A station for people and horses

Baltimore Glimpses

September 25, 1990|By Gilbert Sandler

THESE days -- even these nights -- motorists on the Jones Falls Expressway can see light rail coming into being. And between Northern Parkway and the city-county line is perhaps the most famous station along the old right-of-way, where the new line is being built -- the Mt. Washington station. It is a piece of Baltimore history.

Families of old Baltimore society used Mt. Washington (and Dixon Hill behind it) as a kind of "rural retreat," which is how homes in those communities were marketed in literature aimed at gentry living in the "city" a century ago.

That's where the Mt. Washington station came in. It was through the station that the well-to-do came and went as they commuted from the city to their country homes.

If you'd been living in Baltimore during the summers of, say, the 1880s and 1890s, you might have been tempted to get out of town, too (if you had the money). There was no air conditioning, of course. The heat, the stench from sewage and the swarms of insects were simply too much for Baltimore's bourgeoisie. As H.L. Mencken, whose family owned one of those retreats, would say in his autobiographical "Happy Days," people "cleared out whenever they could." (Mencken, in fact, compared Baltimore's stench unfavorably to New York City's. At least the East River in New York had tidal currents that helped flush it regularly, he said.)

Every spring from 1890 to 1898 (Mencken's 10th through his 18th year), the Mencken family moved to the house (just south of what is today Northern Parkway) in early May and left it to come back to the city in late September. That was a lot of commuting through the Mt. Washington station. (The Cylburn Station was just to the south, and the Menckens might have used that, too.)

People weren't the only living things to pass through Mt. Washington. Horses did, too. Because of the station's proximity to Pimlico Race Course, according to railroad historian Robert Williams, it was used by horse owners from around the country. Typically, they would put a horse on a train in Kentucky. The train would pass through Penn Station in Baltimore and make its way to the Mt. Washington station. There, the horse would be led off on a special platform and driven by van to Pimlico.

Some statistics: By 1885, there were 16 daily trains arriving and departing Mt. Washington. Time from Mt. Washington station to the Calvert Street station downtown: 14 minutes. The last

passenger train passed through Mt. Washington July 29, 1959, and the station, built in 1875, was torn down in the late 1960s. And the area around the old station became a village of boutiques.

9+ GILBERT SANDLER

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