Generations of workers toiled at buildings that burned Butchers, brewers, and furniture makers once occupied site

November 11, 1995|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

*TC The massive old brick buildings consumed in the 11-alarm fire were part of an early Westside industrial neighborhood where generations of butchers, brewers, and furniture and soap makers once earned a living.

In this busy stream valley in the late 19th century, the air often smelled of butchered meat, malt and hops, newly sawed wood, paints and varnish.

The building at 2301 Hollins St. began its life about 1910 as an office furniture-making plant. Carpenters and cabinetmakers built and assembled oak desks and bookcases, mirror frames and thousands of shop counters.

The building was owned by the Grand Rapids Store Equipment Corp., a firm that by the 1920s claimed it was the "world's largest manufacturer of the finest store equipment." It also housed the operations of M. L. Himmel, another Baltimore firm that made roll-top desks and bookcases.

The fire's origins were traced to an old building on Lipp's Lane, a tiny thoroughfare that is not much more than an alley. The name Lipp's refers to the old Lipp's glycerin and soap factory. The flames leapt across Lipp's Lane and ignited the former furniture factory.

The burned buildings sat on the eastern slope of the Gwynns Run Valley. The stream of that name, which flows into the larger Gwynns Falls, has its headwaters in Northwest Baltimore.

Many 19th-century Baltimore firms that needed water -- either for their mills or as a source of getting rid of waste products -- located along Gwynns Falls and Gwynns Run. Most of Gwynns Run is today contained within sewer pipes and is buried under foundations and street beds.

Just a block away from the fire site was the old Eigenbrot brewery, a massive brick building that stands at Lombard and Willard streets. It once made a beer sold under the name Schiller to commemorate the 19th-century German poet Heinrich Schiller.

The largest number of jobs in the Gwynns Run locale were in the meat butchering category. Dozens of German butchers settled here in the 1870s and 1880s. Their slaughterhouses sat high on the sides of the hill and drained into the stream, which also served as a water source for the William Wilkens animal hair works (namesake of Wilkens Avenue) on Frederick Road at the site of today's Westside Shopping Center.

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