Druid Lake spurt signals election in Baltimore

September 07, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

The other day I got a clear signal that Baltimore is in the midst of a mayoral election campaign.

I was heading west on Druid Park Lake Drive in a taxicab and glanced over at Druid Lake, the 55-acre reservoir at the southern edge of the park.

Lo and behold, the fountain in the middle of the lake was gushing. A stately plume of water was dancing aloft in the warm summer air. I was refreshed for half a minute but was soon around the corner and out of sight.

It's been my experience over the past few years that the fountain only gets turned on when there's a hot race in progress for the big desk and ceremonial office in City Hall.

This is one of Kelly's cardinal rules of political life in Baltimore. When the jets of water squirt at Druid Lake, somebody is running for office at 100 N. Holliday St.

The Druid Lake fountain is as much a sign of political activity as the rows of candidates' placards and banners seen from Brooklyn to Roland Park, Gardenville to Hunting Ridge.

The Druid Lake fountain normally does not function. Its unadorned circular brick base just sits there. It looks like a lost island, plumbing without a purpose.

Does this have to be? How much does it cost to run the fountain? Can't this be a symbol of a living, livable city, not merely one that comes to life every four years during an election?

What a pity, especially in the spring when the hillside along the reservoir is ringed with flowering cherry trees.

Even on a cold and blustery November day, this ideally situated fountain is one of the city's great beauties. But it is not much to look at when turned off.

There have been times when the fountain flowed often, except during the coldest weather.

Some years ago, it was outfitted with colored lights for night viewing. It was a little tacky but it made for a great visual impression.

Somebody used to get the fountain really gussied up for Christmas.

Most people do not realize that Druid Lake is not a natural body of water. It's completely man-made and was constructed to be part of the city's water-supply system.

The lake was built between 1863-1871. The side that faces the Jones Falls Expressway (the east flank) is actually an earth-filled dam 119 feet high.

At the time of its construction, Baltimoreans feared the dam would break and fill the Jones Falls Valley with a torrent of water.

The American Water Works Association thought so much of the lake in 1973 it declared the site a National Water Landmark, something the Inner Harbor has yet to get.

Druid Lake's water was originally collected in Lake Roland, just north of the city line, and was then pumped southward, down the Jones Falls Valley.

Along the way was another holding reservoir -- in the Hampden neighborhood at today's Roosevelt Park, Falls Road and 36th Street. This is the reason this park is so flat. It was originally a body of water.

There was yet another reservoir, completely circular, at Mount Royal and North avenues. It gave the Reservoir Hill neighborhood its name. It was drained years ago, then bulldozed to construct part of the Jones Falls Expressway.

The city stopped using Lake Roland as a water source many years ago. Instead, it switched to the Gunpowder Falls (Loch Raven Reservoir) and routed that source through Lake Montebello in Northeast Baltimore. It is that lake that supplies Druid Lake.

If you walk around Druid Lake, be prepared for a 1.5 mile-trek. Joggers like the Druid Lake circuit but Lake Montebello is far more popular with runners. Don't ask me why.

Druid Lake's water level, by the way, was designed to be much higher, so much higher that the circular brick island that holds the fountain was designed to be submerged.

The idea was that the jet of water was to have exploded from the water's surface. I've grown to like the little brick island. It resembles a mini-castle with a major plumbing leak.

Let's hope the fountain will remain working after the Sept. 12 primary. Let's also hope Kelly's rule of political life gets completely submerged by a lot of cold running water.

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