On the streets where we live

Monday Book Review

March 18, 1991|By D. Randall Beirne

STREETWISE BALTIMORE. By Carleton Jones. Bonus Books. 200 pages. $14.95.

IN THIS BOOK about street names and neighborhoods in metropolitan Baltimore, Carleton Jones not only pokes fun with tongue in cheek at some Baltimore names, but also introduces the reader to engaging bits of historical information. A great deal of research has gone into this book, and the reviewer found few errors or omissions in the facts.

There are many surprises. Jones finds, for example, that Franklin Street was named for Thomas Franklin, an early city judge and surveyor, and not for big Ben. Another surprise: "By World War I it was possible, with a few gaps filled in on conventional trains, to go from Baltimore to upper New England almost wholly on streetcars and light inter-urban lines." And another: The Sherwood community was changed to Riderwood because of pressure from Methodist ministers who objected to ads for Sherwood, a top-selling rye whiskey.

An ironic surprise is that no streets have honored the 20th century entertainment immortals of Baltimore such as Eubie Blake, Blaze Starr, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway. Perhaps these omissions will be corrected in future street naming.

Jones' book is full of interesting stories. One of many is that Hartwait Street in Dundalk was named for William Hart, a black surveyor's "go-fer and handy man" who waited patiently for his pay envelope. Rellim Road is the name "Miller" spelled backward. The naming of Sewer Road in Back River is included in most Baltimore histories, but it still brings chuckles.

The stories about Henry A. Barnes and his traffic plans in the 1950s are legendary. We still laugh at his pedestrian miracle called the "Barnes Dance." Not mentioned by Jones, but suggested by other sources, is Barnes' suggestion that the Washington Monument be removed. Barnes thought it impeded traffic flow.

Lombard is a name Jones might have wished to pursue. The street name of Lombard is not unique to Baltimore. It is found in many European cities. The name derives from the Lombards of northern Italy, who were active throughout Europe as pawnbrokers. Every city had a Lombard Street lined with pawn shops.

In his description of Caton Avenue, Jones might have added more about Richard Caton, the son-in-law of Charles Carroll. Caton was like the emperors of Austria who gained power by marrying their daughters to the kings of other countries. His daughter, Mary, first married Robert Patterson, the son of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. After he died, she married Richard Wellesley, the brother of Britain's famous hero, the Duke of Wellington. He became governor-general of India and later lord lieutenant of Ireland. Another daughter became the duchess of Leeds and still another daughter the baroness of Stafford.

In his introduction Jones also might have mentioned more about Baltimore's location. He explains that it was close to the new, lush farmlands and mines of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania. He omits, however, the importance of its location on the fall line. Baltimore's location at the source of water power made it the flour-milling center of the United States by 1810.

Historians as well as buffs can certainly learn much about Baltimore when they read this worthy record.

D. Randall Beirne is a Baltimore historian who teaches sociology at the University of Baltimore.

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