Locust Point – Celebrating 300 Years of a Historic Community
by Scott Sheads
In October 1991, when I moved to my little 19th century two-story house on Andre Street, it took time to adjust to the overwhelming grain silos of the Old Indiana Grain (1922). In time, I looked upon the former industrial giant as a piece of unique history, an integral story in the 300-year history of Locust Point’s natural and historic past and emerging future. From the day I moved in, my neighbors became new friends, each sharing their stories (and home made apple pies, thanks Sis) and revelations about Locust Point’s unique history. Here were old and young, immigrants, veterans, longshoremen and owners of corner groceries, all sharing their memories mixed with “salty tales” that needed to be chronicled and reserved.
Since the mid-19th century the peninsula character has been reflected by the maritime trades of dry-docks, warehouses, churches and railroads that served an expanding world trade industry. Within its folds, the pre-Civil War and predominant Victorian brick row houses with streets named after War of 1812 heroes have provided a sense of stability to family life and a sense of history. Like its waterfront neighbors of Fells Point, Canton, and Federal Hill, our community origins reflect the succession of Scotch-Irish, Germans, Poles, and others of European lineage that are the nuclei of our residents today.
In 1706, “Whetstone Point” (named after a London park) was established as a Port of Entry by the Maryland Colonial Assembly, embracing three earlier 1661 English land grants of David’s Fancy, Upton Court, and Whetstone Point. A century earlier in 1608, the Point was visited by the English Explorer Captain John Smith who stated upon his entry into the Patapsco River (his words are printed as he printed them):
“extreame thicke of small wood as well as tress, and much frequented with wolves, bars, deere, and other wild beast. Wee passed many shallow creekes, but the first we found navigable for a ship, we called BOLUS, for that clay in many places under the clifts by the high water marke .made us think it bole-armoniake and terra sugillata.”
The bountiful estuary that he encountered impressed the early explorer with wetlands that skirted the shoreline with white cedar trees, an excellent habitat for terrapin and the ever present “muskeetoes.” The sight he noted in his journal would become known as “Captain John Smith Hill” – later in 1788 as Federal Hill, after Maryland’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution. By 1666 early maps changed the river’s name from BOLUS to “Patapscoe” after the native American Indians. By 1845 the springtime blossoms of the locust tree (Robina pseudoacacia), renown for their heavy hard wood, soon became the namesake of the landscape we know today as Locust Point. The Point’s geographic landscape is the terminus of a narrow twenty-mile long low ridge that extends southward from Pennsylvania, through Baltimore County, along the Jones Falls, reaching the high promontory of Federal Hill, and finally cascading down to Fort McHenry.
Following the War of 1812, Locust Point was annexed to the City of Baltimore in 1816, prospering into a unique blend of neighborly maritime
residential-business culture that reflects its uniqueness. The earliest known structures are those circa 1840-1850 two-story houses on Cuba, Clement and Towson Streets. Following the Civil War, as brick, guano, iron, rail and shipping industries moved in, residential workhouses for employees began to fill out the neighborhood we view today.
Since 1868, when the first immigration station opened in Locust Point (at the north end of Andre Street, B&O Piers 9-10), immigration has played an important part of Locust Point’s family history with the influx of steamers from Bremen, Germany, bringing a variety of cultures from European countries and a bountiful array of old world family traditions into Baltimore’s expanding ethnic communities. In a ten-year period from 1868 to 1878, 104,815 immigrants landed here in the land of opportunity. The immigration station closed in 1914 as war with Germany loomed on the horizon.
Of the two world wars, World War II had the most effect on the Point, transforming industries into one of President Roosevelt’s “Arsenals of Democracy” for war production materials. From Decatur Street alone came 40 enlistees in the war, who became known as “The Decatur Street Boys.” As the war unfolded, Americans began to add new unfamiliar names to their rapidly expanding geography of the world, Midway, Guadalcanal, Sicily, and Hawaii. At home the U.S. Coast Guard Training Station at Fort McHenry (1942-1945) trained 23,000 men and women in port security. The Korean War soon followed which led to the training and organization of “Baltimore’s Own,” the U.S. Marine 11th Engineer Battalion (1946-1950). The battalion bivouacked at the Point’s old immigration station, and its members soon found themselves on the frozen rugged mountains of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
Fifty years later, economic revitalization began to emerge into Locust Point as business and housing entrepreneurs recognized the potential of this waterfront opportunity. Our changing community, like its past, recognizes that change is part of any neighborhood. But everyone knows, that if you’re “A Pointer,” the gateway to Locust Point is at Fort Avenue and Lawrence Street. On the opposite side – the north side – is Rallo’s Restaurant, a venerable institution since 1942 when it originally began operations outside the gates of Fort McHenry. It has become an adopted neighbor of Locust Point – where many stories have been shared with friends over a cup of coffee and newspapers.
Since its establishment in 1976 (by saving the Point from the proposed I-95 construction through our neighborhood – thank you, Shirley Doda and friends), the Locust Point Civic Association continues to provide a blueprint for preserving our past and helping us navigate our future through the efforts of friends and neighbors who contribute their time and support to make our neighborhood one to be proud of. While no newsletter can share all the stories, I hope to contribute in the coming months by sharing articles and photographs to capture the essence of this unique community as we celebrate the 300th Anniversary of Locust Point and that of the Port of Baltimore.
From the days of 1708 when Captain John Smith sailed by this land, Locust Point continues to provide a safe harbor for the preservation of our family, community, and the role we had in the development of our national story.