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Old March 29th, 2007, 10:54 PM   #1
davidwhitehill
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Baltimore History Question

This isn't trivia, since I don't know the answer. Does anyone know the specific history of the Baltimore grid? I assume it came shortly after the 1811 Manhattan grid, but I haven't been able to find any specific info.

Here's a dancing banana for your trouble.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 12:53 AM   #2
Eerik
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidwhitehill View Post
This isn't trivia, since I don't know the answer. Does anyone know the specific history of the Baltimore grid? I assume it came shortly after the 1811 Manhattan grid, but I haven't been able to find any specific info.

Here's a dancing banana for your trouble.
It's primarily derived from three things, in this order:

1) Area topography/geography
2) Indian trails ("The Great Eastern Trail/Road")
3) Colonial era land and property deeds/sales of Lord Baltimore

Obviously geography, i.e. water has a lot to do with the city: both the Patapsco River and all the other streams and rivers that flow into it. Also, since Baltimore is on the western edge of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the street grid shifts accordingly to address the increasing elevation of the low hills rising on the western and eastern edges of the city.

The Western/northwestern border of the original Baltimore town settlement was defined by an ancient Indian trail ("The Great Eastern Road") that pretty much ran parallel with the Atlantic Coastal Plain. It had a lot to do with the alignment of Liberty Street, including many other streets such as Crooked Lane -- and many others -- mostly lost with the development of Charles Center in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Of course, today we have Route 40, Route 1, and Interstate 95.

Land owners and how, and at what rate they decided to sell, and subdivide their original grants from England had an enormous effect on the developing street grid of Baltimore. Colonial Annapolis was filled with cases where one landowner fought with another: over property lines, deeds, and access to natural resources. Pier construction in the Basin was most noteworthy: the state ultimately passed a law forbidding bulkheads to pass a certain point southward into the harbor. More or less the configuration we have today (minus the pier reconfiguration as a result of the 1904 fire).

The historic character of the city isn't found merely in buildings, but the streets as well. Progress is progress, but that is one reason I always shudder when the city cedes a street, alley, or means of egress to a developer. First of all, streets are the public domain. Second, they are always steeped in history, and third, socially, what is a city without streets?

Last edited by Eerik; March 30th, 2007 at 12:54 AM. Reason: Spelling error.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 01:19 AM   #3
davidwhitehill
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more specific

Sorry, I should have been clearer.

I know what the grid responds to, etc. I was interested in who designed it, how block sizes were determined, who owned land at time of platting

This link is the map from which my questions arise.

Notice the vast unbuilt land that is gridded. I am especially interested in Port Covington, the only area that was never really built out.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 01:40 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidwhitehill View Post
Sorry, I should have been clearer.

I know what the grid responds to, etc. I was interested in who designed it, how block sizes were determined, who owned land at time of platting

This link is the map from which my questions arise.

Notice the vast unbuilt land that is gridded. I am especially interested in Port Covington, the only area that was never really built out.
Good question for the "Dead Architects Society" of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. Query them at baf@smgarch.com.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 04:35 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidwhitehill View Post
Sorry, I should have been clearer.

I know what the grid responds to, etc. I was interested in who designed it, how block sizes were determined, who owned land at time of platting

This link is the map from which my questions arise.

Notice the vast unbuilt land that is gridded. I am especially interested in Port Covington, the only area that was never really built out.
Ahhh, I see. Well, in Baltimore, credit for the grid is generally given to Thomas H. Poppleton. In 1816, the Maryland General Assembly authorized Baltimore to annex adjacent territory, which in effect tripled its size. This authorization included the appointment of Commissioners who oversaw the planning of new streets, lots, and to the extent they existed at that time, parks.

The link you provided is one of the many authorized maps that followed Poppleton. Of note, zoom into the downtown core, where you will notice a wedge shaped “arrow” pointing to the left. This outline demarks the original town of Baltimore. Colonial law, local geography, and Native Americans define its shape. I often interpret its inclusion as more than simply an “endnote” but a major statement by [then] cartographers.

There are probably two reasons for why the General Assembly undertook the survey. One was economic: the Land Ordinance of 1785. Adopted by Congress, the Land Ordinance of 1785 empowered government to raise revenue by direct taxation, which triggered similar action within the states. For purposes of record keeping, it was in their best interest to procure accurate data.

Another reason was more aesthetic. Up until the Poppleton Plan, Baltimore was primarily composed of three disjointed settlements of Baltimore town, Jonestown, and Fells Point. His plan attempted to unite all three, and for the first time, present a unified vision of what Baltimore could become.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 04:29 PM   #6
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thanks a lot!

Any source that I could quote? Or should I just look into the Legislative record
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Old March 30th, 2007, 06:48 PM   #7
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Quote:
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thanks a lot!

Any source that I could quote? Or should I just look into the Legislative record
Before I start creating a bibliography, is there any specific fact you’re looking to cite? There must be at least ten or fifteen books that immediately come to mind that I could use…

Maryland Historical Magazine had two separate but really well written articles about thirteen years ago regarding property parcels in Baltimore town, Jonestown and Fells Point. (I think one of the authors was a real estate attorney with an interest in local history.)

Hayward and Shivers came out with a book a few years ago, “The Architecture of Baltimore,” Johns Hopkins Press. They went into some discussion about the Poppleton Plan, but there are some errors in what they write.

Another excellent source that addresses street hierarchy of the Poppleton Plan, or at east addresses how builders adopted the Poppleton Plan is a book “The Baltimore Rowhouse” by Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure.

Now that I have grabbed it off my shelf, take a look at page 29. It pretty much explains how Poppleton is credited with the grid in Baltimore. An interesting note they make, that I forgot, is that the War of 1812 delayed the surveying. Also, they draw a comparison between Baltimore and Boston, in that both are hilly, whereas Philadelphia and New York are flat. In terms of Baltimore and New York, only Baltimore has the alley streets. According to their work, New York City tried to maximize developable land by eliminating the alley.

If you need citations for a research paper, or whatever, let me know. I’d be more than happy to copy the references/PDF them and email to you.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 08:20 PM   #8
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Interesting discussion.
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Old March 31st, 2007, 02:01 AM   #9
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In terms of Baltimore and New York, only Baltimore has the alley streets. According to their work, New York City tried to maximize developable land by eliminating the alley.
I wish Baltimore had, too.
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 06:03 PM   #10
davidwhitehill
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thanks!

I am actually i the Peabody library right now, looking at some old maps.

I googled Thomas Poppleton, and the third result was my own question on this forum!

Thanks for all the info, folks.

By the way, in my research, I've come across an interesting character: Lewis Brantz. He was a German who came to Balmer in the early 1780s and did the first good survery of the Patapsco.
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 06:05 PM   #11
davidwhitehill
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also

Oh yeah, If you wouldn't mind pdfing that reference, I'd apprectiate it!

David
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 10:41 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidwhitehill View Post
I am actually i the Peabody library right now, looking at some old maps.

I googled Thomas Poppleton, and the third result was my own question on this forum!

Thanks for all the info, folks.

By the way, in my research, I've come across an interesting character: Lewis Brantz. He was a German who came to Balmer in the early 1780s and did the first good survery of the Patapsco.
There are some really great Brantz maps out there; I didn't know Peabody would have any of his maps. In some ways (detail) they are better than Poppleton.

I did some more reading over the weekend regarding the Baltimore Street grid. The one detail I totally neglected to mention was that the entire mapping project was delayed -- for none other than -- the War of 1812. Besides standard authorization delays in the Maryland General Assembly, the war put the project on the backburner for quite a number of years.

If you're looking for some economic incentives, or specifically statistical numbers on reasons why Baltimore went through a cycle of territorial annexation, read "Baltimore Unbound: Creating a Greater Baltimore Region for the Twenty-First Century - A Strategy Report" by David Rusk. He provides nitty-gritty details in an easy to read format.
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 10:42 PM   #13
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Oh yeah, If you wouldn't mind pdfing that reference, I'd apprectiate it!

David
I'll probably be able to get that done by Thursday morning, if that's not too late. I'll PDF and post the link here...
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Old April 4th, 2007, 03:43 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by rolliefingers View Post
I wish Baltimore had, too.
Actually I just read a book that had an interesting take on this. In New York 1880, by Robert A. Stern ( who's firm is doing 10 IH and others), they state because the New York grid had no alleys the typical lot was 25 feet*100 feet. Because this was such a big lot it caused interesting problems. It was way to large a lot to build a single home on except for the very rich (remember the time frame), but not big enough for apartment blocks.

So the stage was set for the development of the tenement block, typically a 5 story dumbbell design designed to maximaze the number of people living in it with the least cost and land area, generally rather lousy living conditions. Eventually a large percentage of Manhatten was covered in them.
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Old April 5th, 2007, 06:09 PM   #15
Eerik
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davidwhitehill View Post
Oh yeah, If you wouldn't mind pdfing that reference, I'd apprectiate it!

David
I have most of the stuff copied and PDF'ed. There are a few more items I'd like to copy and post, so hopefully tonight? (I have some work related deadlines that are delaying me a bit...sorry!)
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Old April 7th, 2007, 02:35 AM   #16
Eerik
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Attached, please find the material I promised you several days ago. It took more time than I expected to skim through books; compare and omit what wasn't as important, and finally PDF and post them here.

There are two good Maryland Historical Magazine articles I've posted. I would pay close attention to the "Notes" and "Map References" since they provide great additional reading fodder on the topic of Baltimore streets, land ownership, etc.

The first article appeared in the winter 1992 edition, and the second in the summer 1993 edition. Plenty of great (hand drawn) maps that graphically demonstrate how large the original land grants were, and some of the politics of the day.

I've also included below the famous Plan of Baltimore (from 1796) here as "food for thought" to supplement the reading, since it graphically portrays what text might not; imagine the initial havoc of three towns becoming one (politically) but also in town elders trying to predict future growth. I believe this map shows us very well the chaotic nature of the streets and the relationships between the three towns at the time. It is no wonder why the General Assembly (although thwarted by the war of 1812) sought some sense of order! (All of the images are posted as thumbnails, so if you click on them, you'll see a larger version.)



Here, I have also attached several pages from "The Baltimore Rowhouse" by Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure. I think they do a superb job of setting up the issue of the Baltimore street grid plan and its eventual fulfillment via development.

I also scanned a couple of interesting shots of the Baltimore central business district. As figure-ground drawings, they portray the built vs. non-built spaces. One is from 1958, the other 1988.

1958 1988

I'm not exactly sure who specifically one might credit for these renderings, but they appeared in "Baltimore Urban Design: The Bolton Hill-Mount Vernon Area" produced by the University of Maryland, School of Architecture, Fall of 1991, with Matthew J. Bell, Assistant Professor as the lead critic, with a grant from CADRE, a non-profit organization of the University of Maryland School of Architecture at College Park. (Note the contrast of building density, as well as fluidity of "edges" between 1958 and 1988.) The reason I posted them here is to rhetorically ask if we're moving further from an ordered urban structure, and back to one like 1796, and if so, is that good or bad?



I would tend to argue this is not good...

Last edited by Eerik; April 7th, 2007 at 02:57 AM. Reason: Typos...
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Old April 7th, 2007, 02:40 AM   #17
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Oh! And if you need more sources, then let me know!
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Old April 7th, 2007, 02:50 AM   #18
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The Howard St extension was bad, but considering how much more we could have done to destroy ourselves, I'm not too down about it. We can come back towards the other side.

Nate
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Old April 7th, 2007, 05:55 PM   #19
davidwhitehill
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thanks!

Thanks for all the references.
Big help.

By the way, I know Matt Bell (he's the head of the local office of EEK architects, and still a prof at maryland)

David
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