Built in the 1910s, Preston Gardens is the site of a little-known black neighborhood just north of the Baltimore City Courthouse. Much of this neighborhood was demolished by the construction of the park, the Orleans Street Viaduct and a number of street widening projects that following the 1904 Fire.
This unusual linear park along St. Paul Street is likely familiar only as a place you may drive by on your way to the Baltimore City Courthouse. Few know that in this neighborhood, along Hamilton Street and Courtland Street – a thriving black community stood up through the early 20th century. Black lawyers, religious leaders and countless others occupied a mix of homes, offices and social halls built from the early to mid-1800s. The neighborhood had originally developed as an affluent district just north of the developed downtown when Mount Vernon Place was still a forest and a dueling ground. As the city’s African-American population grew following the U.S. Civil War, black household largely moved to south Baltimore and central Baltimore – clustering around the black institutions that predated the war and prospects for employment around the harbor. By the late 1890s and early 1900s, the district passed out of fashion with many middle-class African-Americans as they followed white Baltimoreans in moving out into the northwestern suburbs now known as Bolton Hill, Madison Park and Druid Heights.
Unfortunately, this outmigration and a series of “improvements” to St. Paul Street between the 1910s and 1930s resulted in the demolition of nearly all of the buildings in this area. The construction of Preston Gardens was one of the “improvements” that led to this clearance. Mercy Hospital tore down a row on St. Paul Street containing some the few surviving buildings from this district in 2008. Determining the significance of the few surviving structures requires additional research. Some, like the former Bethel AME Church Parsonage on Hamilton Street, may have significant associations with Baltimore’s Civil Rights movement.
1815: The African Methodist Bethel Society purchases property on Saratoga Street
Historian Lawrence H. Mamiya in “A Social History of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore: The House of God and the Struggle for Freedom,” (1994) writes:
On May 9, 1815, this separatist group of black Methodists assembled and selected the name “The African Methodist Bethel Society.” With Daniel Coker as its leader, the group included the Gilliard family, Charles Hackett, Don Carlos Hall, and Stephen Hill. When it was established as a formal church, Bethel had about 633 members who were led by Daniel Coker as preacher, along with seven trustees. They purchased property on Fish Street (now Saratoga Street) from John Carman, a white abolitionist, for their church building.1
1837: Baltimore Quakers split from Lombard Street meeting to form a Baltimore Yearly Meeting on Courtland Street
Note: The details of this split and the location of the yearly meeting on Cortland Street are unclear—additional research or interpretation is required -
[…]aware of the doctrines maintained by Elias Hicks and his followers and knowing the body in Lombard street to be identified with them refuse to hold any religious fellowship or correspondence with that body and formally recognize the Yearly Meeting held in Courtland street Baltimore as the Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the religious Society of Friends.2
1855: Second Colored Baptist Church moves to Saratoga and Calvert Streets
The 1885 History of Baptist Churches in Maryland describes the history of the Saratoga Street African Baptist Church writing:
This Church originated October 29 1848 with four members under the pastorship of Noah Davis who was called from Fredericksburg Va by the Board of the Association in 1847 as a missionary among the colored people of Baltimore They were obliged to worship in a hall up a flight of stairs and Bro Davis labored under many difficulties By 1854 he reported only nineteen members At that time the body was called the Second Colored Baptist Church On Feb 18 1855 a large and commodious chapel on the corner of Saratoga and Calvert streets erected by Bro Win Crane was occupied by this Church and its name changed accordingly The congregations at once increased four fold and the Church began to prosper By 1857 they reported seventy one members In 1861 they enjoyed a revival 70 were baptized and they reported one hundred and sixty seven members But quite a number of these were afterwards excluded so that in 1866 the membership had fallen to one hundred and forty eight In May of that year the Church though assisted liberally by Mr Crane and others found themselves unable to raise the amount necessary to pay for their building or the interest on the debt or even a small rent Becoming entirely hopeless of success they concluded to abandon the house Bro Davis became too feeble to preach and the Church gradually disbanded uniting with the Union Church as already stated Bro Davis died April 6 1867 lamented by many who knew his great worth as a Christian and a minister.3
Note: The formatting/punctuation for the above passage needs to be corrected. -
c. 1865: Baltimore Normal School founded
One of the earliest black institutions located in this area was the Baltimore Normal School established by Quakers for training black public school teachers shortly after the end of the U.S. Civil War located on Courtland Street near Saratoga Street.4
1868: Union Baptist Church moves to Guilford Avenue and Saratoga Street
Union Baptist Church started in 1852 meeting in a small building on “Lewis street, near Mullikin” with just 34 Sunday school students and total annual donations of $1.40. The church received a large number of new members in 1866 when the Saratoga Street Baptist Church disbanded and combined with what was then still known as the Lewis Street congregation. The expanded congregation of 175 members incorporated as the Union Baptist Church and started searching for a larger building.
The 1885 History of Baptist Churches in Maryland describes how Union Baptist moved from Lewis Street to Guilford Avenue (then known as North Street) writing:
In 1868, Rev. Franklin Wilson, Christopher West, Hiram Woods and Henry Taylor, at the earnest request of Bro. Williams, the pastor, purchased the Disciples’ meeting house on North street [Guilford Avenue], near Saratoga and offered it to this Church on certain conditions, at the same time making liberal donations toward the purchase. After considerable opposition on the part of some of the members, who clung tenaciously to the little old house on Lewis street, it was accepted, and the Church removed to its new quarters from which day its course has been onward.5
1881: Bethel AME Church considers a move
Bethel AME Church located on Saratoga Street in 1796[is this correct?]
Bethel, then located a half block away from today’s City Hall, and helped organize the first conference of Free Negroes in 1852
Rev. Levi Coppin, pastor of Bethel Church from 1881 to 1883, as early as 1881, he noted:
Bethel could not remain indefinitely in Saratoga St., among the iron foundries and hold a leading place among the Churches. When Bethel was organized in the latter par of the eighteenth century, colored people sought a secluded spot for their Churches. In a back alley; behind the woods; where they could sing and pray late and loud without disturbing the “white folks.” Bethel, down on the “marsh” was in a good place at first, but in 1881, times had changed, and were still changing rapidly.6
Coppin was unsuccessful in encouraging the congregation to consider a move but Bethel AME Church was eventually forced to move in 1909.
1892: Widening of St. Paul Street first proposed
As early as 1892, Baltimore City officials began to consider the possibility of widening St. Paul Street, as the Sun reported on March 22:
An ordinance was reported by Mr. Doyle, from the highways committee. To widen St. Paul street, from Lexington street to Dark lane. It was made a special order for next Monday. Mr. Guyton opposed it on the score of expense. Mr. Berry estimated the cost at $80,000,. Mr. Leonard said that the street will become a driving thoroughfare, and that now is the time to widen it before expensive buildings are put up.7
The growing mobility of Baltimore’s population as automobiles and electric streetcars replaced an early generation of horse-drawn omnibus lines opened up new possibilities for residents both white and black. 1892 is the same year that Sharp Street Church moved from its South Baltimore location (where it had stood since the early 1800s ) up to Dolphin Street. The church likely followed some of its members and led others to move. Other streets in the vicinity of downtown Baltimore also saw proposals to widen, such as a debate over Eutaw Street in 1893:
[unreadable text] Eugene Levering, Geo. T. Gambrill, Wm. P. Clotworthy, John E. Hurst and John Glenn, who are urging that Eutaw street be widened between Biddle and Preston streets, will send a letter to the City Council committee on highways in answer to a protest which has been issued against the widening.8
Thirty years later, the Afro-American looked back on the changing composition of the city’s neighborhoods in late 1890s and early 1900s, commenting:
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 northeast Baltimore in this period.9
In 1898, the Ledger (a paper that later merged with the Afro) moved from 1605 McElderry Street to Courtland Street between Saratoga and Lexington Streets.10
The Afro moved in August 1899 to 307 St. Paul Street into a building they described as “more favorable and inviting than before.”11 Other neighborhood institutions included the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children.
1903: Attack on Cortland Street Masonic Temple
Why did African-Americans move to northwest Baltimore? Some had been displaced in South Baltimore, by the expansion of the B&O railroad yards around Camden Station. Downtown neighborhoods also often had older homes without access to more modern amenities. The city’s growing segregation and a clear antagonism towards black residents in some area’s also clearly played a role.
On November 7, 1903 the Afro-American reported on an incident of “mob violence” leading:
A TASTE OF MOB VIOLENCE: IS THIS WHAT WE ARE TO GET UNDER THE NEW DEMOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION?" / The Fight That The Democrats Made Under The Head of “Negro Domination” Bearing Fruit / The Temple on Courtland Street Stoned By A Mob Of White Boys And Men / Members Going Into The Building Are Greeted With Stones, Tin Cans and of “Nigger.” / Policeman In Hurry To Get To The Place. One of the most disgraceful things seen in this city since the days of “Plug Uglyism” was the stoning of the Masonic Temple of Courtland street, on Tuesday night. A large bon-fire had been built on the corner of Pleasant and Courtland streets, and there were a howling mob of boys and men surrounding it. They were having their own fun and piling high dry goods boxes and other material on the fire, when it occurred to some of them that they might get a little more fun out of the situation. Members of one of the Lodges commenced to make their appearance on the scene making their way to the Temple. Several stones were thrown, but as they hit no one no attention was paid to it, little thinking what was to be outcome. Not meeting with any resistance, about nine o’clock, while the members were quietly engaged with their business, they were startled by a crash of broken glass, quickly followed by another and another. […] Several of the members hurried to the Central Police Station and demanded protection. There were but few policemen present, and those in authority told the men to go back to their hall and protection would be sent them. After persistent effort, a single policeman was sent with the men, and he took his time in getting up to the place, saying: “I have been on my feet all day and I am tired, and don’t feel like being bothered.” The men urged haste, but he simply declined to do any hurrying. When he arrived on the scene, the mob was pretty well scattered, fearing the vengeance of the colored men who were standing around their hall. They finally went back to their business and there was no more trouble. The persistent fight that has been made on the Negro during the past few weeks have emboldened the white toughs, and the Negro has trouble coming to him. Several of the teachers of the public schools have been compelled to complain to the School Board of the trouble they are having with the white boys in the neighborhood of their schools. The School Board has taken the matter under consideration. On Wednesday morning between the hours of six and seven o’clock the mob returned and riddled the entire front of the building, hardly a whole pane of glass being left. Shutters were smashed and the doorknob broken off. Fully a barrel of bricks and stones were gathered up.12
Around 1904, African-Americans attempting to move into Locust Point met with similar attacks, as the Sun recalled six years later, under the headline, “THEY BLOCKED INVASION / Residents Of Locust Point Quickly Solved Negro Problem. BY FORCE AND MORAL SUASION / Young Men Of Southeast Baltimore Always Ready To Protect The Female Sex From Discourtesies,” writing:
As time passed negroes moved into Sharp street, in Southwest Baltimore, and some began to work in developing Locust Point water front. Some families evidenced a desire to live near their work. They were told by some of the Locust Point white men that if they moved into that section they would also die near their work. The white men meant it, the negroes realized it, and it is doubtful if there is a negro family in all Locust Point. On evening about six years ago  a negro family moved into a house in Locust Point. The furniture arrived at 6 o’clock. At midnight the house was a total wreck. The doors had been torn from their hinges and the window frames smashed. At 7 o’clock the next morning the negroes had left. They never came back.13
Other violence could be found in northwest Baltimore, as the Sun reported on November 30, 1913:
Captain Henry, of the Northwestern district, last night detailed a squad of policemen in the neighborhood of the 1100 block of Myrtle avenue to prevent further stoning of a house at 1117 Myrtle avenue, which on Friday was purchased by H.E. Young, a colored pharmacist. Friday night the front and rear windows were broken by a fusillade of stones, but when the police arrived the attacking party had disappeared. It is said that the police learned the identify of several young white men and that arrests will be made today.14
Dr. Young was an associate of Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson and Rev. G.R. Waller.
Note: I’m having a difficult time identifying the location of Dr. Young’s residence before he attempted to move to Myrtle Avenue in 1913. This example may also be too late chronologically to pair with the other two. This may be a good place for a map with a time slider (or an animation) to illustrate the movement of individuals and institutions from central/south Baltimore to northwest Baltimore. -
1904: Great Baltimore Fire burns downtown Baltimore
The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 provided another significant new impetus for street widening efforts on several major downtown streets. Just a few weeks after the fire, the judges at the Baltimore City Courthouse met and sent a joint recommendation requesting that St. Paul Street be widened to create a plaza directly in front of the courthouse building, as the Sun reported on February 13, 1904:
The Judges of the Supreme Bench met yesterday with the commission on the emergency legislation appointed by the Governor for the purpose of discussing the situation. A letter was sent to the Mayor recommending that provision shall be made for widening St. Paul street opposite the Courthouse before any permits are granted to rebuild on that thoroughfare. The Mayor replied approving the suggestion.15
The connection between the intentional clearance of black homes and road construction on St. Paul Street is ambiguous in this early period. The judges justified the expanded demolition based on the noise nearby buildings projected into their courtrooms. [Note: I have a reference for this—but I don’t know where it is]
In the case of the proposed extension of Howard Street, however, a 1909 letter-to-the-editor by Colonel C. Baker Clotworthy, commander of the Fifth Regiment Armory, left little doubt:
I would be deeply interested in this improvement [the northward extension of Howard Street] because it means so much more than simply tearing down some houses and opening a street. Everyone in the city is familiar with the steady decrease which has taken place in the value of property in this neighborhood for the last 20 years. All about Richmond Market, and extending north, there are hundreds of undesirable houses and, in many cases, huts. This sore is spreading rapidly. A great many negroes, not of the best class, gradually tenant the houses on the edge of this district and immediately the white people move from the block invaded. If this continues no one knows where it will stop.16
See also 17 for more on Clotworthy’s opposition to black participation in local and state politics.
1909: Widening of Saratoga Street displaces Bethel AME Church
In 1909, Bethel AME Church was forced to move by post-1904 fire street widening plans, as historian Lawrence H. Mamiya writes:
The council passed an ordinance to widen Saratoga Street, but the church building was in the way. Faced with the condemnation of its building, the congregation voted to purchase the building of St. Peter Episcopal Church. The members put down $20,000 cash on a $90,000 building and took out a fifteen-year mortgage.18
1914: Widening of St. Paul Street debated, approved by City Council
Note: This next section is excerpted from a Maryland Inventory of Historic Places Form prepared Catherine Larson Farnham for John Milner Associates, Inc. The MIHP form on Preston Gardens was prepared on 2007 September 27 and revised on 2011 April 27. -
The creation of Preston Gardens and St. Paul Place began in 1914 as a pet project of then-Mayor James H. Preston. Preston was an advocate for city beautification throughout his two mayoral terms (1911-1919). Other improvement projects he oversaw or initiated included the restoration of Mount Vernon Place, the construction of the War Memorial across from City Hall on Gay Street, and the underground diversion of the Jones Falls.
An ordinance passed in 1914 authorized the city to condemn and acquire the buildings and lots that stood in the way of what would become Preston Gardens. Removing what he considered to be blighted buildings, Preston hoped future tax income from increased property values around the downtown park would defray the cost of the improvements. The use of loan money designated for harbor improvements and his persistent championing of the St. Paul widening despite its costs caused the project to be dubbed “Preston’s Folly.” The project eventually proved successful, as sale prices in the area doubled, and in some cases tripled, following the opening of the new park.
The city hired Thomas Hastings to design the park. His design reflected aspects of both Beaux-Arts and City Beautiful aesthetics. St. Paul Street was widened between Lexington and Hamilton Streets, and five blocks of row housing were demolished to create St. Paul Place with a park space in the middle.
1915: Mayor James Preston reelected for second term
On May 1915, the Afro-American remarked on Mayor James Preston’s election under the headline “WHO IS PRESTON?”:
During Mr. Preston’s past term he failed to recognize the just and equitable expectations of the colored people of the city. The colored people are poor, and there is nothing which Mr. Preston can gain, of political value, in being fair towards them.19
In 1915, the Afro-American highlighted “Praise for Mr. Preston,” writing:
The colored residents of this city are grateful to him for the fact that the scheme of municipal improvements included the colored residential sections, and were it not for the fact that he signed an ordinance to make the Negroes of Baltimore live in segregated districts, many men of the race would be among the most ardent of his supporters for another term.20
Although some long-time residents of the area had left, many remained up until throughout the debate and up until they were forced out by the impending demolition. As late as 1915, the “Who’s who of the Colored Race” directory lists:
- Lawyer James Henry Hammond - 510 St. Paul Street (Home); 217 Courtland Street (Office)
- Lawyer and City Councilman Harry Sythe Cummings - 1318 Druid Hill Avenue (Home); 219 Courtland Street (Office)
- [Look for the directory for the third reference]
1917: Demolition begins on St. Paul Street
On June 23, 1917, the Afro-American reported on the “Passing of Former Aristocratic Section” writing:
Pedestrians on St. Paul street, north of Saratoga, and vicinity, are struck these days by the changed aspect of things. The plan of the city to clear the east side of St. Paul street out to Centre and thence back along the west side of St. Paul street, carries with it the destruction of properties well known to Baltimoreans. The 500 block of St. Paul street was a sort of aristocratic neighborhood for colored people over a quarter of a century ago. There lived the Jakes and other prominent families. Today its aristocratic past is but a memory. The tearing down of St. Paul street property meant the elimination of the old Monumental Assembly Rooms, and the former home of James W. Hughes the caterer. At St. Paul and Pleasant streets, a lot marks the site of the old Pythian Castle. St. Elizabeth’s Asylum still stands, but will be dismantled this summer. With a remodeled front, the Afro-American Building, at 307 St. Paul street, awaits the coming of the wrecker, while the former home of the True Reformers across the street, is a reminder of the heydey of prosperity of that order. At the northwest corner of Saratoga and St. Paul streets stands the remodeled building, for many years the home of the old Baltimore Normal School. When one looks at the corner diagonally across the street from the old school property, one’s mind instantly turns to John R. Keene, whose pies, cakes, buns and other good things found equal favor with students of the Colored High and Grammar School and the Polytechnic Institute. A walk up Courtland street will show the Masonic Temple in the same old quarters of many years ago, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Union Baptist Church and the great majority of the Odd Fellows have secured homes up town, but the Masons and the Nazarites are still landmarks in the downtown section. It may be said for the Nazarites, however, that they have a modern building and are located at the juncture of several car lines.21
Funding for the additional development of St. Paul Street beyond the initial demolition came from a $3,000,000 bond issue that the Mayor planned to present to Baltimore voters in November 1917. The funding linked the St. Paul Street plan to the proposed “Civic Centre” that cleared the way for War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall and several other small parks recommended by Baltimore Health Commissioner John D. Blake for “sections in which the department had grouped the largest number of cases of tuberculosis.” In their August 9, 1917 report the Sun noted:
The plan is to use the proceeds of the loan in eliminating plague spots and improving health conditions in the city, as well as for building the civic centre and widening and parking St. Paul street from Centre street to the Courthouse. It has been under consideration at the City Hall for some time, and was the subject of exhaustive investigation by the Mayor’s Committee on Housing Conditions, which has recommended an amendment to the Building Code that will meet the situation.22
In contrast to the concern for lost landmarks in the Afro-American, the Baltimore Sun responded to the demolition with excitement and approval for the planned “improvements” and the only mention of the area’s history tied to an earlier generation of white residents, writing on February 20, 1918:
By early summer a tremendous change will have taken place in the downtown section of the city and the former Baltimoreans who returns to the old home town after a few years will hardly known the place. […] the St. Paul street improvement will have been completed, and in the place of the buildings between St. Paul and Courtland streets and from Lexington to Franklin, once the homes of the old Baltimore aristocrats, there will be a glorified St. Paul street widened to a decent width and with all the kinks and death traps take out, and a sunken garden stretching from Lexington street to Centre street. All the property required for this improvement along St. Paul street has been acquired by the city and paid far and most of the building have already been torn down. There still remains the block between Lexington and Saratoga streets, in the centre of which still stands the former home of that prince of Maryland political insurgents, Severn Teackle Wallis, but in a few weeks that too will be gone. The whole block is being torn down as the wreckers can do the job and remove the materials. As soon as the buildings are all down and the wreckage cleared away Highways Engineer Cooksey will get busy and the work of widening St. Paul street and making the sunken gardens will begin. This is regarded by Mayor Preston as the secondary civic centre.23
1919 May 15: Preston Gardens dedicated
Note: Additional research is needed to locate and transcribe accounts of the dedication of Preston Gardens. -
Catherine Larson Farnham described the original form of the park in 1919 for the Preston Gardens inventory form:
Mayor Preston reportedly wanted the park to have a cruciform plan in honor of Cardinal Gibbons, but others prevailed and the park was designed as an oblong shape. The park, initially called Preston Terraces, was completed and dedicated in 1919. In its original form, the park had a small parking lot at its south end facing the courthouse, a landscaped island south of Saratoga Street, a long segment of parkland between Saratoga and Orleans Streets with a parallel landscaped median strip with a center sidewalk bordered by trees in the southbound lanes of St. Paul Street, and a wider, shorter landscaped park space north of Orleans Street. The large park sector had winding paths, four stone stairways, and lush plantings and trees.
Later, in 1926, the Afro-American recalled:
When you pass through the beautiful Preston Gardens, now almost the heart of Baltimore’s humming business section, you are passing through a section where some beautiful brown-skinned girls and chivalrous youth who glided across hardwood floors to the tune of the old-time waltz while proud matrons and father looked on.24
1935: WPA funding supports extension of Howard Street, Bath Street viaduct
In the 1930s, long-delayed plans for the extension of Howard Street to the north followed the example of Preston Gardens in clearing blocks of African-American occupied housing to create an easier route for suburban commuters, as the Sun reported on March 17, 1935:
Under the plans for the Howard street extension now awaiting approval of the City Council, an entirely new traffic artery soon will be pushed northward from the Richmond Market. Turning neither right nor left, it will follow an air line toward North avenue. Whole blocks will fall before it as it strikes diagonally from intersection to intersection through the off-kilter street plan of the area it will traverse. A plaza will open up to the south of the Fifth Regiment Armory. Churches, school, garages, homes of all kinds, a laundry, a transformer house and a little-used railroad station will disappear before the onward march. […] Once the City Council has given its approval, the project will be in the hands of the Commissioner for Opening Streets and the owners of the 150-odd pieces of property which must be purchased to complete the plan. At the outside, it is expected that some eight months will be required to complete these negotiations and acquire the titles, but the work will not have to await the signature of the last recalcitrant property owner. Contracts will be advertised as rapidly as possible and, before many months, the sound of the steam shovels will be heard. Once contracts are awarded about one year will be needed to complete the project. […]25
The same Sun account described the impact of the Bath Street Viaduct/Orleans Street Viaduct on Cortland Street and Preston Gardens:
Already familiar are the plans for the western terminus of the viaduct. It will cross over Courtland street and Preston Gardens, and enter the upper level between Franklin and Mulberry streets. Courtland street will be widened throughout its entire length and a new feeder near the Courthouse (between St. Paul street and Courtland) will be constructed. Traffic arrangements, of course, will be left to the proper division of the Police Department, but the engineers propose to lead all west-bound traffic destined for the downtown area northward on St. Paul street to Hamilton, there turning it back toward to south via Courtland street.26
Catherine Larson Farnham described the changes to the park in this period for the Preston Gardens inventory form:
Note: I have not formatted this as a block quote due to the length of this excerpt. Additional research on the later changes to the park is still required. -
Numerous changes have occurred to the park over the years. Ironically, though the park had its genesis as a traffic solution, ever increasing automobile traffic has resulted in the loss of considerable Preston Gardens park space to accommodate road expansions and traffic control measures. Construction of the elevated Orleans Street Viaduct across the park in ca. 1935 created a new gateway to the downtown, but effectively separated the green space areas to the north and south of Orleans Street. The separation is both visual and physical: the elevated roadway forms a solid one-story wall that prevents visual contact between the two main sectors, and original pedestrian pathways toward the Orleans Street crossing were blocked off without provision of a pedestrian tunnel or path linking both sides. To reach one side of the park from the other today, one must either descend to and cross over to the far side of northbound St. Paul Street to use a sidewalk through the northbound lane tunnel under the viaduct, then cross back to re-enter the park on the other side, or ascend to the southbound elevation and cross the fast-moving traffic from Mulberry onto the viaduct and exit the viaduct onto Franklin. Further widening of St. Paul Street concurrent with the viaduct construction consumed much of the original exterior park space, notably the medians on the southbound side, which are now reduced to narrow strips. To their credit, the designers did integrate the viaduct and the widened southbound St. Paul Street with consistent, curved brick retaining walls, which are of high quality and sympathetic to the formal staircases. Light Street was later extended through one of the original islands on the south end of the park between Saratoga Street and Lexington Street, creating the present triangular islands separated by a wide cut-through, and isolating the park space from the courthouse to the south.
As previously mentioned, the John Mifflin Hood statue was relocated to the main section of the park in 1963. Of all the changes to the park, this was by far the most sympathetic. The neighborhood setting of the park has changed from predominantly residential to predominantly commercial, government, and institutional uses. Commercial redevelopment and Mercy Hospital’s expansions have resulted in demolition of most of the remaining row house blocks around the park, although some have survived north of Orleans Street. High-rise buildings on the upper level of St. Paul Street now tower over the park.
Research & Editorial Notes
What does Preston Gardens have to do with segregation?
There is an opportunity to explain how segregation emerged in late 19th and early 20th century Baltimore in a white supremacist culture that encouraged anxiety over interracial contact as a risk to health and safety. One example of “threatening” interracial contact is a well-publicized incident of a black teenager entering City Hall this incident involving man at City Hall in 1907:
Declaring, that he was the champion of the colored race and the owner of the City Hall, Isaiah Lampsoo, a negro youth, burst open the door of Mayor Mahool’s office shortly after 9 o’clock yesterday morning, stole the Mayor’s mall and ran away. It was the second trip of the negro to Mayor Mahool’s office and the police soon…27
How did Baltimore City use condemnation laws to take properties?
Another important theme that could be drawn out is how the city used condemnation to make the large-scale clearance for Preston Gardens possible and what the economic consequences of this clearance were on Baltimore’s African-American community.
What is the role of Colonel Sherlock Swann?
Col. Sherlock Swann (see this Maryland Historical Society Collection for more background) is cited as an early author of the plans for widening St. Paul Street as a legacy of his role as the head of the Burnt District Commission. As the grandson of Governor Thomas Swann and an active supporter of the Democratic Party in the early 1900s, it seems likely that Col. Swann supported white supremacy but it is unclear what role his beliefs played in shaping the St. Paul Street proposal and implementation.