Summer car to Riverview Park Looking back 80 years

James M. Merritt

June 01, 1993|By James M. Merritt

EIGHTY years ago, when my family chose Riverview Park for a day's outing, we boarded a No. 10 streetcar at North and Maryland avenues. This trolley was a 12-bench open model popularly known as a "summer car." Its seats held seven or eight adults or about a dozen squirming kids. Fares (a nickel for grown-ups, 3 cents for kids) were passed to the conductor side-stepping along the running board.

For a 6-year-old who seldom left his neighborhood, it was a thrilling trip! The car wound down to the teeming Pratt Street waterfront and then east past the slips crowded with bay steamers, coastal liners and Eastern Shore sailing vessels loaded with produce.

On the long ride out Eastern Avenue, the bright streets of Highlandtown, bordered then as now by neat, two-story rowhouses with gleaming marble steps, entranced a youngster used to the dignified, shaded avenues of Mt. Royal.

At 15th (Oldham) Street, the trolley turned south into open country and picked up speed as the conductor extended a cupped hand for an extra fare. In a few minutes the broad Patapsco appeared, on whose shore we could see the original Thompson's Seagirt House, where thousands consumed Maryland fried chicken dinners on wide-screened porches in the summer. Another mile east we pulled into the Riverview Park station at Point Breeze, where Colgate Creek entered the Patapsco.

Another summer excursion was to Bay Shore Park. To get there, we caught a No. 3 car at North and Linden, from which we transferred to the No. 26 at Howard and Fayette. This line used Fayette Street and Fairmount Avenue on its way through East Baltimore to 15th and Eastern, then followed Eastern to the point where Dundalk Avenue veered off toward Dundalk and Sparrows Point. In those days, this was a smooth dirt road that paralleled the car tracks.

As the car accelerated to 45 mph through the cabbage, bean and spinach fields of the Patapsco Neck and the motorman switched to the air horn to blow for crossings, I would tingle with excitement. No. 26 was a long, conventional double-truck model XTC that slowed to normal speed as it passed through Sparrows Point and the great Bethlehem mill. Clearing the town limits, it resumed country speed over a series of trestle-spanned creeks before arriving at Bay Shore Park.

Bay Shore and Riverview were "streetcar" parks owned and operated by the United Railway and Electric Co., the corporation resulting from the consolidation in 1899 of Baltimore's independent car lines. Each was a wonderland for a 6-year-old, featuring rides and games, water slides, dance pavilions and long piers extending into the bay (Bay Shore) and the Patapsco (Riverview).

And each had its own attractions. Bay Shore's beach, a white sand shoal stretching a quarter-mile under the gradually deepening waters of the Chesapeake, could accommodate thousands. Riverview featured a double-track roller coaster on which cars of screaming people raced each other. On certain days, those in the winning car were rewarded with a free ride.

Riverview also had an "Italian" band in daily concert and hot steamed crabs that could be cracked and eaten at picnic tables under the trees. The cost: 75 cents a dozen.

What happened to these parks?

One became a victim of industrial expansion, the other of industrial timidity. Riverview was razed in 1929 to make way for Western Electric's cable and telephone plant, for which the company revived the old name, Point Breeze.

Bay Shore lasted until 1948, when a nervous Bethlehem, reacting to the rumor that U.S. Steel was searching for an Atlantic seaboard location, bought the resort's 30 acres, with their half-mile frontage on the Chesapeake Bay, to ward off an unwanted neighbor.

James M. Merritt writes from Baltimore. Gilbert Sandler has the week off.

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