of the “Ancient United Order Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses,” (an African American fraternal and civic organization) along with James M. Seward, Solomon A. Bond, John W. Henson, Louis H. Davenport, Andrew E. Bolden, Andrew A. Spriggs, Dennis Hall, John H. Bailey, James Harris, and Andrew Johnson. Abraham’s relatives Mrs. Ella B. Morris and Pinkney Briscoe were also involved in the Order of Moses, as the Afro American noted on October 22, 1904:
Mrs. Ella B. Morris, of 524 Laurens street, returned home last week after an extended trip in the mountains. She left the city again last week, in company with her brother, Mr. Pinkney Briscoe, to attend the annual convention of the Order of Moses which is in session in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Two years later, Ella Morris returned to New York with Abraham as the Afro American reported on October 13, 1906:
Mrs. Ella B. Morris and Mr. Abraham Briscoe are delegates to the Annual encampment of the Order of Moses, which meets in Troy, N.Y., next week.
Established in 1868, the United Order of Moses had chapters in cities throughout the country (based in Baltimore at 527 Orchard Street). Fraternal organization provided economic support for their members (typically in the form of insurance) and often played a critical role in supporting Civil Rights activist efforts. A joint meeting of African American mutual aid societies in Baltimore in 1884 turned out 40 organizations with a combined membership of 2,100 people. By 1900, African Americans in Baltimore supported over 70 mutual aid societies – groups whose membership dues supported the purchase of halls and meeting spaces, burial costs for members, and social events throughout the year.5
Civic activism and organizing often different forms for men and women. For example, on February 14, 1903, the Afro observed:
A very delightful tea was given last Sunday evening by the Misses Briscoe at their residence, 1232 Druid Hill Ave.
Social engagements like this provided a basis for fundraising and organizing efforts with family, friends, neighbors, and fellow congregants. Living next door to Ida R. Cummings, sister of Harry S. Cummings and resident at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue, likely encouraged women in the Briscoe family to help raise funds for youth programs. The Afro American published an account of “Summer Work of the Fresh Air and Empty Stocking Circle” by Miss Ida R. Cummings, President, and Mrs. Mamie R. Bruce, Secretary, on November 3, 1906, noting:
Among the latest contributions received were $5.45 from a Lawn Party given by the Misses Briscoe’s Druid Hill avenue.
The “Empty Stocking Circle” served as an African American counterpart to a white charity led by local women and dedicated to making Christmas special for Baltimore’s poor children. The “Colored Empty Stocking Circle” hosted events at churches, including St. John’s AME Church and Union Baptist Church, often drew a thousand people or more. On August 1, 1908, The Freeman reported on the group’s successful fundraising events at Druid Hill Avenue, writing:
The Colored Empty Stocking and Fresh Air Circle, at Baltimore, which held a street carnival on Druid Hill avenue, Lanvale, Etting and Dolphin streets, last week, have used the proceeds of the sales to purchase a farm on the Emory Groves car line, near Reisterstown. The farm consists of a large dwelling, where the little ones will be entertained during the summer, and ten and one-half acres of ground. A number of improvements have been made, and it is stated that the price paid for the farm is $1,750. Miss Ida R. Cummings is president of the circle.
By 1909, according to a city directory of that year, Abraham and Harriet Briscoe had moved to 524 Laurens Street (an address previously noted as the home of Mrs. Ella B. Morris) along with Ernest Briscoe (employed as a porter). Robert L. Briscoe employed as a butler lived close by at 535 Laurens Street. Harriet Briscoe died at 524 Laurens Street on October 14, 1910. Abraham Briscoe remained at that address through at least 1918.
1909: Mrs. Mollie Giles moves to 1232 Druid Hill Avenue
Abraham Briscoe and his family moved away around 1908. By October 4, 1908, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue was up for sale, advertised under “Real Estate for Sale” in the Baltimore Sun:
ONLY $1,000.00 FOR 816 N. BOND ST., $2,500 for 1232 DRUID HILL AVE., $1,350 for 559 LAURENS ST.; Houses, small and large, in every section of the city for sale on very easy terms. C. MORTON, 209 St. Paul street.
Evidently, the 1908 sale attempt proved unsuccessful as George W. King, Jr. retained ownership through at least May 1912. Around this same time Mrs. Mollie Giles, the recently widowed wife of Darius Giles (b. 1861 – d. 1908 June 4) moved into the building. On April 16, 1910, the Afro-American reported:
Mrs. Mollie Giles has moved from 1619 Druid Hill avenue to 1232 Druid Hill avenue.
Mrs. Giles, was one of six residents at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue recorded by the US Census in 1910:
- Mollie Giles, Head (b. 1860, Maryland) / Widowed / Cook, Hotel
- Annie Boone, Cousin (b. 1865, Maryland) / Widowed
- Mary Johnson, Lodger (b. 1880, Maryland) / Married
- John Johnson, Lodger (b. 1875, Maryland) / Married / Coachman, Private
- Thomas James, Lodger (b. 1863, Maryland) / Porter
- Walter Brookings, Lodger (b. 1887, Pennsylvania) / Porter, Clothing Store
Annie Boone is identified in the census form as black and the remainder of the residents of the house are identified as mulatto. On June 1, 1912, the Afro-American reported again on Mrs. Molly Giles:
Mrs. Mollie Giles, who left for Asbury Park, N.J. Tuesday, was tendered a reception at her home, 1232 Druid Hill avenue, Monday night. A number of the members of Brown’s Circle, an organization of ladies with which Mrs. Giles is connected were also present. Miss Ella Sutton, of 1234 Druid Hill avenue, accompanied Mrs. Giles.
The Brown’s Circle was likely a literary society, similar to Baltimore’s more prominent “Du Bois Circle” founded in 1906 for “social uplift and higher literary attainment” with regular meetings for discussion on both literature and current issues affecting the city’s black community. In the 1890s, a resurgence of the antebellum lyceum movement across the United States, led many members of Baltimore’s black middle class to form literary societies. Like the United Order of Moses and the Empty Stocking Circle, these groups often played an important role in providing mutual aid for African Americans and for organizing resistance to efforts to disenfranchise or segregate black Baltimoreans in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. As “Organizing Black America” (2003) noted:
Generally operating with limited funds and an all-black membership, the civic and self-help groups accomplished much in spite of seemingly insurmountable opposition.6
1912: 1232 Druid Hill Avenue subdivided into apartments
On May 20, 1912, a second advertisement for the property appeared in the Sun:
FOR SALE—DWELLING 1232 DRUID HILL AVE. Apply GEORGE W. KING / 31 South Howard street.
On August 9, 1912, the property was advertised for sale again in the Afro-American:
In Fee—400 E. 25th, 1213 W. Lexington near Franklin Square; also 1232 Druid Hill ave., 609 N. Calhoun, opposite Harlem Square. CHARLES MORTON, 209 St. Paul St.
It seems likely that around this time the property was subdivided into three separate apartments. The conversion of the building from a single-family to a boarding house in 1909 and from a single-unit into a multi-unit dwelling around 1912 reflects the continuing changes in the neighborhood as a growing number of working-class African Americans who sought and found housing in West Baltimore. From the 1910s up through the 1970s, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood offered homes for working class black Baltimoreans moving to the city from rural Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Men working as chauffeurs, waiters and laborers and women working as secretaries, domestics, and laundresses played a critical role in shaping the history of West Baltimore and the city as the whole, making 1232 Druid Hill Avenue a significant reminder of the Great Migration and Baltimore’s Civil Rights history before World War II.
The diversity of residents in this period is documented in both US Census records and advertisements in the Sun for residents at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue seeking work. For example, on March 27, 1909, a resident listed an advertisement under “Situation Wanted—Female”:
LAUNDRESS WANTS LAUNDRY WORK; finery specialty; housecleaning by day; can give references. 1232 DRUID HILL AVE.
This advertisement may have been placed by Nellie Peaker, a resident of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue in 1913, whose occupation was listed in the city directory of that year as a dressmaker. Other residents in this period included Mrs. Harriett Swann, whose family appeared in the Afro-American on January 9, 1915:
William Swann, of the United States Navy, is visiting relatives at 1232 Druid Hill avenue.
The next year, on May 27, 1916, the Afro-American reported:
Mr. and Mrs. Woods have returned home after spending a fortnight with Mrs. Woods’ mother, Mrs. Harriett Swann at her home 1232 Druid Hill avenue.
In 1920, the US census recorded thirteen people living in three apartments. In the first apartment:
- Alverta Butler, Head (b. 1878, Maryland) / Widowed / Dressmaker
- Elisha S. Imes, Father (b. 1850) / Widowed / Night Watchman, Saw Building
- Avon B. Butler (b. 1901, Maryland) / Bell boy, Hotel
In the second apartment:
- John C. Barnes, Head (b. 1886, Virginia) / Married / Harness Maker, Factory
- Estella Barnes, Wife (b. 1887, Maryland) / Married /
- Calvin Barnes (b. 1913, Maryland)
- Clamenza Barnes (b. 1920, Maryland)
In the third apartment:
- Harry Schaefer, Head (b. 1894, North Carolina) / Laborer, Steel Works
- Casper Cyrus, Boarder (b. 1894, Virginia) / Married / Porter, YMCA
- Birdie Cyrus, Boarder (b. 1885, Maryland) / Married
- Viola Cyrus, Boarder (b. 1906, Maryland)
- Juenette Laws, Boarder (b. 1901, Virginia) / Office Girl, Doctor’s Office
- Vira Laws (b. 1897, Virginia) / Waitress, Club
On January 29, 1923, another resident sought work with an advertisement under “Situations—Male,” stating:
CHAUFFEUR, first-class, wishes position with private family; 3 years’ reference from last employer. 1232 Druid Hill ave.
On September 1, 1923, a young woman, perhaps then 17-year-old Viola Cyrus, advertised under “Under Situations—Female,” noting:
GIRL (colored), place Cook or Chambermaid; stay nights. 1232 DRUID HILL AVE.
On September 11, 1923, a resident advertised under “Situations—Female,” noting:
A VERY intelligent colored High School Girl wishes job in private family of the school. Apply 1232 DRUID HILL AVE. First Floor.
Broadly excluded from employment opportunities in Baltimore’s growing industrial sector, African Americans in Baltimore before World War II faced particular challenges around poverty and criminal injustice. In addition, the violence common in all of Baltimore’s working class communities could also be found in the neighborhood of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue. For example, on September 12, 1909, the Baltimore Sun reported under the headline “Three Shot in ‘Fuss’ Over Woman”:
As the result of a pistol affray, Charles Coates, 429 Tyson street; Margaret Coates and Charles Clemens, 1232 Druid Hill avenue, colored were all slightly wounded yesterday morning at the house, 1232 Druid Hill avenue, and the two men were committed by Justice Tyson, at the Northwestern Police Station, on the charge of assaulting and shooting each other. The shooting occurred at about 9.15 o’clock in the morning and was concerning the woman. Clemens was shot in the left arm, Margaret Coates in the hand and Charles Coates in the hip.
Another example is the arrest of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue resident Henry Larkins, noted as a chauffeur who appears in a report published in the Afro-American on February 28, 1925:
Thirteen men were taken in a raid on a game in the rear of 2025 Madison avenue, Saturday. The game was in progress in a garage on the second floor of which is a chauffeur’s club is conducted. […] Those who were fined $1 and costs were: […] Henry Larkins, 1232 Druid Hill avenue […]
Other residents in the period included Rev. J. E. Lee, whose thoughts the Afro-American reported on January 5, 1929 under the headline “Inquiring Reporter Asks Baltimore Citizens Their Main Intention For 1929”:
Rev. J.E. Lee, 1232 Druid Hill avenue: “To be of a greater service to my fellow man.”
Around this same time, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue also served as offices for Mount Zion Cemetery, when H. E. Walden, then cemetery superintendent, advertised in the Afro-American on February 16, 1929:
Mount Zion Cemetery Notice! All lot owner in the Mount Zion Cemetery please communicate with the office in the next thirty days.
The Afro-American newspaper reported on March 8, 1930:
Redemption of her maiden name was granted Mrs. Ida Barber, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue along with her decree of divorce from George Barber. Mrs. Barber was formerly Miss Ida King. She was married June 12, 1916, and abandoned June 4, 1920. There are no children.
The 1930 Census recorded five people living at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue in two apartments. In the first apartment:
- John H. Jones, Head (b. 1875, Maryland) / Married / Carpenter (Own Business)
- Minnie Jones, Wife (b. 1888, Maryland) / Married
In the second apartment:
- Henry Wilson, Head (b. 1900, Georgia) / Married / Waiter
- Emma Wilson, Wife (b. 1900, Georgia) / Married / Maid
- Elizzie Wilson, Mother (b. 1900, Georgia) / Housework
Notably, most of the homes in the row in 1930, including 1234, 1230, 1228, 1226 and 1224, are owner-occupied making 1232 Druid Hill Avenue’s continued operation as a rental property a relative an unusual occurrence in that year. It seems likely that the first floor apartment continued to be occupied as offices for Mt. Zion Cemetery, as well as the Trustee Board of Baltimore Conference and headquarters of the Second Episcopal District. Historian Phillip Merrill noted a 1931 booklet on the “Council of Bishops and Connectional Council of the A.M.E. Church” that further identified 1232 Druid Hill Avenue as the office for Bishop A. L. Gaines, presiding Bishop of the Second Episcopal District.
1935: 1232 Druid Hill Avenue sold to John Stewart Morton
On March 7, 1935, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue is transferred to John Stewart Morton, Sr. According to the deed, a court decision on December 20, 1934 forced the sale to Morton – likely acting in his role as a member of the real estate and insurance firm formed as Samuel P. Morton & Son in 1868. By 1938, 1232 Druid Hill Avenue was advertised for rent for $6.50. Other properties advertised in same listing included: 2437 N. Charles Street, 1417 Mt. Royal Avenue, 1127 Druid Hill Avenue, 1215 Park Avenue, 2119 St. Paul Street, and 2803 Rayner Street.
The 1940 Census recorded 14 people living at 1232 Druid Hill Avenue in three apartments. In the first apartment:
- William Thomas (b. 1855, South Carolina) / Janitor
- Florence Thomas (b. 1896, Virginia) / Domestic
- Hazel Curtis, Daughter (b. 1883, Virginia) / Domestic
- Arthur Thomas, Son (b. 1921, Virginia) / Presser
- Vernell Thomas, Daughter (b. 1923, Virginia) / Sales Lady
- Delores Curtis, Granddaughter (b. 1934, Maryland) / Elevator Operator
In the second apartment:
- Steuart Saunders, Head (b. 1914, Maryland) / Agent
- Hilda Saunders, Wife (b. 1915, Maryland) / Office Assist
- Mattie Enell, Sister (b. 1925, Maryland)
In the third apartment:
- Robert Hall, Head (b. 1914, Virginia) / Elevator Operator
- Elise Hall, Wife (b. 1914, Virginia) / Waitress
- Margaret Hall, Daughter (b. 1938, Maryland)
- Robert Hall, Brother (b. 1911, Virginia) / Waiter
- Hattie Johnson, Lodger (b. 1916, Maryland) / Secretary
After Morton’s death on January 10, 1957, the property was transferred to his son John Stewart Morton, Sr. (d. August 3, 2011) and his wife Lettice Lee Morton (d. 2000) on November 5, 1958. The couple sold the property to Heritage Realty, Inc. on April 15, 1966. Heritage Realty, Inc. auctioned the properties, advertising 1232 Druid Hill Avenue for an auction scheduled for 11:30 am on Tuesday, April 26, 1966. The building is described in an advertisement for the auction:
Improved by 3-story brick dwelling containing 3 apartments. Separate meters. Ground Rent $100. Deposit $500
The firm sold 1232 Druid Hill Avenue and two additional lots to a partnership including Hartford E. Bealer and Elizabeth A. Bealer, William J. Kirchiro and Sally B. Kirchiro, Richard O. Haase and Nancy B. Hasse on June 17, 1966. A second partnership composed of Edward G. McCoy, Rayfield J. Mason, Peggy A. Mason purchased the property in 1976. The next year, Rayfield and Peggy Mason bought out McCoy’s one-third interest and sold 1232 Druid Hill Avenue again to Richard Alan Mizner for $12,500 on December 7, 1978.
Minzer profitably sold the building to Station Square Developers for $20,500 on November 15, 1979. Station Square Developers then sold the building to Bethel AME Church for $24,000, a more modest markup, on March 11, 1981.
This section on the contextual history of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue focuses on the two most significant associations for the property:
- George King and King Brothers
- African Americans on Druid Hill Avenue
George W. King and King Brothers
Born in 1826, George W. King is a long-time local printer, remembered today as the founder of the King Brothers printing firm in existence from 1855 up through the 1950s. King Brothers operated as a book and job printer for three generations, regularly winning contracts as the official Baltimore City printer after 1870, and doing extensive work for the state government.
During the mid to late nineteenth century, the City Council regularly voted to elect a printing firm to serve as the “City Printers” (on an annual term basis). In this role, the King Brothers printed all Baltimore City government documents. In addition, the firm printed the School Board Annual reports, as well as local, congressional, and presidential election ballots, Maryland General Assembly documents for 1894 and 1896, and more.
He had several partners over the course of his life. Originally, he founded the firm with his two brothers, but by the time of his death, his partner was relative Edwin W. King. His son, also named George W. King, succeeded his father in the business in 1897, up until the elder King’s death in 1898. However, on January 4, 1899, an account in the Sun announced that the firm of the King Brothers had been dissolved by the death of George W. King, but that the business would be continued under the same name by Edwin W. King. The notice stated that Edwin W. King purchased the entire interest of the firm, and planned to continue operating under the same name. George’s son went on to found his own eponymously named printing company: George W. King Printing Company, in competition with King Brothers.
George W. King engaged in a variety of other business and municipal activities beyond his work as a printer. In 1872, George W. King served as a Councilman for Ward 7. He also volunteered as an election judge for the 3rd, 4th and 7th precincts (according to a list appearing in the Baltimore Sun on September 19, 1889). King Brothers was one of 25 printers that organized into an Association of Employing Printers in 1877 and, a few years later, the Typographical Union. George King was also Vice-president of the Good Investment Building Association No. 3.
No other buildings associated with George King’s life are extant. The buildings that housed the printing business were located in downtown Baltimore, and have been lost in the Baltimore Fire, or due to redevelopment. His offices were over 10 South St. from 1858 – 1860, over 162 W. Baltimore St (as early as 1863 – 1871), moved to 163 W. Baltimore in the early 1880s, and settled at 123 E. Baltimore Street in 1888 through 1901. In the 1920s, after George W. King’s death, the offices were located at 208 N. Calvert St. All of these buildings no longer stand. The properties that served as his home over the years are also no longer extant. (37 N. Exeter from at least 1858 through the mid-1860s, 197 N. Exeter from in 1868, 378 N. Eden St. in 1872 – 1878.
George W. King died in November 1898, with an obituary appearing in the Baltimore Sun on November 14, 1898:
Mr. George W. King, founder of the firm of King Brothers, printers, died early Saturday morning at his home, 1232 Druid Hill avenue. Mr. King was one of the oldest active printers in the city. He was born seventy-two years ago, and at the age of seventeen years he began his apprenticeship. Upon reaching his majority he founded the firm of King Brothers. For a number of years the firm had exclusive charge of the printing for the city, and many official books came from their press.
African Americans and Druid Hill Avenue
One important theme in the contextual history of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue is the Druid Hill Avenue corridor’s broader history of race, segregation and Civil Rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In the same period the Briscoe household lived on Druid Hill Avenue, African Americans residents faced the animus of white property owners and elected officials who organized to restrict housing opportunities for African Americans and deny public services to black neighborhoods. Black residents on Druid Hill Avenue resisted these efforts through advocating for community improvements and Civil Rights—resistance exemplified by the important role the neighboring Freedom House at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue played in supporting Civil Rights struggle prior to its demolition in 2015. Over the past fifty years, however, the persistent patterns of racial disparity in housing and transportation have led to the destruction of much of the neighborhood. This demolition has left 1232 Druid Hill Avenue as a rare survivor carrying the story of Baltimore’s African American history and the history of segregation and Civil Rights.
1860s-1890s: Early History of African Americans in West Baltimore
During the first half of the nineteenth century, African Americans households could be found in houses across the city, often concentrated along narrow alleys. Despite this concentration, the city was not wholly segregated, as historian Christopher Phillips noted:
While alleys early on became predominantly black areas of residence in Baltimore, the city as a whole did not so quickly exhibit such segregation. […] As in other southern cities, no legal segregation existed in antebellum Baltimore, and all residential streets (and even the alleys) had black family dwellings interspersed with those of laboring and poor whites.7
Even as late as 1880, the city’s black population could be found distributed evenly over three-quarters of Baltimore’s 20 wards and 8 districts. By 1890, however, African Americans began to concentrate in 11th Ward (the neighborhood of Biddle Alley) where a little over 11,000 of the 21,2699 residents were African American (making the ward 51.74% black). By 1904, the city’s Northwestern District (including the 11th Ward) held more than 40% of Baltimore’s 81,381 African Americans.8
A combination of factors contributed to this pattern of emerging segregation. New homes built during a period of explosive growth sparked by the city’s annexation of a belt of land in Baltimore County in 1888 pulled German ethnic residents away from Druid Hill Avenue and other central neighborhoods to the edge’s of the city. Poor health conditions for African Americans in south and southwest Baltimore pushed African Americans (especially members of the city’s emerging middle class) out of the alleys and onto the more desirable main streets.
1890s-1910s: African Americans move into Northwest Baltimore
One perspective on the movement of African Americans onto Druid Hill Avenue is found in a 1926 account published in the Afro-American reflecting on the changes twenty-five years before:
The Baltimores’ “Who’s Who” has been constantly moving northwest in the city during the last 25 years, is revealed by a glance at old files which show the addresses of many families in the bygone days. Although a few prominent families still live in the South and Northeast Baltimore, the bulk of the population now resides in that section of the city known as Northwest Baltimore. […] Oxford and Orchard streets once housed many of Baltimore’s colored four hundred. Even Sara Ann street, now one of the most dilapidated and one of the worst streets in the entire city, once boasted the names of now prominent families. From down in south and northeast Baltimore, however, have come most of the prominent families now in the northwest section. […] Even the aristocratic St. Paul street section once knew prominent residents of the race. John Henry Smith lived for some time at 517 St. Paul street, and this was the childhood home of his daughter who is now Mrs. Amie Williams. In this same block also lived the McCabbs, Jakes, the Browns, the Sykes and James Harris, caterer. This block was sandwiched in between some of the wealthiest white families in the city. Here also Mrs. Elizabeth Sykes conducted a school to which many prominent persons went. Eighteen years ago  Mrs. Williams moved from St. Paul street home to Druid Hill avenue, where she resided for five years, and then moved into the 500 block of Dolphin street. Seventy years ago  John A. Conkley’s home was on Sharp street, between Baltimore street and Redwood, formerly German street, where he had a cabinet store and made fancy furniture. He was burnt out and afterwards moved to German street near Fremont avenue, around the St. Paul burial ground. His was the only colored family residing in either of these sections. Later, the Conkley family moved on St. Paul street, then on Richmond, between Park avenue, and Cathedral. Mr. Conkley’s last business place was on Cathedral street, just around the corner from Richmond street. After his death, the family moved to the 600 block of Mulberry street. Their present home is now in the 900 block of Stricker street, where Mr. Augustus Conkley resides with his sister, Mrs. Walker.
The account continues identifying the move of several prominent black physicians (including Dr. Harry Brown, Dr. Edward J. Wheatley, Dr. Fowler, and Dr. Nelson Moquette) from downtown to northwest Baltimore in this period.
A closer look at the churches and schools in the vicinity of 1232 Druid Hill Avenue provides further evidence for how the neighborhood changed in this period. Between 1892 and 1910, three African American churches moved from south or central Baltimore to the Druid Hill Avenue area:
- Sharp Street Church moved to Dolphin and Etting Streets in 1898 erecting a new building designed by local architect Alphonsus Bieler on a site previously occupied by the 2nd Christian Church. The continued growth of the church led them to to build the adjacent Community House, designed by black architect Arthur M. Segoin, in 1921.
- Union Baptist Church moved located on Guilford Avenue between E. Lexington and E. Saratoga Streets. Union Baptist moved to Druid Hill Avenue in 1910.
- Bethel AME Church purchased their building at Lanvale Street and Druid Hill Avenue from St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church on November 20, 1910 for $90,000 and held a dedication service on January 8, 1911.
The example of St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church, designed by Baltimore architects N.H. Hutton and John Murdoch dated from 1868, is particularly revealing of the sentiments of many white residents regarding the presence of Abraham Briscoe and other African Americans in the neighborhood. In 1903, St. Paul’s congregation refused to consider an offer by Union Baptist Church to purchase the building, publicly pledging their commitment to not sell the building to a black congregation at any price. On May 6, 1903, the Sun quoted “a property owner on Druid Hill avenue above McMechen”:
We intend to keep the negroes out of those blocks if we can. It is true there is one family in the block above Wilson street, but we hope property owners in this neighborhood will consider well before selling to negro purchasers.
By January 2, 1911, the Baltimore Sun reported, “NEGROES TAKE POSSESSION: St. Peter’s Flock Removes Memorials And May Get Cornerstone,” writing:
The colored congregation of Bethel Methodist African Church, Saratoga street near Gay street, has taken possession of St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church. Druid Hill avenue and Lanvale street, in which, for almost half a century, members of many prominent Maryland families worshiped.
The story of three nearby schools also from segregation white to segregated black during this same period:
- Public School 103 was built on Division Street in 1877 and changed from serving white to black students in 1910 when it was first used for students from nearby Public School No. 112. In March 1911, the school was officially designated Public School 103.
- Western Female High School erected at Lafayette Avenue and McCulloh Street in 1896 with the annex completed in 1911. In January 1928, Western High School moved to a new building at Pulaski Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway and the Coppin Normal School, Colored Junior High School, and offices for the Baltimore colored school administration moved into the building on McCulloh Street.
- Colored High School opened in January 1901 at the northeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Dolphin Street occupying a building erected in 1891 for the English-German School No. 1 previously located on Druid Hill Avenue.
Proponents of segregation in this period often couched their appeals in the context of preserving property values, rents and property tax revenue. This language can be found in a Sun editorial in favor of residents protesting the move to use the Division Street school building for African American students:
It is a well-known fact that as soon as a colored family moves into a block white families begin to move away. The owners of the vacated houses deciding they cannot get white tenants are forced to take such as they can get. To rent to negroes means a reduction of rentals and a deterioration in the value of property… But perhaps even stronger than any question of values and revenues is another reason waged against the change of this school. That is the proximity to the Western Female High School, which is only two blocks distant. Every street leading to the high school would be filled morning and evening with throngs of negroes of both sexes and all ages up, perhaps, to 20 years. Morning and evening the young ladies attending the high school would encounter these negroes and it is not fair nor public spirited of the School Board to subject them to that. There is a growing disposition among negro men and boys all over the land to be unmannerly, insolent and violent to white women.
On October 27, 1909, the Baltimore Sun headlined an article on the racial transition: “NEGROES ENCROACHING / Taxpayer Tells Of Conditions In Seventeenth Ward. / FINE RESIDENCES OCCUPIED / Following Booker Washington’s Advice, They Move From Alleys To The Principal Streets.” The article (illustrated with a photograph of the 1200 block of Druid Hill Avenue) quoted “a well-known taxpayer of the Seventeenth ward” who advocated in favor of the “suffrage amendment” limiting voting to white Marylanders. On the topic of housing within the Seventeenth ward, the individual is quoted:
About six years ago the negroes had taken up entirely the residences on Biddle street, important parts of Druid Hill avenue, Division and adjacent streets. It was thought that they would be confined to this restricted district, but not so. About a year or so ago they began to go into the upper part of Argyle avenue, Myrtle avenue, Lanvale street and Dolphin street. […] St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church, at Druid Hill avenue and Lanvale street, is nearly surrounded by negroes. The fine property of St. Mary’s Seminary, one of the oldest and best-known Catholic educational institutions in the country, is in a similar situation. I know that because of the negro invasion fine residence properties in this section have depreciated from 30 to 50 percent, in value, and the end is not yet.
The account claimed to observe falling prices for residential real estate, noting:
A lady had for sale a house in the 1110 block on Argyle avenue. It was valued and offered for sale at $2,400. Before she secured a purchaser negroes moved into the house next door. She was compelled and did sell her house for $1,100. I mention this to show that the fact of negroes going into this part of the ward does depreciate property values, and consequently means a loss to the city in the way of decreased revenues from taxes.
Educational institutions (both white and black) served as particular point of concern:
There are four negro schools in the Seventeenth ward. The negroes of this ward do not pay enough in taxes to pay for the running of these schools. Not only do they not do this, but their very presence and intrusion into strictly white streets there cause a loss to the city in taxes.
Ultimately, such residents won a victory of sorts on December 20, 1910, when Baltimore Mayor John Barry Mahool signed into law the West Segregation Ordinance, named for the bill’s sponsor, Council Samuel L. West. The new law was the first city ordinance in the nation to require racially segregated housing. It forbid black residents from moving to designated “white blocks” and white residents from moving to designated “colored blocks.” A campaign against the bill led by African American activists and lawyers living in the Druid Hill Avenue area soon succeeded in overturning the law in Maryland state court as unconstitutional but the legacy of segregated housing endures.
1232 Druid Hill Avenue is a three-story tall, three-bay wide Italianate brick rowhouse. Historically, the building stood second from the northern end of the row—near identical to the rowhouse built at 1234 Druid Hill Avenue excepting the location of the front door in the northern-most bay rather than the southern most. Aligned to the orientation of Druid Hill Avenue, the front of the building faces northeast. The building is approximately 20 feet wide by 80 feet deep and follows a rectangular plan. Prior to the demolition of 1234 Druid Hill Avenue, the building was fully attached and separated from 1230 Druid Hill Avenue by a partial areaway to allow light and air into the rear extension of the building. The building steps down in height from the front to the back, creating a flat sloping roof. The front of the building has been painted with a flat red paint. The cornice is painted white.
The windows openings had until recently been covered with wooden boards. They appear to be contemporary replacement 1/1 windows. Historically, the building likely had 4/4 wood windows on the upper stories and 4/6 wood windows on the first floor. The window sills are composed of a light-colored stone (marble). The raised basement is also faced in stone. Five marble steps lead to the wooden exterior double doors. Above the double-doors is a clear glass transom window. The front entrance has a carved stone surround capped by a carved ornamental keystone.
Hayward, Mary Ellen, and Charles Belfoure. The Baltimore Rowhouse. Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. p.77. ↩
Residency at 1419 Maryland Avenue based on Woods’ Baltimore City Directory (1897). ↩
Phillips, Christopher. Freedom’s Port: The African American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860. University of Illinois Press, 1997. p. 75. ↩
Ibid. p. 139. ↩
Mjagkij, Nina. Organizing Black America. Routledge, 2013. p. 76. ↩
Mjagkij, Nina. Organizing Black America. Routledge, 2013. p. 76. ↩
Phillips, Christopher. Freedom’s Port: The African American Community of Baltimore, 1790-1860. University of Illinois Press, 1997. ↩
Roberts, Samuel. Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2009. ↩