Locust Point history

Baltimore Glimpses

June 01, 1999|By Gilbert Sandler

TO MOST Baltimoreans, the Locust Point peninsula is joined to lower Southeast Baltimore like a dimly recalled spare room attached to an old house: You know it's there but you can't recall what's in it. What's in Locust Point is a lot of history and romance. But change is coming.

"The Point" today is pretty much what it has been since the early 1700s -- a factory town of tiny houses clinging to the water's edge, where monstrous cranes and warehouses cast a shadow over everything.

But Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse purchased the old Procter & Gamble Co. plant there and has plans for a $53 million makeover, including tony shops and office space. The old Point will never be the same.

There is an irony in this transformation. When, as expected, residents and tourists flock to the new attractions there, many of them will have a homecoming of sorts.

That's because the Point was, up until World War II, the largest point of entry for immigrants -- second only to Ellis Island. So many of the folks who will shop in those stores, work in those offices and dine in those restaurants will be descendants of European immigrants who first touched U.S. soil there.

The North German Lloyd shipping line was the prime, if unlikely, player in this drama. Company officials crafted the deal that helped create the Locust Point community.

Beginning in the 1860s, the company's ships carried passengers from Germany to Baltimore; on the return trip, they carried Maryland tobacco and lumber. The immigrants landed at Piers 8 and 9 and they were processed and released just north of Fort McHenry.

First came thousands of Germans, including many Jews who would make their mark here in retailing and clothing manufacturing.

In successive order came the Irish, the Poles and many people from various Eastern European countries.

Many of the immigrants landed jobs quickly around the docks. They or their descendants would work for such Point industries as Domino Sugar, Procter & Gamble, Uniroyal, Goodyear and General Latex.

During World War II, Bethlehem shipyards hired 2,000 workers a week. Scores of workers commuted by ferry. The Locust Point ferry, which operated from 1813 to 1938, ran 15 times a day from Fells Point to Haubert Street on the Point. The fare was 3 cents for children, 7 cents for adults, 22 cents for a car. Some 100 to 400 people made that trip daily for years.

But that was yesterday. With $53 million worth of offices, stores and restaurants about to be built along its northern shoreline, it is going to be a different type of destination.

Welcome, Pointers, to the Baltimore renaissance.

Gilbert Sandler writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/01/99

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