New Crop Of Books About Baltimore Offers A Fine View Of City's History

November 18, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

As so many people move into Baltimore's changing neighborhoods, I often get asked about books to help reveal Baltimore's story. It's a sign of this region's vitality that so many new volumes have cropped up this holiday selling season.

For sheer fun, there is nothing like Baltimore-Washington Trolleys In Color (Morning Sun Books, Scotch Plains, N.J.) by LeRoy O. King Jr. This book is unusual in that it depicts the two cities of Baltimore and Washington, but also includes a good bit on Annapolis (via the old B&A Railroad), Hagerstown and Frederick, with stops at Thurmont along the way.

The author rounded up rare color photographic transparencies, virtually all taken before November 1963, when the last No. 8 streetcar rolled along Frederick and York roads. The color is dazzling; by no means is it a book only for transit nuts.

I'd buy it just to see how Baltimore looked before we remade the harbor. The book unintentionally reveals the difference between limestone and buff brick Washington versus smoke-stained and red-brick Baltimore. Many of the Baltimore photographs look as if sketcher Aaron Sopher might have approved them for publication.

Arcadia Publishing, which has numerous other local titles (Highlandtown, Ellicott City, Baltimore's parks) works with local authors and researchers to print and sell a staggering shelf of local history. Credit should also go to the Enoch Pratt librarians who so liberally opened collections to make these books possible - and share with a broader audience the photographic riches stashed on Cathedral Street.

Photographer Bill Wierzalis and writer John P. Koontz took on Mount Vernon Place and offered a sympathetic valentine to the old streets around the Washington Monument. It's a joy, much helped by the 1910-era photographs of Laurence Hall Fowler. I've always liked Fowler's distinguished residences, but I never knew he was so gifted at capturing apt street views. This is a quirky and personal picture essay for anyone who would rather walk along Charles Street and leave Harborplace to the tourists, a tribute to a gorgeous neighborhood beset by too much traffic and not enough attention.

In the same vein, Mark Chalkley's Hampden-Woodberry is another much-needed volume. The author did lots of homework and found dozens of fine photographs. His treatment of the old Noxzema plant, its workers and products is amazing. As the old mills and foundries in the Jones Falls Valley fast become $400,000 residences, and 36th Street has aspirations of becoming an arts and restaurant rialto, read up on this once-unashamedly working Baltimore.

Speaking of hard labors, Tom Liebel's Industrial Baltimore tells us how businesses here proudly manufactured the white lead that went into paints. Here are the gas holders, grain elevators, freight depots and steel mills for a city that once seemed to make everything we needed.

Charles Duff and Tracey Clark's Baltimore Architecture is a then-and-now effort, with beautifully executed comparison views. Another work that shows considerable effort, many of the before-and-afters would make you weep, or turn a preservationist to the liquor cabinet for consolation.

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