City block houses names and history of Baltimore

October 25, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

A FRIEND told me about a house a few blocks north of mine on St. Paul Street, a big, three-story rowhouse that is going on the market. He identified it as the home with the deeply veined marble mantelpieces.

I thought to myself, "that's the Hilgartner house," meaning, in proper Baltimore fashion, the house that the Hilgartner family has not resided in for decades, but they did once and the name stays forever. Besides, the Hilgartners were well-known marble suppliers and carvers.

In this particular case, the name has some real staying power. The Hilgartner Natural Stone Co. remains in business (the firm began in 1863) and its employees are still cutting marble, soapstone, granite and limestone.

I thought I'd do a fast fact check about when the Hilgartner family moved on and left the 2900 block of St. Paul Street. I opened a 1937 City Directory I keep in my desk drawer. The family was not listed among those residing on St. Paul Street, a stately, dignified block of wonderful Baltimore rowhouses. It appeared that they moved to Roland Park, as many Charles Villagers did over the years.

I began to glance at the names of the people who did live along the 2900 block and discovered an amazing collection of old Maryland surnames. The old directory listed the owners of the property as well as the renters and any physicians who had offices there. Here is a handful of the names:

At 2900 was Dr. H. Stanley Gorsuch, who lived in a dark, Victorian, free-standing house (constructed before the rowhouses) well-known to my family members, who always called the place "Dr. Gorsuch's" or "the Polks." Gorsuch is an ancient Maryland name. I don't know too much about him. The Polks, who built the place about 1878, were descendants of President James K. Polk and the Peale family of painters.

But these historical associations matter little compared to the story of Lucille Polk Carter, a glamorous bride who married a rich Philadelphian and survived the sinking of the Titanic. She is Baltimore's best-known Titanic passenger.

The rowhouses alongside and across from Lucille's home went up in the early years of the last century. By 1937, the block had a number of prominent physicians: Dr. Charles W. Goldsborough, G. Latrobe Ewalt and, at the top of the block, at 30th Street, Drs. John M.T. Finney and George G. Finney.

In no particular order, there were others with old Maryland names - Manning, Biesecker, Warfield, Clagett (and a man with the double Maryland name of Clagett Bowie), Gill, Hiss, Paca, Ridgely, Diggs, Bassett and Norris.

There was also Samuel Pattison and James S. Rea (of the old Howard Street auction house fame) and last but not least, the Dashiell sisters, Mary Leake and Eleanor. Those two moved on to Fells Point and tormented mayors and city officials when that Southeast Baltimore neighborhood was threatened with demolition for an interstate highway in the early 1970s.

All those names, and lives, in a single city block: St. Paul between 29th and 30th.

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