Conveniences of city, advantages of country Topography, history make 'eclectic' area uniquely Baltimore

Neighborhood Profile: Mount Washington

November 08, 1998|By Frederick Rasmussen | Frederick Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When George Gelbach Jr. launched the residential development of Mount Washington in 1854, he billed it as offering "the conveniences of the city with the advantages of the country."

And nearly 150 years later, the village that grew up at the confluence of Jones Falls and Western Run is still living up to that promise.

Walter Schamu, Baltimore architect and architectural historian, said, "Mount Washington is one of Baltimore's more remarkable and unique neighborhoods because of its topography and history.

"It's filled with wonderful Victorian Gothic board-and-batten gingerbread cottages, and some are a combination of stone and striped brick which is peculiarly Baltimore."

Rene J. Gunning, a Realtor with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA at Wyndhurst Avenue, formerly W. H. C. Wilson & Co., where he has worked since 1980, said, "People like Mount Washington, because it's eclectic and not as staid as Roland Park. It has the same flavor of Roland Park and also diversity."

June M. Behm, 67, moved to Mount Washington with her parents in the 1940s. Her father, George Rose, a former jockey who became a racing official, found it convenient to his work at Pimlico Race Course.

Those were the days when horses racing at Pimlico arrived by train and were unloaded at the Mount Washington station, then walked up South Avenue to Rogers Avenue by grooms who took them to the stables at Pimlico.

"I had my wedding reception in the old Mount Washington Casino, which was a wonderful Victorian building with a turret," she said.

After her divorce, Behm returned to her old family home, which she says is a "Cape Cod that has plenty of room for one person and a dog."

Behm, an avid reader and gardener, happily recalls her childhood in Mount Washington. She remembers rides on the No. 25 "tripper" streetcar that traveled up Kelly Avenue and Ken Oak Road.

"It's really very much the same as when I was growing up there, and it continues to be a very stable neighborhood," she said.

McCafferty's Restaurant occupies the site of the former Mount Washington Lumber Co., which was the old commercial heart of Mount Washington. Sparwasser's Tavern, years ago a stop on the beer-and-shot circuit for locals, is now the Mount Washington Tavern, which opened in 1979.

The Stone Mill Bakery, clothing shops and beauty salons have moved into the area, often making the narrow streets somewhat impassable, especially on weekends when parking can be in short supply.

Another significant change to Mount Washingtonians was the restoration of direct rail service to downtown Baltimore.

In 1959, the Pennsylvania Railroad ended its commuter service, and it wasn't until 1991, when light rail arrived, that residents had an alternative to bus service or driving the Jones Falls Expressway.

Its woods, valleys, knolls and broad tree-lined streets have long been a favorite with professors, artists, writers, musicians, lawyers, physicians and business people.

American novelist John Dos Passos once lived there. Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Parting of the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963" and "Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963 to 1965" also lived there. Herman Maril, the noted Maryland artist, painted for years in his Roxbury Place studio.

"We liked the topography, the big, old tree-lined streets and the diversity of houses," said Bernard Berkowitz, who retired as head of the Baltimore Development Corp. in 1988, and is president of the Lexington Market Board.

Berkowitz, who still does consulting and teaching, moved to Mount Washington in 1967 with his wife, Judith, and two sons.

"We also liked the diversity of people. We liked the different racial, educational and religious backgrounds of the residents," he said.

Another reason to settle there was Mount Washington Elementary School.

"Still one of the best in the city," Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz, who is also treasurer of the Mount Washington Swim Club, enjoys his daily walk to the pool on Enslow Avenue, where he sits and relaxes after taking a swim.

Curt and Maddie Shea McKnight moved to the community last year after teaching in Italy and Korea for four years. Before going overseas, they had lived in Fells Point for eight years.

"We wanted to live in the city, and Mount Washington won hands down," said Curt McKnight, a fifth-grade teacher who often rides his bicycle to his job at Roland Park Country School. His wife is a United Way researcher.

The McKnights live in a small bungalow with a slate roof that was built in 1941 and is surrounded by pines, sycamores, oaks and walnuts.

"We feel like we're living in a cottage in the mountains," he said.

However, its early history was not residential but industrial, and dates to 1796, when Cockey's Mill, a grist mill, was built along the banks of the Western Run.

In 1810, the Washington Cotton Manufacturing Co., the first cotton mill in Maryland, located along the falls. The area took the name of Washingtonville after a nearby tavern.

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