City's network of hidden streams keeps on flowing

January 19, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

I have a storm sewer in my alley. And even during the lengthiest of droughts, running water gurgles through it.

These miniature but secret Patapsco Rivers are no joke. A construction crew building the 1970s addition to the Walters Art Gallery had its progress halted for months because of a stream that runs under Centre Street. Some years later, the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank was so fearful of water entering its building at Pratt and South streets that it switched its location to higher ground at Lee and Sharp.

Baltimore's been hiding, closeting and culverting these streams since as long as City Hall has been pocketing taxes. It was once considered uncivilized to have a city with open streams so we disguised them, using all sorts of man-made tricks.

There are a few left. There are big ones -- Jones and Gwynns Falls and Herring Run. There's also Chinquapin in Northeast Baltimore and Western Run in Mount Washington-Cheswolde. Each of these has small tributaries, which are not so small after a good rain or spring thaw. Freshets appear where there had only been a depression in the ground.

One favorite watercourse runs down a slope along the northern part of Druid Hill Park. It slips underneath the old Poole & Hunt foundry buildings before joining the Jones Falls at Woodberry. Tenants of this building can lift up sections of the floor and watch the flow.

The most elusive streams are the ones that only the engineers at the Department of Public Works know about, or worry about after a three-day spring soaking. As Baltimore grew in the 19th and early 20th centuries, miles of what were once freely flowing streams were encircled with concrete pipe and hidden from view. Surely some of this tampering with nature caused some of the streams and springs to dry up, but many still disgorge water. All you have to do is know where to look.

Spend a few minutes looking at a series of official 1896 topographical maps at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Ednor Gardens and Homestead sit atop Tiffany Run, if anybody can find it. Guilford, Oakenshawe and Charles Village share Sumwalt's Run, along with the better known Stony Run (Wyman Park), which has yet to be buried under a blanket of concrete. Sumwalt's Run flows roughly north of 31st Street. Cock your ear toward a storm sewer and Sumwalt's lapping waters will make themselves known.

There's a hidden corner of Baltimore deeply recessed in the Jones Falls Valley near Pennsylvania Station where Rutter's Run -- it lends its name to Rutter Street in Bolton Hill -- breaks out in the open through a mossy stone arch.

Reservoir Hill once possessed its own natural spring on the grounds of the old Chauncey Brooks estate, "Clover Dale," near what is today the asphalt headwaters of Eutaw Place. This stream, a somewhat more northern cousin of Rutter's Run, ducked under what is today the bed of Mount Royal Terrace.

A more substantial torrent bubbled on the Auchentoroly estate. Someone had to build a small bridge at Reisterstown Road and Orem Avenue to accommodate it. I'll bet that spring is there still.

Not to be outdone, the Mondawmin estate (today the shopping plaza) had its own private gusher that served the estate of Alexander Brown.

Schroeder Run ran through Southwest Baltimore. Parts of cool and clear Maiden Choice Run also grace that section of the city.

One of the largest water courses along the west side was the millrace along Gwynns Falls. This was largely a man-made stream that ran along the western fringes of the Rosemont and Windsor Hills communities.

Ogier's Creek sliced through a broad chunk of Highlandtown then crossed into Patterson Park. Old maps call its southernmost branch Gorsuch Creek (in Canton) while others name it Harris Creek. Whatever you call this stream, it still flows into the harbor with considerable force. Look for it along Boston Street near the Anchorage high-rise.

Whatever the names of these hidden streams, their real trails invariably lead to mildewed basements where soggy boxes of rubbish are stored, and sump pumps gurgle.

Remember that in Baltimore, any wet cellar can be blamed on these hidden springs and streams that crisscross the city.

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