A Book To Celebrate Baltimore County's 350th

BACK STORY

June 21, 2009|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Baltimore County is not Maryland's largest - that honor goes to Frederick County - which is 667 square miles. Baltimore County comes in at 612 square miles.

It's not the state's most populous county. Montgomery County, with a population of 873,341, wins out with 84,347 more folks than Baltimore County.

And it's not the oldest. Twenty-five years before the county was founded and named for the second Lord Baltimore, 140 hardy souls aboard the Ark and the Dove had planted a wooden cross on St. Clement's Island in St. Mary's County.

But Baltimore County is marking its 350th birthday this year and just in time to share in the festivities is an illustrated history, Baltimore County: Celebrating a Legacy 1659-2009, published by the Historical Society of Baltimore County.

Its author, Barry Lanman, is director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

I knew this had to be a worthy undertaking when I read the names of the research consultants who assisted Lanman.

They are all Baltimore County history heavyweights whose names will resonate with readers interested in local history - John McGrain, Louis S. Diggs, Jason Domasky, Dick Parsons and William Barry.

"From a national perspective, few local jurisdictions are older," Lanman said, adding that people are "astonished to learn that Baltimore County is marking an anniversary which spans 3 1/2 centuries."

So, it was natural, Lanman thought, that a new book celebrating the county's history would be in order.

"The last book on Baltimore County was Neal A. Brooks and Dick Parsons' Baltimore County Panorama that was published in 1988, so we had a 20-year gap to fill," Lanman said in a telephone interview the other day.

Final approval for the book came last July, and Lanman flew into action.

"It's one of the fastest pieces I've ever done. It was intense, but it was fun," he said. "This was to be a picture book as well, and our themes were Baltimore County traditions, change and diversity."

The book's 14 chapters, each lavishly illustrated with many previously unpublished photographs, covers a wide range of territory, including transportation, industry, labor, education, religion, civil rights, government, agriculture, fun, and palatial homes and estates in Worthington and Green Spring valleys.

"It's not meant to be a serious history of the county but the kind of book that you can pick up, open a chapter and just start reading," said Lanman, a Halethorpe native and railroad buff.

Lanman and his researchers put the word out and were flooded with more than 4,000 photographs that came from traditional sources such as libraries, educational institutions and historical societies, as well as from private family collections whose owners learned about the project.

"We were only able to include about 425 in the book," he said. "People brought in the most unique photos. They were just incredible. We had so many interesting pictures that we created the 'Baltimore County Scrapbook' chapter so we could publish some of them."

One of my favorites - and there are many in this book - is actually a photo within a photo.

It shows two derby-hatted photographers dressed in black suits, and the B&O's crack Jersey City-Washington passenger train, the Royal Blue, as it quietly steams near a very rural Halethorpe for a publicity shot around 1900.

So much of the heavy industry that once gave employment to thousands and defined eastern Baltimore County is now largely a memory. Looking at photos of belching blast furnaces looming over Third Street in Sparrows Point, women "tin floppers" sorting sheets of metal in a Bethlehem mill, or a line of "Rosie the Riveters" building Martin Co. Mars seaplanes during World War II, readers can't help but be reminded that this once was Baltimore's version of Germany's Ruhr Valley.

The author also wanted voices of county residents in the book to give intimacy and texture to the accompanying photos. Many were gathered during interviews while others were drawn from previously published county histories.

"That was the hardest part. We wanted a balance that included everyone - not just the wealthy or government types - but the average person in Baltimore County," Lanman said.

Hardcover copies of the book that sell for $37.69 are available from the Historical Society of Baltimore County, 9811 Van Buren Lane, Cockeysville 21030; or through

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