She digs trees for Dundalk

Jacques Kelly

October 18, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

Diane Pinter has a clear vision for Dundalk. She wants her community to be as neat and orderly as a miniature Christmas garden village.

Pinter, a 42-year-old resident of Flagship Road, who possesses as much energy as any blast furnace in nearby Sparrows Point, is Dundalk's tireless advocate for trees.

With help from her neighbors, Baltimore County, the state and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., Pinter has planted more than 250 trees.

Including her efforts, Dundalk now has 1,147 trees. But the majority of these are disease-prone and aging sycamores, which were routinely planted along American streets during the 1920s and 1930s when Dundalk was young.

About two years ago, "I read an article that said our trees are dying and went to a meeting. I wound up heading the committee to do something about it," Pinter said.

So the Greening of Dundalk was born. This fall, another 100 saplings are due for planting and 100 young Liberty Elms will be placed in Stansbury Park. Once they grow sturdier, they'll be transplanted to places that once had American Elms, a type of tree that has been killed by the dreaded Dutch Elm disease.

"I always wanted to live on a ship road. Kinship, Township, Northship, Arrowship. Which one really didn't matter. I wanted to live in one of the stucco houses. I wanted to live in the original community of Dundalk," said Pinter, who grew up in the part of Baltimore city known as St. Helena.

St. Helena is not far from Dundalk, the community named for the Irish town where foundryman Henry McShane once lived. McShane emigrated to Baltimore and set up a foundry along the railroad tracks in Baltimore County. He named a small way station Dundalk and the name was set in place as surely as the bronze in his casting.

Though many people are unaware of it, Dundalk is a planned community built by Edward H. Bouton, once president of the Roland Park Co. The distinguished landscape architects, the Olmsted brothers, created its streets and central square. Trees are an essential component of an Olmsted design.

But it was Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, that got the neighborhood built with such dispatch in 1918-1919. Some 981 stucco homes went up as housing for workers engaged in America's massive shipbuilding and steel production thwart the Germans.

The streets in the oldest half of Dundalk, with the World War I-era homes, have ship in their names. The other half of the neighborhood has streets with some combination of the Celtic prefix, "Dun." Hence, Dunleer, Dunmurray, Dunglow, etc.

By August 1918, one house was going up every three working hours. Thanks to Dundalk's careful planning, the effect was not a hodge-podge, but a splendid little stucco suburb, a blue-collar Forest Hills, N.Y. But instead of the Long Island Railroad, Dundalk had Baltimore streetcars, which once ran down Dundalk Avenue and carried workers to Sparrows Point or into the city.

The Sun called the Dundalk Co.'s creation "a miniature Roland Park. . . a picturesque mass of high pitched roofs and gables." Noted Baltimore architect Edward L. Palmer designed the homes, which were grouped along streets in singles, pairs and small rows.

As in any proper Olmsted brothers garden suburb, the streets bend and twist and occasionally dead-end around an especially well planned town center of shops, parks, schools, churches, library and police station. It's all very low key and functions smoothly to this day.

When the village opened, there were no trees whatsoever. In fact, all Dundalk was surrounded by a barbed wire fence as a precaution against German sabotage. In the early 1920s, trees were planted in Dundalk.

"So many of the trees were sycamores, which don't have a long life," Pinter said. "We've been planting flowering crab apples, seedless ashes and Regent Scholar trees. But we haven't put any sycamore back. Not a one."

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