Baltimore Glimpses: What's changed, and what hasn't

June 17, 1997|By Gilbert Sandler

OVER 200 YEARS Baltimore has seen a lot of changes, and in your own time you have seen some of them. Social scientists talk about demographics and the industrial base and blah, blah, blah. But if you want to measure change in Baltimore, think about what used to be delivered to your door. That is change you can connect to.

For more than 100 years and until the mid-1970s, the Rice's bakery truck came to your door. This uniformed, one-man catering service brought a tray full of still-warm baked goods: Vienna bread, Parker House rolls, cherry pie -- and the big favorite year after year, according to Emory Rice Jr., Louisiana Ring cake. The recipe seems to have been lost, but old-timers agree in remembering that it had a pound cake texture with an orange and almond flavor and some kind of icing.

The laundry man, too, came to your door. Elite, Fish, Archer, Fulton, Grand, Urban, Regal, Empire, Lord Baltimore and other laundry trucks criss-crossed Baltimore until the early 1970s. The average family's weekly laundry consisted of 32 pieces -- sheets, shirts, towels -- at an average total cost of $2.50 (in 1950 dollars), including mending and replacing buttons.

Gaines Lansey was president of Druid Laundry in 1968 when after 70 years it closed. He explained, ''Every home was getting a washer and dryer. Our customers became our competitors.''

The knife-sharpener came to your door, carrying a sharpening wheel strapped over his shoulder. Pete Vidi, among the last of the knife sharpeners, told us that he charged 10 cents for a pair of scissors. Children gathered around the knife sharpener to watch mesmerized while sparks flew from the cold steel blade of the knife as it kissed the flying stone wheel.

The ice man used to come to your door -- from Hoffberger, Eckles, Arlington, American Ice Co., Stark. A sign in each window told the driver how much ice was needed. The housewife set the sign in position so that her order -- ''25,'' ''50,'' ''75'' or ''100'' was uppermost. The driver wedged a block of that size between his ice tongs and brought it to your door. Door-to-door ice delivery went out in the 1960s when refrigerators became everyman's birthright.

The milkman used to come to your door. Cloverland gave up home delivery in 1987, Greenspring Dairy in 1988, Sealtest (made up of Western Maryland Dairy, Fairfield and Gardiner dairies) some years before. Early in the morning the drivers left your milk and cream on your porch or in a special, insulated box provided for you. How did the milkman know what to leave? You put out a note the night before: ''Please leave one quart of chocolate milk.''

The horses clop-clopping through the wee hours disturbed some customers, so, believe it or not, Western Maryland dairy fitted out the horses' hoofs with rubber horseshoes! It worked. The complaints stopped.


Less dramatic changes: Tio Pepe's used to be The Dutch Door. The now-vacant 3 N. Calvert used to be Bickford's. The McDonald's at the southeast corner or Baltimore and Light used to be Thompson Drug Store. Two famous night clubs used to be but aren't. At Charles and Preston, where Crestar supplanted Loyola Federal, the Club Charles preceded them both. At the southwest corner of Charles and Eager, the Hippopotamus used to be the Chanticleer.

Blue bottle

The Valley Shopping Center at Falls Road and Valley Road used to be Emerson Farms, where Baltimoreans drove on hot summer nights for ice cream and milkshakes, proud products of the cows nearby. Captain Emerson invented Bromo-Seltzer. An enlarged version of the famous blue bottle used to rotate atop the Emerson Tower building. Bottle-less, the tower, patterned on a famous landmark of Florence, adorns the Baltimore skyline you see from your seat in Camden Yards.

The building on the southwest corner of Charles and Franklin, across from what used to be Remington Book store, used to be the Saving Bank of Baltimore; later it used to be First Union. All those used-to-bes used to be Hopper McGaw's, at one time Baltimore's most famous food specialty store.


Some things about the city never change. Baltimore offers the changeless charm of diversity. Rich and poor of every color and kind bring their ideals to this urban marketplace, and sometimes exchange them for better ones. The merchant prince buys bananas from the street A-rab; the beggar shares the bus ride with the broker. It has always been so.

And the river, for all the glass and glitter that is built up around it, is indifferent to time. Sailboats ride the same ancient winds into the inner harbor and come about as they must in the Pratt and Light basin. Gulls line up on the piers. The big ships from faraway places are moored to their berths. The observer feels the mystic rhythm of arrival and departure, linking us to ports of call around the world. So it was, so it is.

On Baltimore's 200th birthday, think back on what has changed, and celebrate what hasn't.

Gilbert Sandler writes from, and about, Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/17/97

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