Mill Corridor maintains a laboring legacy

COLUMN

September 05, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Baltimore's newest neighborhood is one of its most hard-laboring.

The Mill Corridor is otherwise known as the Jones Falls Valley, a series of brick and stone villages once dominated by steam whistles and rattling shuttles.

The term was coined this year to put a unified geographic tag on the separate neighborhoods of Hampden, Woodberry, Remington, Medfield, Druid Hill, Television Hill, Cross Keys, Hoes Heights and Mount Washington. Also included are two 19th century textile mills, the Mill Center and the Meadow Mill.

Commuters on the Jones Falls Expressway, the somewhat impersonal main street of the corridor, often will recall the Meadow Mill by the London Fog raincoats that were made here for so many years. Today the place has been converted into offices, artists studios, the Pottery Guild, a commercial bakery, the Axis Theatre and a huge squash club.

"I came up with the name but it might have originated at any other time," said Laurel Durenberger, a graphics designer who lives on Hampden's Buena Vista Avenue. "It just seemed to work. It's a name that happens to link the mill communities."

She and her husband moved to the neighborhood in 1987. Her father, artist Les Harris, has had a large studio in one of the old Poole and Hunt foundry buildings on Clipper Mill Road for more than 20 years. He, like other Baltimore artists, was attracted to the huge warehouse spaces available for low rents.

Earlier this year, Ms. Durenberger used her background in publication design and printing to start a small community newspaper. The current issue of the Mill Corridor is 16 pages and filled with local ads and features. The news is upbeat, chatty and geared to the spots and places that people from outside these immediate neighborhoods would never discover on their own.

"I see a crisis in the city in the lack of communication between neighborhoods," said Ms. Durenberger, the editor, writer, typesetter and ad salesperson. "We need more mechanisms for talking to one another."

If the Jones Falls Expressway is the impersonal main street that slices through all the hillside villages that dot the corridor, there are other highly personable streets filled with stone Methodist churches, Victorian houses and small corner grocery stores. Many of the residents have lived here for generations.

The neighborhoods seem to be awakening from the post-industrial period when the old mills closed, sat vacant for a number of years and then gradually were converted to other uses. The Hampden-Woodberry area was once one of the city's busiest industrial corridors.

While the cotton duck canvas used in ships' sails was loomed here at the old Mount Vernon mills, the area was also the home of Noxzema skin cream and some of the parts used in the creation of the atomic bomb for the Manhattan Project during World War II. The Pennsylvania Railroad's Northern Central division ran through the bottom of the Jones Falls Valley. That right of way is today's light rail line.

This is a part of Baltimore's urban geography, where tiny community sits astride minuscule hamlet.

One of the most miniature is Stone Hill, a 42-house grouping of locally-quarried masonry homes on Puritan, Pacific, Bay and Field streets.

The neighborhood seems lifted from somewhere in Vermont. There is a 5 mph speed limit here and the residents of the neighborhood own their streets. The spot, just behind the Steiff silver plant, overlooks the hills and trees of Druid Hill Park. Some of its residents are engaged in a vigorous battle to keep a large and elevated billboard from being erected near the old mills.

Residents such as Andrew Van Styn, an antiques dealer and member of the recently formed Stone Hill Residents community association, purchased his 1840s home in part because of the views his front porch and windows provide. He is much opposed to a sign company's plan to erect an elevated advertising board visible from the expressway.

"It does not make sense to depriving amenities in a city that is striving to keep a middle class population," Mr. Van Styn said.

"This ought to be a gateway, a nice green sequence in or out of the city, the park on one side and Stone Hill on the other. Elevated signs don't belong here."

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