The jewel of the Jones Falls Valley

HISTORIC WOODBERRY

March 11, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Woodberry residents have a pleasant chore this week: deciding what wording should go on an historical marker at their new light-rail station.

Passenger service returns to the old hillside mill village for the first time in more than 30 years when the Mass Transit Administration's big white light-rail cars start pacing along the Jones Falls Valley this spring.

"The whole right-of-way is historic," said Patrick Molloy, president of the Woodberry Community Association. "It ought to be thought of and respected as a piece of living history."

About 20 years ago, Mr. Molloy and his wife Agnes lost their Bolton Hill home because of urban renewal clearance. They were casting around for a new place to live and wanted a place "with a little character."

Mrs. Molloy recalled the Seneca Street home of a school friend. It sat on the edge of Druid Hill Park and overlooked the Jones Falls Valley. They soon bought a stone, 19th century former mill worker's cottage. Mr. Molloy's occupation -- a contractor and roofer -- has served him well. Today his home is in perfect condition.

He keeps a vigilant eye on the neighborhood and Jones Falls Valley, which is plagued by illegal dumpers who unload debris and cast-off construction material.

"We also have a responsibility to our children," Mr. Molloy said. "The city spends millions on the Jones Falls Expressway and we can't get decent recreation programs here."

Woodberry was once a self-contained industrial hamlet where capitalists and workers lived side-by-side and everybody sang hymns at the Methodist Church come Sunday morning.

"Standing upon any one of the verdure-clad eminences of the neighborhood a glorious view may be had of the smiling villages and great factories, that house and feed and employ a happy and thrifty population," local historian J. Thomas Scharf wrote in 1881.

The Molloys live in the part of Woodberry known as Brick Hill, a name that is somewhat belied by the presence of so many stone houses.

The native slate-gray Jones Falls Valley stone, held in place with thick mortar, is indestructible. The homes typically come in pairs, divided down the middle, one family to each side. Each house has a deep backyard that adds to the impression that this is indeed the threshold of Druid Hill Park.

"As many years as I've lived here, there are still streets I discover," said Robert Hetrick, a Girard Avenue resident, who lives in the shadow of what many people know as Television Hill. Old maps show it as Tempest Hill.

"There are no bars here," Mr. Hetrick said. "It's always been dry. It's also quiet. And safe. I love to run in Druid Hill Park. . . . And the people are nice to one another."

Woodberry people always worked and worked hard. Tradition says the first Mr. Woodberry was a miller whose granary sat alongside the Jones Falls. Robert Poole and German H. Hunt established Poole & Hunt, a bustling iron foundry and machine works here in 1851. An old daguerreotype shows their Union Machine-Shops smokestacks puffing out coal smoke.

The mill hands' houses sit alongside. It all might be confused with a village in Wales or Scotland. Robert Poole, the foundry's founder, was from County Londonderry, Ireland.

If Poole & Hunt employed the able-bodied men, the Meadow Mill's bronze bell called women to work at its cotton spinning looms. The Meadow Mill, as part of a sprawling combine known as the Mount Vernon-Woodberry Mills, Inc., once seemed to employ every other person in Woodberry and in Hampden, Woodberry's sibling neighborhood on the east side of the Jones Falls.

The Woodberry of today has changed. It has lost its industrial flavor. Poole & Hunt and the Meadow Mill are being subdivided for all sorts of light industry, such as cabinet makers and French bakers.

But Woodberry, the southernmost point in the Jones Falls Valley, has kept its woodsy charm. There are still deer, fox and raccoon here.

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