History of Howard Park

View of Baltimore from Howard Park, ca 1796
Oil on canvas by George Beck (1748/50-1812)
 For more information, please contact museum@mdhs.org

View of Baltimore from Howard Park Oil on canvas by George Beck, 18th Century








Copy of original (item 1846.3.1) owned by the Maryland Historical Society. 
For reproduction and permission information, please contact imagingservices@mdhs.org

Early History


Most of the land in present Howard Park was granted by royal patent on December 21, 1739 to John Buck, who deeded part of it thirty years later to John Ridgely. It stayed in the Ridgely family until August 24, 1847, when John S. Gittings purchased the land. It was from the Gittings family that Nicholas M. Smith and William Schwartz purchased 389 acres in 1892. These two (2) gentlemen established the Smith & Schwartz Company and agreed to donate land for a park if the city government would run a streetcar line to the park…. Gwynn Oak Park was opened on May 15, 1895.


Origin of Name


The question as to when and why the community got the name of "Howard Park" has been posed more often than it has been satisfactory answered. Early residents believe that the area was once somehow connected with the estate of General John Eager Howard and was called Howard's woods and later Howard's Park. The difficulty about this is that General Howard did not, nor did any of his family own any land in the area. The best information seems to be that the Washington & Baltimore Land Company first used the name "Howard Park" on the plat drawn on December 14, 1898. They simply plucked the name out of the air. The area from Wesley Avenue to Liberty Road and between Rogers Avenue and Marmon Avenue was first called Harrison Terrace. The area from Gwynn Oak Junction to Howard Park and Haddon Avenues was dubbed Central Park on early maps; and the land from Ferndale Avenue north of Liberty Road to the city line was called Ashburton long before a community of that name was built in the Hilton Street neighborhood. Just east of Ashburton along the west side of Milford Avenue was an area known as Whitaker's Subdivision. The area at the end of Brightwood, Milford, and Howard Park Avenues south of Auburn was once known as Hillcrest; the golf course was known as Sandusky Farm; other parts of the neighborhood were called Brightwood and Forest Glen, while the section from Beethoven Avenue to Purnell Drive was shown as Gwynn Oak Uplands. The area immediately east of Gwynn Oak Junction was commonly known as West Forest Park and north of the junction was West Arlington. By the time of the 1918 extension of the city boundary the name "Howard Park" was generally accepted for the area from Eldorado Avenue to the city line and from Post Road to Hillsdale Golf Course. The other community names disappeared or were used elsewhere.


Annexation by Baltimore City


The city absorbed the Howard Park community within the city charter in 1918. There were three (3) churches: Howard Park Methodist at the northeast corner of Fernpark, Bosworth, and Marmon Avenues; All Saints Roman Catholic Chapel on Liberty Heights Avenue and midway between Eldorado and Mohawk Avenues; and Liberty Heights Baptist at the northwest corner of Mohawk and Liberty Heights Avenues. School #218 was erected in 1907. The community numbered more than 300 families with 225 dwellings. It had two (2) groceries… Anderson's at Liberty Heights and Eldorado Avenues and Saumenig's Liberty Heights and Milford Avenues. It had a bank, Liberty Bank of Baltimore County that later became a part of Union Trust Company in 1927. The community had a pharmacy on the southwest corner of "the junction" and later the northeast corner of "the junction". Many of the community's streets were still dirt roads, but Liberty Heights, Rogers, Gwynn Oak, Eldorado, and segments of others were paved. In 1928, there was a massive change in the street names and numbering of blocks. Duplicate names found elsewhere in Baltimore City where given other names in Howard Park. The city planners rectified the growth in Howard Park by allowing room for expansion that nowhere in Howard Park is there a 5400 block. The twenty-five (25) years that followed its incorporation into Baltimore City marked Howard Park's greatest period of growth. In 1945, the Howard Park community emerged as a complete community with a grammar school, a parochial school, and a high school, five (5) churches, a full complement of stores, all streets paved, and 2000 dwelling units.



Founding of HPCA


In April 1947, the Howard Park Civic Association, Inc. was established. It's first objective was to obtain an athletic field for the youth of the community. In September 1949, the facility was completed and 4000 residents took part in the dedication ceremonies of Cohlon Field, south of the golf course. Other accomplishments of the association were the softball program for boys and girls at the southwest corner of Hillsdale and Springdale Avenues, in 1952. They established a sponsored bowling league in 1950. In 1948, the association was demanding that the Forest Park High School swimming pool be completed. Then in 1958 the "Rec" center at school #218 was built and the association voted $100.00 and solicited donations that amounted to an additional $505.00 to furnish a meeting room at the center. In 1960, a 42-unit apartment complex was sought at the site of the Old Car Barn in the 5500 block of Gwynn Oak Avenue. The association had this cut in half. The growth of community organizations in the years following World War II is notable. In addition to the Howard Park Civic Association, Inc. were the Gwynn Oak Junction Businessmen's Association, the Howard Park American Legion Post, the Parent-Teachers Association of school #218, the Howard Park Optimist Club, and the Liberty Road V.F.W. These organizations often worked together. An example of this togetherness is the association and the junction businessmen co-sponsored ship of many projects beginning in 1947.


Community Integration


A major development in the 1960's was the change from an all-white Howard Park in the direction of a community in which Blacks were in the majority. There is no record of a Black resident in Howard Park prior to August 1959. The first home purchased by a Black family was in the 5500 block of Belleville Avenue. Blacks were equally apprehensive and doubtful of being welcome in the Howard Park Civic Association, Inc. They organized several small associations of their own; but in 1966, a few were welcomed as members of the association. In 1967, they were committee heads and by 1970, the PTA, as well as the association was using the talent of both races as principal officers.


Landmarks


The oldest building in Howard Park was the Powder Mill Property, a dwelling located at the southeast corner of Stonington and Bosworth Avenues, The property was built of native fieldstones, and it is at least a century old. As late as 1910, the community first Black resident during the 20th century made his home in a log cabin in front of the principal dwelling.


The first structure to be erected was the Old Car Barn located at what would now be 5522-32 Gwynn Oak Avenue. It was large enough to house six (6) streetcars. The metal building, built in 1894, was set back from the street far enough that the trees and homes on Gwynn Oak Avenue shield it from view. The barn itself was torn down in 1944.


The Old Water Tower was for years the highest structure in the community. It was erected in 1900 in a field that extended west of Wesley and Belleville Avenues. Prior to 1918, the function of the tower was to store artesian well water and provide pressure to the lines of Howard Park users. When the city extended its boundaries in 1918 to encompass Howard Park, one of the first improvements was to substitute city water in place of the artesian well product. The water tower thus became useless during the 1920's and was dismantled in the early 1930's.


Not nearly so well remembered as the tennis club is the Howard Park Country Club that lived its brief existence from 1913 to 1917 or the west side of Beethoven Avenue, at the end of Norwood Avenue.


Early residents of Howard Park mentioned the existence of Bluebell Hill. The reference is to the area northwest from Liberty Heights and Rogers Avenues. The hill was literally covered by bluebells and local young people picnic there.


The Red Barn was a landmark on Milford Avenue for seventy (70) years. Erected before 1900 at what would now be 3907 Milford Avenue. The barn housed horses, cows, chickens, and farm implements. However, decay followed disuse and because the barn abutted directly on the side walk. The barn was pictured in The Evening Sun for November 24, 1967 and in the spring, 1968; it was razed.


The Old Fire Engine House was located just behind the 5200 block of Gwynn Oak Avenue and separated from that lot by an alley that marks Ferndale Avenue junction with Fernpark Avenue. This well constructed little building is use today as a dwelling. It was the community first church.


The Hoffman House had been built many years before he came to Howard Park in 1903. It was a large three (3)-story building at the northwest corner of Liberty Heights and Howard Park Avenues. It had a large hall or casino next door with a stage and a long barn in the rear where horses from Pimlico Race Track and Gentlemen's Driving Park were stabled during the races. Rooms were rented to owners and trainers and the establishment also provided hotel accommodations for other travelers. The building was converted from a hotel into apartments between 1930 and 1940.Later, the building was pulled down to erect a gasoline station.


The greatest of the Howard Park landmarks was Gwynn Oak Junction. The center of the junction was the intersection, Gwynn Oak and Liberty Heights Avenues. As previously noted, Gwynn Oak pre- existed Howard Park in the sense that there was a junction in 1895. However, in 1898 the map shows only one building at this cross roads on the southeast corner. The Megary family bought this corner and the adjacent eight acres to Woodbine and Norwood Avenues. Their family home was built in 1908 at the southwest corner of Hillsdale and Liberty Heights Avenues. In 1897, the southwest corner of the junction was sold to Elizabeth Hughes. A building was erected and in 1905, the Vogel's Pharmacy was opened. The Restivos brothers bought the corner in 1908. They erected one large building in 1918 that contained a confectionary store, news and tobacco counter, pool tables and bowling alleys. The earliest extensive development of the junction was in 1909 when A.G. Alford erected six (6) brick row houses on the northwest corner. Gradually storefronts were added to the brick houses and a tavern, pharmacy, confectionary store was opened. The northeast corner was the last to go commercial. In 1936, the residence that was there was replaced by a Lord Baltimore automobile service station. This was eventually taken over by the present America Oil Company. The Ambassador Theatre was built in 1935 and continued to operate until 1969. Of the four (4) corners at the intersection, Gwynn Oak and Liberty Heights Avenues, the southeast corner showed more activity with businesses and commercial establishments.


Narrative courtesy of 
Ronald W. Bailey

 

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