Station passes century Centenarian: With nary a puff of publicity, the B&O Railroad opened its quirky but well appointed building for travelers. It now houses the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

Remember When

September 22, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Mount Royal Station gained centenarian status this month the same way it opened 100 years ago -- without civic fanfare or recognition.

The station, which now houses the Maryland Institute, College of Art, opened Sept. 1, 1896, with no ceremony whatever, except for a front-page advertisement in The Sun that proclaimed:

"Passengers for Eastern points shall not fail to visit Mount Royal Station on their next trip. The Royal Blue Line trains are fine, fast and frequent."

The Renaissance style building -- featuring an airy main waiting room, gentleman's smoking room, ladies' waiting room and a restaurant "serving light lunches at the south end" -- was designed by architects E. Francis Baldwin and Josias Pennington and built in a year.

150-foot tower

It was distinguished by its red tiled roof, 150-foot-tall clock tower, two massive fireplaces that were lighted in cold weather and rocking chairs placed on the concourse for the comfort of travelers.

If the B&O management wished to play down the opening of its station, The Sun certainly was unstinting in its praise.

"The opening yesterday of the Mount Royal passenger station of the Baltimore and Ohio is an event of more than local interest," said an editorial in the newspaper.

"In architecture, in stability of construction and in completeness of appointments, it is not only superior to any passenger station in Baltimore, but is the equal, if not in size, certainly in every other respect of any station North or West. Money has been used unsparingly to make it an inviting place for the departing and incoming traveler."

Railroad historian Herbert H. Harwood in his 1990 book, "Royal Blue Line," said:

"In short, Mount Royal was everything Camden was not -- spacious, supremely fashionable, aesthetic, and well-matched to its surroundings. Its planners were foresighted to the extent that Baltimore's 'better' residential areas continued moving north and northwest, and Mount Royal was well situated to serve these areas.

"Throughout its life the station remained a more convenient location than Camden for many suburban Baltimoreans, and all Philadelphia and New York trains stopped there. But the city's commercial center never strayed far from the old axis at Baltimore and Charles streets, even after the 1904 fire wiped out most of downtown, and Mount Royal served out its life essentially as a suburban station.

"In its way, the monumental station was as symbolic of the Royal Blue Line as the ornate rolling stock and graceful high-drivered locomotives: beautiful, luxurious, and under utilized."

While Mount Royal Station never had the volume of traffic that passed through the Pennsylvania Railroad's North Charles Street Station, known as the "Big Red Subway," it still had its loyal fans.

In 1936, when the station turned 40, an anniversary article in The Sun said, "The B&O terminal is adapted for demonstrations, surrounded with slopes and lawns on which crowds can gather. Railroad officials take pride in the fact that almost every person of prominence has at one time or another boarded or detrained there."

Crowds swarmed to see Queen Marie of Romania, Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover and English Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald.

In 1928, when presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith paused to give a brief address, he was overwhelmed with the chant of Johns Hopkins University students hoping for repeal of Prohibition: "We want beer!"

Mount Royal also had its quirky moments.

Battle of the starlings

In 1928, the station's clockmaster was given permission by Mayor William F. Broening to discharge a firearm to dislodge a swarm of starlings that had made the clock tower their rookery and in the process made the clock 10 minutes late.

Samuel Wilson climbed to the station roof and kept on firing volley after volley at the birds until they flew southward to take up residence on another downtown building.

In 1939, a staff writer for the paper composed a paean to the station's chairs, which had gained fame as the only waiting-room rocking chairs in the world.

Rock-a-bye baby, go B&O,

Wait at Mount Royal, where no whistles blow;

Rest while you wait in a fleet rocking chair

That connects with all trains -- and at no extra fare.

In 1943, a clamor arose over the disappearance of the chairs, which had been removed for repair and a general sprucing up.

"The loss of those rockers to the B&O waiting room is merely symptomatic," said The Sun in an editorial. "If the trend continues, we foresee a time when mint juleps will no longer be sipped, and setter dogs (the comfortable porch-loving kind) will no longer be bred, and practically everything will be made of transparent plastic. Look into that pellucid future and shiver."

The chairs were returned and there they remained until June 30, 1961, when the last train departed at 5: 50 p.m. for Washington, and the station closed for good for railroad operations.

For 65 years -- those anachronistic rockers symbolized not only Mount Royal Station but the gentility of the B&O and Baltimore as well.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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