Back Story: Examining the history of the working-class Remington

Resident walks the neighborhood for book she is writing

  • Kathleen Ambrose is writing a history of Remington.
Kathleen Ambrose is writing a history of Remington. (Baltimore Sun )
October 25, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

"You know when you see John Ellsberry's painted alligator at the end of the 28th Street Bridge that you're in Remington," said Kathleen C. Ambrose, who is researching and writing a history of the more than 200-year-old Baltimore neighborhood that she hopes to have published next year.

She has been banging on doors, interviewing old-timers and, in a recent edition of the Remington Community Newsletter asked residents to search their closets and attics for any photographs from 1930 to 2000 that she might use for her book.

Ambrose, 55, a writer and retired paralegal who holds several liberal arts degrees from the Johns Hopkins University, grew up in Reisterstown and graduated from North Carroll High School. But she is a true city girl at heart.

"I couldn't stand it. I used to spend summers in the city, and whenever I'm forced to go to the county, I get lost," said Ambrose, who has called Remington home for the last 15 years and whose enthusiasm for the community is contagious.

On a recent rainy fall morning, Ambrose met a visitor at Remington Avenue and Wyman Park Drive at the bridge that marks the beginning and end of Remington.

The bridge spans Stony Run and the long-departed Ma & Pa Railroad right-of-way, which is now a walking trail.

"Because of the steep grade and sharp curve of the road, a lot of early flivvers flipped over the embankment and landed on the tracks," she pointed out.

She is carrying her ever-present camera and wastes no time saying emphatically that "Remington is NOT a satellite of Hampden" and quickly describes herself as "the crazy chick with a camera."

Ambrose was anxious to get going, first on a general driving tour of the neighborhood and then concluding with a walk on the grounds of the old landmark U.S. Marine Hospital, now the Wyman Park Medical Center.

The object of her veneration and curiosity is a vest pocket neighborhood bounded, she said, by North Avenue on the south, Howard Street on the east, Falls Road on the west and Wyman Park Drive to the north. She estimates Remington's total area to encompass about 14 blocks.

The largely working-class community is composed of a collection of small rowhouses, warehouses, businesses such as Charm City Cakes, corner grocery stores, and popular taverns, among perhaps the best known being The Dizz and Long John's.

"The community takes its name from William Remington, who owned 11 acres in the heart of what is now Remington," said Ambrose. "In the 18th century, there were four grist mills along Stony Run with Pennington's mill near Wyman Park Drive being one of the largest."

Quarries were at one time important employers that supplied the city with gneiss rock used for construction of foundations of many of the city's houses, she said. There were four major ones along Falls Road.

One of the most notable 19th- and early 20th-century quarry men was Hugh Sisson III, who was known as the Marble King and for whom Sisson Street is named.

There were also several commercial ice ponds in the neighborhood that were filled in 1915 for health reasons — they were found to be breeding grounds for mosquitoes — such as one at 29th and Remington.

Perhaps the most profound change that came to Remington was in 1895 when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began building its Belt Line route that corkscrewed through the southern edge of the community.

"I think the biggest influence on the community was the railroad because it required the condemnation of a lot of property," said Ambrose, a streetcar and railroad fan who at times can be found spotting CSX freight trains from the Sisson Street Bridge.

"Did you know that Baltimore has a second Little Italy?" Ambrose asks, as she points out an Italian settlement just across the Sisson Street Bridge. "Some days down here you can smell spaghetti sauce cooking."

Her perambulations through the neighborhood have turned up some interesting urban archaeology such as the old piers that once supported the Huntingdon Avenue Viaduct, which dated to the early 1890s and spanned Huntingdon Avenue to 33rd Street.

Until it was demolished in 1949, the spidery iron bridge had carried United Railways streetcars operating on the No. 10 and No. 25 lines.

Back on the grounds of the Wyman Park Medical Center at the end of the tour, Ambrose points out an unused long wooden structure of several stories that was erected on the property in 1894.

"It had once been the old Colored Orphan Asylum," she said. "In his will, Johns Hopkins had left money to establish an orphanage that would care for African-American children."

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